Who are the library non-users and how to find out more about them?
In the past few months, we’ve been focusing our attention on finding innovative ways to attract more users to the library and make them visit more. Each library has rich information on those who use the library’s services, such as demographics, user behavior, and usage patterns.
Nonetheless, there is a high number of people who have never been to the library or if they have been they haven’t used the majority of the library’s services. According to Donna Fletcher’s study on library non-users, a non-user can be a baby, a dog, someone who has never set foot in the library, someone who hasn’t visited the library in the past year, a parent who accompanies a child to the library, someone who accesses the library electronically, but does not go to the physical library and more. Their reasons are various but specific for each local community, which makes it hard to create some typologies of non-users.
In this post, we will focus on the non-users and how to identify them and find out more about their needs and motivations.
How to identify your library non-users?
The first and the most important part in creating a strategy to attract the library non-users is to find out who they are exactly and what their expectations may be if they have any. There is a thin line between what differentiates a non-user from a user and the only way to find these differences is through research.
Search for them
As Donna Fletcher mentions in her work, librarians have to go further than the library’s perimeters and explore. Simply go where the citizens are, be it the grocery store, shopping malls, schools, public institutions, etc. and talk with them.
- Go on the streets
Interact with people with all kinds of backgrounds. Find out where they spend their time each day and what are their motivations for doing that.
- Go inside different institutions
Find out more about the citizens and why they are there. Usually, people go to a place to satisfy a need. Find out how you can fulfill some of these needs at the library.
- Go online
Ask specific questions about the library and citizens’ opinions about it. People these days are really interested in discussing the community’s problems and helping in creating a better service or just simply sharing opinions.
- Be creative
In trying to find out more about the non-users, Stavanger Public Library decorated a 1957 Opel car model with the library’s logo on the doors and its boot was filled with books. The vehicle made a tour around the beaches and shopping centers in the district. This little stunt attracted a great deal of press coverage. The most important element was the public’s awareness of the library.
What to do when you have identified the library non-users?
There are various reasons why people don’t visit the library, and they may not be the ones you assume. The only way to find out these reasons is by approaching them directly.
By simply promoting a study in the community with the help of other departments in the local council you can easily raise people’s interest and curiosity to participate.
- Focus groups
Focus groups represent the first step to take in your exploratory research. This gives you the opportunity to identify the key issues the non-users experience in relation to the library. There are a few challenges when thinking about doing a focus group with participants that are not incentivized, such as limited interest in participating or even no participation, no motivation or loss of interest. But if they are highly motivated to participate in the study, they represent the best source of information you can have.
Surveys can be run after you’ve gathered enough information to design and structure your questions specifically for the non-users. Otherwise, the survey is a good way to find out more about the citizens’ opinion about the library and thereby learning more about the differences between the users and the non-users and their various motivations. A survey can be sent by email, sent directly to the residents’mailbox, by phone or nowadays a faster solution is to use online channels but the reach/response rate can be limited.
This way, you can involve all the households in the study and even create a discussion among them, which ensures the spreadability of the research. Therefore, even with a 10-20% return rate, you would have a large enough sample to analyze the data.
- Individual interviews by phone or face to face
Individual discussions can be a good opportunity to get more in-depth knowledge about the key issues that you have identified and also to find solutions to these problems directly from them. Also, by doing an interview you can follow-up on specific answers that you find interesting from the survey. In a one-to-one discussion, you can focus on the more personal reasons behind people’s choices not to visit the library and maybe discover similarities behind these motivations.
As Donna Fletcher emphasizes, the interviews are one of the most successful and underused techniques by libraries and also much more efficient than focus groups.