Assessing Your Community Needs

by Loren Polk

“Community needs are “the gap between what a situation is and what it should be…. Examining needs helps us discover what is lacking, and points us in the direction of future improvement.”(Heaven, 2010)

Communities can be as unique as the individuals that comprise them, and for this reason the needs, strengths and resources of a community can be vastly different.

Literacy, defined as competency in a variety of subjects (Gorman, 2008), has become a commonplace term as technology, health, and research advocacy are priority competencies in our communities. Public services can aid in the development of these competencies, but without proper assessment or coordination this help can be redundant or unsupportive.

So, how do we understand what our community needs? How do we determine which needs we can serve? Consider these guidelines:

  1. Collect information from a number of formal and informal sources(NNLM, 2008).

What is the public perception of your community? The statistical demographics? Find this information at school districts, police stations, local restaurants or community walks.

  1. Develop a list of your key strengths and weaknesses.

Assessing strengths in your community can provide resources and strategies to most effectively reach the community.

  1. Understand the complexity of community issues.

Understanding the relationships between community needs and resources can help address the most effective ways to achieve progress. Middle-school gang prevention may be the solution to preventing violence, school drop-outs, unemployment, drug trafficking and homelessness.(Compassion Capital Fund National Resource Center, 2010)

  1. Set your priorities.

Do not limit your service to the traditional scope of your organization. Evaluate priority community needs, and determine how your strengths can best work to serve the community you are in.

  1. Share and collaborate.

Share your information and your vision to allow other organizations to further community literacy. Collaborating with other community members can encourage diverse assessments and support.(US Department of Education, Regional Education Laboratory, n.d.)   

How will you discover your community’s needs?


Compassion Capital Fund National Resource Center. (2010) “Strengthening Nonprofits: A Capacity Builder’s Resource Library. Conducting a Community Assessment.” Retrieved from

Gorman, Michael. (2008). Professional Ethics and Values in a Changing World. In Haycock, Ken & Sheldon, Brooke (Eds.), The Portable MLIS: Insights from the Experts. (p. 15 – 22). Westport, CT : Libraries Unlimited.

Heaven, Catie. “Developing a Plan for Identifying Local Needs and Resources,” Community Tool Box (Lawrence, KS: KU Work Group for Community Health and Development, 2010), Retrieved from

National Network of Libraries of Medicine. (2008) “Guide 1: Set the Direction with a Community Assessment.”  Retrieved from

US Department of Education and Regional Educational Laboratory Network. “Putting the Pieces Together: Comprehensive School-Linked Strategies for Children and Families.” (n.d.) North Central Regional Education Laboratory. Retrieved from


2 thoughts on “Assessing Your Community Needs

  1. Assessing community needs has to be one of the hardest things to measure. I think it’s hard it the sense that the library must determine through some set of standards how to address the needs of their patrons.

    If it is purely objective, then the collection might expand to add titles that the library should have. However, if there is a degree of subjectivity, the library might consider the titles that the patrons want to have. I think that there is distinction there that can be troublesome. I have no answer only that the materials added might needed to be held up against the mission of the library. Or perhaps the mission needs to be tweaked to encompass some of the wanted titles. Katy Perry may have a place along with as biography on Mozart.

    The only other thing I can say is that more involvement and buy-in from the community the better.

    Kurt Mattson

  2. What a great post! I feel like a lot of times libraries completely miss the mark in terms of assessing what it is their community actually needs. This is a great guide-line for those libraries (and all libraries, really) to take a look at and see what they can improve in terms of their services!
    Great job!

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