woman on pencilA survey is an effective tool for collection information for decision-making activities. Consider using surveys with some of the following people:

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What does a survey look like?

Explore some of the following surveys. Compare the ways they ask questions. Look at the layout of the page. What do you like and dislike about the survey?

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How do you create, conduct and use a survey?

Throughout the survey process, it is important that the investigator recognizes their own biases and opinions related to the issues. At the beginning, it is recommended that they write down those feelings and post ion statements. Then they should remain as emotionally detached and open / receptive to differing data and information that is collected. As much as possible and in any manner, they do not want tot influence or tip off survey respondents as to their expectations. How a question is phrased, which questions are included or excluded, how a survey is conducted, and who completes the survey does shape the validity of the outcomes. The main procedures for creating, conducting, and using a survey usually follows these steps:

Identify the goal or purpose. What is to be accomplished? Start by identifying a single goal or purpose for the survey study. The survey questionnaire,a group of specific questions, should deal with a significant issue. You don't want to spend your valuable time collecting information on an issue that doesn't matter. In addition, make certain the information can't be found in another location. In other words, you may be able to find the information you need in circulation statistics or by observation.

Let's say you're interested in the use of your collection for leisure versus academic activities. The topic is worthwhile, but much too broad. You may narrow it down to magazine use. Who uses the magazines and why? What would happen if you didn't carry certain magazines? What are the most popular magazines? These are all interesting questions that could be explored with a survey.

Identify the need. Why is this survey study needed? What information and ideas are to be gained; what is it that you need to know or better understand?

Define the Population. Who are the people that are going to be questioned? Identify the specific audience for this research study; the population of people who are to be surveyed.

Also consider the people excluded from the survey; who will not be answering the questions.

Develop questions. Next, develop specific questions that will be useful in your program. Remember that you'll need to tabulate and draw inferences from questions. Ask questions that will give you useful information.

Car and Driver magazineGeneral questions are a poor use of time. What does the question, "do you read magazines?," tell you? Not much. You don't know where they get the magazines, when or why they read them. You don't even know how often they read. Besides, who cares? How is this information going to help you? If you ask specific questions that require specific answers, you'll get the information you're seeking.

For example, have you ever checked out Car and Driver from our library? Or, have you ever read Car and Driver in the center. If so, when? How often? You may find out from a list of these questions that the magazine Car and Driver is very popular for in-center reading. Your circulation statistics may not reflect it's actual popularity.

Create the instrument. Your survey should be simple and direct. Begin with a short explanation of the purpose of the survey. The people completing your survey need to know that their participation is important and appreciated. Your directions should be clear and concise. The user shouldn't have to guess at what to do. They should be told to "circle an answer" or "check only one option." Organize the questions so that all the similar question types are together. For example, all the Yes/No questions should be clustered together. The open-ended questions may be placed at the end of the page. Limit the length of the survey to no more than 2 pages. One page back to back is a good option.

Development of questions is also a careful, attentive process. Oftentimes a group of colleagues are involved to first propose possible questions, to critically look and analyze each question item, and edit and improve them. Phrase questions so that they are not likely to be misinterpreted. Get rid of general questions that aren't necessary. Relate the question directly to the scale you will be using. If it's a yes/no question, don't provide the options excellent, good, fair, and poor.

When developing a survey, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are my questions too long and complex?
    Will anyone take the time to complete the survey?
  2. Is the survey worth the time and money?
    Who will tabulate the results?
  3. Will the patrons give me what I want or what you need?
    Is the survey from the library or the principal?
  4. Is the layout of the survey reasonable and clear?
    Is it easy to follow and use?
  5. Are the questions easy to answer?
    Do you circle or check rather than write out long answers?
  6. Will students or faculty answer honestly?
    They may be scared they'll hurt your feelings.
    Provide directions about the importance of honesty.

Researchers often 'field test' the survey questionnaire to see if items are understood clearly and if items work as intended. Conduct a field test with volunteer participants, as close to being like the survey population as possible. Ascertain if the survey truly collects the kind of information that you expected and can use. Interview field test participants after they complete the survey as to their understandings. With questionnaire in hand or on-screen, go over item-by-item and determine if they interpreted and understood the questions as intended. Are there items that need to be edited, changed to improve their function? Use the field test to fine-tune and improve the survey instrument.

eye means readRead Marie, Kirsten and Weston, Janine (Oct. 2009). Survey Says: Online Survey Tools for Library Assessment (Access requires login, click on 'PDF Full Text' - left button). Library Media Connection; 28(2), 50-3.
Article features several online survey tools for school library assessment.

Conduct the survey. You need to decide the logistics of conducting the survey. How will you handle short answer questions? Are you going to tabulate the data by hand or use a computer scored sheet? Maybe you could create an online survey using a tool such as (1) Free Online Surveys, (2) Make A Quiz or (3) Quizstar.

Where will the survey be given? Some ideas are listed below:

Tabulate the data. If you're conducting a survey, you'll need to organize the information that is collected. You may use a tally sheet or electronic spreadsheet. Keep in mind that more complex questions will lead to more involved methods of calculation. Close-ended questions (multiple choice, short answer) are the easiest to score, but may not provide the information you need. Weight the information you will gain with the time it will take for organization and analysis.

Up to this juncture in the survey process, the investigator avoids interpreting the data, does not attempt to add any meaning to the information collected. Rather they try and clearly report / record the steps of the survey process and identify the information that was collected.

Analyze the Results. The investigator begins to combine their insights with the data to tentatively formulate statements about what the collected information means, what was found out. Those statements are usually couched in a uncertain or not-fixed fashion. If similar findings can be cited from other similar survey studies, then added weight can be given to the findings. Their needs to remain a bit of uncertainty, just because of the nature of the study, the experience of the investigator, and the possibility of not seeing the bigger picture related to the issues and survey process.

Make Recommendations. The final step is for the investigator to explain what the survey results mean to their library media program. With the information in hand from the survey, what would they recommend as the next step(s?. Are there changes that they think should take place? Sometimes and investigator recommends that more study is needed. That may depend on the risks associated with any possible program change; the higher the risk - what if this does not work - then the more important it is to do some further checking. That might involve another survey or a different investigative process; i.e., interviews, focus groups, open discussions, etc.

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Check Your Understanding

Examine the following questions. Many of them are ambiguous. What do you think? Would you be able to use the information from these questions? Why or why not? How would you modify the questions so they are more useful?


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Make It Real

collectionCollaborate with a library media specialist on the creation of a survey to collect data for a particular need or project.





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Read More About It

Farmer, Lesley and Shontz, Marilyn (Apr. 2009). School Library Journal's Spending Survey (Access requires Login). School Library Journal.
Results indicate that school media specialists were trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Library Surveys from National Library of New Zealand
Guidelines for creating a useful survey to meet teacher and student needs.

Shontz, Marilyn and Farmer, Lesley (Jan 2007). The SLJ Survey. School Library Journal; 53(1), 45-51.
This article examines the results of the "School Library Journal's" spending survey, data collected from 529 school libraries in 2005.

School Libraries Count! (2007 to current year) from the American Association of School Librarians.
AASL is sponsoring a longitudinal survey that will provide data on the health of the nation's school library programs. The annual survey is open to library centers at all schools teaching at the primary and secondary levels. The first survey was conducted in 2007, with annual results posted each year.

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