Library survey draws nearly 1,800 responses

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When officials with the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County decided to seek public input on its six-year strategic plan, they expected a typical response of several hundred surveys.

However, the response was anything but typical, with nearly 1,800 surveys being returned. And that number does not include 200 surveys returned by teenagers.

“This is the largest response we have ever gotten with a public survey. We were overwhelmed and obviously, very happy,” said library communications and public relations director Janet Loew.

The Library 2020 Plan launched in March and the surveys were distributed in April and May at all 15 branches and online. Loew said the survey results will be discussed at a library trustees meeting at 4 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Newport Branch on Market Street in Youngstown.

She said the survey results, which are being analyzed and compiled by Farris Marketing, will be combined with input given at a series of three public meetings held last week. All the data then will be presented to the strategic planning committee, which will come up with a six-year blueprint for the library. Loew said she is hoping the blueprint will be ready for library trustees’ approval in December so the plan can be announced in early 2014.

Loew said survey data was still in raw form, but she was able to release preliminary findings. Of the 1,796 surveys returned, 69 percent of the respondents were women and 31 percent were men. Respondents in the 56 to 65 age group had the highest percentage of responses, followed by 19 percent in the 12 to 18 age group and 15 percent in the 46 to 55 age group. There was an 11 percent response rate in the 36 to 45 and 66 to 75 age groups,  and a 7 percent response rate in the 18 to 25, 26 to 35 and 76 and older age groups.

Loew said the 19 percent response rate for the teen group warranted a closer look, so library officials will analyze the teen data separately to ensure their needs are being served.

Of those who took the survey, 5 percent do not live in Mahoning County and 94 percent of the respondents said they have a library card.

The preliminary results showed 26 percent of the respondents visit the library in person once a week, followed closely by 22 percent who visit once a month and 20 percent who visit more than once a week.

“Those results are encouraging because it shows many people still do use the library,” Loew said.

The results show 26 percent of the survey takers visit the library between one and six times a year, while just 7 percent said they never visit the library. They also show 30 percent visit the library’s website at least once a week, 14 percent visit the website once a month, 19 percent visit the website between one and six times a year and 38 percent never visit the library’s site.

In terms of library locations, the survey shows 24 percent of the respondents visit the Austintown branch most often, with 21 percent going to the Poland branch, 18 percent going to the main branch in downtown Youngstown and 13 percent going to the Boardman branch. The remaining branches drew less than a 10 percent response, with Canfield drawing the most at 7 percent and Springfield and Greenford each drawing 1 percent of the responses.

The results show 85 percent of the respondents use the library to check out books, audio books, CDs and DVDs, while 51 percent use the website to check the catalog and reserve or renew books. Forty-six percent of those surveyed said they use the library to access computers and 28 percent said they use the reference center.

The survey also showed that 23 percent of the respondents use the library for its children/teen/adult programs and 19 percent use the library to check out eBooks.

When asked what type of programs and services respondents would use if the library offered them, 42 percent said healthy eating programs, 39 percent said making copies, 38 percent said cooking programs, 37 percent said arts and crafts, 34 percent said computer training and hobbies, 31 percent said computer access, and 27 percent said learning languages.

The survey shows 26 percent of the respondents would like there to be more events for older adults and 20 percent would like to see more discussion groups. Respondents across the board would like to see expanded library programs, especially for seniors and teens.

In addition to the surveys and public input meetings, the Youngstown State University Center for Urban and Regional Studies did a demographic profile and analysis of Mahoning County, looking at demographics for each service area for the library’s 15 locations. Service areas included two parts: the geographic distribution of patron residences and proximity to other library branches.

The YSU profile looked at pin maps indicating circulating materials in surrounding areas as they relate to usage of Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County branches. It also analyzed demographics such as population, age distribution, households, gender, income and vacancy in neighborhoods.

Loew said that demographic information will be used to assess the library’s future physical needs in terms of branches and materials. The library system previously announced plans to build a new $3.9 million Canfield branch, as well as $14.6 million in renovations at the main branch in downtown Youngstown and $1.1 million in renovations at the Boardman branch.

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