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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2003, MCB UP Limited
Library and information provision is changing, and changing dramatically.
Performance measurement of conventional library and information provision is still only just developing. As such there is no real performance measurement philosophy for the services of the future.
We need now to get started addressing these questions. The existing formalised standards have found difficulty in defining "what is a book" and "what is a reference transaction". How can we address the "new library" issues before they become issues? We should plan ahead now, but how should we be planning?
Dstl had the challenge – whoops, opportunity – of starting more or less from scratch. Peter Brophy's paper at Pittsburgh started me thinking seriously about what services we should be offering, rather than the services we had always offered. We had a very good, highly specialised research library on one of our sites at Porton Down, and a team of information specialists in Glasgow, several hundred miles from their customer base. Many services offered were electronic, based on the intranet, but these tended to be disintermediated. So, how do you measure these. Not just pure numbers. We can all count the numbers.
At present we are largely concerned with the measurement of inputs, outputs and outcomes. The first two are relatively easy to measure. The third we have been discussing and developing at PMM for the past six years. Now we are into impact, an area of particular interest to me over the last few years – but what we need to be investigating is something a step beyond that.
Libraries are changing. Our role is changing. In my neck of the woods, the events of 11/9 have dramatically altered the influence of library and information professionals in the eyes of our masters. To the management of our organisation there is now a perception that the specialist skills and capabilities we possess have become vital to the overall wellbeing of the community of the future. We now have a glorious opportunity to move away from the past, if we are prepared to take it. Not service, not support, but drivers of a new information revolution.
If we are to achieve this aim we need to show how critical we are to the process, to the information process within our organisations. If we are not critical to the process, if we have not moved with the times, still providing the same old services we always have done and not identified the change in our role, our users and our services, we are dead in the water.
Different times need different measures. There is no longer an accepted inherent value judgement that libraries are good things and therefore necessary. For many at PMM this is generally not apparent – yet. In the arena of special libraries, I have seen many closures and dispersals as the bean counters have been unable to grasp the concept of inherent value. Libraries do not produce anything, therefore have no value. Fortunately we have a breathing space – those of us that have survived – as bean counters have lost significant ground, perhaps because so many of them have been arrested! But that does not mean we can be complacent.
So, after inputs, outputs, outcomes, impact and value I contend that we need to concentrate on a range of other measures of performance that probably incorporate impact and value into a means of measuring organisational criticality. Such measures may be numerical, financial or subjective, but capable of altering dynamically, as our services alters. This criticality measure is not just a single measure, but a mish-mash of things which may or may not have long-term measurability or justification, or the ability to be collected in the same way, year after year, unlike – say – number of loans.
Ultimately, such measures need to be aligned to an organisation's mission, vision and values, to its operational, business and technology strategies. What we must have, if we are to survive in the modern world, is some way of being able to show, in terms that organisation's management will understand, how critical individual services – human, paper, electronic – are to the success of the organisational aims. These will vary depending on the organisation and its aims. There will be significant differences between types of organisation, public, academic, governmental and commercial: but this should not preclude overlap, cross-fertilisation, etc.
There has been quite a body of work done in the past, but relatively little relates to the library service of the present/future.
(Any comments on Steve's opinion piece would be gratefully received – the Editor.)
Steve ThorntonGroup Leader (Technical), Knowledge Services, Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory, UK