Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Performance Measurement and Metrics, Volume 12, Issue 2
One of the biggest selling Christmas presents in 2010 was the Kindle DX electronic book reader. Waiting to see my doctor yesterday, no less than three patients were reading from Kindles – I on the other hand had brought a much heavier paperback! So what is so attractive about them, and what are the drawbacks? Jun Qian attempts to answer these questions using an interesting and apparently effective method that trawls Amazon web reviews of the product. She points out the potential problems of using user donated reviews, especially the one that concerns me most – reviews tend to be posted by people who either love or hate the product. Consequently the reviews tend to be polarised, with 1 and 5 starred comments predominating. Perhaps the oddest finding she presents lies in the totally contradictory opinions: “battery life too short”, “super battery life”; “light weight”, “still too heavy”, and so on.
While I am usually very critical about user opinions, especially about library matters, having a wide range of responses to call on tends to even out the lumps and bumps. Jun Qian had no less than 1,358 reviews to play with. I was so impressed with the results that I have now started to use the reviews for myself – our new vacuum cleaner was selected after reading the Amazon reviews, and we have since found that most of the pros, and a few of the cons, have been proven right (but not all). All in all, a fascinating paper containing some interesting approaches and techniques which can easily be applied elsewhere.
Mike Heaney from the Bodleian Library offers us a much revised paper first presented at the 8th Northumbria Conference in Florence. The Bodleian is one of the world’s major library collections, serves many different functions, and faces different problems from most other types of library. It performs the role of protector of the nation’s cultural heritage as a national deposit library. It is the central research library for the University and has a history that goes back well over 400 years. Its collection is the second largest in the UK, second only to the British Library. But how much of its collection is used, or more importantly will ever be used? Mike proposes a Bayesian statistical model to estimate the proportion which will be used over a long time – his example runs for some 40 years, a long time for librarians, but not very long for the Bodleian! And how much does the model suggest will ever be used? Less than 28 per cent. Using these figures Oxford University now has a more equitable method for sharing the costs of the library among the constituent colleges: a fine example of putting theory into practice.
Judy Broady-Preston and Alison Lobo present a case study of the application of two quality standards to assess their ability to demonstrate value and impact of university libraries to the stakeholders. The last Labour government of the UK introduced Charter Mark, a national standard for customer excellence, which was replaced (as is ever the way) by the Customer Service Excellence award. As both a self-assessment tool aimed at self-improvement and an independently assessed and examined quality award, there were concerns initially whether either could be applied to university libraries. However, several have now attained one or the other, or indeed both. Judy and Alison provide a systematic evaluation of their practical application, as part of a longer term project.
Interviews with the managers involved in attaining the awards have provided us with a rich insight into the processes involved and their effects on both staff and stakeholders and perhaps ultimately into the value and impact of these services. As one of them says:
Customer Service Excellence sends a subliminal message to service staff that excellence in the provision of our services should always be in the forefront of our minds.
My own experience with other quality approaches (BS5750, ISO 9001, and PQASSO) is that while the processes may be lengthy and (sometimes) tedious there can be real benefits in both terms of team spirit and improved customer performance. However, such processes have to be continually reinforced, and the message that excellence in service provision needs constantly ramming home. All too often, the troops on the service front-line become bogged down in the minutiae of day-to-day operations and cannot see the woods for the trees. Management need to keep on top of this, and ensure that the customer focus is regularly reinforced. Just being satisfied with attaining such an award and forgetting about it really is a waste of time and effort.
Finally, Angela Repanovici describes an exploratory study into measuring the visibility of a university’s scientific production using scientometric tools and analysis, and reviews the results obtained using either Google Scholar or ISI Web of Science as a the selected raw data source. The availability of “Publish or Perish” software to analyse the results and generate H-index, G-index, HC-index and HI norm results for the academic staff at her university is an interesting approach, and one that I was unaware of. But then again, it does involve sums which are above my head! She comes to some interesting conclusions about which data source is the best for which purpose. Google Scholar seems better for papers from proceedings and non-English language materials. ISI for those highly rated journals it has decided are the most important, books and book chapters. The way that ISI selects the titles is a matter of continued discussion among the publishing community (PMM is not covered for example, while many other titles published by Emerald are). Nevertheless, the results showed that an open access institutional repository would significantly add to the visibility of the university’s scientific production.
I have always been very sceptical about the results of citation analysis, especially because I worked in the defence community where external publication was the exception and not the rule. A rare example, however, was George Heselden, one of our brilliant mathematicians. He came into my library to drop off preprints of his latest article on an obtuse branch of Bell polynomials – the library handled external requests for reprints for our scientists, a heavy job load in those days. The article was in a premier journal, Mathematical Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, so I feared that we would be inundated with requests from every corner of the globe (Heselden, 1973). George reassured me this was unlikely, as there were only three people in the world that would understand it – George himself, his friend who reviewed it for ProcCambPhilSoc and Mathematical Reviews, and an American who hated him heartily. Consequently George had written a brilliant piece of work, published in one of the most prestigious journals in the world, with a potential comprehending readership of, well, not a single person, and has probably hardly ever been cited. Still, George was a character. A mathematical genius, who, incidentally, married late in life a former film star and pin-up, Christine Norden, and not only named a mathematical formula for her, but reputedly a crater on Venus as well!
Perhaps it is a bit like Mike Heaney’s Bodleian Library problem. One of the 72 per cent that is never borrowed, nor even likely to be read. But since I have now referenced it does that make it any more valuable …?
I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
Heselden, G.P.M. (1973), “A convolution involving Bell polynomials”, Mathematical Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, Vol. 74, pp. 97–106, available at: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=2072816 (accessed 7 April 2011)