Assessment can be time consuming, intimidating, stress inducing, and just overwhelming. Where do you even begin? What do you do with the data? In the recent webinar, Supercharge Your Storytime Assessment: Using Data to Tell Your Story, presenters and participants acknowledged the challenges around assessment while offering ideas on how data gathering can be useful. It can help us prove our value, use resources more efficiently, deliver quality programs, communicate with funders, and show growth. Moving from head counts at storytimes to outcome measurement empowers us to measure the good we do and our value to patrons.
Project Outcome as Easy Solution
Emily Plagman from the Public Library Association introduced Project Outcome, PLA’s free online toolkit with custom-designed surveys. These surveys in seven different areas include early childhood literacy and are ready to print and deliver to patrons.
Liesl Jacobson from Salt Lake City Public Library (SLCPL) discussed designing her own survey for early literacy workshops, and discovered how difficult it is to write good survey questions. She was frustrated to learn that the data she gathered showed no change. When she learned about Project Outcome, Jacobson was relieved to remove the stress of creating the survey herself. Experts have designed and field-tested the questions, and she could just do the surveying. Her own staff at SLCPL were hesitant about taking on assessment because they did not want to inconvenience patrons. They agreed to have one children’s services team pilot data collection for a couple of weeks and report back to the other branch locations. They were pleasantly surprised that patrons were thrilled to tell the library about their experience.
WebJunction Coordinator, Brooke Doyle, shared some of the valuable open-ended responses the Supercharged Storytimes project has collected from participating libraries using Project Outcome:
In answer to the question, “What did you like most about the program?” one patron responded, “My kids learned numbers, letters, how to follow structure from storytime. They sing the songs at home and they pretend they are in storytime. Miss V Always has awesome props and puppets to illustrate the theme of the day.” This testimonial validates the important work happening in storytimes.
In response to “What could the library do to improve your children’s enjoyment of reading?” one patron suggested “Maybe having books available at storytime about the theme of the day that they can choose to take out.” This is actionable feedback. Assessment doesn’t have to be complex to be meaningful. Amalia Butler Daniels from Maplewood Memorial Library pointed out that these surveys are not performance reviews; they are tools to help find strengths as well as opportunities for improvement.
Mechanics of Data Collection
Sometimes the devil is in the details: Where do I get the survey? When do I give it? What will the kids do while the parents fill out the surveys? Project Outcome does much of the work for you. They have ready-to-use surveys on their website in English and Spanish. Many libraries just print them off, but some find tablets easier. The surveys do not need to be given frequently. Start by giving one survey and see what you learn. When you tell patrons you want their feedback to improve storytimes, and most are happy to help. Have some bubbles ready and do your most entertaining singing, dancing, and bubble blowing while parents and caregivers fill out the short, six-question survey. It might be helpful to invite other staff or volunteers to come in for the last 10 minutes keep kids entertained while parents complete the survey. Emily Plagman shared an example from Allen County Public Library where they printed the questions on large chart paper and gave the kids colored dots to place on their responses. This might be an effective strategy for parents who have babes in arms and can’t manage a pen or pencil.
Start Small and Use Data
Do not feel the need to set up an entire strategic plan around assessment. Start small with one survey at one storytime and build from there . Emily Plagman told the story of Burnsville Public Library, which had one full time staff member. That staff member began using Project Outcome with a couple of programs that had a few patrons attending. She gathered some excellent quotes from the open-ended questions and took that data to her library’s board. She received additional funding which has continued to grow over time. She’s even built a mentorship program that resulted in getting more technology in her library. She started small and learned iteratively. Boards and friends groups love to see data; the reports generated by Project Outcome are easy visuals to show the value of the library from the patron perspective.
Liesl Jacobson explained that she is always impressing upon people the value of storytime and its connection to early literacy. Data allows you to advocate for yourself and for the value of your programs.
The webinar Supercharge Your Storytime Assessment: Using Data to Tell Your Story was rich with even more information and advice, and can be watched anytime for free in our Course Catalog. The page also has slides, chat, captions, a learner guide, and related resources. Storytime assessment is one module within the larger Supercharged Storytimes course, a free, online, self-paced course for library storytime practitioners.