By Kendra Hartsell
A recent impact survey conducted throughout Great River Regional Library during the month of April shows that library technology services are key public access points for information and opportunity.
The 32 locations of Great River Regional Library, including the Monticello Public Library, have a total of 201 computers available to the public. The Monticello location itself has six Internet computers.
Each location in the GRRL system also has wireless Internet service.
At the Monticello Library alone, the Internet computers have been used 3,329 times in 2014 and the wireless services have been accessed 1,074 times.
According to the 772 regional survey respondents, the largest category of use was Social Inclusion (37 percent). This includes activities such as communicating with friends and family, pursuing a hobby or interest, finding reviews of movies, books or music, finding recipes, and learning new skills. 31 percent of the regional users indicated that they use the public computers for employment needs, such as job searching and applying for jobs online. 28 percent used them for education activities and 27 percent used them to get information on health and wellness topics.
Many people (85 percent) reported having regular personal access to a computer and the Internet somewhere other than the library.
They still use library computers while traveling or out running errands because a home computer is being used by another family member, or because of lack of access to high speed Internet at home.
“Whether they are checking in to see when their library books are due to be returned, or searching for business information on our databases, or checking their email for important messages, having access to computers at the library is something patrons rely on,” said Karen Pundsack, the library system’s associate director for patron services.
“In many ways it equalizes opportunity, which is part of the great tradition of libraries,” she said.
Additionally, 23 percent of the library’s technology users are low income(below 200 percent of the poverty line).
One of the biggest surprises in the survey is the picture it paints of the average library technology user: 74 percent of the 772 respondents were female; 69 percent were educated to either a 2-year, 4-year or postgraduate level; and 67 percent were in the middle-age years of 35 to 64.
“That’s interesting,” said Pundsack. “We expected to see fairly heavy use by the unemployed seeking work, by people pursuing educational opportunities, and by low income patrons who don’t have computers at home. The results remind us that many patrons are connecting from outside the library and that everybody has good reason to use library services.”
When asked about their level of satisfaction with public access technology at Great River Regional Library, 86percent of public access technology users said that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the access provided at the library.
According to Pundsak, the Great River Library system also offers online databases, like Chilton’s, Tumblebooks, and Learning Express Library.
They also provide e-books and downloadable audiobooks via a Digital Library.
Regional usage numbers only measures these services.
“For example, we know that a total of 2,018 borrowers have registered to use the Digital Library through the end of April, but we do not have information about where these new borrowers live,” Pundsak explained.
Pundsak believes that this was the first technology-specific survey that the GRRL system has distributed to patrons. They did do a customer service survey in 2010, but the questions were much different.
“I think the most useful part of the survey results so far has been to help illustrate what our users want from our technology services. In addition, many of the suggestions for improvement extend beyond these services, such as requests for additional open hours or demand for our Digital Library. We will use these suggestions to help shape what services we look to offer or expand over the next few years,” she said. “GRRL is also beginning the Edge Assessment, which will help us gauge where we should focus our resources in aligning with community priorities. The Impact Survey is one tool we will use to achieve this.”
More information from the impact survey is available at the library website, www.griver.org.
Great River Regional Library provides Central Minnesota residents with nearly 1 million books, CDs and DVDs, 250 public computers, programming and information services at 32 public libraries in Benton, Morrison, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd and Wright counties.
Kendra Hartsell is a freelance business and feature writer for the Monticello Times.