Participatory Service and Transparency in the Los Angeles Public Library

I was particularly excited to see a reading in this module regarding my local library, the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) and thought it might be helpful to frame the ideas in a local, more personal context.  Thus, I endeavored to explore some of the ways in which LAPL directly engages and solicits user input and its efforts toward capturing a portion of the long tail, to which I sadly belong.  Though I regularly volunteer with LAPL, I’m ashamed to admit that the last time I checked out a book from LAPL had to be at least 2 years ago and I’m having a tough time thinking of a recent occasion that I utilized the library for anything other than books or wifi.  With all this talk about library website design and the shockingly low number of people who utilize library websites, I opted to start there.

“Your website is your ambassador to tomorrow’s taxpayers. They will meet the website long before they see your building, your physical resources, or your people. (Schneider, 2006)”

Schneider’s point is always relevant but it’s incredible to think that she wrote this just a few short years before the recession, which severely impacted libraries on the whole but reduced LAPL’s staff by 30% and its hours to its lowest levels in the system’s history (  LAPL does not take its recent history for granted and that is clearly reflected in its website, which devotes an entire page to Measure L, a ballot measure passed in 2011 intended to restore library funding to pre-recession levels.  This page serves another purpose: to highlight the connection between citizens, not even necessarily library users, and the library.  That is to say, to remind the public that they are stakeholders in the library’s existence and future and to encourage them to participate.

Perhaps more relevant to our current readings are the methods in which LAPL allows its users to evaluate its services and offer suggestions. According to Michael’s week 4 lecture, one of the basic elements of participatory service is an evaluation mechanism, by which libraries can respond to strengths and weaknesses and adjust their services accordingly.  I recently visited the LAPL website to determine if a simple user survey was available and if so, whether it was easily accessible using the following criteria:

  • Is the survey easy to locate?
  • Is it easy to understand?
    • Is it available in multiple languages?
    • Does it ask broad or specific questions?
  • Is it time consuming?
  • Is it self-serving?
    • Does it allow for flexibility of user input, e.g. free-form suggestions?
    • Does it ignore potential areas of weakness?

I initially located the survey with ease, perhaps one or two clicks from the homepage but when I attempted to do so again, I could not remember how and entered the term “survey” into the search toolbar, which brought me directly to the customer satisfaction survey.  I’ve attached a copy of the full survey, available in four languages and in a short, medium, or long version.  I opted to take the long version of the survey and found it to comprehensive and open-ended enough to allow for substantial criticism, if relevant.  It’s worth noting that user surveys probably have little impact if they are not pushed and I cannot imagine a situation other than an exceptionally good or exceptionally bad experience that would motivate an individual to actively seek and take a user survey, no matter how well placed it may be.  This is why I was interested to discover that in 2013, LAPL did in fact push a brief user survey intended to crowdsource the system’s future decisions concerning design, technology, and programming.

“Despite our size, the expanse of the area we serve, the programs we currently offer, the library is nothing without its community. So, we’re surveying the public and asking them to tell us how we can best continue to fulfill our mission and help us create a collaborative vision of y/our library of the future (Mack, 2013).”

I know from personal experience that the international languages department at LAPL’s Central Library offers materials in the 29 most commonly spoken languages in Los Angeles County and in that very basic way, the system seeks to engage diverse elements of the local community.  Similarly, LAPL’s website conveys easily accessible information about ESL classes, a dedicated Spanish language version of the website, and resources devoted to immigrants, all available within one-click of the site’s main page.  Though these are common offerings among public libraries, I think it is worth noting that this is an attempt to meet the user where she is comfortable rather than imposing standards such as the English language proficiency on the user.  Referencing Schnieder once more, “You cannot change the user, but you can transform the user experience to meet the user.”

This post is far from a comprehensive user experience analysis and is based largely on a cursory exploration of the LAPL website but I would like to conclude by noting that the LAPL’s strategic plan and results of past user surveys are readily available on its website, along with an open comment system and several avenues to receive user feedback, all measures suggested by Stephens and Casey in their Roadmap to Transparency (2013).  The current strategic plan includes a section titled “Engaging and Listening,” which synthesizes the results of 11,000 survey responses, some of which were solicited in Candice Mack’s outreach.  The section outlines the following goals based on user input:

• Cultivate and Inspire Young Readers
• Nurture Student Success
• Champion Literacy and Lifelong Learning
• Contribute to L.A.’s Economic Growth
• Stimulate the Imagination
• Strengthen Community Connections and Celebrate L.A.

I find the final point particularly inspiring and reflective of LAPL’s efforts to promote a participatory and transparent library, which I hope to explore in greater detail in future coursework.


Casey, M., & Stephens, M. (2013). A road map to transparency. Retrieved from

Los Angeles Public Library. (2017). Los angeles public library 2015-2020 strategic plan. Retrieved from

Mack, C. (2013). Crowdsourced design: Why los angeles is asking the public to create the library of the future. Retrieved from

Schneider, K. G. (2006). The user is not broken: A meme masquerading as a manifesto. Retrieved from



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One Response to Participatory Service and Transparency in the Los Angeles Public Library

  1. Thanks for sharing the survey. I was interested to see what type of data LAPL is collecting.

    I am so glad your deep dive yielded positive results. The evidence you share is indicative of hoe community focused and future forward the library is. What a benefit to the community!

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