Mid-Year Surveys and Public Library Services, May 2002 (v.5, n.4)

In January 2002, the first annual Mid-Year Survey was sent to all public library directors in Massachusetts. In addition, at the beginning of April an informal email survey was sent to public library directors. The results of these surveys are presented below.

Of the 370 surveys mailed out in January, 293 (79%) were returned.

The first question on the Mid-Year Survey was, "Does your library offer reference services via email?" The question asked library directors to respond yes or no if their library either received and/or responded to reference questions using email. Of the 293 respondents, 157 indicated that they did offer reference services using email,130 said that they did not and 6 did not answer the question. Thus, a little over half, 55% do provide these services.

The second question was, "Does your library have workstations with Internet access for public use?" Only seven directors reported that their libraries do not have public access Internet terminals. The second part of the question asked for the number of terminals available. In the 286 libraries with Internet access for the public, there are 2,055 terminals.

This question has also been asked on the Annual Report Information Survey (ARIS) since 1999. It is interesting to note that for 1998 data, 344 libraries reported 1,485 public Internet access terminals. The most recent survey, 2001 data, shows 361 libraries with 3,197 terminals. The average has jumped from a little over four terminals per library in 1998 to almost nine in 2001.

Another question on the Mid-Year Survey asked if the library used filtering software on the terminals with public Internet access. Only 57 of the 292 respondents, (24%), answered in the affirmative. This is an increase from the 16% of public libraries reporting use of filtering software in August 2000, (Summary of Findings: Survey of Internet Access in Massachusetts Public Libraries).

Directors were also asked on the survey whether there was an acceptable use policy in place at their library. The percent of libraries with an acceptable use policy is 87%. This is remarkably close to the percentage (86%) that reported an acceptable use policy in the 2000 study.

Finally, directors were asked if eBooks are circulated by their libraries. Only 31 libraries offer eBooks to their users. In addition, directors were asked to tell us how many titles the library offered, other than those supplied through statewide or regional licensing. Those 31 libraries offer 210 titles.

Library directors were asked in the informal email survey to supply information about increases in services, (circulation, visits, program attendance, reference transactions) over a year ago. Although the intent was to gather information that would show the effect of September 11 and the subsequent budget problems, it became clear from the responses that there is not necessarily a direct connection. Not every respondent has noticed increases, however most of those who answered the survey, did see increases in both computer use and circulation.

For example,

"Here at the Rockland Memorial Library staff was remarking on the increase in public usage of our computer terminals. So I decided to gather together some stats. From July 00 - Feb 01 we had 2,381 patrons who signed up to use our computer terminals (these all have access to the Internet, Word, Excel, Publisher etc.). In the same time period July 01 - Feb 02 we had 3,785 signups. So I guess the staff was right on. We have not added any new workstations and we do have three express stations that do not require signup and are therefore unaccounted for." That is a 59% increase!

And another,

"Our computers are constantly in use and there are lots (how is that for a measuring unit) of people in the library all the time using the machines and reading."

And yet another,

"Internet use has increased 103% over the same period [February 2001 to February 2002] though we did increase the number of Internet computers from 4 to 7. We thought that increasing the number of Internet computers would lessen the demand but it has actually increased it!"

One more,

"The change that has struck me is Internet activity. Prior to September we had averaged 600 or so 'reservations' for Internet computers a month. In the month after the attack there were 1,200 uses, and it has since maintained an average of 900 or more uses a month. On the evenings that I work reference I personally observe the group that is using our computers it looks like a small United Nations here. There are people from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Perhaps the word is out that this is a free way to keep in touch with home when international conditions are unsettled."

A word about circulation from the informal survey. Most of the libraries that noted an increase, reported between a 9 and a 13% jump in circulation over last year. In some libraries circulation has increased as much as 30% and 40%. Many directors did remark that the increases in circulation activity began prior to September 11. After the FY2002 data is collected and verified, library services will no doubt show marked increases.

One last comment from a public library director,

"March 2002 was the busiest month in our library's history...Systemwide our year-to-date circulation at the end of March is just shy of our total for all of FY96...3,183 people used our public Internet stations at the Main Library in March–a 67% increase over last year." Libraries are alive and well used.

Prepared by Dianne L. Carty, Head of State Aid and Data Coordination.

Page last updated on 05/22/2015