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Measuring the Value of Libraries continued…

Alexandra Yarrow is a brilliant young librarian (& incredible athlete, too!). She posted a thoughtful post to her blog, Only Connect, yesterday: (Measuring) The Value of Libraries. I’m reposting my comments on her post below just because the whole issue of measures is coming to the fore : we need to deal with measures now — seriously — collectively — critically (not being critical, but thinking critically).  What types of measures are meaningful in the digital environment? Read Alexandra’s post and then my musings:

“Well done! You go girl!

I have been fascinated by the issue of performance measures and “value” of libraries for many years. When I speak or teach about measures I warn ppl at the outset that there isn’t a ‘magic measure’ and it is hard, complex work, so if you want to leave now I won’t be offended. It is hard work to identify, gather, interpret, manage and communicate those few measures that are meaningful for decision-makers at the time. Libraries continue to struggle for a few reasons (IMHO):

1. libraries need different measures for different purposes: the measures needed for management purposes (what’s being used, how much is being used, by who, etc.) differ from the measures needed to convey value and impact. Yet many libraries (ok not ALL – don’t jump on me!) continue to communicate too many measures & too much detail, which just confuses people & messes up the message (“me thinks though dost protesteth too much” — is that the saying?)  Keep the operational measures internal, and communicate externally only those measures that send the message about the library’s impact on the community and on individuals in the community.

2. libraries aren’t tying their impact or value measures to evidence. And, yes, this can be qualitative evidence. For instance, OPL’s literacy programs that you reference are terrific, and I’m assuming that OPL is gathering evidence of the impact these programs are having on kids’ school-readiness (ability to recognize letters, words, etc), which can only be measured at the beginning, end and then post program (usually 3-6 months). Yes, this is hard to do. And it is incredibly worthwhile; how else can we say these programs are valuable? Track their impact with parents & schools. Libraries need to let go of measures they’ve been tracking & allocate resources to tracking & managing what’s meaningful today.

3. We do need to use the language of decision-makers, and I don’t see this as being “sucked” into any ideology. I see this as communicating clearly. Libraries’ measures have to be totally aligned with decision-makers’ measures. I may not – in fact, I DON’T – agree with Ford, but the measures his administration values right now relate to cutting Toronto’s deficit. How can public libraries help cut the deficit? Evidence of public library programs that contribute to job skills, job hunting, social programs, etc. ?  I don’t know. Public libraries need to work with their councils to identify, at the outset, the measures that will be meaningful and useful for council. At Esso I learned to ask senior managers, “What performance measures do you want to see? What measures will support what you need to be conveying? What will you believe?” There’s no sense managing and communicating measures that council doesn’t believe or that they don’t see as useful.

And all of this requires conversations and working relationships with the decision-makers and with other community agencies.  Librarians need to be out building these relationships and developing the measures WITH other agencies that convey their collective value to the community.  Non-profits and community organizations have, for years, been using the Logic Model for performance measures, yet when I talk with libraries about this model many are unaware of it. Ken Haycock was so right: librarians shouldn’t be delivering story-time, or (this will make people angry at me!) on reference desks.  Something like less than 20% of the queries dealt with on reference desks require a librarian. Librarians need to focusing on the value measures that matter. If not now, when? If not us, who?

1 comment to Measuring the Value of Libraries continued…

  • I had always thought that “evidence-based librarianship” should be a redundancy rather than an oxymoron. We spend our careers helping others — including business people — to make informed decisions yet seem loathe to do so ourselves.
    The circular argument of “I am doing such good work that I have no time to assess so you should just value my good work anyway” doesn’t fly. Professionals assess, design and evaluate in order to allocate resources effectively and responsibly.
    Our colleagues in the corporate sector more often than not “get it” but it is meeting such resistance in the public sector. And… there are many examples of sectors where the professionals resisted so the system imposed its own measures, a bad move by any measure!
    Thanks for this.

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