Article excerpt

Many libraries conduct surveys of their customers these days. It is often pretty much required if you are going through a long-range planning process. And, it's often pretty expensive. I once asked a survey consultant how big a sample of the population should be. He answered, "As big as you can afford." Well, that sounds right, I guess, but I'm constantly seeing surveys, national ones at that, which only sample tiny numbers of people. Well, I guess I need some education in that area.

The library surveys I've seen generally turn out to be remarkably similar. People love libraries, they use them frequently (ha!), and they think more money should be spent on them. Yes, I know, sometimes the results are different, especially if the library has been in the center of some controversy - dirty books, fights over a new library site, reductions in service, or a bond issue.

The problem, at least in my eyes, is in asking people what they want the library to do. The answers always seem to be more materials and longer hours (seldom connected to more money).

But 20 years ago, or maybe even more recently, who could have predicted the inclusion in today's library collection the extent of audio and visual materials, or a lot of computers for public use, or any of the many technological changes which have affected libraries? And the future two or three decades will bring, I'll bet, just as many or more changes in the mission of libraries. …