Measuring for Results: The Dimensions of Public Library Effectiveness

Performance Measurement and Metrics

ISSN: 1467-8047

Article publication date: 1 December 2004



Archer, R. (2004), "Measuring for Results: The Dimensions of Public Library Effectiveness", Performance Measurement and Metrics, Vol. 5 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Measuring for Results: The Dimensions of Public Library Effectiveness

Measuring for Results: The Dimensions of Public Library Effectiveness

Joseph R. MatthewsLibraries Unlimited2004222 pp.ISBN 1-59158-100-1

Measuring the importance and effectiveness of the public library service has always been a complex and puzzling task for many in the library world. There is more pressure on libraries to prove their value for money to the community they serve, now, than there has ever been. In this textbook, Matthews states the case that the public library must be able to demonstrate the economic value of the library and its services to individuals, business and the surrounding local community using acceptable methods. Using a variety of approaches he attempts to show how it is possible to estimate the benefits and impacts of the public library in ten very readable sections. Matthews has attempted to simplify the data analysis in a fairly complex subject with some success, and an international approach.

The book takes us on a brief tour of its contents and introduces us to each of the topics, giving a short synopsis of each chapter at its end. Chapter 1 introduces synopses of the other nine chapters. This is useful if you don’t have time to read the whole book and a great deal can be absorbed from these alone. Initially, Matthews instils in the reader that communication between libraries and stakeholders needs to be developed and improved. Chapter 2 summarises top 15 “effectiveness indicators”, showing the ranking according to seven different groups of stakeholders – ranging from local officials to users. Chapter 3 looks at visions and strategy statements and argues that they are often too long and complex, often beyond what is actually necessary in the author’s view. Matthews continue to propose “short” and “snappy” may be a more rewarding approach, asking the question “What do we want to achieve and how do we do it?” Chapter 4 focuses on users and Matthews illustrates how the socio-economic status of surrounding population is a most important factor in assessment of purpose. In the next chapter it is argued that there is an “over-abundance” of input process and output measures available for public use, and we are taken through, amongst other mechanisms, user satisfaction surveys, and the merits and flaws therein. Matthews argues that these should be executed by an outside organisation, and we are pointed at “skewed data” which can be obtained, including users giving lazy answers.

Chapter 6 discusses outcomes, as distinct from outputs – including the use of resources and services; operations and environment; cognitive results; effective results; meeting expectations; and accomplishments. Matthews argues the case for direct and indirect outcomes, saying if success cannot be seen it is difficult to reward, and if success cannot be seen it is difficult to learn from it. Likewise, if results cannot be demonstrated it is difficult to gain public support. Such values are expanded in chapter 7, when social benefits are discussed, including increased quality of life; access to culture and arts; improved personal development; vocational and economic effects; recreation; community building; health; informed personal decisions and education. The breadth and richness of the uncountable value of public libraries is explored in illuminating depth. Matthews reiterates here that the potential for assessment is poor – it is very difficult, if not impossible, to develop a set of performance measures which can demonstrate in a meaningful way how the use of the public library enriches the lives of the individuals they serve.

Matthews offers a candid illustration of some of the problems that face the library service in assessing performance currently, including the bureaucracy of its staff, and the problems associated with a laissez-faire approach to assessment which is rife in government assessment policy to various degrees all around the world today. The analysis of previous work in the field concentrates heavily on work which precedes the current climate and impetus of crude number crunching to which libraries are compelled to respond.

Richard Archer (Editor of Info@UK)Information Management Research Institute, Division of Information and Communication Studies, School of Informatics, University of Northumbria, UK