Best Value and Better Performance in Libraries

B: Putting the model into actions

B6: Output/service performance indicators

B6.1 Choosing the indicators

Output (sometimes called service) performance indicators should suggest themselves from the services that contribute to delivering the aims. In general, these indicators are likely to be less useful in telling you what you need to know about how well the service is doing than either impact (see above) or process indicators (see below).

Unfortunately, when Best Value reviews focus on the 'consult' element they tend to concentrate on output performance indicators rather than impact or process indicators. Since you will be unable to get away from this, a limited number of well-chosen output performance indicators is important.

B6.2 The limitations of data benchmarking

In our national survey for this work11 most services (68% of public library services but only 29% of schools library services) reported that they had resorted to some library service benchmarking or other systematic library service comparison. Unsurprisingly, most of these benchmarking efforts concentrated on output indicators. Comparisons of library services based on input-output data benchmarking using are of limited value, because all they really tell you is how much the overall service (or an arbitrarily defined part of it) costs in relation to another fairly arbitrary measure (such as the number of users enrolled or the total issues , using one of several interpretations of each term). There is really no basis for further investigation because there are so many intervening variables (or processes) that could account for part of the difference between the ratios - unless the indicators have been very carefully chosen before being rigorously applied (in a regime of activity-based costing) and consistently interpreted.

Examples of output/service performance indicators

  • [All the examples in these boxes were generated by library service managers.]
  • Public library services
  • Net expenditure on PL service per head of population
  • Net expenditure per library visit/telephone enquiry
  • Number of library visits per square metre of accommodation
  • Numbers attending training events
  • Numbers of PCs accessible per 100,000 of population
  • Proportion of stock on loan from each service point
  • Schools library services
  • Proportion of stock on loan to each secondary school
  • Numbers attending INSET events dlivered by SLS staff
  • Number of ‘hits’ at the SLS website
  • Number of schools that have availed themselves of the SLS advisory service

Two of the public libraries Best Value indicators (for 2000-2001) are at the input – output level (the cost per visit to public libraries and the number of visits per head of population). The other indicator (the percentage of library users who found the book/information they wanted, or reserved it, and were satisfied with the outcome) could be regarded as an impact indicator or as a slightly cumbersome output indicator.

11. STREATFIELD, D. R. and MARKLESS, S. “Best Value and better performance in public libraries” [article accepted by Public Libraries Journal]