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Archive for the ‘Library Value’ Category

Library Assessment Challenges

The Library Assessment Conference took place in Seattle from August 4-7 and at the opening session, the audience heard three academic library directors’ perspectives on the “Most Important Challenge for Library Assessment.”

Susan Gibbons, Dean of the University of Rochester’s River Campus Libraries, opened with the observations about the attractions of qualitative data: they give you a sense of “precision” and a “correct” answer, they’re perceived as weighty, and their collection can be automated. She emphasized the importance of thinking about what we are counting, and why, and provided the example of the decrease in reference questions answered at the University of Rochester by 10,000 from 1996 to 2006. To learn about the “why” behind this quantitative finding, the library used qualitative approaches. For example, they asked students to take pictures of what they carry with them all the time, to map out their daily movements, to indicate what is useful/not useful by writing on a printed copy of the library’s web page, and to imagine what they would wish for if they had a magic wand. They learned that all students carry cell phones but that their library’s phone number did not appear on its home page on the web (in fact, 40% of ARL libraries’ home pages lack phone numbers!) and that students’ peak time period for studying is from 11pm to 1am. Those findings led to better visibility of the library’s phone number on the web and near library computers. Through the magic wand exercise they learned the importance of providing skills and tools to graduate students early in their careers. She emphasized that local assessment methods are required since every campus is unique and accountability is local. If opportunities are available for wide staff participation in assessment, changes are easier and work better.

Rick Luce, Director of Libraries at Emory University, characterized assessment as a method of planning for improvement–a catalyst for change rather than a quick fix. Performance measures are an organization’s vital signs through metrics that show innovation, research leadership, brand identity, and gains in market share. Successful organizations offer something that others can’t do, do poorly, or have difficulty doing well. Satisfaction can be studied through questionnaires that function as “happiness meters,” investigation into what’s important, and looking at how an organization rates against the best in an industry. He cautioned that assessment efforts can be hampered by pitfalls such as lack of accountability, too many initiatives, forgetting larger organizational drivers, and lack of discipline. He reminded us that time and patience are needed for real change in organizations. Providing a brief mention of the “Hedgehog” concept (a single, simple idea that guides great organizations’ efforts to be the best) from Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, he urged us to understand what we are passionate about, what we are best at, and what drives our economic engines.

Betsy Wilson, Dean of Libraries at the University of Washington, provided her perspective that the most important challenge for libraries is accelerating relevance. Assessment can help by providing fuel for that acceleration. So, it is extremely important for libraries that assessment becomes part of their organizational lifeblood, turning cultures of complaint into cultures of assessment.

The Promise of Appreciative Inquiry in Library Organizations

Sullivan, M. “The Promise of Appreciative Inquiry in Library Organizations.” Library Trends. Summer 2004. 53(1):218-229.

According to Sullivan (2004), Appreciative Inquiry is a different approach to organizational change that “calls for the deliberate search for what contributes to organizational effectiveness and excellence” (p. 218). This perspective proposes moving from a traditional “deficit-based approach” in which there is an emphasis on problems to a more positive and collaborative framework. Therefore, Appreciative Inquiry is a unique approach that includes the identification of positive experiences and achievements as a “means to create change based upon the premise that we can effectively move forward if we know what has worked in the past” (p. 219). Furthermore, this approach “engages people in an exploration of what they value most about their work” (p. 219).

Overall, this article discusses the origins and basic principles of Appreciative Inquiry. In particular, the author provides practical suggestions for how libraries can begin to apply the principles and practices of Appreciative Inquiry to foster a more positive environment for creating change in libraries. For example:

· Start a problem-solving effort with a reflection on strengths, values, and best experiences.

· Support suggestions, possible scenarios, and ideas.

· Take time to frame questions in a positive light that will generate hope, imagination, and creative thinking.

· Ask staff to describe a peak experience in their professional work or a time when they felt most effective and engaged.

· Close meetings with a discussion of what worked well and identify individual contributions to the success of the meeting.

· Create a recognition program and make sure that it is possible (and easy) for everyone to participate.

· Expect the best performance and assume that everyone has the best intentions in what they do.

In conclusion, Appreciative Inquiry entails a major shift in thinking about how change can occur in library organizations. By examining what is working, this approach provides a useful and positive framework for transforming libraries.

More from MLA on Library Value

This year’s Medical Library Association annual meeting in Chicago had several good sessions in which speakers presented experiences and approaches to assigning dollar values to library services and activities. These included:

  • “A Calculator for Measuring the Impact of Health Sciences Libraries and Librarians” presented by Betsy Kelly and Barb Jones of the MidContinental Region, National Network of Libraries of Medicine–Their calculators include the Valuing Library Services Calculator and the Cost Benefit and ROI Calculator. These have the potential to be very useful tools.
  • “Connecting with Administrators: Demonstrating the Value of Library Services” presented by Edward J. Poletti of the Central Arkansas Veterans Health Care System in Little Rock, AR–He and VA Library colleagues conducted value studies of shared electronic resources, ILL, and literature searches. His presentation included a list of sources of dollar values such as Fortney’s “Price History for Core Clinical Journals in Medicine and Nursing 2003-2007″ and “Doody’s core titles in the health sciences 2007: list overview and analysis.” This paper received honorable mention for the MLA Research Award, and a summary is available at the MLA Federal Libraries Section blog.
  • “Bridging the Gap: Using Dollar Values to Demonstrate the Value of Library Services” presented by Julia Esparza of Louisana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, LA–Her experience with assigning and tracking dollar values included analysis of copying/printing costs and article costs.
  • “Quantum Physics and Hospital Library Assessment” presented by Michele Klein-Fedyshin of UPMC Shadyside, Pittsburgh, PA–Assessment must be locally relevant and there are various possible foci, such as the financial impact of local consortia, the impact of library services on nursing certification, prevention of hospital acquired infections, cost savings from library contributions to pay-for-performance, library as drug information center, etc.

What Do Administrators Want?

Back in May at the 2008 Medical Library Association meeting in Chicago, a group of health care administrators presented a panel discussion titled “Connecting with Leaders: What Do They Expect?” in which they provided their perspectives regarding their expectations for the health sciences library. This was a group of library supporters and their comments revealed their expectations that library leaders need to think broadly and creatively about their libraries’ roles. Suggestions included:

  • Participate in community outreach to serve the greater good of the institution and its communities
  • Work with IT to find ways that the library complements IT
  • Develop allegiances; although forming partnerships isn’t easy, a fundamental component of administration is relationship building
  • Stay connected and aligned with operational opportunities and priorities
  • Participate! In the “journey” toward magnet status; in research to improve patient care; in the institution’s constant staff retooling and retraining; in instructional delivery; in grant proposal creation; in benchmarking to learn what similar institutions have and what admired institutions have
  • Think in terms of dollars but remember other values

This session was on Monday, May 19 at 10:35am and, if you have access to the MLA ’08 CD-ROM, it’s definitely a worthwhile listen.

Metrics! Metrics! Metrics! at the Special Libraries Association

How can benchmarking, ROI, and other metrics illustrate value to users and stakeholders?  This standing-room-only session at the Special Libraries Association meeting featured analysts from Outsell shared benchmarking results and suggested combining such comparative data with “Market Penetration” (the ratio of your actual to potential users).  Panelists also discussed the difference between “Operational Metrics” (measures needed for daily library management activities) and “Strategic Metrics” (measures that show the library’s value to the organization).  They described strategic assessment–in which 6-8 strategic actions that support the organization’s critical strategies are identified through user and stakeholder research combined with group brainstorming.  After strategic actions are selected, metrics are determined, and ownership is assigned.  Stakeholder research includes needs assessment, client satisfaction studies, and return on investment/cost-benefit analysis.  Outsell panelists also advocated use of a combination of qualitative and quantitative research, since “numbers alone do not tell the story,”  and attention to organization-wide standards (such as Balanced Scorecard and/or Total Quality Management).

This bright and early morning session on 6/16/08 was hosted and organized by the Special Libraries Association’s Government Information Division.  Librarians in the audience shared their challenges and best practices for applying metrics to quantify and justify their operations.   The PowerPoint from Outsell should be available soon at the division’s web site.