Thursday, March 23, 2006

Measuring Library Quality

By now, most law librarians have probably run into Lib-Qual, the ARL product for measuring library quality. If you follow the link in the title above, you will see a series of PowerPoint slideshows about that and other developments.

The ARL looked at the problems of measuring library quality. They, like law libraries generally, were frustrated. Existing statistics being gathered focused on library expenditures, acquisitions and holdings. We might agree that these have some relationship to quality -- if you are spending no money, or have very few materials, it may be a problem supporting your institution. But it is a more complex relationship than just a direct correlation. There has never been any demonstration that expenditure or size directly affects service quality. So, it makes it very hard to make clear and reasoned arguments countering the deans of unaccredited law schools who want, for instance, to seriously dilute or do away with the ABA standard 7 on library quality and level of support.

The ARL concluded that libraries need to focus, not on books or other materials, or on money spent, but on measuring success from the library user's point of view. What a brilliant idea!

This is the idea behind LibQual, for instance. Measure the outcomes; ask the library patrons if they are happy with the services. Institutions (law schools, law firms or courts in our case) are under budget pressure. They want to know that their library is
* Supporting them in important ways;
* Making the best use of the resources (money) the institution gives the library:
* And working with other libraries to develop best practices to save resources or reallocate them to better serve the institution.

There are actually more measuring programs than just LibQual. There is DigiQual, MINES (developed to measure the use of networked electronic services, by both university and medical school libraries), and SAILS. While the statistics are only available to ARL members, the PowerPoint slides explaining the philosophy and development of some of these measures are open to the inquiring mind. Thank you, ARL!

I don't know if any of this will illuminate our discussions about the ABA statistics that we gather, or help us think about quality in our own libraries beyond the use of LibQual. In fact, I am not sure LibQual works very well with a law school customer base -- I would love to hear from librarians who are using it. What kind of report rate do you seem to get? How much effort do you have to put into cheerleading? But I know for a fact that we need to go beyond counting beans of whatever kind. Like porn, most of us feel we know quality when we see it. But that is not a good way to measure it, either at home or on inspection trips!

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