Gathering Patron Feedback at the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection

This month I met with Diane Turner, Curator of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University Libraries. This post illustrates the idea that assessment doesn’t have to be complicated to be useful and it doesn’t need to take a lot of time. It can serve as a gauge of program success and audience engagement, as well as demonstrate learning and provide feedback for future planning.

The Blockson Collection hosted a two-day symposium as part of the city-wide festival of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia held this October. The sessions at Blockson included lectures, panel discussions and musical performances

Prior to the symposium, I met with Diane to talk about ways she might assess the effectiveness of the program in terms of one of the Blockson Collection’s key goals: “To contribute to the education of the Temple University community and general public about African-American history and culture, particularly the Black experience in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.” As curator of this significant collection, Diane also wanted to get feedback and suggestions for other types of programs and topics that would be of interest.

Assessing learning outcomes can be tricky, requiring pre- and post- tests. We did something a little less complicated. Diane designed a simple half-sheet feedback form to distribute to program participants and asked them directly about what they learned. We won’t be sending attendees a followup quiz, but their responses to this question provides excellent documentation of the key takeaways, what surprised participants and what they’d like to learn more about. It was clear from the enthusiastic survey responses that attendees gained new knowledge, and the program inspired many to learn more – as evidenced by these responses to the question, “What did you learn?”

“Dr. Blockson taught me a lot about the various people who were involved in the Underground Railroad but aren’t mentioned much in history.”

“Have to review my 10 pages of notes to answer this.”

“More than I can write. I have so much reading to do”

Participants had many suggestions for what they’d like to see in future programming. Workshops on genealogy came up more than once, as well as themes related to Dr. Blockson’s talk – the lesser-known history of African Americans, particularly early American history (18th-19th century) and Philadelphia’s role in the Underground Railroad.

The feedback tool was simple, straightforward, and because participants were particularly engaged with the program, 73 surveys were returned by 104 participants, yielding an excellent 71% return rate.

Still, we are always learning better ways to phrase questions. In this case, the question, “Where are you from?” did not yield the expected responses, i.e. institutional affiliation. The lesson learned is to be specific about what type of information is required. If geographic location is important (as it might be in a survey like this), asking for a zip code provides more useful information for understanding reach into the community.

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