In early July the committee of Friends of Tate South Lambeth Library organised a week-long survey of the use of our library.
We wanted to get a picture of how a fully-staffed small local library operates – how many people use it, what they do and what role the staff play – and how this contrasts with the largely unstaffed “neighbourhood” libraries that have replaced the former staffed libraries at Carnegie, Minet and Waterloo.
How did we go about it?
Ten volunteer monitors sat at the library entrance on the five days July 9th and July 11th-14th, counting the number of people, who came in, by gender and age group – sometimes guess work (we didn’t question people) and sometimes incomplete when there was a rush of entrants. We did not conduct the survey on Tuesday July 10th since – while the library hosts two major activities (the support session for the visually impaired and the English class for foreign language speakers) each Tuesday – it is not open to the general public.
The monitors then observed what the users did – borrowing or returning books, reading books or newspapers, using the library’s computers or their own laptops and devices, sitting around and chatting, taking part in a library activity, seeking help from staff.
What were our main findings?
Numbers. We recorded 937 people using the library, almost equally divided between male and female, with females a little ahead.
Breakdown by age. About one tenth each were pre-school and school-age , three tenths were young adults (18-30 years), just over a third were adult ( 31-60 years) and one seventh were seniors. (This survey was within the school term, so the numbers of school age children were lower than in holiday periods.)
What library users did. All types of activity were registered. Particularly strong numbers were use of library computers and borrowing/returning books (one fifth each), seeking help from library staff (one sixth of the total) and taking part in a library activity (just over one tenth)
So what did our survey show?
The dependence on library staff – by number and by nature.
We recorded 153 cases of people seeking help (and always receiving it).
The type of help provided was very diverse – answering membership enquiries, setting up or renewing library membership, helping with printing and photocopying, giving help and guidance on the use of the library’s computers, sorting out a cabling problem on the library’s computers, helping on the book issue machine, searching for books on the library system, providing information on library services and activities, registering children for the Summer Reading Challenge and helping them select books.
Our monitors commented on the unfailing patience and friendliness of library staff in dealing with users. Particular sensitivity was displayed in talking to a recently bereaved elder and in conversing with a man with a speech defect.. A young woman was allowed access to the desk computer to resolve a problem. Understanding and calm was displayed in dealing with a man furious at his computer
All this help, unfailingly offered, is critical to the warm, and relaxed atmosphere of our library. Many satff members and users were already well known to each other.
So we need our staff – all the time – if this library is to remain a place where all community members feel welcome and sympathetically treated..