Emily Plagman is Manager of Impact & Advocacy for the Public Library Association, implementing the organization’s goals of supporting the field’s ability to collect, analyze and advocate using data, expanding its own internal data collection efforts, and developing of new data-based projects for the field. More specifically, she manages PLA’s performance measurement initiative, Project Outcome, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, overseeing its development and implementation. Prior to joining PLA, Emily worked as a project manager, at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning on an energy efficiency grant.  Emily received her Master’s in International Public Affairs from the LaFollette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin and her Bachelor’s in Political Science at Marquette University. Read on to learn more about Project Outcome.

Project Outcome

Outcome measurement is one way for library staff to collect data from patrons about the value of public programs and services. Because library staff do not always have in-depth experience in evaluation, they could find themselves unsure of how to write an outcome-focused assessment after collecting patron feedback. For example, staff know that a program like Storytime can help improve literacy of children, but the specific data to reinforce this knowledge is not always present.

The Public Library Association, launched Project Outcome  in 2015 which is designed to help libraries gather better data, and then use it to inform a library that a patron learned something new, gained confidence, changed or intends to change their behaviour, and/or has increased their awareness of library resources.

Project Outcome makes outcome measurement quick and easy for library staff. It is a free online toolkit designed to help public libraries understand and share the impact of essential library programs and services. Project Outcome does this through simple surveys and an easy-to-use process for measuring and analyzing outcomes across key library service areas, including:

  • Community Engagement

  • Digital Learning

  • Economic Development

  • Education & Lifelong Learning

  • Early Childhood Literacy

  • Health (coming soon!)

  • Job Skills

  • Summer Reading

Participating libraries are also provided with the resources and training support needed to apply their results and confidently advocate for their library. Project Outcome’s standardized surveys allow libraries in the U.S. and Canada to aggregate their outcome data and analyze trends by survey topic and program type. For the first time, libraries can see how the outcomes of their programs and services compare across their system, state and country.

For the first time, libraries can see how the outcomes of their programs and services compare across their system, state and country. Click To Tweet

In early April, the Association of College and Research Libraries will launch its own version of Project Outcome, for academic libraries, with surveys available in the following seven areas:

  • Digital & Special Collections

  • Events/Programs

  • Instruction

  • Library Technology

  • Research

  • Space

  • Teaching Support

A lot can be done with outcome data. Even a few patron responses on a survey can be enough information to help libraries make improvements to their programs, communicate library value, advocate on behalf of the library, apply for new funding or create new partnerships. Hundreds of libraries across the U.S. and Canada have used Project Outcome to make changes and increase their impact in the communities they serve.

Hundreds of libraries across the U.S. and Canada have used Project Outcome to make changes and increase their impact in the communities they serve. Click To Tweet

Here are some examples:

  • Leadership of Appleton Public Library (Wisconsin) viewed Project Outcome as an opportunity to extend outcome measurement to their summer library program and support program improvement and communications with the library’s board of directors.
  • Pima County Public Library (Arizona) uses Project Outcome surveys to assess the workshops, classes, trainings and drop-in sessions they provide in the areas of business development, job skills and digital literacy.
  • Burnsville Public Library (West Virginia) is an important community anchor within the rural county it serves. The library has used Project Outcome surveys to better understand the impact of its programs while also developing new partnerships and designing new programs based on community input.
  • Plano Public Library (Texas) uses Project Outcome surveys with a wide range of programs and services so they can better meet the needs of their highly diverse community and strengthen outcomes for patrons. Serving children, teens and families is a core part of their programming, and a large part of the library system’s outcome measurement has focused on these key demographics.
  • Sno-Isle Libraries in Snohomish and Island Counties (Washington) measures outcomes and creates quarterly State of Programming Reports to support their strategic plan.

Project Outcome libraries who have used their outcome data to make decisions have shared these six recommendations to help libraries get started:

  • 1. Start small. Select a program you would like to survey and survey it once. It is important to learn from early and small surveying so that you can make improvements before you launch a system-wide evaluation.

  • 2. Be strategic. If you don’t know what program to start surveying, consider targeting one that meets a community need. For example, if your community has a worker shortage, measure your job skills programs.

  • 3. Engage staff champions early. Library staff may be fearful that outcome measurement is also a staff evaluation and that negative reviews will reflect poorly on them. For this reason, they may resist using the surveys. Ask one or two staff members to try out the surveys and report back to their peers with information about what they learned and how they would make improvements.

  • 4. Ask patrons for honest feedback. Project Outcome libraries have reported that overall patrons respond very positively about the library’s programs and services. Take a few minutes to explain the importance of honest feedback and share how the library will use the data. And make sure to give them time to complete the survey; end your program five minutes early to build in time for this essential feedback.

  • 5. Keep responses anonymous. In order to reinforce your message about honesty, make sure patron responses are collected anonymously. You can provide an anonymous drop-box or have a volunteer collect responses after staff leave the room.

  • 6. Take action. Use the data you gathered! Take time to read the responses and decide how you can make changes for the better. Look at what patrons wrote and determine if there are improvements you can make to your library. You can do this even if you only receive a few responses.

The Project Outcome toolkit is designed to help libraries by supporting their efforts to confidently measure the outcomes of their programs and services. The resources on Project Outcome’s website are available to every library and include even more tips and training on how to plan for, measure, and administer the surveys; understand the data, and take action using the results. Outcome data can help libraries communicate what they already know to be true: that the library is a valuable and critical community anchor.

Visit www.projectoutcome.org to sign up for free and learn more.

We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!

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