FANWOOD, NJ – Last spring, the Fanwood Library conducted a community survey, both online and mailed to all 2,700 households. In June, responses were tallied and delivered to the Fanwood Borough Council for review, and the results showed rising demand at a time when the library is experiencing a downturn in funding.
The number of survey respondents totaled an impressive 451, which is considered a significant response rate for a town of this size and yields results that provide a 95 percent confidence level with plus or minus 5 pecent margin of error. Of the 451 responses, 68 percent were female and 18 percent male, 62 percent from Fanwood and 19 percent Scotch Plains residents, with the remainder from other neighboring communities.
“With our budget cut for the fourth time in a row,” said Sheldon Ross, president of the library Board of Trustees, “we have lost more than $40,000 since 2009. We cannot afford business as usual. To help us plan for the future, we conducted the survey to focus on what residents want from their library.”
The survey targeted four critical library concerns: space and safe access, materials and services, technology, and staff training. The complete results may be obtained from the library. A summary of key findings is listed below:
Only one in three respondents rated the size and quality of the building in the “good” category. Access to the lower level was sighted as the main concern. Respondents were especially concerned that wheelchairs, strollers, and some grandparents could not access the lower level, which holds the children’s department. They also expressed a desire for seating for small and large groups and for areas for quiet study and tutoring.
The survey results also indicated that respondents’ needs are not being met in terms of materials and library hours. The book collection received the most negative responses. Residents reported using other libraries and resigning themselves to decreasing content. Technology was viewed as increasingly obsolete and inadequate, especially the Wi-Fi service.
Although most respondents gave the staff and customer service high marks for programming, more than a third of the respondents said the staff need training to support computer users and to answer reference questions.
Library Director Dan Weiss is working with the Board of Trustees to address many of these concerns. At the borough council’s September meeting, a committee was formed to work with the Trustees to identify opportunities and actions that will bridge the gap between rising demand and falling funds.