No doubt most Americans are watching the presidential election events pretty closely. Commentators and those involved claim it is the dirtiest and most lie-filled campaign in history. Every news and media organization is conducting polls to figure out what Americans think, believe and feel about candidates and issues. Generally, the polls are in contradiction to what most commentators are saying about the candidates and voters.
Even though the results of this presidential election are significant for every American, and regardless of which side one happens to be on, it is very evident that people believe what they believe no matter what “facts” media and commentators – and even candidates – claim to be the “truth.” Everyone has their own version of the truth, and in some cases they may both be right – they’re just talking apples and oranges. If this situation doesn’t prove that old adage that Perception is Reality, I don’t know what would. That’s just the way people are!
My point? Have you taken time to consider your community’s perception of its [your] library? Does it fit with your reality as you perceive the library? Do you even know your community’s perception of your library? When was the last time you asked your customers what they thought of their library – from an overall perspective?
Librarians tend to survey customers about specific programs or services, but do we ask what they think or feel when they think of The Library? Is that even important? I think it is highly important and extremely relevant to know your library’s standing within your community. It has everything to do with support, participation, funding, and especially relevance to the community – that paramount perception that determines your survival.
Let’s look at this situation from extremes. I find that considering the worst and best case scenarios often clarifies the issues related to a question.
Worst Case: You conduct a survey of every citizen in your community [just for the sake of this illustration], so there are no sampling errors and nothing to dispute the results. Those results reveal that 50% of residents don’t even know where the library is located. Another 40% indicate that they have never used the library – for anything. The final 10% respond that they’ve had better libraries in other places they’ve lived. OUCH! Those results would hurt even the most thick-skinned librarian. BUT, you know for a fact that the city council members know you, and you all think you’re doing a pretty good job.
So What? With results like this, how long do you think the community will continue to fund the library? Or maybe we should say – this library director. Citizens are the ones who elect their city council representatives. City and county councils fund those government agencies that can demonstrate they are making a difference with the money they are given. With all the problems communities face today, jurisdictions fund those agencies that are providing solutions, creating a better community in which people want to live, and presenting a show piece of which the community can be proud.
Best Case: Your survey of every citizen reveals that 90% of residents know where the library is located, and about 50% know its general hours of operation. About 45% respond that they use the library “regularly.” Only 10% indicate that they have never used the library – for anything. Finally, 30% respond that they’ve never had better library service anywhere they’ve lived. WOW! Who wouldn’t be proud of those results?
So What? With results like this, a library could feel confident that they are making a difference in their community. Jurisdictions continue to fund government agencies that demonstrate they are making a difference with the money they are given. They even give them more money to provide more solutions for the community, if they demonstrate they are within their capabilities. This agency is totally secure because they are creating a better community in which people want to live, and presenting a show piece of which the community is proud.
These two scenarios show the importance of community perception of the library. It is highly important to the library’s relevance to the community.
What is the community’s perception of your library?
In addition to my point that perception is reality when it comes to your community’s perception of its library, I further assert that your library will become a 21st Century Library when your community perceives that you are helping it become a 21st Century community. Perception can be even more important than fact.