How do you get feedback from library users? (Or, Beating Survey Fatigue…)

12 Aug


StockXChange pic of a survey entry

Are you overwhelmed with ennui when asked to fill in yet another feedback survey?

John Kennerly just drew my attention on twitter, to an article about how students are getting survey fatigue. (The article is in The Chronicle of Higher Education, you can read it here.)

I’m really interested in how to get feedback – not just from students in academic libraries, but from all patrons for all types of libraries. My interest has been piqued recently because of:

  • Terry Kendrick pointing out in a marketing workshop that “…it’s no good asking people what their needs are; they’ll just come up with some guff to help you with your survey!”
    Think about when you were last asked about your needs. What was your main driver in answering – expressing those needs, or just making the question go away? Even those with the best of intentions may come with answers just to try and help the surveyor, rather than truly delving into themselves to try and think about what they need. Plus, needs are based partly on what you know is possible – people might not mention stuff because they don’t even know it’s something the library has any ability to fulfil.
  • Stephen Abram mentioning at SLA2011 how much better the focus groups he ran went when he gave everyone a $5 Starbucks card and told them to spend it and bring a coffee and muffin to the meeting
    I can imagine a million and one purse-string holders saying “We can’t afford to spend $50 on a focus group!” But actually that’s a pretty good use of $50…
  • The quote from Henry Ford that resurfaces fairly often
    On the Model T Ford: “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d've said a faster horse…”
  • A recent revelation at work that a survey we hadn’t had time to publicise got more respondents than the previous year when we’d gone all out
    Could be a coincidence, of course. But maybe there’s something in there about the psychology of trying to elicit feedback?

These are all interesting points, I think. So what are you doing to ascertain what your patrons are thinking? Is there something more reliable than surveys? And if you’re asking them via social media, how did you find out what social media platforms they used in the first place…?

All comments gratefully received! :)

- thewikiman

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  • Ned Potter August 12, 2011 at 11:55 AM

    Comments wanted folks! How do you get feedback from library users? (Or, Beating Survey Fatigue…)

  • Ned Potter August 12, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    @jkennerly Go for it… If we both do it ( we might be able to pool a decent amount of answers…

  • RMG August 12, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    Focus on just one or two areas, stuff that you need feedback on and which you can do something about, and which you can demonstrate that you have done something about.
    Some surveys are just way too long, and put people off.
    When I was at LSE, we did a ‘one minute poll’ just focusing on a single area, for acad staff. Very quick and easy to do, and heavily promoted by subject librarians, with prizes for best responses, but we also got the departmental administrators involved, giving them prizes for best number of responses too! Some of our highest survey responses came with this method two years running. of course the obligatory bribes such as free print credit etc help for students.
    Do you want quality over quantity? Small focus groups etc can give richer info.

    How about a feedback wall? Get students to stick up post its with feedback. Works best when commenting on new service e.g. Revamped physical space.

    Any student give you nice feedback in person after a 1-2-1? Dont be shy, ask them to put it in an email so you can share with your manager.

    Just dont bore people with long surveys for no reason!
    Your new head of engagement will have lots of ideas and feedback on this too!

  • thewikiman August 12, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    Hey Rowenna, yes that sounds like excellent advice. It’s probably the massively long wide-ranging surveys that people are so bored with now. I think the getting feedback on stuff you can actually stuff about bit is hugely important and often overlooked.

    Love the idea of a one minute poll. I look forward to Michelle’s innovations. :-)

  • Michael Henry Starks August 12, 2011 at 1:34 PM

    It’s important to know when to use a survey and when to use a focus group. Focus groups are better than surveys for probing the more abstract notions, such as what patrons want or need that they aren’t getting today. Surveys work for learning patrons’ opinion of specific services they’ve just experienced, such as how satisfied were they with their last visit to the library’s ebook-download site.

  • [...] Ned suggested that writing a blog post on the subject might help to solicit responses. And he did just that. In the post, he asks: I’m really interested in how to get feedback – not just from students in [...]

  • Ned Potter August 12, 2011 at 3:34 PM

    How do you get feedback from library users? (Or, Beating Survey Fatigue…) Excellent comments so far – any more?

  • CILIP August 12, 2011 at 3:43 PM

    How do you get feedback from library users? (Or, Beating Survey Fatigue…) Excellent comments so far – any more?

  • Sarah Wolfenden August 12, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    Our students have survey fatigue too. They have the general LRC Annual survey, their dept one, and the HE students also get a University one. I’ve found that focus groups are good for specific developments and surveys are best for more general impressions. I’ve also found that asking a few questions at student/staff consultation meetings very benefical – especially if there are decent, motivated students there (not the ones who are there because they wanted the popularity!).

  • thewikiman August 12, 2011 at 4:15 PM

    Michael and Sarah, interesting that Michael has focus groups down for the abstract and surveys for specifics, and Sarah has pretty much the other way around! I can see both working.

  • Michelle Schneider August 12, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    I agree with Sarah that focus groups are great when you want to ask your users what they think of specific developments. We used focus groups to test out our online Library Guide and we got some fantastic ideas for improvements which we made sure we acted on. I think this brings me to the crucial point. If we are going to ask users for their opinions it needs to be on things we are willing to change. Hopefully the users will feedback that everything is fantastic (!) but if they don’t we need to be prepared to act on the feedback. I think if users can see that we actually do something with their feedback they are more likely to particpate in surveys, focus groups etc in the future (and treats, printer credits, amazon vouchers etc help too!).

  • thewikiman August 12, 2011 at 4:48 PM

    Hey Michelle, yep I completely agree. I think asking people for feedback on something which isn’t working, and therefore focusing their minds on what it is they don’t like about it, is only positive if you have the capacity to act on what they say. Otherwise it just makes them feel cross and impotent, having articulated a load of troublesome stuff which won’t change…

    I also think it’s worth, in principle (not sure how practical this is) getting back to people who suggested stuff you actually DO, and telling them you’ve done it. In addition to general announcements telling the rest of the world what you’ve done.

  • Rebecca Jones August 12, 2011 at 4:52 PM

    I agree with Henry Ford — don’t ask ppl what they need, ask them about their lives, their works, their “pains” (aka challenges — yuck, I hate that word — how about ‘what really ticks you off when you are trying to complete a paper or assignment?’). We in libraries have to design services to have a positive impact on people’s work/life/studies, so we need to know more about how they DO work/live/study. Bring students together with some food (yes, invest $50 to save $500 on continuing the wrong service!), to have a group interview or group survey. You can still have them complete a survey, but in a room where you can talk with them about the survey questions as they answer, and they feel there’s something “in it” for them to do the survey. Also — if you bring them together, it’s a “group interview” or “group think”, not a focus group. Focus groups are to test & probe ideas — but, really, you can get as much, even more, out of a group interview as you can from surveys. Have a great wkend!

  • Bethan August 12, 2011 at 4:53 PM

    For Copac & the Archives Hub, all of our users are virtual, so most of our feedback comes from surveys. We often offer an incentive for completing the survey (usually a draw for an Amazon voucher), and if we do interviews we offer interviewees a voucher as a thanks for their time.

    Like Rowena, we find that short, focussed surveys work best. One thing we’ve realised recently: if your survey really is only 2 or 3 quick questions, don’t make users click a link to be taken to the survey! If you can, have the survey right there in front of them: ‘would you be willing to answer these 2 questions?’. It means that users know exactly what you’re asking, and whether or not they a) can answer and b) have time to answer. There is *nothing* worse than a survey which says it will take 5 minutes – 20 minutes later you’re on page 4, wondering if the darn thing will ever end…

    Another thing we do is ask at the end of each survey if people would be willing to be contacted for future research/feedback. That then gives us a list of people we can call on for a quick opinion on something at a later point: we don’t contact any of them more than once a year; we have an audience who we expect will be responsive; and we’re not bombarding every website visitor with another survey for them to ignore.

    Of course, we’re not reaching non-users this way, but that’s a whole nother kettle of doo-doo…

  • thewikiman August 12, 2011 at 4:54 PM

    Hey Bethan , good point about the additional click. And definitely always ask for permission to contact them again – in the book I’m advocating putting that on everything really, because the data-protection laws etc mean that you can’t always contact people whose details you already have…

  • Rebecca Jones August 12, 2011 at 4:55 PM

    It’s me again. I meant to say: don’t ask them anything about the library. Rather, ask them how they start assignments, how they study, what’s a typical day for them, how their days/nights change during exams, etc……ask them whatever questions about their lives that will inform the design of a service or a space for them.

  • thewikiman August 12, 2011 at 4:56 PM

    Hey Rebecca, thanks for chiming in! The ‘don’t ask them about the library’ thing was one of the many big take-aways I had from the LMD marketing breakfast at SLA2011 (you can’t imagine just how helpful yours and Stephen’s comments were for my book!). I was just talking about this with someone the other day, the onus is on US to intepret people’s needs and understand what they need out of a library, rather than expecting them to do all the work…

  • Rachel Bickley August 12, 2011 at 4:57 PM

    Last summer I ran a survey at the University of Sheffield for my MA dissertation, asking students about their perceptions of library staff. To my surprise, I received 250 responses over a short period of time, despite the fact that it was summer vacation and so students were unlikely to be checking their email often and probably would be busy with work/holidays etc rather than uni stuff. Half the respondents were undergraduates, so it wasn’t just the postgrads who were still working on things who replied. I think this good response rate came from the fact that the survey was about library staff rather than just the library in general – students who responded appeared to have strong feelings, whether good or bad, about the staff, and so I think that when they saw in the subject of the email that the survey was about staff, they jumped at the chance to relate their positive or negative experiences. Perhaps when we put out surveys or recruit for focus groups, we need to ensure that we attract students in the way that we phrase our request for feedback i.e. don’t just put “please complete our survey about the library” but write something like “have you received a good level of service in the library? Tell us about it”, which immediately shows the student that this is their chance to praise that librarian who spent ages yesterday helping them with that database, or to complain about the problems they’ve had finding key texts for their course.

  • thewikiman August 12, 2011 at 5:23 PM

    Rachel: YES! Absolutely, give specific info up front and hook people in with something they know is relevant to them, rather than leaving them to guess that it probably isn’t…

  • Erin Ferguson August 12, 2011 at 8:44 PM

    Interesting post and something I have been thinking about quite a bit recently as I have struggled with finding appropriate ways of measuring user experience. I’ve used a mixture of print and electronic questionnaires, and although electronic surveys tend to garner a higher response rate, I wondered whether questionnaires were actually the best form of measurement. After all, it is generally people with strong feelings one way or the other are more likely to respond to voluntary surveys. Even when a questionnaire is included as a compulsory element of an instruction session, people are likely to respond with what they think we want to hear. They will answer based on their experiences of the session, but that is not really going to tell us whether our instruction or services are actually benefiting their work.

    When I worked as a school librarian, I realised that questionnaires would tell me a pupil’s perception of the library service, but they couldn’t tell me whether he or she was actually learning anything that would impact his/her work. That’s why many school librarians are becoming more involved in the research process from start to finish, particularly the assessment process. This may not be appropriate in every situation, but it is worthwhile to think of genuine ways to measure library services.

    Buffy Hamilton, aka the Unquiet Librarian, is well known for measuring and assessing her library programme. In addition to her involvement in research project design and assessment, she frequently records interviews with her library users that she then posts on the library website. Again, she might not always get objective responses, but it seems like a good way of getting quick responses during the actual research process, not just at the end of term. It is also a good way to promote services to others.

  • Graeme August 13, 2011 at 11:47 PM

    A Vox Pop quiz gets some good spontaneous responses. With ethical approval at La Trobe University in Melbounre, in lieu of a conference presentation, we got student rovers to go around with simple questions and a video to get some ideas of what students thought about refurbished library.

  • thewikiman August 15, 2011 at 12:24 PM

    Hey Graeme, that’s interesting. Do you think the fact that it was their peers asking them helped with the response rate / engagement?

  • thewikiman August 15, 2011 at 3:59 PM

    Hi Erin, yes it’s true that to base what we do on questionnaire responses would be to base it on the opinions of the fired-up (one way or the other) minority…

    I wish all library users were as captive and available as Buffy’s! But yes, I do really like how she films them and puts the results online.

  • [...] How do you get feedback from library users? (Or, Beating Survey Fatigue…) – The comments on this post are the most useful.  As we all struggle to assess library services in line with institutional missions and student learning outcomes, there are some useful suggestions presented here.  The author illustrates the challenges of asking people what they want with a quote from Henry Ford: On the Model T Ford: “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they’d’ve said a faster horse…” [...]

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