You can’t design a library space and program that meets the needs of your teachers and students if you don’t know what those needs are. It’s hard to develop an effective library collection if you have no idea what genres and books your students want to read. Using surveys with your teachers and students can be a great way to get actionable data you can use to improve your program.
Here are some ways I’ve used surveys at my school:
- Poll to find out what percentage of students have public library cards and which systems they belong to
- Poll about new furniture we tested out for the library
- Survey about student’s favorite genres and book suggestions
- Teacher survey about which database resources they use most
Of course, not all surveys are effective. There is an art to good survey design that can help you to get better, more actionable data. For a really in-depth look at how this applies to libraries, I recommend checking out Library Spaces for 21st Century Learners – it’s a fantastic resource for learning how to survey your population and turn that data into actions you can take.
Here are some tips and tricks for putting together surveys for your school:
6 Tips for Creating Effective Digital Surveys
Getting the Survey Out There
Every school is different, so there may be occasions where a paper and pen survey is appropriate. But with tools like Google Forms, it can become so much easier to quickly and efficiently survey large groups. If your students have school e-mail addresses, it can be as simple as sending out a link. For younger students and schools without e-mail addresses, you could set up stations in your library computer lab or at your catalog computer. Create a shortened link using bit.ly or tinyurl.com to create an easy to remember address that you can have open and ready for your students. Offer a drawing for a prize for completing the survey. Ask classes using the lab to complete the survey before starting their lesson. One way or another, you can get respondents.
Bonus: If you need to have some physical copies, you can print out your Google Forms and use that.
Balance multiple choice with open ended
A good survey, like a good test, should have a variety of question styles. Different types of questions also give your different data. Multiple-choice, all that apply and similar closed-ended question styles are great for providing broad data about a group. They’re easy for you to analyze and easy for the survey taker to answer. I use these a lot for demographic data (i.e. select which grade you are in: 6, 7, 8). I also use them for questions where I want to get some actionable data (i.e. asking students to check the boxes of their favorite genres. If I see that 80% of students who took the survey like scary books, that can influence my future purchasing decisions).
Open ended questions, on the other hand, give you more qualitative data. They can help you take the pulse of what your respondents are actually thinking and feeling. And sometimes the insights can be fascinating.
Don’t make it too long
I like to make my surveys no more than five to eight questions in general. I’ve done super-short two question surveys before (like getting the pulse on how many of my students have public library cards). And I’ve done longer surveys (8 questions about improving our makerspace). Once it starts getting too long, you risk survey-fatigue, where people will just abandon your survey rather than finish it. But if you don’t ask enough questions, you might not have enough actionable data. So find a balance, but in general, don’t make it more than five-ish questions. Also, I rarely put more than two open-ended paragraph response questions, as they take longer to answer and the data is harder to sort.
Add visuals when appropriate
Pictures can be another way to break up a survey so that there’s not so much text, meaning that your survey takers will be more likely to finish. I also like using visuals at times where words might not be clear. When I create a survey to have my students vote on state book awards, I include a picture of the cover of the book. They might not always remember the title of something they’ve read, but they’ll usually remember the cover. When surveying students about their favorite spaces in our library, I included pictures of the area, since the text might not be super clear.
Always offer an option for “other” where survey takers can add their own answer. I can’t tell you how many surveys I’ve tried to take that were geared towards educators (or more specifically, teachers at my school), that only included core subject areas as options for what you teach. And they were multiple choice rather than all that apply, with no other option. At that point, I almost always stop taking the survey. The whole point of taking a survey is giving your stakeholders an opportunity to express their voice. So don’t smother it by not including options that represent ALL of the stakeholders who may be taking it. Same with the option for being able to give an opinion. Maybe you’re asking about favorite genres and a student wants you to know a more specific genre that they like (i.e. detective fiction). If you only have the standard options with no other available, they can’t tell you that.
Leave the last question open
On almost every survey I create, the last question is an open-ended paragraph box with something like “Please share any other thoughts or comments that you have”. It’s optional, and not everyone uses it. But for those who have one more thing they want to get off their chest, it gives them an outlet. And sometimes, the responses to this question can be some of the most enlightening of all.
What are some topics you’ve surveyed your teachers and students on? What surprising things did you learn?
Want to see some examples of surveys? Here’s pdfs of a couple I’ve used with at my school:
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