Introduction and Research Question

During Fall 2011, I created and implemented two series of education programs, one for children and one for adults, at Leeds Public Library (hereafter referred to as LPL) in Leeds, Devon County, Wisconsin. The programs were based on using objects from the Leeds Museum of Anthropology, the Leeds Museum of Art, and Leeds Historical Society, and were implemented during a four-month period. This programming was a collaborative effort between the local museums and I, and also between the youth and adult departments within the library itself, and I. Educational library programs such as these are sometimes the result of collaborations with different external parties; for example, healthy eating programs at LPL are offered in collaboration with a nutritionist from the local state university. The result of my collaborative efforts was a series of eight stand-alone education programs, which utilized the education collections from the museums, in the library setting, potentially widening audiences for both the museums and the library. I was aiming to promote the museums by increasing awareness of their collections, and I was also attempting to forge a greater relationship between the museums and the library. During the implementation process, I observed that the adult programs were much less well attended than the children’s programs. Through discussions with LPL staff members, I discovered that low attendance levels for adult programming was a regular occurrence.

Through this research, it is my aim to examine and compare LPL with Carterton Public Library (hereafter referred to as CPL), also located in Devon County, Wisconsin. Specifically, I focus on adult library programs at the two public libraries, to discover any factors that may explain why the LPL adult programs are poorly attended and to potentially offer solutions to increase attendance. From my own experiences, I know that a lot of time and energy goes into preparing adult programming events in libraries, and it can be disappointing when programs are not well attended. The programs I developed and implemented were devised with the intention of attracting both regular and infrequent users to the library. They were aimed at providing fun, interesting and educational activities that are not offered elsewhere in the local community, so I was expecting them to be well attended due to these qualities.

Records are maintained showing attendance levels of all programs at the library, and this information is used as the main method of judging the success of programming. I have used information from the LPL “Monthly Report Stat” sheets to access attendance levels of adult programs, and have had access to equivalent data at CPL. I interviewed staff at both libraries to find out how programs are implemented, as well as interviewing program attendees. I also had access to library user surveys conducted at LPL. I am interested in finding out why the adult programs are poorly attended at LPL, and it is my intention to use CPL as a comparison, to examine variables between the two sites that may explain this phenomena. How can attendance for adult programs at the public library be increased? These findings have potentially wider implications for the public library; if program attendance levels are low, then does that that mean the library is failing to meet the needs of the community? How can the library find out what those needs are? Indeed, what is the relationship between the pubic library and community? Is the library more of an education provider or a community center? This research aims to explore and answer these questions.

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Matthew Ruddle thesis research