Best Value and Better Performance in Libraries

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

A4: Why move on?

There are several reasons why library services should be giving more attention to impact assessment:

the political agenda is changing. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport is gradually building up momentum by calling for Annual Library Plans, introducing Standards for public libraries and encouraging Best Value engagement. So far their emphasis has been largely in the 'traditional' area of limited performance measures but it seems likely that government interest in impact benchmarking will become increasingly evident

there is a danger that Best Value approaches adopted in some local authorities will be confined to evidence drawn from output measures. (This tendency is encouraged by the initial set of Best Value indicators for public library services which concentrate in this area). Since there are always cheaper ways of doing anything this may distort the Best Value intentions about effective provision – unless evidence of impact can be gathered to demonstrate ‘added value’

being effective in meeting government priorities about social inclusion, lifelong learning and parity of access may require additional service expenditure. Success in addressing these issues will have to be demonstrated to justify this. Capacity building in communities requires good evidence

choosing targets carefully and gathering appropriate evidence is an important management skill – the process encourages clarity and helps to focus on priorities

focusing on a limited number of aims and impact indicators should make you question why certain things are not happening. For example, why does the library service not have more impact or get more valued by ethnic minority communities? It is obviously not enough simply to include materials in different languages in the library stock

where impact targets are integrated into practice this should lead to higher staff motivation, because they can see what they want to achieve, why they are doing things and what success they are having (“this is more satisfying than just jumping through Best Value hoops”).

We can usefully draw upon the experience of further and higher education librarians, who have also had to wrestle with the issue of showing impact (in supporting teaching and learning). Our research7 shows that when Inspectors start to ask questions, almost any strategy for development can be defended, if the appropriate evidence of impact can be shown. What is indefensible in the inspected world is to find yourself doing things ‘accidentally’, which is effectively what you are doing if you cannot assess the impact of your services.

7. [Effective college library phase 2 report]