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Library News Release

Release Date: 07/30/2010

Survey results show heavy use and satisfaction with services of The Seattle Public Library

My Library: the next generation

When was the last time you used The Seattle Public Library?

If you are like the majority of people who participated in a recent Library use survey, you've probably already visited the Library twice this month, or maybe more.

Of the nearly 33,000 people who completed the survey May 3-May 16 - a number equal to 5 percent of the city's population - 62 percent reported visiting a Library two or more times in a typical month. Thirty-eight percent of survey respondents said they visited the Library at least once a week.

Lower income, non-white and non-English speakers were more likely than other respondents to use the Library more than five times a month.

A detailed summary of the survey results can be found on the Library website: www.spl.org. The survey contained 29 questions asking respondents everything from frequency of use to how easy it was to find information or download online resources.

The community survey was conducted as part of the Library's process to develop a strategic plan, which will guide the Library's future growth and services. Seattle-based consultants Berk & Associates is providing assistance through a grant from The Seattle Public Library Foundation.

"The survey confirms how well-used and important our libraries are to the community," said City Librarian Susan Hildreth. "Library use has increased 57 percent in the last decade. No wonder Seattle continually gets ranked as the most literate city in the nation."

Even Gen Ys find the Library relevant to them, said Hildreth, who pointed to Library statistics showing that more than 92 percent of Seattle residents aged 20 to 34 are cardholders.

The community survey, intended to capture a snapshot of current use and service gaps, found respondents were very satisfied with The Seattle Public Library. In fact, 95 percent of survey respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that they usually get what they want when they use the Library. Respondents found it easy to check out books and materials, pick up holds and believed Library buildings were safe and clean.

Seattle's reputation of being a city of readers was reconfirmed with nearly 94 percent of all respondents choosing providing materials as one of the two most important Library offerings. Hildreth noted that the total circulation of books and materials has increased by nearly 132 percent in the last decade.

The second Library service most frequently identified as important to survey respondents was providing technology and materials for people who might not otherwise have access.

Other key findings

Why people come to the Library (note: respondents could select multiple choices):


  • Approximately 85 percent of respondents said they come to the Library to pick up holds or check out materials;
  • Nearly 42 percent come to browse or read;
  • Approximately 22 percent come to use a computer and 14 percent to use the wireless network. Respondents with higher incomes and education levels were less likely to use the wireless network and computers.
  • About 41 percent of teens aged 15-19 said their reason for using the Library was to study or do homework.

Longer operating hours desired:


  • Survey respondents - particularly those who use branches only open five days a week - expressed a desire to see operating hours increased. Budget reductions in 2010 resulted in 15 branches being open only 35 hours a week and closed every Friday and Sunday. Only 12 percent of all branch users responding to the survey reported being satisfied with current operating hours.

Staff assistance valued:


  • Sixty-six percent of survey respondents said Library personnel were most valued for their help with reference or research questions. The Library has implemented a number of self-service and easily accessible online resources for patrons over recent years. Patrons can now reserve, pick up and check out materials without staff assistance.
  • Approximately 29 percent of survey respondents said getting reading recommendations from staff was also important.

Online resources popular:


  • In addition to checking out books and materials, about 89 percent of survey respondents said they used the Library's website at least once a month and almost half reported visiting the website at least once a week. Teen respondents visited the website even more frequently.
  • Of the online resources offered by the Library, nearly 55 percent said reference databases (articles and magazines), were among the most important electronic resources provided by the Library. Downloadable media, such as e-books, video and audio, was the second highest ranking resource, selected by 45 percent of all respondents. Circulation of downloadable media increased 55 percent from 2008 to 2009.
  • While patrons agreed they could easily find what they were looking for on the Web site, the ease of using e-books and other online resources needed improvement, with about 39 percent of respondents expressing dissatisfaction. It's notable that only one-third of survey participants chose to answer the question about downloading online resources, indicating people may not have tried downloading these resources, or they don't have the equipment to use them.

Programming preferences:


  • Literary events and educational programs for children and teens were the two most preferred Library programming options among survey respondents. Nearly 57 percent of survey participants preferred to attend Library programs weekday evenings while 41 percent preferred weekend afternoons. Library statistics show the annual growth rate in attendance of Library classes and events over the last decade has gone up nearly 9 percent each year.

Emerging trends:


  • The Library took note of several emerging trends among Library users. While the majority of respondents want books and materials, there is a growing interest in patron generated content on the website. Fifty-four percent of survey respondents expressed an interest in creating their own content online and sharing it with other patrons. Approximately 42 percent indicated interest in online discussion groups about current events.

More awareness of specialized services needed:


  • As much as Seattle residents use the Library, the survey revealed that the majority of respondents were unaware the Library offered online magazines and newspapers, online or in person homework help, or online Library staff assistance and classes for non-English speakers.

"Clearly the Library needs to raise awareness of the specialized programs and resources we offer," Hildreth said. Hildreth said the survey results will be analyzed in conjunction with other community feedback received during the strategic planning process. To date, the Library has already held five public open houses, citywide forums on technology and the Library user experience, surveys for the public and staff and focus groups. A 19-member Strategic Advisory Committee is also helping shape the plan.

"It's important we hear from all parts of the community since our strategic plan will be our blueprint for the future," Hildreth said. A draft strategic plan will be produced in late fall and will be available for public review and comment before going to the Library board of trustees. A final plan is scheduled to be completed and approved by the year's end.

"We are already learning so much from this process in how people search for and interact with information, as well as the life-changing access to information and services we provide to specific populations," Hildreth said. "We've been fortunate to have such incredible community participation in the strategic planning effort, which helps ensure we continue providing the services our patrons need now and into the future."

For more information about the strategic planning process, visit www.spl.org and select "Strategic Planning" from the Quick Links menu.

For more information contact:

Andra Addison, communications director

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