Service Providers’ Use of Community Information in California:
Case Study of the Peninsula Library System (2001 - 2003)

The Peninsula Library System’s Community Information Program (CIP) project was part of our 2000-03 IMLS funded “How Libraries and Librarians Help” study series in which we developed a context-based, outcome evaluation approach for assessing how different stakeholders use community programs run by public libraries.

The Peninsula Library System (PLS), headquartered in San Mateo, CA, is a consortium of 34 public and community college libraries that serve multiple communities in the area. PLS’s 25 year-old Community Information Program provides accurate and up-to-date information to social service agencies and library staff through its database and a variety of publications. The database contains over 3,000 detailed profiles and contact information for nonprofit and government agencies in the county that provide direct services to the public.


Data Collection Instruments

The “How Libraries and Librarians Help” study series

The Context-based, Outcome Evaluation Toolkit

Publications and presentations from the “How Libraries and Librarians Help” series

CIP’s primary clientele are the social service agencies who use either the database or the many specialized publications and services, such as customized map development, developed by CIP staff. CIP is staffed by a group of PLS librarians who are housed with other county human service agencies, providing the benefits of proximity between staff and clientele. CIP staff focus both on database development and maintaining contact with their clientele; they work collaboratively with many community organizations. Staff skills include: public speaking skills and training abilities; some staff have gained skills in the use of special purpose software such as geographic information systems (GIS). In addition to providing products and services directly related to the database, CIP has taken a leadership role as an information provider within the nonprofit community, while it hosts regular meetings for service providers to meet and exchange ideas and regular training sessions to orient nonprofit staff to community resources.

We assessed the impact of the CIP by conducting focus groups, interviews, and self-assessments with different organizational users and CIP staff. A synergistic cycle of community outcomes results from the carefully crafted strategies and activities devised by CIP starting with the solid framework which rests on the CIP community information database. The reliable and up-to-date information provided by the CIP and the connections that the program makes between community organizations lead to larger outcomes.

As shown below, we identified six categories of impact on area human services organizations, starting with the most basic—increased knowledge of the community. This gain is the direct result of a variety of information products that result from the major CIP database. Secondly, CIP staff foster shared information and increased communication. Information-sharing and its corollary, increased communication among organizations, are fostered through a variety of CIP outreach mechanisms such as orientation sessions and bimonthly meetings. These and additional organization development activities, in turn, lead to the third group of outcomes, increased coordination and collaboration among the target organizations in the community. It is not surprising that the fourth and fifth categories—increased organizational capacity and the resulting improved delivery of services—show a synergy that builds on the more basic strategies, and, of course, the resulting outcomes. Finally, it appears that these outcomes lead to a community-wide set of impacts; by employing a set of diverse strategies, CIP lays the foundation for a more effective community.


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