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GYRL survey shows even users don’t want taxpayer funding

  • Published in Letters

To The Daily Sun,

On Nov. 10, the Gilmanton Year-Round Library's Facebook page posted a notice that the library had received the results of its UNH survey, and that the results of that survey would be shared on Nov. 17 at what the library calls a "Public Conversation."

Now, without exception, all of the GYRL's Public Conversations are advertised in the Daily Sun, either as a press release, or in the Sun's Daily Calendar under Library Events. This one was not. This was the event of the year for the GYRL, which took months to complete. The survey itself was heavily promoted — signs everywhere, articles in the paper, word of mouth, letters. And yet, in the end, there was not a single word publicly released by or through the media as to what the survey revealed, or that it had even been finished. I thought this unusual. Until, that is, I read the survey. So, Gilmanton taxpayers: ... Survey Says:

The survey itself consists of 15 general questions and nine questions relating to demographics. The general questions are broken down into library use, how respondents voted on funding in the last election, and what respondents felt were the best funding options for the library. The demographics were by age, income, education, gender, length of residency in Gilmanton, number of children and voting habits.

The surveys were sent to 1,715 households; 348 were returned. The results of the survey are a mind-numbing 72 pages long, with 41 complex graphs and 33 pages containing an unbelievable 7,095 cross-referenced statistics. In addition to that, there are several pages of respondents' comments.

As impressive as all that is, this was intended to be a random selection survey, which means that the 1,715 households where the surveys were sent could not be chosen based on affiliations, such as, in this case, the GYRL. If they were selected in this manner, it would have created what is known as selection bias and the survey would be useless. It seems, then, that the board of directors of the GYRL was not aware of this fact. Either that, or they ignored it because, possibly feeling they wouldn't get the results they wanted, they allowed library patrons to pick up surveys at the library. How random is that?

Why UNH allowed them to do that is beyond me. In my opinion, it destroyed the single most important purpose of that very expensive survey: the question of funding. Still, the results are interesting, and here are a few highlights:

I was surprised that there were actually GYRL cardholders who responded that did not support town funding for the library, the main reason being that they believed that operating costs would never come from taxes. Interesting ... I've heard that one.

Then there was library usage. On Page 20 there is a breakdown that shows that the majority of respondents, across all age groups, including cardholders, don't really use the library that much, if at all. So, although the library can show cardholder numbers, it would seem that only a relative handful use it regularly. Statistics don't lie.

But what really caught my attention was the comments. These were 150 individual, unedited, and frank remarks. Of those, 69 were supportive of the GYRL, and 81 were not. Yes, I did count them. What was so remarkable was how revealing these comments were. For instance, on the graphs and statistics pages, I discovered the majority of the respondents had college educations with incomes to match. I really expected, then, given that those who sing the praises of the GYRL continually portray library detractors as little more than beer-swilling, uneducated, book-hating buffoons, that the negative comments would be inarticulate drivel. Not so. In fact, it was just the opposite! ... There is so much more, but a point needs to be made.

This survey, although deliberately slanted in the GYRL's favor by the selection process, unquestionably shows that the library remains unused, unembraced and unaccepted by the majority of taxpayers in Gilmanton, which is probably why the GYRL Board of Directors never released the results through the media. Desperate to unload their burden on the town, the last thing they needed was accurate and detailed facts.

Al Blake