Guest editorial

Performance Measurement and Metrics

ISSN: 1467-8047

Article publication date: 12 April 2013



Stephen Town, J. (2013), "Guest editorial", Performance Measurement and Metrics, Vol. 14 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Guest editorial

Guest editorial

Article Type: Guest editorial From: Performance Measurement and Metrics, Volume 14, Issue 1.

Libraries are under pressure to prove their worth, and may not have achieved the communication of their benefit successfully to all their stakeholders (RIN and RLUK, 2011). The worth judged by broader stakeholders may require measurement proofs beyond the library's immediate frame of reference. Over the last 20 years there has been a focus on the quality of libraries accompanied by the development of valid and reliable customer-related measures. The measurement of value, and the linkage of library service to broader benefits, has not developed as strongly by comparison until the last few years. In the current difficult economic context, stakeholders are seeking evidence of benefit (often referred to as impact) or value from the services which they fund. This evidence will be important when trade-offs and difficult choices are being made, and this applies in any sector in which libraries operate.

The 9th Northumbria International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries and Information Services was hosted at the University of York between Monday, 22 and Friday, 26 August 2011. The event was the most successful in the series so far, attracting over 170 participants from more than 20 countries. The main conference programme included over 70 paper, poster and workshop sessions, complemented by a range of social events, visits and tours. The 10th Conference will take place in York in July 2013.

This special edition based on papers from the 9th Conference reflects the international nature of the effort to elicit and define effective value measurement, and demonstrates the attention now being given to this area of assessment by libraries. The four papers selected from the conference reflect the desire by researchers and practitioners to explore perceptions of value. The contributions are mainly focused on the academic context, but the consideration of value is important in any sector, and the fundamental value of libraries in all sectors will be reinforced by the development of convincing tools and methods to assess library value. A range of new and different evidence is presented in these papers which will help to define library value and impact.

The first paper, by this author and Kyrillidou, is an attempt to lay out a framework for value measurement. It does this by building on the concept of the transcendent contribution of the research library (Town, 2011). Transcendence here means consideration of the library's performance from a viewpoint of institutional or broader value beyond the immediate boundaries of the library. The paper considers future scenario planning work by academic library organisations on both sides of the Atlantic in the development of the framework. The three other papers might be seen, with the benefit of hindsight, to provide specific measurement elements for this framework, and have been chosen with this objective in mind.

The second paper, by Nitecki and Abels, explores the process of value creation (in terms of causes and effects) and collects perceptions of cause through a standard inquiry tool. This paper reflects institutional perceptions of the library, in particular those of faculty staff. From the value scorecard framework perspective, this might be seen as a contribution to relational capital measurement. Insights into the perception of value include the potential decline in library value ratings in an increasingly digital environment. The paper's multiple cause approach strengthens arguments against a single quantitative rating for value; numbers alone will not sum up the difference the library makes beyond its walls to faculty and to the institution.

The concept of library virtue in the value scorecard encompasses the potential beneficial impacts the library has beyond its physical and institutional boundaries. Data here will begin to answer the question posed by Orr (1973) many years ago about what good a library does. The contribution the library makes to student learning is rightly seen as a key proof of academic library worth. These benefits are largely intangible, and cause and effect may be difficult to prove. The first step is to establish correlations between obvious measures of student performance and library use. In the 9th Northumbria Conference, Stone et al. (2012) presented evidence of this correlation, linking library use and academic attainment. In this edition, a further paper by Stone and Collins is presented which moves the analysis on to consideration of the correlation of the previously unexplored area of student demography and library use. This extends our understanding of the library's potential value to different groups of stakeholders.

The final paper by Tang reflects the considerable Australian contribution to the development of quality and measurement in libraries. A perception of library value is likely to arise from a long-term commitment to quality, and an associated culture of quality maturity. Quality maturity means here the ability of the library to continuously innovate and improve as measured by a staging scale developed by Wilson and this author, presented in the 6th Northumbria Conference, and subsequently published in this journal (Wilson and Town, 2006). The degree of quality maturity will provide a measure for the library momentum dimension of the value scorecard; innovation and development will build a more valuable capital asset, and the greater the pace of change, the swifter the accumulation of value. Tang's paper describes how six university libraries have attained higher levels of quality maturity over a five-year period, and in the process increased their human and organisational capital value.

The contribution of the Northumbria Conference to developing ideas in library performance measurement is exemplified in these papers, and I look forward to further original and innovative contributions to the 10th Conference.J. Stephen Town


Orr, R.H. (1973), “Measuring the goodness of library services: a general framework for considering quantitative measures”, Journal of Documentation, Vol. 29 No. 3, pp. 315-32

RIN & RLUK (2011), “The value of libraries for research and researchers”, available at: (accessed 21 August 2012)

Stone, G., Pattern, D. and Ramsden, B. (2012), “Library impact data project: hit, miss or maybe?”, in Hall, I., Thornton, S. and Town, S. (Eds), Proceedings of the 9th Northumbria International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries and Information Services, University of York, York, pp. 385-90

Town, J.S. (2011), “Value, impact, and the transcendent library: progress and pressures in performance measurement and evaluation”, The Library Quarterly, Vol. 81 No. 1, pp. 111-25

Wilson, F. and Town, J.S. (2006), “Benchmarking and library quality maturity”, Performance Measurement and Metrics, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 75-82

Related articles