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Social networks and relational capital in library service assessment

Paul Bracke (Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA)

Performance Measurement and Metrics

ISSN: 1467-8047

Article publication date: 11 July 2016



Researchers and administrators have struggled to fully understand the value of library human resources for decades. There are many approaches to counting the activities of library staffs, but less is understood about the value of developing and maintaining relationships. Given the growing importance of engagement-focussed, expertise-based service models in research libraries, the failure of library assessment models to account for the relational value of librarian activities is problematic in justifying and incentivizing new strategic activities and understanding the importance of libraries’ relationships with users and other stakeholders. The social network perspectives now commonplace in organizational studies to provide relational and contextual understandings of organizational behavior could be applied to library performance measurement and evaluation, providing a fuller picture of library impact. The purpose of this paper is to address this conceptual gap in the evaluation of library services.


The first part of the paper will present a content analysis of recent literature on emerging service models in academic libraries to identify relational aspects of the models. The relational elements will then be mapped to major concepts and methods from the social network analysis literature. This will include, as appropriate, basic network properties such as transactional content (e.g. exchange of power, services, etc.) of the relationship, nature (e.g. intensity, reciprocity, embeddedness) of the relationship, and structural characteristics of library networks. It will also identify more advanced areas of analysis such as the development of social capital, diffusion of innovations and contagion, and the role of networks in providing access to organizational resources. After mapping relational elements of emerging library service models to social network theory, a research agenda for better understanding library social networks and their value will be proposed.


Social network theory offers a rich conceptual and methodological framework for understanding the relational value of library services, particularly in emerging engagement-centered views of librarianship. Although activity- and outcome-based models of assessment are still important in the assessment of library activities, a social network view of library relationships is an essential complement in providing a more complete view of library value and will complement other work in this area such as human capital valuation and the relational capital components of the values scorecard.


This paper presents a unique theoretical and methodological viewpoint on the assessment of library services. This will contribute to the understanding of a vexing problem in library assessment, the value of library human resources, by providing a framework for the measurement and evaluation of relational aspects of librarianship that are often viewed as intangible and unmeasurable.



Bracke, P. (2016), "Social networks and relational capital in library service assessment", Performance Measurement and Metrics, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 134-141.



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