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An epistemological critique of gap theory based library assessment: the case of SERVQUAL

Liangzhi Yu (Department of Information Resource Management, The Business School, Nankai University, Tianjin, China)
Qiulan Hong (Department of Information Resource Management, The Business School, Nankai University, Tianjin, China)
Song Gu (The Library, Nankai University, Tianjin, China)
Yazun Wang (China Aerospace Engineering Centre, Beijing, China)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 25 July 2008

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is twofold: first, to investigate the epistemological underpinning of SERVQUAL and its limitations; and second, to propose ways to enhance the utility of SERVQUAL as a library assessment tool.

Design/methodology/approach

The study first conceptualises quality judgment as a knowing process and locates the epistemological stance of SERVQUAL within the general framework of epistemology demarcation; it then examines related SERVQUAL assumptions and their implications for library assessment in general and for service quality assessment in particular based on two empirical investigations: a questionnaire survey and an interview survey. The questionnaire survey applies the SERVQUAL instrument to three Chinese university libraries, with a view to examining the SERVQUAL score in light of epistemological considerations; the interview survey interviews 50 faculty users in one of the three universities with a view to illuminating the naturalistic process through which users develop their judgement of the library's service quality and through which the SERVQUAL score is formed.

Findings

The study shows that the actual SERVQUAL score is distributed in a very scattered manner in all three libraries, and that it is formed through a very complex process rooted primarily in the user's personal experiences with the library, which are in turn shaped by factors from both the library world and the user's life‐world. Based on these findings, this research questions a number of SERVQUAL assumptions and proposes three concepts which may help to contextualise the SERVQUAL score and enhance its utility in actual library assessment: library planning based variance of user perception, perception‐dependent user expectation and library‐sophistication based user differentiation.

Originality/value

The research presented in the paper questions a number of SERVQUAL assumptions and proposes three concepts that may help to contextualise the SERVQUAL score and enhance its utility in actual library assessment.

Keywords

Citation

Yu, L., Hong, Q., Gu, S. and Wang, Y. (2008), "An epistemological critique of gap theory based library assessment: the case of SERVQUAL", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 64 No. 4, pp. 511-551. https://doi.org/10.1108/00220410810884066

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited