Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Performance Measurement and Metrics, Volume 9, Issue 1.
One again we present to you a wide range of papers from all over the world, with many by the gurus of our field (although they might possibly object to being so described).
Peter Brophy has provided us with an important view of how the role and purpose of the library is changing and offers suggestions on how we can address that challenge. It should be made compulsory reading within our profession, and especially among library school students. I have always been staggered by Peter’s clarity of thought. I read -almost by accident an article on the Hybrid Library which proved to be a turning point in my thinking (Brophy and Fisher, 1998), and later his work on the EQLIPSE project drove me in another direction, while yet another paper at the PMM Conference in Pittsburgh (Brophy, 2001) helped me formulate my thoughts for a radical reappraisal of research library support. This paper is, I think, equally as important a contribution to performance measurement.
From the far side of the world, Elizabeth Jordan of Queensland University describes a software package for collecting and reporting library statistics that they have developed, and which is available as freeware. I was shocked when I discovered that a statistics add-on for my old library’s management system would cost us many thousands of pounds. We did without, and I had to develop routines to gather the data myself not a very efficient or effective method, but much cheaper. But here we have a shareware offering from a part of the world that has produced many thinkers and practitioners in the PM field. It must be something in the air.
From Germany, Roswitha Poll describes her core IFLA publication, in collaboration with Peter te Boekhorst on measuring quality, performance measurement in libraries. As we have come to expect from Roswitha, we are presented with an erudite and well-informed overview of developments in the field. This paper, and the book it describes, taken together give you all you need to know to get started in performance measurement.
Sharon Markless and David Streatfield have been practitioners in developing mechanisms for self-supported impact assessment for a range of library service providers in the UK for over ten years. Their techniques have been refined and honed against a range of library types, and their tools are widely available. They quite rightly point out that “there is no established tradition for service managers to draw upon in this kind of work and there are practical as well as motivational problems in getting busy staff to take on difficult processes”. While there are some minor points I mildly disagree with, there is no doubt that their work is a major contribution, especially to the Higher Education field.
The next paper is the second we have carried in this journal on usability testing of electronic services (Uddin and Janecek, 2007) and both from Bangladesh. Zabed Ahmed describes a series of trials comparing heuristic evaluation with conventional usability testing and cognitive walkthrough. (Do not worry, all of the techniques are explained clearly and concisely!) He helps set the groundwork for further work in the field which is sorely needed. It has always surprised me that more effort seems to have been applied to content rather than to usability even though one is useless without the other. Perhaps it was always less easy or more exciting? I note with amusement that he used Loughborough students as the system testers I am writing this listening to an album I first heard when I was student in Loughborough. It must prove something.
The final paper is by Niels Ole Pors from Denmark. He describes the analysis of the results of two recent surveys, and draws some very deep conclusions from them. He looks at “users’ information behaviour, their preferences and the possible discrepancies between the library system’s construction of user needs and the users own interpretation of their needs and stated preferences” I always worked on the basis that it was easy to find out what the users wanted, but much, much harder to find out what they needed. This is still a major disconnect, and is continuously fluctuating and altering. It is far too easy to assume that you know what the users need, and provide that service: it is far more difficult to maintain a genuine dialogue with all of the user base to discover their needs and change your service to meet those instead.
Niels provides us with at least two staggering conclusions:
The library profession has spent a lot of time discussing and emphasising new media, the library as a vehicle in life-long learning process, the library as a “third place” and the like, but this is not really reflected in either the actual use or in the users’ perceptions;
Unfortunately it seems that the libraries priorities regarding documents that are significantly out of tune with those of the stakeholders’ and users’ perceptions. The public library system as a whole has during the last decade has significantly minimised the collection of books.
In other words, we may have been following the wrong route for many years. I, for one, would like to see this work replicated in other countries. It may be that these are phenomena limited to Denmark, but I think not. I fear that as a profession we are in danger of losing contact with our potential users and serving a mere fraction of those who we should be serving.
Niels not only writes papers, he also writes books, and we have a review of his latest by Viveca Nyström which she has kindly translated from the original Swedish. I have always been concerned by the fact that we tend to limit our reviews to those of English language publications. There is a greater world outside of that linguistic limitation, and I am grateful to Viveca for helping us see a little further.
Further Reading EQLIPSE (1995), “Evaluation and quality in library performance: system for Europe, 1995-1997”, available at: www.cerlim.ac.uk/projects/eqlipse/
Brophy, P. (2001), “Performance measures for 21st century libraries”, in Stein, J., Kyrillidou, M. and Davis, D. (Eds), Proceedings of the 4th Northumbria International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries and Information Services, Pittsburgh, 12-16 August 2001, Association of Research Libraries, Washington, D.C., 2002, pp. 1-8
Brophy, P. and Fisher, S. (1998), “The hybrid library”, The New Review of Information & Library Research, Vol. 4, pp. 315
Uddin, M.N. and Janecek, P. (2007), “Performance and usability testing of multidimensional taxonomy in web site search and navigation”, Performance Measurement & Evaluation, Vol. 8 No. 1, pp. 1833