Magazine article American Libraries

Questioning the Questionnaires; Library Survey Forms Are Time-Consuming, Costly, Redundant, All of the Above

Magazine article American Libraries

Questioning the Questionnaires; Library Survey Forms Are Time-Consuming, Costly, Redundant, All of the Above

Article excerpt

More than once I've toyed with the thought of sending an ad like that to the library press. It's gotten to that point.

Not a week goes by that a questionnaire doesn't land on someone's desk (usually mine) in this library. Some are comprehensive (the American Library Directory, the annual report to the State Library, etc.), some are fairly brief ("This will only take a few minutes of your time") and some are just plain nonsense.

I hesitate to mention names, but not because I don't want to offend anyone-I want to offend everyone who's responsible. There is no uniformity in the way various questionnaires ask the same or similar questions; one request for income may not be defined the same way by another inquisitor. How do you handle "balance forwards" year after year-encumbered or not? We know how we handle them, but the way the questions are posed often results in different totals.

Figures available for population may be for one year; those for circulation, for another. Yet libraries are asked to provide average circulation per year, using the latest circulation figures.

"Holdings" include all cataloged items on some questionnaires, but exclude cataloged periodicals on others. The latest Public Library Association questionnaire doesn't want to know about your periodicals, but libraries are asked to count their paperbacks.

Then there are the questionnaires from library school students. Students can do a lot of papers, even theses, by simply sending out any number of questionnaires. Often the information is available elsewhere, but doing that kind of research isn't as much fun as getting lots of mail.

But, of course, the most frequent source of questionnaires is the business world. Whether it's a marketing survey or a multiple-choice scramble, these little devils show up as often as dandelions.

The bottom fine for all of this is time (translation: money). The people who fill out all this material are usually the highpriced help, and they often require meetings or phone calls or file searches or seances to comply. And when all of the apples and oranges and lemons are totalled arid squeezed and blended for regional or national consumption, what do we really have?

I don't know. Who knows how accurately other people fill out questionnaires? Who knows how accurately other people compile them? ("Computer errors" don't even need to be mentioned.) Some questionnaires from the past few years that stand out as slightly different:

* One from the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies, Professional Development Studies, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (yes, all that, and more, on the letterhead) which was th"final segment of a national study of leadership in the American library field. …

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