Performance Measurement and Metrics

ISSN: 1467-8047

Article publication date: 4 July 2008



Thornton, S. (2008), "Editorial", Performance Measurement and Metrics, Vol. 9 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/pmm.2008.27909baa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Article Type: Editorial From: Performance Measurement and Metrics, Volume 9, Issue 2

Two more firsts for PMM with articles by authors from Iran and Brazil, as well as Spain, Germany, America, Italy and Denmark.

Nadija Harriri and Farideh Afnani give us an interesting insight into medical library use in Iran with the results of a manual LibQUAL+ survey. With more than half of all students in Iran being female, rising to three-quarters in medical faculties, they looked at whether there were significant differences between the perception of services by the different sexes. As they point out, Steve Hiller had noticed gender differences among some surveys at Washington University, but that these were less noticeable in his LibQUAL+ surveys.

Given the degree of separation between the sexes in Iranian universities – women are allocated better parts of the reading areas than men – I believe they had expected bigger differences than they actually found. However, even though they did note differences in perceptions, the results equated closely with those from other countries and cultures, which led to them agreeing with Phil Calvert’s assertion that there is perhaps a global set of customer expectations. However, as we shall see, Anna-Maria Tammaro finds in her study “…that the users of different institutions have different service priorities”. An interesting dichotomy.

In contrast to this opinion, Ana Pacios and Nidia Lubisco report that there are doubts whether “Anglo-Saxon and European” university library performance measures can be adopted or easily adapted to the requirements of Latin America. They surveyed libraries across Central and South America to estimate the levels of sophistication – if any – of performance measurement indicators currently being gathered. Although there is an undercurrent of appreciation that such evaluation tools are necessary and needed now, the results of the survey were disappointing. Indeed – and this should be familiar to those of us who have been involved in the process for the last decade or two – “many are collecting data that could be used to improve the management of the library, but do not seem to use it for any purpose at all”.

Nidia is preparing a workshop sponsored by the Ministry of Education later this year to help kick-start an agreed library evaluation programme for Brazilian university libraries. I am sure that we all wish her success in this endeavor, and I hope to hear reports of positive progress in the near future.

I must admit I have never really thought of myself as an “Anglo- Saxon” librarian, nor that cultural and geographical differences would make much of a difference. Having attended the Sudak conferences in the Crimea on a couple of occasions, I was more aware of the startling similarities rather than any major differences. Progress in certain areas was lagging behind the UK, investment was much smaller, but the ultimate aspiration to provide the best service they could to their customers was core to almost every paper.

Roswitha Poll provides us with a rationale behind, and overview of, the new ISO standard for National Libraries. Its origin lay in a meeting held between two of the ISO Committee members “at a small table in all the noise of the IFLA coffee corner … ” Somehow, knowing Roswitha, I am not surprised by this at all. And I will bet that it was a smoking corner as well!

National Libraries have had to wait for quite a while for some international standards to become available. For many there will still be the plaintiff bleat that “our library is different”. In the special library field I constantly came across this as an excuse for not doing much at all, but oddly, when you examine the situation in detail it is very strange that everybody seems to share the same unique problems. Roswitha’s Technical Committee have created the first tool, “the best that could be created at the moment”, with some 30 well-defined indicators that national libraries can use to evaluate their services and use as the basis of a benchmarking exercise if they dare. It is just the first step, but as well all know, a journey of a thousand miles…

Dennis Clark and his colleagues from Texas A&M University also report on first steps, this time on new technology that ultimately will change the way we use libraries in the future. Far fetched? I do not think so. They provide us with library customer perceptions of Kindle readers, one of a growing number of e-paper devices, portable electronic devices for storing and reading electronic books and papers. I had been keen on introducing something similar in the UK’s Ministry of Defence a few years ago, but the technology was at that stage not fit for purpose. Now more and more products are appearing on the market, sadly with little inter-connectability. Obviously an agreed industry standard and maturity among text suppliers is needed, but this will take time.

Amazon has taken the bull by the horns and produced its own reader, with access to a growing range of books via its web site. The Dean of Libraries at Texas A&M gave approval for the purchase of 36 Kindle readers to be supplied to volunteers together with $100 Amazon gift vouchers to buy their own selection of e-books. The resultant survey results are fascinating, but still demonstrate the infancy of the technology. Personally I think I will wait for one that I can drop in the bath and still use afterwards.

Anna-Maria Tammaro provides us with insights into user perceptions of digital libraries, with a synopsis of the results of a series of surveys across several institutions in Italy. While I am generally dubious about treating user’s views and opinions on library services as anything more than a guide to areas that we professionals need to look at more closely, I do find the Study Group’s approach very interesting. It takes the opportunity to gather core statistical data about services, user satisfaction and outcomes measurement all at the same time, and correlate the results.

The conclusions have enabled those institutions taking part to clearly see those areas which the users see as priorities, and also demonstrate the perceived value of them to those users, a powerful tool when budget rounds come again. Just saying “We have 2,000 registered users and we think they find the service useful”, does not have much impact. Being able to provide proper usage statistics, perceptions and outcomes in a coordinated fashion carries far more weight. An interesting study and a useful methodology.

In the final paper Niels Pors gives us the results of a study he has carried out into leadership, library culture and the adoption of management tools. To me the most interesting conclusion in this wide-ranging study was the pivotal role played by the Director of each library, at least in their staff’s perception. The appointment of a new head of service was seen as the turning point – for better or for worse. I must admit that I made some of the same management errors he identified among Danish library managers.

He concludes by saying, “While it is evident that management tools can contribute to change in an existing culture that change can be a harsh and destructive process. If possible managers must think about the fit in a strategic manner. I certainly assumed that our staff would automatically see the benefits of the PM tools I was introducing, and although many certainly did, there were others who feared a hidden agenda behind them and whose covert hostility hampered what we wanted to achieve.”

Niels is a great advocate of improving library management. As a student I was surprised that management skills were not taught as part of the curriculum, nor in any of my subsequent jobs. It was assumed – at least in the UK Civil Service – that you would learn as you went along. Promotion was usually based on your current performance, and many of us suddenly found ourselves running services with no relevant training, and some found themselves completely out of their depth or proved to be incompetent, to the detriment of their staff and users.

You do not have to be a great librarian to be a great library service manager, but you do need to be a great manager.

To paraphrase Ghandi:

What do you think of Library Management? I think it would be a very good idea!

Steve Thornton

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