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Community Information Needs

Libraries provide information for people who live and work in the community.

What Information is Needed?

     Meeting the information needs of the community calls for a variety of resources and a broad understanding of the kinds of questions that patrons may need answered. The truth is out there -- and a lot of people expect to find it at the library or on the library web site!

Variety of Information Needs

     The people who live and work in our communities have many information needs:

  • Product evaluations. Before making a major purchase, it helps to know the quality and features of products.
  • Health. People need information on how to stay healthy and how to understand medical conditions they or their families have.
  • Government. People need to understand their own communities and the country, and know who their elected and appointed representatives are and how to contact them, so they can participate fully in making decisions.
  • How-to-do-it. It takes knowledge to repair cars, build swings, bake cakes.
  • Personal enrichment. People want to know words to poems or songs, locate travel guides, play games online, know the best Web sites for kids, or enjoy the paintings of a favorite artist.
  • Work. Business people need statistics, addresses, legal information; children (school work is their work) need help with assignments; individuals need advice on changing careers and obtaining better jobs.
  • School. School work requires information resources available in the library or guidance in locating the best Web homework sites.

Remote Services, Reaching Your Community on the Web

     The one place in the community that can provide various types of information to everyone is the library, whether in person or with remote reference services. Libraries are encouraged to develop information, reference, and directional services consistent with the goals of the community. "Provision of information in the manner most useful to its clients is the ultimate test of all a library does."

[Guidelines for Information Services]

     Where are users when they access your services? According to The 2013 Digital Future Project Report, membership in online communities has more than doubled in only three years. 54% log into their community at least once a day. 71% of members said their community is very important or extremely important to them. 40% say they use the Internet at least monthly to participate in such communities. 87% of online community members are participating in social causes that are new to them.

What do users expect online?

Fifty-five percent (up from 43% in 2007) of Internet users who are members of online communities say that they “feel as strongly” about their virtual community as they do about their real-world communities. Only 46% of Internet users said that most or all of the information online is generally reliable, although users have higher trust in favorite sites and media sources and lower opinions of search engines. A worthy goal for libraries online would be to provide and promote reliable information to users who participate in online communities, access a library web site, take advantage of library webcasts and blogs, participate in gaming projects that teach information literacy, or are active in virtual spaces such as Library Island in Second Life, an online virtual community.

Major Point: The one place in the community that can provide various types of information to everyone is the library.



    1. Does the library's reference policy describe the community served or what makes your library's community special? If this is not part of a written policy, talk to the staff. They know all the answers (or at least have heard all the questions)!

     2. Does the reference (or collection development) policy discuss the information needs of your particular community,  i.e. what kinds of information the users of your library want or expect to find at the library (topics or subjects) and in what formats (books, videos, software, etc.)?

    3. Does the library's reference policy include serving the community with remote/virtual services?

Answer Key

   First contact with a patron



What's new in reference?

Where do users go for information?

Photo: Young boy in jeans and green shirt, running toward front entrance to library

The 2013 Digital Future Project Report shows the average number of hours users spend online has increased to 15.3 hours per week. 16% of Internet users said they go online to find or check a fact at least daily, while 7% of users go online daily or more often to look up the definition of a word. The Internet is perceived by 80% of users age 17 and older to be a more important source of information than television, radio, newspapers, and books.

A growing number (21%) of Internet users said that their home page is a search page such as Google. Other common activities include e-mail (96%), Internet surfing without a specific destination (71%), looking for news online (60%), finding product information (43%), conducting online banking or other financial services (38%), instant messaging (37%), playing online games (35%), searching for humorous content (25%).

The people who live and work in our communities have a variety of information needs.

Ohio Libraries

Libraries have information for a variety of community interests. London Public Library.

Serving the different needs of the community. Dawn Jackson and the Lynch Family at London Public Library.

Ohio Questions

People need many kinds of information.

 "A library patron wanted to know how to get a certificate for verification of her Indian heritage.

I helped her find the Bureau of Indian Affairs web site to locate the phone number for her district representative so that she could begin the verification process."
[Mike at London Public Library]

 How do you make a dog puppet from a sock? [A telephone question asked by a father who was washing dishes.]

Web Links

Washington County Public Library on the Web is a Virtual Branch, "Open everyday, all day, for your information needs," with links to local activities at the (physical) branch libraries.

Guidelines for Information Services state that "libraries have an inherent obligation to provide information service to support the educational, recreational, personal and economic endeavors of the members of their respective communities, as appropriate to the libraries’ individual missions."

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