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Measuring their success: colocated library and community services.

Point Cook Community Learning Centre (PCCLC) was the first colocated library and council .facility model in Wyndham, Melbourne. This model was a major investment for its council and because of growth pressures is already being replicated. Many parties have been keen to understand how the model is working and the impact it has upon the community. Using quantitative measures such as numbers through the door and program participation, the PCCLC has been a very successful, but how are the less tangible outcomes such as sense of place to be measured? Discussed are how a three tiered evaluation approach, including independent social research techniques, are used to measure and better understand whether desired outcomes are being reached. Edited version of a paper presented at Connection and convergence. second international conference on joint use libraries Adelaide 3-4 November 2011.

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The colocation of public libraries with other services is becoming increasingly common, but the makeup of these colocated services varies greatly, depending on local opportunities and needs. Examples of agencies libraries are colocating with include museums, archives, family history centres, childcare centres, learning centres, universities, health services, leisure facilities, local government offices, tourist information centres, theatres and community space. In Wyndham, libraries have colocated with other council facilities including kindergartens and community rooms to form community learning centres. Measuring the success of a centre which is the sum of a unique group of colocated services requires new approaches that address the needs of service providers, decision makers and the community.

Background

The city of Wyndham is located in Melbourne's outer south west and is one of the fastest growing municipalities in Australia. It has a population of around 172,000 which is expected to reach 266,000 by 2021. More and more people are moving to Wyndham--about 10 households a day. More and more residents are having children. Over the past year 3059 babies were born in Wyndham, which equates to 59 babies each week. For its planners that means making provision for more than two potential kindergarten classes each week. Point Cook is the most populous of Wyndham's growth areas with a population of 32,000 and an estimated population of over 50,000 in 2021. In Point Cook 0-4 year olds make up 27% of the population. (1)

This growth presents opportunities for Wyndham's council to influence the development of well planned and serviced communities. It also represents a major challenge to combat the sometimes featureless and impersonal face of rapid urban growth.

Creating a sense of community is the first strategic theme of the Wyndham city plan. Building a community rich in social, cultural, leisure and lifelong learning opportunities having regard to women and men, cultures, abilities and sexualities is the council's first priority. (2)

Place making and community building

Within this dynamic development space Wyndham's public library infrastructure has emerged as a central player in place making and community building. There is a growing recognition of the social role of libraries as hubs of their communities. Much recent research on public libraries reinforces the view of the continuing importance of library as place, as an environment for users, and as a launching pad for many services. (3) There has been a transformation from process and collection centred buildings to buildings which focus on communities and their needs. People are spending longer in libraries. Onsite use is outstripping growth in loans. (4) As one comment in the Libraries/Building/Communities reports observed, libraries are our best chance to create a centre of community spirit and activity. (5) By colocating libraries with other services Wyndham council is leveraging this community building role to help create a sense of community.

The first learning centre opened in the Point Cook town centre in September 2009, colocating a 950 sq metre branch library, two kindergarten rooms, maternal and child health, community rooms, community kitchen, a consulting room and a toy library. Costing $5.6 million the Point Cook Community Learning Centre (PCCLC) was a major investment for council and because of growth pressures the learning centre model has already been replicated in Wyndham Vale, and another two new libraries will be colocated with other council services by 2015. These developments represent a substantial investment by council and many stakeholders are keenly interested in how Wyndham's colocation model is working. The process of mainstreaming colocated services to embed them in provider visions will only be possible if providers are encouraged by their partnership experiences so far and can see evidence of successful outcomes from the partnership. (6)

Measuring success

The way public libraries usually measure themselves is to collect a set of output data and benchmark themselves against other public library services. In Victoria this is achieved through the annual survey of Victorian public libraries which collects data including hours, visits, memberships and collections. (7)

In recent years landmark studies have been undertaken that have broadened library evaluation by considering the impact rather than the output of public libraries in Victoria on their communities and economy. Dollars, sense and public libraries assessed the economic benefit of public libraries and identified the dollar return in investment in them. (8) The Libraries/ Building/Communities reports explored in great depth the community building role of public libraries. As noted in the executive summary
   One of the major challenges facing public libraries
   is just how to convey to decision makers, and
   others, the breadth, depth and potential impact on
   the whole community of the modem public
   library. (9)


When colocation is added to the mix the challenge is even more complex, and examples of evaluation approaches undertaken by colocated public libraries are very difficult to find.

At the PCCLC library, kindergartens, maternal and child health, and community room bookings were all performing above expectations. The output measures were great. In 2010 the library had over 483,000 loans (equivalent to the collection being circulated over nine times), 237,000 visits and 10,881 attendances at children's programs and activities. The statistics are impressive but we wanted to understand more about the impact of council's new colocated service provision model. Was the return on investment worthwhile? Was the PCCLC making a difference to the community? Was the whole greater than the sum of the parts?

Evaluating the success of the PCCLC required looking beyond the normal output measures of each service and to consider wider community outcomes in the vein of Libraries/Building/ Communities. The response has been a three tiered evaluation approach that encompasses traditional output measures and the more challenging community impact assessment as follows

* monthly output data from each colocated service

* quarterly community learning centre outputs

* annual community survey outcomes.

Service outputs

Service outputs are what we are used to evaluating. For the Point Cook Library this includes the data collected for the annual survey of public libraries such as loans, visitors through the door and number of internet hours used. Staff and management understand these measures and they help us to benchmark against other branches and the wider library community. This information is provided monthly to library management and shared among staff. It is data mostly about outputs but it can inform outcomes. For example 115,000 of the 483,000 loans were for picture books, significantly more than the main library. We can extrapolate from this that the colocation with kindergartens is having a positive effect on lending to children.

Community learning centre outputs

From the beginning we have provided key performance indicators (KPIs) to senior council management. They understood that to achieve a reliable assessment of the impact of the colocated services project it is vital that providers put in place a regime of specific service measurement indicators and be clear about which areas of service and outcomes they are seeking to measure. (10) These KPIs include key output measures for each service, but also measure cross centre collaboration such as how many times each month the kindergarten conducts activities in the library space. Data is fed into a single spreadsheet accessible to all PCCLC service coordinators so that everyone is aware of what is happening across the centre. It took some time to settle upon the most appropriate KPIs. It is the nature of things that services develop different ways of doing things--different budget structures, different professional backgrounds, different forms of accountability. So it is not as easy as it may seem, or should be, to make these kinds of links. (11) Challenging as they may have been, these KPIs play a crucial role in succinctly informing senior management of centre progress and development, and importantly reinforce teamwork and shared identity.

Community outcomes

How to measure the impact of the Point Cook Community Learning Centre on the community was much more challenging. Experience shows that the inclusion of both providers and users in the evidence gathering process to obtain different perspectives on the project is crucial. (12) We understood the need to talk to the community but what questions would we ask and how? We decided to bring in expert assistance, in the form of a social research company.

One of the first things it asked us was what were our goals for the centre? What were we trying to achieve? We had to go back to our business plan to look at the goals we had set before the centre opened. In the business of opening and dealing with the hectic day to day running of the PCCLC, strategic objectives had taken a back seat. It was good to revisit them.

The strategic objectives of the centre were to

* provide access to information, ideas and works of the imagination

* build community participation and development

* support lifelong learning and literacy

* encourage healthy living, personal growth and community wellbeing

* provide opportunities for cultural, physical and social wellbeing

* foster a sense of place.

The research

Visitor research was undertaken in order to provide benchmark measures of effectiveness in meeting these strategic objectives and to gather insights into client needs and perceptions. The research took the form of an online survey, with the addition of paper forms. Participants were asked how often they used the centre, and which services they used. They were asked to rate the standard of the building, staff, programs and learning opportunities.

In addition to the rating scales we also measured the net promoter score (NPS) which is used as a measure of customer experience. Perceptions of PCCLC were measured by asking participants to rate the extent to which PCCLC offered characteristics such as access, diversity and welcome. The role of PCCLC in the community was explored by asking participants to rate values such as 'is widely known in the community'.

All service areas were targeted as part of the survey process, with varying approaches.

These included

* staff promotion

* information about the survey in kindergarten newsletters

* paper copies at all reception points including MC&H waiting rooms

* emails with links to the survey for all service providers using the centre

* links to the survey on public access catalogues.

The survey was conducted in September 2010, and again in August 2011. Over 100 valid responses were received for each survey.

One of the big challenges for survey completion was our main demographic--parents with children. When you have a toddler by one hand and are pushing a stroller with the other, filling out a survey is the last thing on your mind.

Results

Some of the results were

* convenience and accessibility were seen as the main benefits of services colocated at the centre.

* 48% used the centre at least once a week.

* 26% used more than one service at the centre.

* the centre was given a net promoter score of 61, which is an excellent score and comparable to premium brands like BMW and Apple.

* the centre was rated very positively (high extent + moderate extent on a range of services, in particular--'makes everyone feel welcome' (96%), 'popular with the local community' (97%); 'access to relevant information and ideas' (92%) and 'runs creative activities for adults and children' (93%).

* the centre was well regarded for the learning opportunities provided, especially 'improves early literacy through a combination of services (95%) and 'provides literacy programs relevant to this community' (93%).

* the centre was widely seen as 'the heart of the growing Point Cook community' (96%) and widely known in the community (90%). (13)

Survey respondents were also invited to make comments and some responded with paragraphs of information. Most were related to satisfaction with the centre and enjoyment of the facilities and services. For example
   It's fabulous! I can take my children to the library
   just before or after taking my elder daughter to
   kinder or arrange for a MCH appointment without
   having the hassle of going to two separate places it's
   very convenient!

   Creates a sense of community to see people
   gathering for different, but purposeful events,
   courses, etc.


There were also suggestions for improvement, and what our social researcher referred to as 'unintended consequences'. Several people commented on the general noise and activity levels within the library. Its success had brought with it challenges with competing activities within the spaces, and for those accustomed to traditional, quieter libraries noise was a real issue. In response to this feedback we have installed noise reduction panels in the children's area of the library.

The PCCLC coordinators have reviewed the suggestions for new programs and have worked with community groups and the town centre to make these happen--community development in action.

The survey confirmed the PCCLC was meeting its strategic objectives and, importantly, that it was contributing to the wider council theme of a sense of community. PCCLC is widely seen as the heart of the growing Point Cook community. This powerful information has been used to successfully advocate for more staff. Increased floor space has been approved for future colocated libraries to allow for greater popularity and different usage patterns. Importantly, the survey has helped to raise the profile of libraries and library staff with decision makers. Libraries are now seen as major contributors to community development with library staff moving from lending to learning, from transactional to transformational.

The value of strategic objectives

Having strategic objectives was crucial to development of the impact evaluation. It is interesting that some of the very successful colocation projects are part of wider community strategies. For example, in Mount Gambier in South Australia, the library and community centre are part of the $15 million 'Mount Gambier--vision for the future towards 2015' plan, aimed at revitalising the city centre of Mount Gambler. (14) Albury Library Museum is part of a cultural vision to build a network of accessible cultural programs and facilities across the city whilst utilising the cultural precinct as a vibrant cultural hub. (15) Whatever the strategic framework, it is recommended that colocated service providers come together at an early stage in the visioning process to discuss how jointly they best approach impact measurement. (16) The lack of information about colocation metrics suggests this does not often happen. Similarly to joint use libraries performance and progress, it is one requirement that is still given little attention in planning and formal agreements. (17) If you do not have articulated goals as a colocated centre before you begin your evaluation it does not mean you cannot do it, but measuring success is much easier when you know what success should look like. The external evaluation component can be expensive for those with small budgets, but is a very small percentage of the start up cost of a colocation project--for PCCLC it was only 0.05%. If you plan your goals early, budget to evaluate them.

The value of information

For us evaluation is still an ongoing process, with areas for improvement including surveying nonusers and undertaking the survey using community languages.

The survey will be rolled out at new community learning centres, allowing for benchmarking between centres. Once the survey is set up it is quite simple to modify it and replicate for other libraries. The modifications need to take into account any changes in the mix of services and facilities provided. This is one of the great challenges of evaluating colocated libraries and facilities. In respect to joint use libraries Bundy noted that 'The uniqueness of most joint use libraries ... militates against general evaluation criteria and benchmarking'. (18) This is also true of colocated services. Measuring whether or not you have met your joint strategic objectives allows for an integrated approach. If you are not planning, reviewing and setting future ambitions as an integrated service you will fail to make the most effective use of the opportunities presented by colocation and will not secure the best lifelong learning outcomes for everyone in your community. (19)

The value of social research

Using a three tiered approach to evaluation that focuses on community outcomes as well as service and centre outputs, has had significant benefits for the PCCLC and decision makers. It continues to inform development planning and provides feedback into the ongoing strategic visioning process of all partners. (20) Employing independent external evaluators with rigorous, proven and innovative rating methods has provided results that are credible and added weight to advocacy. It has helped us to tell our story. Some of the most inspirational and successful library leaders are good at telling, and getting people to understand their library stories. Social research adds another dimension--it is a bit like going from 2 to 3D. The story is the same but it is has more depth, definition and colour and more people are likely to take notice. Social research places the customer at the forefront. It increases understanding of what is important to centre users, and allows for unintended consequences to emerge. Finally there is a real pride in knowing you have made a difference in your community. The whole can, indeed, be greater than the sum of the parts.

References

(1) Wyndham city growth facts http://www.wyndham.vic.gov.au/aboutwyndham/wyndham city/demographics/growth facts

(2) Wyndham city plan 2011-2015 http://www.wyndham.vic.gov.au/aboutwyndham /planspolicieslocallaws/ plan1115 accessed 21 October 2011

(3) Jones, D People places revisited. guidelines for public library buildings 2006 http://www.sl. nsw.gov.au/services/public_libraries/docs/People placesrevisited.pdf accessed 21 October 2011

(4) ibid

(5) Libraries/Building/Communities: the vital contribution of Victoria's public libraries--a research report for the Library Board of Victoria and the Victorian Public Library Network 2005 http://www2.slv.vic.gov.au/about/information/ publications/policies_reports/plu_lbc.html accessed 21 October 2011

(6) Evaluating the impact of colocated services provision, colocated services toolkit, http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20100202100434/ dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/resour ces-and-practice/cstoolkit/ accessed 21 October 2011

(7) Annual survey of Victorian public libraries http://www.dpcd.vic.gov.au/localgovernment/ publications-and-research/libraries accessed 21 October 2011

(8) Dollars, sense and public libraries 2011 http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/public-libraries accessed 21 October 2011

(9) Libraries/Building/Communities op cit

(10) Evaluating the impact of colocated services provision, colocated services toolkit op cit

(11) Schuller, T Colocating colleges and public libraries 2010 http://shop.niace.org.uk/media/ catalog/product/i/f/if11_mla_report_final.pdf accessed 21 October 2011

(12) ibid

(13) Point Cook community learning centre client survey August 2011 http://tinyurl.com/PCCLC Survey

(14) Australian Government New library and community centre for Mount Gambier South Australia http://www.economicstimulusplan" gov.au/infocus/pages/if_070510_library.aspx accessed 21 October 2011

(15) Albury City Council cultural vision http://www.lgsa.org.au/resources/documents/ Albury_City_Council_Cultural_Strategies 151105. pdf accessed 21 October 2011

(16) Evaluating the impact of colocated services provision, colocated services toolkit op cit

(17) Bundy, A and Amey, L Libraries like no others: evaluating the performance and progress of joint use libraries Library trends 54(4) Spring 2006 pp501-518

(18) ibid

(19) Schuller, Top cit

(20) Evaluating the impact of colocated services provision, colocated services toolkit op cit

Kerri Sidorow is the community learning coordinator for the Wyndham Library Service in Victoria. She has worked in various public library roles including manager, Wyndham Library Service and project manager, State Library of Victoria where she worked on the Building knowledge for library advocacy and Being the best we can projects. Kerri's current projects include the Wyndham commemorative history project and the Wyndham community learning strategy. Email kerri.sidorow@wyndham.vic.gov.au.

Kerri Sidorow Community learning coordinator Point Cook Community Learning Centre Wyndham Library Service Melbourne
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Publication:Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services
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Date:Mar 1, 2012
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