CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
The start of a new year means new resolutions and someone reading this editorial may have made a resolution to improve the service that their library or information service offers to its customers. They may even be inspired to measure the service they offer currently. Performance measurement needs a commitment to the process, confidence in the vision and an obligation to use the resulting data to good effect. The work that we do in this area must be seen to be beneficial and to lead to change and improvement.
Tony Blair’s Government in the UK has been much too committed to targets and metrics. Now two years into their second term they are disturbed at not quite having achieved the goals they were aiming for: children out of poverty, numbers of children achieving good results in final school examinations, waiting times to get appointments in hospitals… They are conscious that having set themselves such specific and visible targets the voters will easily see where they have failed.
This reminded me of Roswitha Poll’s brilliant and funny paper at the 2nd International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries and Information Services in 1997: “The house that Jack built: the consequences of measuring”. She told us that the consequences of writing or speaking about performance measurement “will force you to act as such – everybody will suppose your library lives up to those high standards that you preach. They will ask for details and statistics and come on a pilgrimage to see the well managed library”. In the article she describes the small steps that lead you imperceptibly into the process. Often, the first activity people want to know more about is the length of time it takes to process a book. She describes how, once you find out how long this takes in your service, you should not tell anyone – otherwise they will realise what difficulty this length of time causes them, and that they always need the book more quickly than you can supply it. You will then have to do something to quicken the process, and then undertake the measurement again in order to see if there is any improvement. Thus, inadvertently you have embarked on the process of continuous improvement. Gradually you will find that you have to undertake a user satisfaction survey to find out what your users think about the book processing time, which leads to a staff satisfaction survey and then to cost analysis, so you have to bench mark to see how you compare with others. Of course, you have to report all of this to a committee, which leads them to revise your goals and then you will have to evaluate the whole of your service.
This is the slippery slope that governments embark on once they set themselves targets. Roswitha’s response was that you must remember to find an improvement somewhere. Perhaps book processing time has reduced from four to three weeks…
… just sit down and celebrate the result with the staff. Don’t remember the fact that funds were scarce and fewer books were bought: it is a thing to enjoy. And what is more: the staff has an idea how to do it still better… That is the important issue:
continued, self renewing workload is not show inspiring;
a target to reach gives impetus to try; and
measuring results can give the feeling of success.
Roswitha, who is a member of the editorial board of this journal, has been a great inspiration to all of us who have worked with her, heard her many conference papers world wide or read her wise and witty words. She will retire from running her excellent library this year. Perhaps Mr Blair could use her services.