Community Assessment Course

Introduction and Overview

Welcome to Community Assessment, the second course in the Transforming Life After 50 (TLA50) Fellowship series, with instructor Cindy Mediavilla. For the webinar offered in this course, see Week 1.

Please note, that each week offers a choice of three assignment options. Please choose the option(s) most relevant to you and your library, and that will best help to build your understanding of the concepts and process of community assessment.

All library services should be based on the needs and interests of the library’s community. Therefore, this course will teach you how to assess your community’s needs. Assessment techniques will include environmental scans, key informant interviews, focus groups, and surveys. Although these methods can be used to ascertain the needs of any population group, emphasis will be on designing instruments specifically for assessing the life needs of boomers. After completing the course, you will be able to:

  • Understand the importance of assessing the community’s needs before developing new library programs and/or reworking existent programs.
  • Design a community assessment strategy incorporating various methodologies, including an environmental scan, key informant interviews, focus groups, and surveys.
  • Design and use reliable and valid community-based instruments to assess the needs of the target population.
  • Tabulate and interpret all assessment data collected.
  • Present assessment data in a coherent and appealing manner to relevant stakeholders and potential funders.

Special Note about This Course: Some of you may already have experience conducting community assessments, but most of you probably do not. The purpose of this course is to provide the tools and knowledge to help you complete your community assessment at your own pace and according to your library’s schedule. The topic of Community Assessment is a big one to cover in three weeks! There is a lot of content here to read. The goal is for you to become familiar and comfortable with assessment theory and techniques, so you’ll be prepared once it’s time to begin planning new services for your Boomer community. You can always return to these materials once you’re ready.

WEEK 1: Importance of Community Assessment

Why we must assess our community’s needs before developing new library programs and/or reworking existent programs will be explored, including how to design and conduct an ‘environmental scan.’

Watch: Archived Recording of Course Webinar
After viewing Cindy’s webinar, why do you think community assessments are important for your community and for your library? Cindy talked about sources for the internal and external factors in an environmental scan. What suggestions do you have for additional sources that could be used in an external environmental scan for your community? For additional sources that could be used in an internal environmental scan for your library?

Webinar Handouts
Webinar PowerPoint Slides (ppt)
Environmental Scan – Internal (Library) (doc)
Environmental Scan – External (Community) (doc)
Service Responses (pdf) This handout by June Garcia and Sandra Nelson from the 2009 PLA Spring Symposium shows the connection between well-defined community needs and what a library can do to address them. For purposes of an environmental scan, the handout indicates the types of resources (e.g., staff, collections, facility, technology) needed for specific library services.

Reading 1: Getting Ready to Do an Assessment (pdf)
Week 1 Assignment Options
Option 1: Planning an Environmental Scan
If you think your library is ready to conduct an environmental scan (i.e., you know why you want to gather the data and which specific population you want to learn more about), do this assignment option.

1. Download and save the two environmental scan worksheets:

Look these worksheets over and save them for your own use. Make notes on the worksheets about what you already know and about the sources that you can use to obtain more data.

2. Respond to the following questions:

  • Which population do you want to learn more about?
  • Which data already exists?
  • Which community factors (e.g., language, technology, literacy) might complicate data collection?
  • How do you plan to proceed with your environmental scan?
  • How will the data be used (e.g., submit a grant, plan a new service, enhance the collection)?
  • How much external data is already available and how much will need to be researched and compiled? Internal data?

Option 2: Think about Factors for a Scan
If your library is not yet ready to start planning an environmental scan, you can use another library’s grant-funded project as a way to think about the environmental scan process.

1. First, choose a grant-funded initiative from the 2008/09 TLA50 list
2. Explain which initiative you chose and why you chose it.
3. Which factors do you think would shape that program’s environmental scan?

Option 3: Experience with Environmental Scanning
Has your library ever done an environmental scan (i.e., gathering background information to help design programs or services)? If so, briefly describe the experience, addressing these questions in your description:

  • What was the reason for doing an environmental scan? How was the data used?
  • Did your library gather internal as well as external data?
  • When you compare your library’s environmental scan process to the process outlined in this week’s reading, where do you see commonalities? Differences?

WEEK 2: Data Collection Methods and Techniques

This week will address how to design a community assessment strategy that incorporates reliable and valid methods, including key informant interviews, focus groups, and surveys.

Reading 2: Designing a Strategy and Instruments (pdf)
Week 2 Assignment Options
Option 1: Strategy for Assessment
If you are ready to design a strategy for community assessment, download and complete the file below. At the end of your Community Assessment Strategy Worksheet, you can also include drafts of your assessment instruments.
Download: Community Assessment Strategy Worksheet (doc)

Option 2: Your Hopes for Assessment
If your library is not ready to develop a strategy for a community assessment, outline your hopes for and concerns about the community assessment process itself. Please address these questions:

  • What data do you hope to obtain from your community assessment?
  • What do you hope to measure?
  • What challenges do you think you will encounter as you plan for a community assessment and develop a strategy for the data collection methods to use?

Option 3: Experience with Community Assessment
Has your library ever done a community assessment (i.e., gathering direct input from your community)? If so, please briefly describe the experience, addressing these questions:

  • When and why was the community assessment done?
  • Was a specific population targeted?
  • What methods were used in gathering data?
  • How did you achieve triangulation?
  • How were or will the data be used?
  • Were there any barriers that you had to overcome in doing the community assessment?

Supplementary Materials – Week 2


  • Peter Hernon & Ellen Altman, Assessing Service Quality: Satisfying the Expectations of Library Customers
  • Lynn Westbrook, Identifying and Analyzing User Needs: A Complete Handbook and Ready-to-Use Assessment Workbook with Disk (NY:Neal-Schuman, 2001).(Chicago: American Library, 2010).

Key Informant Interviews:


Focus Groups:

WEEK 3: Tabulating and Presenting the Data

This week will address how to effectively tabulate, interpret, and present assessment data.

Reading 3:
Process, Analyze, and Present (pdf)
Week 3 Assignment Options
Option 1: Review Survey Responses
If you want to practice interpreting the quantitative data gathered in a survey, you can do this assignment option.

1. First, download and review the Sample Survey Tally Sheet (pdf)
2. Then answer the following questions:

  • What overall themes can you identify about the respondents’ interest in participating in cultural activities?
  • What new program(s) might the library consider offering based on this input?
  • What further information is needed to design new library program(s)?
  • What are the logical next steps in gathering this information?

Option 2: Assign Codes to Focus Group Transcript
If you want to practice assigning codes to the transcript of a focus group session, do this assignment.

1. First, download the files below:
Sample Focus Group Transcript (pdf)
Codes for Sample Focus Group Transcript (pdf)
Focus Group Coding Assignment (doc)

2. Then complete the Focus Group Coding Assignment and download the Sample Focus Group Transcript Coded (pdf). Compare your coded transcript to the sample coded transcript and answer the following questions:

  • What overall conclusions can you draw by comparing the data from both transcripts?
  • Do the focus group sessions share any common themes? Are there differences?

Option 3: Experience with Presenting Results
Has your library tabulated and interpreted the data collected from a community assessment (i.e., from surveys, interviews, and focus groups)? Were the findings presented to stakeholders? If so, please briefly describe that process, including summary conclusions or recommendations.

  • How did your library tabulate and analyze the data?
  • Did you test the validity of the data gathered? If so, how?
  • Who were the stakeholders to whom the findings were presented?

Supplementary Materials – Week 3
Palo Alto’s “Feed Your Head” LSTA grant application (pdf)

What to do Next: Congratulations! You’ve completed the work for this course. If you’re interested, check out the other IMLS Fellowship online courses.