Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Value of Libraries (and blogs)

I must get my librarian colleagues to read this! The Value of Libraries: Impact, Normative Data, & Influencing Funders by Stephen Abram (via It's all good).

Some of my non-librarian friends are surprised that NLB libraries have Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to achieve. The least informed of my friends thought that all libraries had to do was to stay open, then close at the end of the day, and that's it.

In brief, libraries also have to justify our existence. But instead of "profits" and "sales", our targets are "loans" and "visitors" (to name a few). And like sales target, our KPIs also increase year on year.

Just like how a profit-company cannot stay open for business if it does not have sales, libraries cannot be funded indefinitely if there is no demand. In the US, funding for libraries are often the first to be cut in hard times (their libraries are funded by local taxes). Between a new fire-engine and new books, some people choose a new fire-engine (I'm simplifying things, but in essence that's what happens).

The NLB libraries are funded differently from the US model, but in essence, we also have to show our relevance to users and society. Or else we might close libraries (so far it hasn't happened, but nothing is constant).

When I tell my librarian colleagues to watch the "cost-per-loan ratio" or attain a "penetration rate of 80%", I'm glad I no longer get glazed looks of blur-ness. Stressed looks, maybe. But we understand the need to think business-like.

But there's something else that's particularly hard to measure, and that is the actual impact that libraries have on users.

For instance, how do we measure the value of the library to someone who found a cure for their skin problem from a book? Or to someone who learnt some stress relieving techniques from a self-help book? Or to the couple who met and fell in love in the library?

Even if they can give us a dollar value, they might not tell us.

Educational institutions also face the same thing about measurement and value. But I think unlike libraries, they have a widely accepted benchmark of sorts. Tell someone, "I scored 8 As in my 'O' levels" or "I have a PhD" and they understand somewhat. Or at least they attach some value to it.

But say, "I enjoyed Tolkien's Lord of the Rings", and would your friend who don't read appreciate what you shared?

I'm writing a paper on librarians & blogging. The hard part is coming up with examples to show the value of blogs to libraries.

Same question I'd ask Bloggers -- how do you measure the value of conversations? Hmm... students taking the Masters in Information Studies Course at NTU (which, btw is the professional qualification for librarians in Singapore) could consider this as a dissertation topic.


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2 comments:

  1. the hard part will get easier soon enough... thanks to your efforts. and maybe, someday, a library (business) that does not have a blog to serve its users (customers) will be a rarity =)

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  2. Really, Von? What did I do? :)

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