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Assessing User Needs: Student Shadow Danielle Masursky Discusses Fall Conference

I was lucky enough to attend a terrific presentation on this topic by Gabriela Castro Gessner and Susan Kendrick from Cornell University.

Here are some of the takeaways:

The Cardinal Rule of Assessment is “Ask the right question.” Take time to really figure out what you want to know. Design a RESEARCH QUESTION that captures your assessment project. Brainstorming is invaluable at this stage. Then take the time to review and refine your Question so that your assessment project is really evaluating what you want to know.

A close second to the Cardinal Rule is to make sure that you ALIGN your METHOD to your research GOAL. A survey may not be the best method for your purpose and is certainly not the only method available. Consider other options and keep in mind that more than one method may be necessary to answer your Research Question. CONTEXT is “king” when making the decision about what method to employ – what type of library, what type of users?

OBSERVING is an underutilized tool, but it can be very powerful. Just sit and watch how patrons use your library’s space and your library’s resources – you can learn a lot.

An ONLINE SURVEY is good for getting feedback, but it is very important to keep it SHORT and ensure that all users can understand it. A PAPER SURVEY is good for targeting a specific resource or program that you want feedback on. It is essential to TEST DRIVE (pretest) your survey with members of the target audience: work out the kinks, ensure that people understand the questions, and make sure that you’re actually getting answers to your Research Question through this instrument.

FACE-TO-FACE methods can be a very useful way to get more detailed information on a topic, this includes focus groups and interviews. It is still important to fine tune your questions and ensure that they will solicit the feedback that you’re seeking.

Once you have data, figure out how to make it ACTIONABLE. Go back to your Research Question – did you learn what you wanted to learn? Did you find out unexpected or surprising things? What are you going to DO with the information that you have acquired?

Make sure that you ACT on the results of your assessment. Then EXTEND the life of your data by sharing it: put it in your Annual Report and reports to donors, publish it, write some blog posts about it, put it in your monthly newsletter and on your webpage, present it at conferences. And do it quickly, data gets stale.

Do a POST-MORTEM on your process. What worked, what didn’t? Did you chose the right method? Or try doing a “PRE-MORTEM” – have a meeting before you get started and conduct a thought experiment: why did this project fail?

One final key to success: it is absolutely essential to LISTEN – listen to your colleagues and collaborators during the planning process, and listen to your users during the assessment process.

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