Figuring out how to make programs sustainable is key to serving new American populations — particularly given shifts in national or local narratives about refugees and immigrants — which can have consequential impact on funding sources. Thinking about outcomes, building multi-faceted initiatives, and knowing how programs can be best positioned are invaluable to planning in an unstable environment. Another important part of building sustainability is knowing what programs work and how they accomplish their intended objectives; it is helpful to have a plan from the start about how evaluation will be part of a new service. Resources are available to guide libraries on how to conduct evaluation (for example, the Public Library Association’s Project Outcome). There are also many methods for evaluation beyond the survey tools currently used by many in the library field, to provide more systematic and comprehensive understanding of sustainable strategies.

Suggested Action Steps

  1. Think about efforts your library has used in the past to evaluate programs. What did you learn? Was it what you wanted to learn?
  2. Determine where the gaps are in your library’s current approach to evaluating programs and services. What do you wish you knew? How could that information be obtained?
  3. Talk to another library that has done a type of evaluation different from what you’ve done to learn about new methods. The Research Institute for Public Libraries hosts a variety of webinars and online forums designed to help libraries address their evaluation needs.
  4. If cost is a barrier, utilize free evaluation tools such as Project Outcome. Google Forms can also facilitate basic data-gathering.
  5. If patron privacy is of particular concern, use anonymous evaluation methods and clearly communicate how new Americans’ identities will be protected when gathering data. In addition to not gathering personally identifiable information, libraries could use Dropbox to gather completed evaluation forms or ask a volunteer to gather data when staff are not present.

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