Partnering to assess the needs of Main Library users

Planning is underway for the replacement of Main Library with a flexible facility designed to meet the community’s evolving information, technology, and public gathering needs today and in the future. But what does that mean for the people who use Main Library now? 

Identifying the need

On average, the Main Library has a door count between 13,000 and 14,000 visitors per month, which includes people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. 

To better plan for the needs of those individuals, the Library sought out the assistance of Mecklenburg County's Community Support Services (CSS). Together, they recognized that the Library is an important component of an ecosystem that supports Charlotte’s homeless population, in direct alignment with its mission to improve lives and build a stronger community. They further identified that the needs of the homeless would need to be addressed in the space and programming for the new Main Library.

The Library and CSS partnered to conduct a survey of Main Library users in September 2017 to understand the impact of the closing on library users and what resources, services and programs are most valued by individuals who use the Main Library every day. Here are a few of the key findings from the survey. You can read the full article here on mecklenburghousingdata.org. 

Survey Results

The Library and CSS were seeking answers to two questions:

  1. “What are the needs and resources of library patrons who experience homelessness?”
  2. “What services do library patrons who experience homelessness value most?”

33 volunteers interviewed a total of 149 customers. Of those, 62%, or 93 people, self-identified that they were at risk of becoming homeless. Of those 93 individuals…

  • 40% had been homeless for more than 7 months
  • 40% reported they had slept at an unsheltered location the night before
  • 56% used the library at least once a day
  • 91% spend more than an hour per day
  • 88% use computers; 82% print collections; 77% facilities; 70 Wifi/Internet; and 51% books clubs or library programs
  • Safety, hospitality and space are top three most valued qualities of the Library
  • 26% reported that they did not know of, or have, an alternative place to go when the weather is bad

When asked to summarize their feelings about the library in one word, respondents used words like: access, helpful, friendly, awesome, life-saving, peaceful, amazing, refuge, safe, useful, compassionate, wonderful, accommodating, resourceful, important, happiness, and heaven.

What's next?

Information from this survey has been shared with Library leadership, Mecklenburg County leadership and the architect team, and will be incorporated into planning for services during the closure of Main Library and after reopening. In addition, the Library will continue to partner with CSS and other organizations that serve the homeless in Charlotte. By doing so, we will continue to improve the ways that we serve this vulnerable population today and in the new Main Library