Queens Central Library contracted Randi Korn & Associates, Inc. (RK&A) to conduct an evaluation of the newly completed Children's Library and Discovery Center (CLDC), partially funded by the National Science Foundation. In addition to traditional children's library resources, the CLDC includes interactive science exhibits, programming space, and an early childhood area. The evaluation sought to understand 1) how its family customers use the new CLDC (and its exhibits) and what they most value about it, and 2) experiences of CLDC staff who interact with the customers. How did we approach this study? RK&A employed three data collection strategies to assess perceptions of and experiences with the CLDC. Trained data collectors administered standardized questionnaires to parents visiting the CLDC in three languages: English, Spanish, and Bengali. In addition, RK&A conducted in-depth interviews with three groups of stakeholders: CLDC Librarians, Discovery Teens, and adult CLDC parents. RK&A also utilized focused observations with short-answer interviews in order to unobtrusively observe parents and children using the CLDC, and interviewed a select number of customers after they had been observed. What did we learn? Findings from the questionnaires demonstrate that the CLDC's audience is relatively homogenous and yet incredibly diverse. For instance, most customers are adult females who reside in Jamaica, NY, and are visiting with children between six and twelve years; however, a diverse population are represented among these customers, including African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, or Latino customers constituting the largest proportion of adults. The results from the questionnaires also showed that three-quarters of customers had used the exhibits on the day surveyed, while two-thirds had used them previously. Additionally, focused observations revealed that there was a high dwell time for the exhibits, as children who stopped to use any one exhibit typically became engrossed during their use of it, either in a studious or a fun and playful way. However, no children were observed reading the accompanying books on display, as was intended by the CLDC design. Interviews with staff demonstrated that both the librarians and the Discovery Teens were clear on the goals and objectives of the CLDC; however, many staff members mentioned that crowding in the library was a problem that affected their work. What are the implications of the findings? Overall, findings demonstrate that the CLDC is a successful component of the Queens Central Library. The degree of diversity is reflective of Queens in general, and attests to the fact that the CLDC is a place for the local community at large. In addition, repeat visitation as well as high dwell time at the exhibits further demonstrates the success of this component of the library; in part, this success may be attributed to the fact that exhibits are often used in a collaborative way, either among children or between adults and children. Further, the positive reception of the CLDC may derive from the unique juxtaposition of exhibits in the relaxed, familiar atmosphere of a library. However, the Library continues to face the challenge of encouraging customers to pursue deeper learning and exploration through books related to the exhibits, as customers do not currently make this connection. Queens Central Library can continue to build upon this connection through facilitated programming, which can maintain the exhibits' relevance to the CLDC audience and further children's exploration of science.
Randi Korn & Associates, Inc.
Queens Central Library
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