ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

OUR OPINION: Unscientific survey could mislead Library Board

Count the Herald's editorial board among the proud supporters of the Grand Forks Public Library. Consider this, then, as friendly advice from interested parties who hope very much to see the library's construction/renovation plan succeed: Putting...

Our Opinion

Count the Herald's editorial board among the proud supporters of the Grand Forks Public Library.

Consider this, then, as friendly advice from interested parties who hope very much to see the library's construction/renovation plan succeed:

Putting stock in the findings of unscientific surveys is very often a mistake. The Grand Forks Library Board should recognize that truth about modern life and so take the findings of the Library Working Group with several shakes of salt.

Last week, "a task force recommended constructing a new building to house the Grand Forks Public Library," Herald staff writer Brandi Jewett reported.

"... The task force based its recommendations on feedback from community members who attended public forums, filled out an online questionnaire or were in small groups interviewed by task force members and consulting staff. ...

ADVERTISEMENT

"The questionnaire wasn't scientific in nature, but consultant Mark Schill said that the method allowed for more residents to volunteer their input.

"'In a scientific survey, only the folks who are part of that sample get their voice heard,' he said."

Let's be blunt: Informal surveys of the sort described can serve a purpose. But that purpose does not at all include deciding whether to build a new library, because the opinions uncovered by such surveys are impossibly skewed.

That's especially true in Grand Forks, because the last time library officials asked voters for a new building, voters said no.

That elephant in the library's lobby will not go away on its own. Nor will it go away by touting "surveys" of self-selected groups -- groups that almost certainly include a disproportionate share of "yes" voters from 2011.

Instead, the most reliable way to tempt the elephant from the room starts with learning what put the animal there in the first place.

And that means going in-depth with library opponents, not supporters, as well as with key people and groups who stayed mum during the library campaign or otherwise seemed on the fence.

What would it take to win full-throated support from, say, The Chamber of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks? From the Grand Forks City Council, School Board, Park Board, County Commission and other benchmark and leadership groups?

ADVERTISEMENT

If the library board can win solid backing from that lineup, then any project will be well on its way.

Then there's the vital matter of a scientific survey. True, "only the folks who are part of that sample get their voice heard," as the consultant put it. But that's only 1/10th of the story, because the other 9/10ths is the fact that the scientific sample is representative.

It's a microcosm of the community, in other words. So, it reliably reflects the community's view and offers meaningful information in a way that self-selected samples don't.

As mentioned before in this space, school boosters in West Fargo floated a $65 million bond issue in 2009. Voters shot it down. The next proposal of a $40 million bond got hammered, too.

But the third time was the charm, and in 2011, West Fargo voters OK'd an $82.5 million bond issue -- the biggest proposal of them all.

It can be done. But it has to be done right, and the process starts not with rose-colored glasses but with staring reality straight in the face.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Opinion by Thomas Dennis
What To Read Next