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February 13, 2012

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September 3, 2011

A community needs analysis is the method used by information professionals to define appropriate goals, and to pursue continual improvement in the quality of service, for themselves and their institutions. In order to describe how this method is used to produce the stated outcomes, I shall break down the phrase “community needs analysis” into its constituent terms and examine each one in context.

A community in the most general sense of the word is a subgroup of society as a whole, defined by common elements – generally of geography or culture, but also governance, economics, communication or technology. Organizations, of whatever variety, may also be considered as a type of community (Grover et. al. 30-34). From an information science perspective, however, a community may be defined more technically, as a subgroup of society possessing the following common elements: first, a shared knowledge base; second, shared resources through which this knowledge base is utilized; third, a pattern of interaction and communication (with respect to said knowledge base and resource set); finally, a shared set of values, which depending on the type of community may express themselves as rules, laws, goals, best practices or a combination of all of these (Grover et. al. 25-26).

For many librarians, however, “community” is defined in advance as the municipality/district or educational institution that their library serves. This renders the above definition less useful, as the library’s total population of patrons would therefore consist of a heterogeneous mix of many such communities. Following the work of Roger Greer, such librarians have applied a complementary definition known as the Community Analysis Research Institute, or CARI, model. This model defines a community (through demographic and socioeconomic data) in terms of: individuals; groups; agencies, i.e. businesses and public-sector organizations as distinct from “groups” generally; and lifestyles, which includes shared historical, cultural and other elements (Grover et. al., 44-48).

A community has information needs. We may restate the first definition of “community” above as a group of people engaging in the Information Transfer Cycle towards a shared outcome; they may require the assistance of information professionals at any stage of the cycle. In terms of the CARI model, we must assume multiple, ongoing cycles of information transfer in pursuit of various outcomes – any or all of which may require the assistance of information professionals.

We describe the information needs of a given community as subject to analysis for two reasons. The first reason is to indicate that (as with individual patrons) an LIS professional must arrive at an understanding of what those needs are before he or she can take action to fill those needs. The second reason is to suggest that the information needs of a given community are best understood by applying the theories of social science – specifically information science, but also complementary theory from the disciplines of psychology and sociology – and the methods of scientific research, namely constructive, qualitative research as practiced in the social sciences (Grover et. al. 39-41; 50-55).

At the outset, I stated that a community needs analysis is a method used to improve LIS practice. Therefore, the question of why community needs analysis should be performed can be more effectively restated as: Why should information professionals and their institutions commit to a policy of continuous improvement? For many librarians, the answer may simply be in order to secure and maintain appropriate levels of funding, by demonstrating return on investment to their particular school or municipality.

This answer may be appropriate so far as it goes, but is too narrowly focused. To begin with, community needs analysis seeks continual improvement in terms of goals – that is, demonstrating ROI through successful outcomes, not just performance efficiency (LaRue, 2). Moreover, scarcity of funding has forced librarians to recognized that their institutions cannot create successful outcomes through their mere existence, nor by attempting “to be all things to all people,” (Achleitner, 101) but by tailoring collections and services to meet community information needs as they change over time. Returning briefly to the idea of a community as containing multiple information transfer cycles, we can think of community needs analysis as a way to not only respond to, but ideally to anticipate, points of intervention in existing cycles and even the formation of entirely new cycles (Achleitner, 103-4).

On a more idealistic note, commitment to a process of continuous improvement is the hallmark of a professional. “A professional of any kind possesses specialized knowledge that enables the application of that knowledge on behalf of a client” (Grover et. al., 39). For information professionals, then, information needs analysis and the recommendation and implementation of appropriate resources should always be followed by evaluation of the outcome, and commitment to successful outcomes of this “service cycle” necessitates commitment to continuous improvement in all its stages. In short, the reason to perform a community needs analysis is to ensure that one’s job is being done correctly.


Grover, R. et al. (2010). Assessing Information Needs: Managing Transformative Library Services. Denver, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

LaRue, J. (2009, Sept. 3). Libraries should measure community impact. Douglas County News Press. Retrieved from:

Achleitner, Herbert. (1984). “Assertive Librarianship: A Means of Customizing Services.” in Marketing for Libraries and Information Agencies, Darlene E. Weingand (ed.) Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation, pp 100-105.

“Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.” -Miyamoto Musashi

Finally, another update!

One of the things my fellow MLS students and I talk about outside of class is maintaining the relevance of libraries. Actually that’s wrong way to put it, because we wouldn’t be in this program if we didn’t think libraries were relevant ipso facto. But it’s a two-part issue. On one hand, there’s the need to stay relevant in the digital age by providing services and information to users in a digtal environment — which the profession as a whole is doing, I’m pleased to say. On the other hand, there’s also a need to shape people’s perception of libraries, to let them know that libraries are changing and evolving to meet the needs of their users.

To put it another way: the stereotype is that libraries are warehouses for dead trees, and who needs that when everyone has the Internet in their pocket? In fact, libraries are about helping people find and evaluate information – a task which is arguably MORE important now that the Internet is so commonly used – and about doing so with the iGadget in your pocket…So how do we get that message across?

Last week, I went looking for some answers. The OCLC industry group was giving a presentation at the downtown Portland library on “Perceptions of Libraries,” the results of a national survey they commissioned on why people do (or don’t) use their local libraries, and what kind of services they expect. That report can be downloaded here as a PDF, in full or by section, but in this post I’m going to go over what some of the highlights were for me.

One of the things the report focused on was impacts of the Great Recession. Library use has increased 37 percent overall, and the number-one reason that respondents gave for increasing their visits was “to save money.” People are forced to cut back on spending, so they’re checking out books, movies and music instead of buying them. Meanwhile, what about the effects of technology? This was another focus for the report, and “the Internet in your pocket” isn’t much of an exaggeration – by 2012, shipments of smartphones will outpace shipments of PCs. The good news is that libraries are making the transition: at present, 44 percent of academic libraries, and 34 percent of public libraries, offer mobile services.

The problem is that we’re building it, but they aren’t coming. According to the survey, only 14 percent of online searchers wind up at their library’s website – even though 80 percent of those who do arrive there, find what they were looking for through the library’s website. What’s the number-one reason why people don’t use the library website? “I didn’t know they had one.”

(This is partly a generational thing – people under age 24 are more likely to use search engines than the library catalog, or to surf “Ask an Expert” sites like instead of e-mailing the reference desk, because it’s faster and easier…but they are aware that online library services offer more accurate and reliable results! So it’s a conscious trade-off – you don’t need to ask a librarian, these days, to find out who won the Battle of Hastings…but I’ll return to this a little later.)

So people may not use libraries to help search the Internet – but they do rely on it to use the Internet. Nearly seven out of 10 libraries (to be precise, 63 percent) report that they are the only free source of Web/computer access for their community…and that most people who use the library to get online would not otherwise be able to do so. (This is known as the “digital divide,” and it’s also one of the reasons for the increase in smartphone use…)

On the other hand, the “library brand” is still strong when it comes to books, and those (books/music/movies/etc.) were cited as the library’s most important assets across all age groups, followed by community information (events/classes/job skills training/etc.); literacy training; and Internet access. So the challenge going forward is to find a way to pull users towards the library’s existing holdings and online services… Facebook?Online book clubs? Adding user-created tagging to the catalog? These ideas and more are already being tried out…

So, the take-away:

– “Books are our brand. E-books are still books.” (On a related note, there seemed to be a consensus among attendees that it may be time to start adding video games to the collection, along with music and movies…)

– ADVERTISE! Social media (see above) is cheap and effective, and it meets a need library users have (especially younger ones).

– Librarians need to market themselves as “Personal Information Trainers.” You can answer a lot of basic questions with a Google search…but when you get bogged down? Returning to the “fast & easy” vs. “accurate & reliable” issue, 83 percent of those surveyed thought that librarians added value to the search process. We need to run with that. People are going to want to search online anyway – the goal is to make them aware of the library’s online databases, ILL and other search tools, and to do so in the online environment.

– Be the third place. In a physical sense, libraries are already doing this (study space, classes, etc.) — but as the use of social media reaches saturation point, they need to become an “online third place” as well.

– Focus on the needs of the local community – particularly when it comes to meeting the needs of those who’ve been adversely affected by the recession. At the same time, the library needs to continue to provide connections to the non-local infosphere, aka the World Wide Web.

A challenge? Perhaps, but it could always be worse

Well, when I resurrected this blog I determined that I would update it more frequently, so here goes…as the man said: “I’ve suffered for my art, now it’s your turn.”

We have had nearly a month’s worth of spring break at the ESU School of Library and Information Science…despite which, the transcript for spring semester has not been posted, only two of my three classes for summer term are live on the school website, and my financial aid appears to have fallen into the Black Hole of Calcutta. It seems a damn sloppy way to run an institute of higher learning and I can only conclude that the registrar is zonked out on a beach in Cancun, updating the distance ed server on a poor iPhone signal between margaritas.

Meanwhile, I am digging into the reading…my required class this semester is on research methods, aka “how to conduct a survey that’s actually scientifically valid.” After what passes for methodology in journalism, it’s good to see a little disciplinary rigor on the horizon…a further reminder that I am learning an actual profession. Journalism calls itself one, but it is a trade at best…at worst, the redheaded stepchild of the entertainment industry.

Getting ready for class this weekend, I decided to swap the Linux distro on my netbook. The subsequent Facebook update confused a number of my acquaintances, but to summarize: I bought the thing with factory-installed Xandros Linux. It came with a sucky interface, but I bought it knowing that I could switch it to a real desktop and promptly did so…but the result wasn’t really suited to a small screen, so when I suffered a system crash I took the chance to install Ubuntu, a different “flavor” of Linux…with a “netbook edition” much better suited for tiny screens. Or so I thought. I loved the interface, but it proved to be a serious drain on the battery life, so the most recent install is Easy Peasy, which is also Ubuntu Linux, but stripped-down and built to maximize battery life (it was originally my second choice after Ubuntu Netbook Remix).

So we’ll see how it goes! I’m still giving serious consideration to just saying “fuck it” and buying an iPad, if the financial aid office ever comes through…As someone once said, free software is only free if your time has no value, and I have come to see the wisdom of that statement. Speaking from my own experience, running Linux is rather like driving an elderly Italian sports car, inasmuch as it’s a fantastic experience when everything works…but when something doesn’t work, you’d better be willing and able to fix it yourself. And in both cases, the process of “fixing it yourself” is one that gets very complicated, very quickly! For this reason, I remain somewhat skeptical of Android…

Finally, still awaiting word from the Vancouver library. I begin to fear the worst…

P.S. the title of the post is a reference to these guys

Important News…

May 5, 2011

Thanks to a timely piece of information, not to mention dedication and finely-honed skills…it looks like I have a shot at my first real library job!

Oh, and Osama Bin Laden is dead. That’s cool, too… Probably more important in the grand scheme of things, and I wish I had some insight to share, but I don’t. I’ve been too damn busy with riding the bus back and forth across the river – because the opening is at the Ft. Vancouver Library District. (From St. Johns, I could just ride my bike but I didn’t want to risk getting lost/showing up late.)

The other reason is that I am no longer obliged to grind out pithy words of wisdom against the clock, every time some noteworthy event occurs…to look for some “local angle,” some tangential connection supposed to bring it home to the reader. I would have said “…no longer inclined to,” but the fact is that the want departed before the need…

Finally, I just don’t have anything to say on the topic that hasn’t already been expressed by real foriegn policy bloggers like Juan Cole or Dan Drezner… or by Spencer Ackerman and Conor Friedersdorf, both of whom I’m pleased to see are taking this opportunity to call bullshit on the idea that “we have to” torture detainees to win the War on Terra. Well, it wasn’t Jack Bauer tactics that finally got us bin Laden, and anyone who thinks this country should torture, or that it works, can kindly STFU.

Meanwhile, here’s a video of a man wearing mascara:

I recently attended my first “professional conference” in the library field – the 5th annual Oregon Information Literacy Summit.

I attended mainly out of a desire to network – and because the event was inexpensive to register for and easy to get to by bus. Information literacy itself is a topic that I am fairly familiar with, thanks to Integrating Seminar (words that my high school compatriots will understand, if the rest of the Internet does not). So I’m not going to discuss what IL means — if you don’t know and want to, here is a link to a one-page PDF outline, printouts of which were passed around during the conference itself.

The purpose of the summit, as I soon found, was to develop and share strategies for teaching info literacy skills to students at community and four-year colleges. I was not previously aware of this, but the state of Oregon has apparently mandated that IL goals be integrated into academic outcomes as a condition of accreditation for community college transfer degrees (and for baccelaureates?)

The pilot program – or one of them – is at Oregon State, which since 2001 has focused on IL during freshman comp, aka “Writing 121,” which is a required class. However, it’s more of a segment of the class rather than being fully integrated, which may be because the OSU library staff team-teaches it with the comp teachers, rather than standing back and “training the trainers.” The ongoing hurdle, of course, is integrating IL across disciplines and throughout a student’s higher ed career, rather than considering it a subset of composition classes.

The above made up the first portion of the morning, and we split up into breakout groups on various topics. The summit home page (linked to at the beginning of this post) describes each one – mine was on the “one-shot,” or strategies for teaching IL within an academic discipline other than comp, and in a single class or workshop rather than over the course of a whole term. Our group leaders got the discussion rolling with some interview clips of faculty discussing the challenges and goals of this approach.

Our conclusions were:
— Get the faculty on board as advocates; ask them to define research proficiency within their discipline and map IL skills onto the language of that discipline (which means agreeing on defined outcomes for the class),
— Also, find out what student’s needs are! This may require some strategy so they don’t think the info will get back to their professors, but you may need that in order to get honest answers…
— Ideally, the college would have (or pursue) an embedded librarian program or similar form of outreach. Then, you don’t have to cram all of IL theory into one class and you can use the time to sell students on the value of library services and address their IL needs during the reference interview process.
— Create a “menu of services” that allows faculty to choose from among different seminars, focusing on different aspects of IL, to suit their needs as instructors
— Make sure faculty are in the room and co-teaching when you do the “one-shot,” don’t let it turn into substitute teacher day.

I won’t summarize the findings of all the other groups — which I thought were going to be posted on the conference website; but I don’t see them — except to note that one idea which came up in every group was the need to craft assignments that force students to excercise IL skils…regardless of the discipline. Speaking personally, a conscious and reflexive approach to IL was a major part of my education (i.e. learning “why,” not just “how”) so it was a bit surprising to hear that it isn’t all that common an approach for college professors … Some don’t know enough about IL to articulate it within their field of study, others (especially in the sciences) take an understanding of it for granted.

All in all, a very interesting time…and further confirmation that I made a good decision by enrolling in library school.

That is the title of the debut novel from Peter Mountford, a fellow graduate of Pitzer College (He was in the class of 1999, I was class of 2001). We spent quite a bit of time back then talking about Art and Literature and Society and other capital-letter subjects in the way that college kids do (i.e. while inebriated), and we both harbored dreams of future literary success…

After graduating, I went off to climb the greasy pole of journalism, and Peter…well, I kinda forgot about him until we reconnected (older and balder) via Facebook… but he actually went and did it. MFA, residencies at artist’s colonies, the whole bit. And wrote his first novel, which I bought a couple weeks ago when he came to town to do a reading at Powell’s Books.

I finished it a couple days ago and sat down to give it a good review on Amazon. You can read it here and while I stand by those words, it occurs to me that I wasn’t as clear as I meant to be….what I was trying to get at was that, for all the emotional manipulation and economic skullduggery that takes place, this is not a story about heroes and villains, just flawed people trying to make the right choices – and not always succeeding.

So…if you’re looking for a good book this summer, I recommend this one. I’ve added his promo website to my blogroll (scroll down to the bottom of the page), but for any PDX visitors I’ll save you the click and mention that he’s coming back to town for the Loggernaut reading series: 7:30 p.m. May 4 at Ristretto Roasters, 3808 N. Williams. See you there!

Version 2.0

April 25, 2011

After two years of shameful neglect, I am re-starting this blog. Yay me!

As noted in my updated “About Me” page, since launching The Soft Lobotomy I have changed careers…which will be a subject of future posts. For now, I’ll merely note it and move on.

The style of this blog will also be changing: less snark, more personal reflection. A different set of priorities.

And of course, more frequent updates…

Even Homer nods

November 5, 2009

An amusing slip of the thumb from Glenzilla’s Twitter feed. Background is here

Red wine for red states?

October 27, 2009

From the blog of J. Bradford DeLong, economist, the latest dispatch from the front lines of the Culture Wars. A colleague, deep in the heart of West Texas, discovers that even the hubcap-belt-buckle crowd enjoy a good vintage. The money quote:

I remark how ironic it is that liberals from the East like me are always excoriated by Texas Republican types for being wine snipping snobs. His indelible response: “Most liberals have really shitty taste in wine…”

Heh … Because Eric Lemelson the environmental lawyer and major Measure 49 donor, or Nancy Ponzi the organizer and fundraiser for migrant worker health care, or, y’know, the rest of those NIMBY activist types out here in Yamhill County, Oregon, are widely known for their abysmal taste in wine, you betcha…

Well, liberal or conservative, at least we can all agree wine tastes good with barbecue.