Have you ever attended an event that left you feeling slightly disappointed? Or maybe you wanted to attend an event but couldn’t, because the time or place didn’t work for your schedule? Imagine how you would feel if someone took the time to listen to your complaints or ask you about your schedule. And then imagine they made changes based on your input. That’s the power of feedback: it builds relationships with your customers. It can also help to improve your programs, increase attendance and provide the stories to gain support from the public, media and funders.
Whew! Who knew feedback could be so powerful? Then why we aren’t we doing it all the time? Gathering feedback is often something that gets lost on our to-do lists. However, collecting and analyzing feedback is a lot easier when you incorporate it as part of your planning process. And, often, there isn’t a need for a long survey -- short, purpose-driven questionnaires can give you plenty of information to plan, evaluate and continually improve your programs.
Plus, a silver lining: they’re a great way for customers to sign up to learn about other services and programs your library offers.
Five questions to ask yourself before you collect feedback:
- Why do you want feedback?
- What do you want to know?
- How should you ask your questions?
- How will you collect information?
- What will you do with the information you collect?
It is important to establish why you are collecting information. Why you are collecting information will determine the content and format of your questions.
Top reasons why libraries need feedback:
- Address a specific problem.
- Determine the most effective communication channels.
- Support grant information.
- Provide advocacy testimonies.
- Build your customer base.
2. What do you want to know?
Once you know why you are seeking feedback, the next step is to further define the specific information you need. If you were defining the top reasons why libraries seek information, you would ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the specific problem you’re trying to address?
- What specific information will help you improve future events?
- What specific statistic is your grant asking for?
- Is there a specific need that you want your testimonies to support? (Upcoming budget hearings, to support a media story, recruiting volunteers, etc.)
- Are you seeking additional ways to collect contact information to build your customer base? Spread the library’s message? Identify and be specific.
3. How should you ask your questions?
There are two types of questions: open-ended and closed-ended.
Open-ended questions allow participants to answer any way they choose. These questions are best used to gain greater insight and information for future planning.
Here are examples of ways to ask for feedback using open-ended questions:
- Program time: What time of day is best to hold programs? What day is best?
- Location: Where should the program be held? At the library, off site?
- Content: Was the program interesting?
- Planning for future programs: What programs would you like the library to offer?
- Testimonies: How did this program help you?
Closed-ended questions require people to choose from a limited number of responses. Types of closed-ended questions are: multiple choice, yes or no questions, scaled responses, ranked responses, and rated response questions.
- Multiple Choice Questions: Use multiple choice questions when there are several possible answers from which to choose.
Example: What type of program would you attend at the library? (check all that apply)
____book club discussions
- Yes or No Questions: Use to collect very simple data -- great for immediate feedback.
Example: Did you attend any library programs in the last six months? ___yes ___no
- Scaled Responses: Use scaled response questions when you want to determine the attitude of your customers by measuring degrees of opinion or activity.
Example: How important is it to you to attend library programs?
Very important Not important at all
1 2 3 4
- Ranked Response Questions: Use ranked responses when you want participants to compare different items directly to one another.
Example: Please rank from 1 to 5, your five favorite programs. (1=favorite, 5=least favorite)
____book club discussions
- Rated Response Questions: Use rated response questions when you want participants to compare different items using a common scale.
Example: Please rate each program if you would attend. (1=definitely attend, 5=definitely not attend).
Musical concerts 1 2 3 4 5
Author visits 1 2 3 4 5
Art exhibits 1 2 3 4 5
Informational lectures 1 2 3 4 5
Book club discussions 1 2 3 4 5
4. How will you collect information?
There are many ways to collect information. When you have a roomful of people, take advantage of it and ask for immediate feedback. Alternatively, consider a verbal poll, a short questionnaire, a follow-up email, or an online survey.
Think about the audience when asking for feedback. For example, with a teen audience, if you want to know if they enjoyed your program’s content, use a short electronic poll. Teens are electronically connected and would be more apt to answer an online poll than pick up a paper evaluation form in the library.
Creative ways to collect feedback
When collecting feedback from children, make it fun!
- For children who attended storytime, at the end of the program, ask them to place a green ring in the box if they liked the program or a red ring if they did not.
- Ask children to draw a picture about their favorite library program.
- Invite children to color a barometer every time they come to a library program.
When collecting feedback from teens, be aware of their preferred channels of communication.
- Place a poll on your Facebook page.
- Ask teens to tweet about a library program they enjoyed.
- When they do visit your library, sit down and chat. Teens are often very willing to give their opinions.
- Send an email blast to your teen cardholders asking for feedback about library programs. Provide a prize to the first 5 who answer.
When collecting feedback from adults, respect their busy schedules.
- Provide the adults who attend your programs with a short feedback form they can fill out immediately.
- Send short emails to participants, asking for their feedback about the program.
- Provide comment cards at the program.
- Post a link on your website to a feedback form.
When collecting feedback from seniors, find the channels of communication they are most comfortable with.
- Visit with seniors at the end of the program and ask for feedback.
- Send a postcard thanking them for attending and ask for feedback.
- For those with email, send a short note with 2 or 3 questions.
5. What are you going to do with your information?
How are you going to use what you’ve learned? If you’re not going to use it, is there a need to ask for feedback? For example, if you ask program participants if the time of day was appropriate and the majority of your responses was, “No,” then change the time of day!
Tips For Good Design
If your feedback forms will be in print:
- Include library branding.
- Make sure to ask for customers’ name and contact information so that you may follow up.
- Consider your audience.
If your feedback will be online:
- Make sure the links work correctly.
- Watch for incorrect email addresses.
- Keep information updated.
Tips For Great Content
When collecting feedback, use a question style that will most effectively elicit the desired information. You want to collect information useful for future program planning and development, so ask questions from the participant’s perspective. Forget the library jargon -- like “reference” and “circulation” -- these are not meaningful to the outside world.
- A good question asks for only one bit of information. Example: A children’s librarian might ask parents if they have attended a storytime or summer reading programs with their children. If the person answers yes, you are not sure which program they attended. Better: Ask two different questions.
- You may not think of all options, so include an “other” category. Example: You ask seniors who attended a computer training class, “What information from the computer class was most useful?” and you give them three options – setting up an email account, learning the keyboard, and learning about internet searching. If they also found that having a knowledgeable instructor most useful, wouldn’t you want to capture this?
- Good feedback questions are straightforward and clear. There should only be one correct or appropriate choice for each question. Example: You ask, “How many library programs did you attend this year?” and the choices provided are 0-5, 5-10, 10-15. How would a person who attended 10 respond?
You’ve gathered feedback; now, future success lies in using the information you’ve learned. Your measurement will be in observing how behavior has changed as a result of the questions you asked. Consider feedback as part of an ongoing conversation, a longer process. It is a factor to guide decision-making and should work with your judgment and intuition. Keep asking questions; keep assessing. Good feedback will not correct a program that simply doesn’t work!
While it’s difficult to give up a program you’ve been doing for years, ask yourself, “Is it still working?”
Listen to what people have told you and incorporate the information in your future planning. Consider following up with certain individuals for clarity or more suggestions. Schedule a brainstorming session with your staff to discuss how you might incorporate some of the suggestions for future programs.
Added Value For Your Library
You’ve done great work, now how do you transform that work into results?
Each of you understands the value of your library and how important your programs are to the community. Use your success to build AWAREness of your value. Here are some tips on how to incorporate your feedback results.
- Ask customers if you can use their comments in your promotional materials.
- Encourage your frontline staff to share customers’ feedback with other customers.
- Share your successes using social media channels.
- Social media channels are also a fun way to share what you learned: “90% of the parents who attended storytime found that….”
- Ask participants to spread the word to their friends.
- Publicize the results of your feedback.
- Contact individuals who have provided constructive feedback and ask for their help in planning new programs.
Five Things To Do
So as you continue to provide programs for your library’s community, keep our five key tips in mind.
- Always ask for feedback.
- Target your audience with appropriate channels of communication.
- Use the feedback you collect.
- If a program isn’t working, it’s okay to discontinue.
- Be willing to change.
Five Things NOT To Do
- Don’t recreate feedback forms for every program. Repurpose.
- Don’t dismiss negative feedback -- often there is validity there that can help inform your future programs.
- Don’t forget to ask for help implementing changes from the feedback you gathered.
- Don’t make feedback forms long and complicated, keep them simple.
- Don’t be afraid to follow up.