New Tools for Getting Beyond the Survey to Discover Your Community Needs

WebJunction /
Dot Board in Detroit

Photo: Dot Board in Detroit; Project for Public Spaces

Learn more in the webinar recording with Betha Gutsche, exploring community discovery tools, Getting to the Heart of the Community Through Discovery.

For the cohort of small/rural libraries that participated in WebJunction’s Small Libraries Create Smart Spaces project in 2017-18, the most transformational aspect of the process was realizing new ways to meet and collaborate with their communities. Achieving their goals to re-envision and activate their physical spaces into participatory, active learning spaces, pivoted on the depth of their collaboration with community members. We call this “community discovery.”

WebJunction just launched a second cohort of “smart space” libraries, and they’re getting ready to start the community discovery phase. As we introduce them to a number of community discovery strategies and tools, we’d like to share those tools broadly.

The most common approach to assessing community needs is to conduct a survey. Surveys have their strengths; they cast a wide net, get distributed electronically or on paper, and collect quantitative data that can be filtered and parsed. However, surveys are not necessarily the best tool to reveal the heart and aspirations of the community. The biggest drawback is that they are impersonal. Community discovery is not intended to arrive at some statistically significant, quantifiable representation of your community. It is a process to build connection and conversation between the library and community members.

Wish Tree

Photo: Wish Tree; Madison Public Library (SD)

There are a variety of tools that use more open-ended, interactive, and often more visual approaches to elicit more innovative thinking than a survey. The purpose is multi-faceted: to uncover characteristics and connections with community members; to start a conversation that will continue past any specific project; to raise the visibility of the library and staff outside of the library building; and to alter the community’s perceptions of what the library is and can be.

Beyond the Survey – Basket of Discovery Tools

The tools, methodologies, and strategies for community discovery explored as part of the Small Libraries Create Smart Spaces project have been collected, to be shared with the broader community in, Beyond the Survey – Basket of Discovery Tools (pdf) and include:

  • Interviews and Focus Groups
  • Visual Tools
  • Interactive Workshop Tools

Whether you’re seeking community input or looking for ways to create community connections, these discovery tools will bring new insight to patron needs, interests and wishes. Learn more about the Small Libraries Create Smart Spaces project and view stories and videos from the first cohort to see the how the community discovery process helps transform library spaces.