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Nine takeaways from the Wheaton Public Library Community Needs Assessment

WHEATON – The Wheaton Public Library recently received the results from the Community Needs Assessment it commissioned earlier this year.

In all, 882 residents responded, with an additional 92 across 10 focus groups, reflecting on services and suggesting improvements.

The exercise generated four goals: make the library a destination, increase relevance to the teens, strengthen community partnerships and expand marketing and communication efforts.

Below, Suburban Life offers select highlights from the survey:

1. People still come to the library to borrow materials

As much as the role of a library has changed – this January saw its highest monthly circulation of audiovisual material since May 2010 – people do still check things out, though not exclusively books.

More than 90 percent of survey respondents said item check out is among their primary reasons to visit the library, along with taking their children, working in a quiet environment and to attending programs, which were each identified by just over 30 percent of participants.

What people don't do is use it to meet up with others, with only 8.8 percent saying they used the library as a meeting place. However, that may change with ...

2. A new coffee shop?

The assessment report stated several patrons in its 10 focus groups supported allowing coffee consumption in the library and developing a space for a coffee vendor. That could be a reality soon, said library Director Betsy Adamowski.

The library's Parkview Commons space overlooking Adams Park was originally built to house a cafe and though the Board of Trustees discussed other alternatives, the support in the assessment along with a private party showing interest has expedited the process. Adamowski said she hopes to see a bid proposal go out sometime this month.

3. Love for the library

While they may want a shot of caffeine to bolster their reading or working, patrons enjoy the space. 96 percent agreed or strongly agreed that the library's physical facilities met their needs and 97 percent said they would recommend it to their neighbors.

Members of the focus groups also praised the library. One called it the "crown jewel of Wheaton" – a statement reinforced by its 94-percent approval rating in the city's community survey delivered in June.

4. Love for the staff (except the grumpy ones)

Most in the focus group also noted the helpful and friendly library staff.

"I have appreciated all the helpful employees," said one participant. "They have been very gracious in helping me find materials and in accommodating my requests. I particularly appreciate, as well, all I can access from home."

Some did respond negatively, saying staff were "grouchy," "rude and unhelpful" and "Sometimes (often) I am left with the feeling that my requests are interrupting the staff."

The report specifies the negative experiences occur less frequently than the positive ones, but suggests staff could benefit from increased professional development.

5. People are happy with programming

Part of the expanding mission of libraries has been offering different programming for patrons. For example, the Wheaton Public Library often hosts activities involving topics ranging from music to computer literacy to books.

About 79 percent of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed the programs offered were interesting and relevant.

6. What's better than a library with DVDs? A library with free DVDs

Many people in the focus groups were happy the library now allows patrons to check out movies from its DVD collection for free.

7. Make it a teenage dream

Teens who participated in the focus groups said they were not active library users, even though the majority held a library card.

Most associated it with images of "old books, quiet rooms, and 'being shushed by librarians,'" the report stated, indicating a need for increased hours to suit their schedules, outreach, resources and a collaborative space inside the library.

8. ... And a business dream

Several business owners said there was a feeling that the business community in Wheaton had been "shut out" of the library, the report stated.

Many expressed hope the library would be better at reaching out to businesses and letting them know what resources they had and asking what resources they needed.

9. More library, please

Many in the focus groups said they felt "frustrated" by shortened hours Fridays and Sundays during the summer.

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