The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 15, 2013

Library survey: Service good, eBooks less so

By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — A survey about Blue Earth County’s library system has shown general satisfaction with customer service but some concerns with the library’s collection of movies, audio books and eBooks.

The County Board heard a presentation on the survey results Tuesday from Minnesota State University professor Bill Wagner, who administered it at no charge.

More than 75 percent of the 211 respondents said they “agree” or “strongly” agree that library staff treated them respectfully and were helpful.

Library Director Tim Hayes said he was most proud of these findings.

“It also gives us an opportunity to build on an asset,” he said. “It’s a good starting place.”

Hayes said he was most concerned about the responses on the condition of the library building, though he expected that the 30-year-old building would not be the most popular aspect of the library.

The restrooms were the least popular feature of the building. About 43 percent of respondents were either “somewhat satisfied” or “not satisfied” with the restrooms.

The bathrooms are slated to be renovated this year.

The library’s selection of eBooks was the subject of the most dissatisfaction — only 10.3 percent were “very satisfied” while 32.1 percent were “not satisfied.”

But Hayes said publishers set up obstacles to libraries buying eBooks. What costs $5 or $10 at the bookstore can cost $50 to $80 for the library, he said.

Also, eBooks currently only account for 2.5 percent of the library’s circulation.

“So it’s not like 50 percent of our circulation is eBooks,” Hayes told the board.

The satisfaction for the books was about double that of eBooks, but the selection of DVDs and audio books was a relatively minor weakness.

The survey also showed higher satisfaction with children’s programs over events for adults — 81 percent were either “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with children’s programming compared with 56 percent for adult events.

Hayes said adults have many other ways to spend their time, and there’s more of an opportunity in the marketplace for children’s events. Also, programming for adults tends to start out with strong attendance, but it tends to decline over time, he said.

All of the surveys were filled out by people who chose to do so, rather than being selected at random. This is generally considered a statistical weakness because the survey is a reflection of the sort of people who choose to fill out surveys. In this case, Wagner suggested that they might be people who are either unusually happy or angry with the library.

The survey respondents are likely older than the typical library user, too — only 18.1 percent were younger than 35, though young families are one of the library’s two biggest constituencies (along with seniors).

But the lack of a random survey may not be that significant, Wagner said. In a separate survey completed by MSU for the city of Mankato and Mankato Area Public Schools, the results for the random sample were not all that different from the sample of people who sought out the survey.

And while older people are stereotypically more curmudgeonly and negative than younger generations, the opposite was true here. The youngest respondents were the least satisfied with the library’s customer service.

Only half of the respondents younger than 25 either “agreed” or “strongly agreed” they were treated respectfully, a number that rose with age, all the way to 90 percent for users above 65. However — and this is an important “but” — the sample size for the youngest users was too small to draw valid conclusions from. Only seven people under 25 filled out the survey.

There was another odd correlation, this time with education; generally, satisfaction with customer service rose with educational level. About 83 percent of the college graduates either “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they were treated respectfully by staff.

But for the 28 percent of people who had at least attended graduate school, satisfaction fell to about 70 percent.

“When you hit graduate school, something weird happens to you,” Wagner said. He was only joking, of course, as it seems more likely that, if the correlation is real, graduate students share some other differences that predispose them to be more picky about customer service.

Respondents were also given a chance to write down their specific perceptions of the library, and their responses in customer service “suggest a mix picture with some respondents praising the customer service they received and others felt more negative interactions with some staff,” Wagner wrote in the report.