Getting out from under the Radar: Using YALSA's Teen Services Evaluation Tool

By Ryan, Sara | Young Adult Library Services, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Getting out from under the Radar: Using YALSA's Teen Services Evaluation Tool


Ryan, Sara, Young Adult Library Services


YALSA's "Public Library Evaluation Tool" is described on the YALSA website as "a place to begin the conversation about what constitutes excellent public library service for teens." (1) But how do you begin that conversation? How can you use YALSA's evaluation tool at your library?

We recently used the tool at Multnomah County Library, a large urban system serving Portland, Oregon, and surrounding cities. I'm sharing our experience to help encourage other libraries to use YALSA's evaluation tool as well.

I'll break the process into four parts:

* Convince your administration that evaluating your teen services will benefit the library

* Conduct the evaluation

* Communicate the results

* Create change based on what the evaluation reveals

Convince

Managers are often interested in tools that make it easier to demonstrate the impact and tell the story of the library's work, particularly those aspects of the work that are more challenging to capture with traditional measures such as circulation or reference statistics. And many managers create strategic plans that define the top priorities for their libraries in a given period of time. Evaluating teen services using YALSA's tool will bring attention to what's working well and what can be improved at your library. In the context of a strategic plan, an evaluation can be an excellent way to identify projects that merit time and resources.

For example, let's say your library's strategic plan includes the goal "improve patrons' awareness of the library's electronic resources," and your teen services evaluation reveals staff lack knowledge of the devices most used by teens in your community. You could then propose a project where staff work with teens to learn more about their devices and how they use them, which would include recommendations about improving teens' awareness of the library's digital resources. In that case, your library has already set the goal of improving patron awareness of digital resources, and now you have a project that simultaneously addresses a goal from the strategic plan and a gap in teen services.

If you think you'll need to overcome resistance from your administration in order to use the evaluation tool, consider how your library currently measures its work. Can you reference evaluations of other aspects of your library? Maybe your library has investigated how well its services are connecting with the small business community, or seniors, or recent immigrants, and you can point to benefits that came from those projects. For more about how best to advocate with your administration, read Sarah Flowers's series on the YALSAblog, "What Your Manager Wishes You Knew" (http://bit.ly/flowers_manager), and her book Evaluating Teen Services and Programs (Neal-Schuman, 2012).

Conduct

Just looking at the teen services evaluation tool can be daunting. After all, the tool has multiple categories--Leadership and Professionalism, Knowledge of Client Group, Communication, Marketing and Outreach, Administration, Knowledge of Materials, Access to Information, Services--and multiple items to assess in each category. You may be overwhelmed, wondering how you'll possibly be able to come up with rankings for everything, and how you can be sure if your rankings are accurate. Here are some ways to make your teen services evaluation a manageable project.

* Involve multiple staff. When we used the evaluation tool at Multnomah County Library, the entire Teen Action Team (seven staff members) was actively involved in conducting the evaluation. We also consulted several additional staff members to deepen our understanding of aspects of overall library operations and policies that affect teen services. And we were especially fortunate to have the support and encouragement of our youth services director, Katie O'Dell, throughout the evaluation process.

* Divide and conquer. …

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