3. Self-Assessing Capacity

After completing this section, you will be able to:

  • Self-assess your library or department’s capacity in each area
  • Create your own list of assets and needs

In order to understand the unique capacity of your library and how you can leverage it when creating programs, you need to get specific about the resources you already have. But where do you start? It might be helpful to take a moment to reflect on a recent library program you presented. What were the strengths? Where were the weaknesses? For each strength and weakness, think about what connections there might be to the specific capacity areas of your library.

For example, let’s say the Midsize Library above put on a program for teens. This program was about creating memes for ages 13 to 16, and used half of the library’s computers to utilize photoshop. The teen librarian was assisted by a library associate, and a group of two adult volunteers and five older teen volunteers from the Teen Board. As teens created their memes, they learned how to use photoshop and collaborated with their peers. However, the library was only able to buy two photoshop licenses, and for the rest of the computers installed a free trial with fewer capabilities. The library also did not have access to tablets, and teens used mice to draw in the program. This greatly restricted what teens were able to do and learn. At the end of the program, the librarian was asked by a few of the teens to run another meme workshop with more full photoshop licenses. They said that they had a lot of fun, and wanted to learn how to do more. The response from the teen community was very positive, but a few patrons complained that computers were not available for them during the time of the program.

How might you map out the strengths and weaknesses of the example library program on meme creating for teens?

In order to assess a library program, it is helpful to start with a simple table that reflects the capacity areas of your library. Then, you can fill in the strengths and weaknesses you saw in those capacity areas during the specific program you ran. Again, we can use the Midsize Library as an example: This allows you to share your capacity map and capacity assessment easily with others. One way to make a clear map is to put the information you have into a table, with each column covering one aspect of your library’s capacity. Let’s see what this looks like using our example library:

Midsize Library: Teen Program on Meme Creation

StrengthsEnough computers for each teenGreat teen librarian, enough library associate assistance and volunteer helpCompters were able to run photoshop without an issueTeen board volunteers
WeaknessesShared space with other patronsNoneUnable to obtain more than 2 licenses, lack of tablets for drawingNo technology partnerships
How can it be improved?Post reminders about teen program in the computer area a few days ahead of timeAdd an additional library associate with photoshop knowledgeObtain more licenses, tabletsFind partner that can help with photoshop and tablet acquisition

Notice how for each capacity area, the strengths and weaknesses were assessed for ways to improve the program. Each detail is helpful in understanding how the capacity of your library may affect your library programs, and how it contributes to the strengths and weaknesses of those programs. Thinking back to a past program can be very helpful in assessing the unique capacity of your library.

Breaking Things Down

Self-assessing your library’s capacity can also be done by breaking it down further into its parts: partnerships, technology (acquisition and use), space, and staffing. Here’s what something like that could look like visually:


PartnershipStrengthsWeaknessesHow can it be improved?
Neighborhood Association 1-Many bilingual - English/Farsi SpeakersDistance from library makes it difficult to volunteerWork with the association to organize a carpool for volunteers
School Partnership-Teachers
-Gym and Auditorium spaces
Busy schedule makes coordination difficultWork with the teachers and PTA to make a shared calendar that is updated weekly
Neighborhood Association 2-Owns a building with a large meeting space
-Provides technology
Has few membersCollaborate with the association to help recruit more members in exchange for resources


TechnologyStrengthsWeaknessesHow can it be improved?
AcquisitionTechnology partnership with Neighborhood Association 2-Small budget
-Not up to date with current technologies
-Connect with tech industry about current technology
-Poll library users on what new acquisitions would be most useful
UseKnowledgeable staffComputers next to silent reading areaRearrange to make computer space more collaborative and less disruptive


SpaceStrengthsWeaknessesHow can it be improved?
Main FloorLarge open spacesFew long tables for collaborationWork with volunteers to move large tables from meeting room
Meeting Room50 person capacityLarge tables take up space, heavy to moveWork with volunteers to move large tables to the main floor
Study RoomCollaborative work space for 2-5 peopleRarely usedAdvertise the study space at the front desk


StaffingStrengthsWeaknessesHow can it be improved?
Adult Services2 Adult Services StaffNot enough staff for additional adult oriented programs and book groupsLeverage community partnerships and knowledgeagble volunteers to help staff programs
Children's Services-1 Children's Services staff
-Knowledgeable in early literacy
Large deaf community unable to access stroytime, no ASL speakersWork with community to find an ASL speaking volunteer to translate storytime
Teen Services-1 Teen Services StaffLarge afterschool teen population is too big for 1 staff memberLeverage Library Associates, as well as community partnerships and knowledgeable volunteers to help staff programs
Library AssociatesCollaborative work space for 2-5 peopleRarely usedAdvertise the study space at the front desk


Remember that while you are including the improvements you would like to make to your library’s capacity in different areas, those improvements can and should be relatively modest and easily implemented with the resources you already have. Focus on your library’s strengths. How can you use those strengths to make small improvements to your overall capacity?

Using your reflection from section 2, you can get a broad view of the capacity of your library. As you look at the tools you have in each area, start to assess: where are the strengths of your library? Where might there be easy improvements that could increase your capacity in certain areas? Again, thinking back to past programs can be a helpful way to start mapping these out.