Applied Diplomacy: an assessment attempt to discover what people know, don’t know, and want to know

September 30, 2010, 7:28 am

I’m experimenting with an assessment tactic. I have a pile of multicolored sticky notes in my office related to another project AND I was preparing for a meeting with our User Services Group to talk broadly & briefly about the topic of assessment AND I was reading Visual Meetings–  so basically I was looking for a way to blend all those components.


A theme that I keep coming back to is do we know our users? We can read about them and obviously we interact with them daily, but do we really know them? Do we really know the process that grad students experience as they prep for candidacy?  Do we really know what happens in the dorms the night before a big assignment is due? Do we really know faculty tendencies when starting a new article or when they prep to teach a brand new course?


I tend to be overly curiously, but what about my colleagues? What I realized is that I didn’t know what they didn’t know—or rather, I was curious to know what they wanted to know about our users.


At the meeting I passed around three sticky notes and asked each person to answers three questions:


  1. One thing you know about our patrons.
  2. One thing you wish you knew about our patrons.
  3. One thing you wish our patrons knew about the library.


Very interesting results. Many of them opened up with comments about self-worth and professional concerns. We didn’t have much time to talk about the results, but that turned out to be advantageous because it allows me to build anticipation for future meetings (planting the seeds for a culture of assessment) and to gather additional responses.


I typed the results and presented them at our Department Heads meeting. We didn’t talk about the responses in great detail, but I felt it was important for our leaders to see what our frontline is thinking. (Note: a handful of people were in both groups.) I delayed us going into a deep conversation and instead only asked if there were any additional items that they wanted to add to any of the lists. I’m going to seek out a few more responses, including from our student employees who perhaps have a unique perspective. I think it’s critical to keep a balance of service perspectives and not have this be too librarian focused.  

That’s phase one. Then over the next few weeks I’m going to ask these same questions (with a slight modification) to our primary user groups.


  1. One thing you know about the library. (A fact.)
  2. One thing you wish you knew about the library. (Or something you don’t know.)
  3. One thing you wish the library knew about you. (Or about students or faculty in general)


This is where the diplomacy comes in. Phase 1 is gathering internal thoughts. Phase 2 is gathering external thoughts. And then Phase 3 is combining them. Hopefully this will show the differences and similarities. It will let us compare values, assumptions, and desires. I imagine bringing some students, instructors, librarians, and library staff together to work through some basic ideas. You guys are interested in this. While you guys think this. And these folks are thinking this. Let’s talk about that.


We’ll see how it goes. We’re doing some more conventional metrics too, like LibQual+ in January, but more than anything I just hope to engage the library on all levels in terms of thinking differently about the services we provide. And likewise, to engage the campus to think differently about the library as well. The diplomacy aspect has the potential to very really fun and hopefully insightful. Leaving everything else aside though, just looking at the responses from the initial questions has fueled numerous potential assessment projects—in this regard the exercise was successful because now I know what our employees want to know.


These are the types of random ideas that strike me what I’m staring at a stack of sticky notes all day. 


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