Libraries should learn about the needs of the members of a community, including new Americans, established residents, library patrons, and non-patrons. Learning about the community can range from a full-scale community needs assessment conducted by the library or outside organization, to setting up a comment box. There are advantages and disadvantages to every method, so libraries may consider experimenting with several needs assessment techniques at first. Keep in mind that open-ended approaches, such as a comment box, may yield such a wide variety of responses that a library may find it hard to prioritize a path forward. The needs assessment strategy may also depend on whether the library already serves a particular new American population or is looking to draw in a new population that is underserved or unaware of library resources.

Learning about community needs can also be done in partnership with organizations who have already been working in communities for many years. These partners can help identify community stakeholders, facilitate focus groups, or contribute in other ways to the needs assessment. This approach may also help a library avoid creating redundant services, as many communities have existing programs for new Americans, often run by new American groups themselves. In these cases, a library has an opportunity to reflect on what they might uniquely offer.

Suggested Action Steps

  1. Think about all the ways you learn about the population your library serves, including those who don’t currently use library services. What tactics have you used in the past? What worked and what didn’t? What would you change about the process of determining community needs?
  2. Decide whether a more formal or structured needs assessment would be appropriate for your library. Talk to other library workers, such as members of ALA’s Programming Librarian Interest Group, about their needs assessment experiences. Consult census data if there are studies or assessments already being done by municipal agencies or other community groups; keep in mind that some new American groups may not be accurately represented in these studies due to concerns about interactions with government entities.
  3. Consider what you already know. Think about data you already have access to rather than spending time and resources and resources on pursuing new information from external sources. For example, asking security or front desk staff what types of questions they get from patrons could provide useful insight.

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