Best Value and Better Performance in Libraries

A: How library service managers can get to grips with assessing the impact of services

A1: What is this all about?

These guidance materials are designed to help managers of public library services and school library services to assess their impact and achievement. Managers have always found it difficult to assess what can be seen as intangible benefits but the pressure is on to do so. There is by now a government imperative to move beyond measuring efficiency of performance into sensible assessment of complex outcomes. The strong implication of introducing Best Value programmes into local government is that if services cannot be shown to be robust and responsive to real demand they should go. Service Managers need to be able to answer fundamental questions such as ‘Can this service be better delivered in other ways?’ or ‘Is our reading promotion campaign having any real effect?’

Fortunately, there is useful work going on that library managers can draw upon in working out how well what they are delivering is matching up to service aims. In putting together these guidelines we have tried to learn from the government agenda as expressed through the Cabinet Office, various government departments and their agencies. We have also picked up on useful work in the LIS field and in the world of business. All of these are referred to at various points below. Except where shown, all of the examples we have used have been given to us or have been generated by library service managers during the project.

What follows is a process to help library managers to engage with the issues in gauging the performance and assessing the impact of services in a systematic way. By working through the process, managers should be able to develop indicators and targets that are relevant to their own services and that accord with the demands of Best Value, Annual Library Plans (or Education Development Plans) and public library Standards. To quote a leading US management consultant “Making it happen requires conviction, careful preparation, perseverance and a decided taste for ambiguity. As yet, there are no clear cut answers…”2

2. ECCLES, R.G. ‘The performance measurement manifesto’ Harvard Business Review Jan-Feb. 1991