Library survey checks in on community priorities

Fresno County Public Library survey asks for input on services, purpose to get a read on community attitudes ahead of drafting its three-year strategic plan

Three young children seated on child-size bean bag chairs reading some children’s books in the library. Photo courtesy of the Fresno County Public Library.
Three young children seated on child-size bean bag chairs reading some children’s books in the library. Photo courtesy of the Fresno County Public Library.
Serena Bettis
Published October 5, 2023  • 
12:00 pm

FRESNO COUNTY – To help develop its goals and priorities for the coming years, the Fresno County Public Library (FCPL) wants community input from residents across the county, regardless of how often they utilize the library’s services.

Fresno County residents can access the community input survey online through the FCPL website from now until Oct. 31 to contribute feedback library officials will incorporate into the formation of their 2024-2026 strategic plan. Jennifer Bethel, the public services division manager for FCPL, said the library typically does its strategic planning in three-year chunks, and this survey is one of the first steps in that process. 

Three young children are seated amongst a crowd of other kids at the library as they are wearing blue and pink shirts that read “Fresno Library.” Photo courtesy of the Fresno County Public Library.

“We like input from all of our various stakeholders,” Bethel said, “and we like to start with that input as a pulse check on what it is that they think should be the (library’s) high priorities … in setting programs, services and resources to make sure (that’s) in line with what the community needs from us.”

The survey is 14 questions long and is estimated to take only 10 minutes. It asks respondents to rate the library’s service areas from excellent to poor, identify how the library could improve on its offerings and rank the importance of services the library provides and the different purposes a library serves, such as providing job training resources and being a place people can study.

Bethel said that every time the library does a survey like this, the results regularly show the same priorities, but library staff “always need to keep asking.” She said community priorities generally fall into the same buckets even as specifics may change, such as the fact that people want to be able to access technology through the library and want training on how to use that technology, regardless of what it is. 

Library users also frequently want to see more programs for early literacy or early learning to get pre-kindergarten-aged children ready for school. They want more entertainment materials as well, “to explore topics that they’re interested in, but also to escape for a while,” Bethel said. 

A group of children enjoying a performance at the library from“Magic of Josiah,” an award-winning magician from Bakersfield. Photo courtesy of the Fresno County Public Library.

Strategic planning

Alongside the public survey, FCPL has given surveys to volunteers, members of the Friends of the Library and library staff to get input on all aspects of its operations. 

Once the survey closes at the end of the month, Bethel said library staff will use November to go through the survey responses and isolate the themes and priority areas that stand out the most. Those priority areas will direct FCPL to create goals for its strategic plan, which Bethel said they want to be as clear and measurable as possible. 

Part of the planning process will also include a second survey sent out to library staff after priorities are identified to help FCPL get an employee’s perspective on how teams can achieve goals specific to their division, Bethel said.

“What we’re going to do with that info is report back to the staff and stakeholders and say this is what you identified, what we want to do now is to drill down to actionable steps that we can take,” Bethel said. 

A crowd of people viewing a presentation in what appears to be a main library space. Photo courtesy of the Fresno County Public Library.

Actionable steps in the strategic plan look like SMART goals, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based goals, Bethel said. Having exact goals in the plan instead of just vague statements about what the library wants to achieve will help FCPL with its mission to make the library “a place for anyone with something for everything.” 

Bethel said that what FCPL wants is to “show progress to ourselves … but also show our progress to the community to say that when we say this … those aren’t just words, those are the things we’re hoping to do.” 

For example, one goal of FCPL is to be a welcoming and safe space for everyone, which can take shape in a variety of different ways.

Safety could mean emotional, mental or physical safety, Bethel said. Depending on what is needed in one location or another, FCPL could increase security guard presence at a branch or provide regular staff training in customer service to reach that goal. 

“A lot of it too is that sense of feeling that you belong there by finding yourself in the shelves,” Bethel said. “By finding books that reflect who you are, that reflect your interest, there’s a sense of safety and belonging and welcoming in that as well.”

Currently, the survey is only available in English, but Bethel said FCPL is working on getting a Spanish-language survey ready for residents by the end of the year. 

Although responses from that survey will be worked into the plan after most of it is first developed, “it will help lend support for the results we’ve already gotten, (and) may help us drill down to some smart goals that are specific to helping us serve our Spanish-speaking communities better,” Bethel said.

Bethel said FCPL is hoping to have a draft of the strategic plan ready by the end of the year so that it can be finalized in early 2024 and direct the library’s path for the next three years, through 2026.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter