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Assessing the value of library services

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What should be measured?

Performance measurement looks at practically every aspect of the library: how many issues, reference enquiries, article downloads, number of visits, how the website is performing, the satisfaction levels of users, etc. Broadly speaking, types of measure can be divided into inputs, outputs and outcomes.

Inputs

This generally refers to the cost of employing staff and holding collections. Usage data for the latter – particularly e-resources – will be available (see the information management viewpoint, "Usage").

Outputs

This relates to all services provided by the library: level of satisfaction with staff gauged via surveys, together with statistical data on all activities. For example, hits to the website, speed with which items are returned to shelves and delivered from remote or closed stacks, queuing time at the lending desk, visits to the library and seat occupancy, items available to use, services to external users, and reference enquiries.

These measures are often expressed in economic terms – what is the cost per active user, per visit, per use? How cost-effective is the library, for example, looking at total operating expenditure against actual use, number of downloads compared with the total cost of collections?

The ARL survey found that 80 per cent of respondents assessed areas which directly affected their users, such as the website, the catalogue, the facilities, the reference service, and how the collections are used and managed (Wright and White, 2007).

Outcomes

The savvy librarian looks not only at outputs, important though these are, for so to do means looking at the library in isolation. For example, there has been a vast increase in downloads of electronic resources. But how has this impacted on the behaviour of the user – are students getting higher grades? Lecturers producing more articles in peer reviewed journals? The librarian concerned with outcomes will thus be looking at the effect on the user, on the organization, and asking, what is the cost of not providing this particular service?