A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

The Results Are In!

by Eva Poole on December 20, 2012

In my previous president’s column, I announced that PLA would be conducting a membership survey and that I would present the findings of the survey in this issue. I am pleased to tell you that our membership survey results are in! We had a response rate of 25.9 percent, which did provide us with statistically significant data and is considered good for organizations of our size, but I wish more of you had taken the opportunity to provide your feedback. However, I am simply ecstatic that participating members were not shy about telling us how they really feel about their
membership in PLA.

The Center for Association Resources conducted the survey and presented their research findings to the PLA board of directors at our fall meeting held in Chicago in October. The center’s project objectives were to:

  • generate a snapshot of the current demographic composition of the membership;
  • identify levels of member satisfaction across major areas, such as education, communication, and member service; and
  • gain a sense of members’ participation in PLA.

The membership survey participant profile revealed some not so surprising information about our members:

  • The majority are female over the age of 50, 20.3 percent are over age 60, none are under the age of 20.
  • PLA Conference initially attracted 65.4 percent to PLA and 71.9 percent have attended a PLA Conference.
  • Most have 20 years or more in public library service.

These numbers reveal several interesting points—PLA has a wealth of experience and knowledge residing in its membership, and PLA has a unique opportunity to find meaningful ways to connect newer librarians with seasoned librarians, providing value to both groups and ensuring that new generations of librarians hear the perspective and learnings of individuals who have served years in the profession.

The survey questions focused both on members’ perceptions of PLA as well as the field of public libraries. I am happy to note that 94.6 percent agree that PLA succeeds in its mission; 75.1 percent rate their membership benefits as “very good” and “good”; and the overwhelming majority indicated they would recommend PLA to a colleague. While overall our membership is satisfied with PLA, the survey also helped us identify some areas of opportunity to improve or begin new initiatives.

When looking at public libraries five years from now, the respondents emphasized the foreseeable changes in technology, staff organization, and the library’s changing role in the community. Many respondents are deeply troubled about the health and longevity of our profession. They feel they are constantly being challenged to deal with major budget cuts that require having to do more with less. Lower funding collides with public demand for new technology, which is in a perpetual and rapid state of change. All of these competing factors, our members feel, lead to a pace of change that is overwhelming and alarming. They want PLA to take leadership and proactively provide resources and support to meet these issues. From e-books and technology to staffing and marketing—there is a desire for new education, new resources, and new efforts to raise the level of public awareness about the value of public libraries by pushing libraries into the public spotlight and helping the public understand what libraries offer today.

Funding was a prevalent concern in the survey, both personally and professionally. Of the respondents, 97.7 percent pay their American Library Association (ALA) and PLA dues personally, and cost is one of the biggest barriers to renewing membership or attending PLA Conference. Conference and online event discounts are some of the most popular member features.

Respondents also want financial ideas for their libraries, requesting more information about grants that they can take advantage of. In each monthly e-newsletter, PLA lists a selection of grants or awards. We’ll continue to provide those listings and find ways to identify even more opportunities.

Respondents from small and rural libraries, while taking advantage of existing PLA resources, see the value in having additional exposure to affordable strategies, networking opportunities, and templated solutions; help in evaluating and implementing technology and digital solutions; and support navigating costs, access, and availability of electronic resources. Respondents from the small and rural libraries also want to better understand operational challenges, including new staffing models, modernization of facilities and services, and help to develop and market programs and resources.

My favorite question in the survey was “If you were the president of PLA for a day, what top three areas would you focus on?”
The areas mentioned most frequently were professional development, leadership development, the digital divide, ebooks, library advocacy, literacy, funding, relevance, public awareness, and adapting to changing trends. It’s a lot to tackle, but all of these things are on my mind, too.

On behalf of the PLA board of directors and association staff, I would like to personally thank all of you who took the time to complete our membership survey. We have identified several key goals as a result and are outlining an action plan to meet them and focus on new ways to increase the value of PLA membership.