Monday, 17 June 2013

Special Collections feedback

I've been looking into getting feedback from users of Special Collections, so last week I asked on lis-rarebooks and Twitter about what feedback other special collections libraries ask for and how they use it. I received many responses, as well as many requests to share what I had found, so I thought I'd blog about what I found out.

As I'm sure I've already said on this blog, librarians are the most incredibly lovely helpful people out there. I received a lot of attachments with examples of feedback forms, so the list below summarises questions asked.

Some collected category of user (e.g. undergraduate, postgraduate, academic), usually combined with whether they were from that institution or a different one.

Some had age range and gender tick boxes.

Tick boxes about enjoyment/whether staff were friendly and helpful/whether the visit was informative, rated between 1 and 5 (this was from an organisation that did tours of the library area), plus space for comments on what was particularly enjoyed and whether any improvements could be recommended.

Many institutions had very simple suggestion slips or cards (about postcard size) which any comments could be written on, with a postbox provided. Sometimes these were handed to users, sometimes they were left out on reading room tables to be picked up.

Exhibitions often had a comments book at the end for visitors to leave feedback.

Other ideas

In conjunction with Love Your Libraries Day (14th Feb) one institution (not solely Special Collections) asked for freetext feedback on heart shaped post-it notes from students, who received mini packs of Love Hearts in return.


Some institutions gave a survey form to every visitor. Others either did an annual survey or tied in feedback with a national survey and only surveyed visitors during a certain time period.

The PSQG (Public Services Quality Group for archives and local studies) survey was one of these, with past survey results available.

Common questions

What is your area of research?

How did you find these items were in Special Collections or in xx institution?

Which collection did you use (often combined with tick boxes if there weren’t many collections to choose from)?

What would you like to see displayed (from an institution running quarterly exhibitions to highlight their materials)?

Did you expect to be permitted to see items in xx library?

Could you have seen the items anywhere else?

Would you have been able to use a digitized copy of the items for your research? Would you have preferred this?

How did you find Special Collections supported your research?

Tell us about what you enjoyed (this was aimed at tour visitors)?

Do you intend to tell others about our collections as a result of your visit?

Have you used collections from other institutions to support your research? If so, please give details.

Do you have any suggestions or comments to help improve the xx Special Collections?

Online feedback

Several respondents reported that a lot more feedback was received from online exhibitions and/or blogs, where it is easy to leave comments, “like” a post or tweet a link.

Twitter and Facebook were both often used as a means of getting feedback.

Virtual Users Groups were mentioned by a couple of respondents as a way of getting feedback and asking for comments.

Website hits were also counted, and it is usually possible to find out which country most hits are from, plus referring sites and commonly used search terms.

Some websites also had a feedback link, although this tended to be used for issues about the website.

How feedback is used

For many institutions collecting feedback seemed to be a relatively new phenomenon and/or not enough responses had been received yet for anything to be implemented. Several institutions mentioned not having had enough time yet to analyse results!

There were various comments about how it was hoped to use the information:

  • Track usage of collections
  • Useful evidence for the university’s research output
  • Improve user experience
  • Where contact details are left to respond directly to any specific questions from users
  • Online feedback was used to tailor blog posts and exhibitions (for example, by seeing which search terms were used most often, and what was popular).

More ideas

The Special Collections handbook (2011) has a section on feedback and complaints, as well as social media and feedback, and researching user needs.

The Customer Service Excellence Standard was mentioned as a practical tool with self-assessment of customer service.

I like to illustrate my posts, but I couldn't think of a way to illustrate "feedback", until I remembered my old cat, Sooty, was excellent at providing extremely vocal feedback about anything and everything. And, yes, he did only have three legs.

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