Measuring performance and spotting some trains too…..

The biennial Northumbria International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries and Information Services brings together around 200 delegates comprising academics from the field of Information Science alongside  library professionals from different sectors.   This year’s conference was held at the Royal York Hotel in July 2013. The programme promised a great deal of content which seemed timely, topical and relevant to some of the current issues impacting on our Library Service at City and so it proved.

The parallel sessions were arranged under three broad themes – impact & value, quality, statistics & measures.  I tended towards the latter two as these were generally more focussed on the academic sector.   There was a very strong international dimension to the event with speakers from France, Germany, Norway, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States at the sessions I attended and numerous other countries represented too.

Our survey says….

LibQUAL – the American Association of Research Libraries’ (ARL) online survey package – was the focus for most of Day One.  It is clearly very well established in North America and the presentations focussed on the work of the ARL to support the analysis of results and sharing of good practice.

LibQUAL hasn’t penetrated quite so much in UK academic libraries, although we did run their survey at City quite a few years ago.  It was interesting to hear colleagues from other Universities identify survey fatigue and their institutions putting all eggs in the National Student Survey basket as common reasons for not running a focussed library survey.  By contrast, LibQUAL seems to be well established among the Irish university libraries which has led to the University of Limerick co-ordinating some work to share ideas around how to respond to the results.

One of the strengths of the LibQUAL survey is the scope it gives libraries to focus on particular themes and include questions adapted to their own interests and hot topics.  We also heard how Limerick have used the survey questions and subsequent results to help tackle the issue of noise in the library.  Survey results were used to reveal evidence of the issue, not only from their own results but drawing on comparative data from other institutions.  This helped make the case for additional resources to tackle the problem.  Subsequently, later surveys have recorded an improvement in student satisfaction.

After a rather mindblowing session focussing on triads and the intricacies of segmenting libQUAL results, it was refreshing to hear a presentation from the University of York on their experience of TechQUAL.  This is essentially the IT counterpart of LibQUAL – again well established across the Atlantic but surprisingly York are thus far the only UK higher education institution to carry out this survey.

KPIs….Keeping Purposeful Intelligence

There was an interesting case study from Edge Hill University on how they had revamped their library key performance indicators and embedded these in working practices and service planning. I was struck by the simplicity of their mantra “keeping purposeful intelligence” – a very good alternative definition of what KPIs should be about.

Kingston University have sustained their own library user suvery over recent years and many of the themes here resonated with how we at City are endeavouring to co-ordinate how we gather and respond to feedback.

What do the customers want?

However, an interesting alternative dimension to this came from Liverpool John Moores University.  Their “we said, we did” mantra is based on the conviction that a partnership model with the emphasis on discussion and collaboration with students to tackle issues and problems works best.  This was argued to be preferable to the consumerist approach which characterises the more established “you said, we did” notion.  One of the foundations for this approach has been a very active and engaged Students Union executive team, helping nurture a culture of improvement around the service departments of the University.

Kay Grieves and her colleague Michelle Halpin have done some innovative and pioneering work on marketing academic library services at University of Sunderland.  It was very useful to hear again about their marketing toolkit as this reaffirmed the value of the work the Information Assistants’ Customer Service group have been doing recently on customer journey mapping and segment profiles.

An interesting case study was presented from Loughborough University where the library as worked collaboratively with the Department of Information Science to assess how learning spaces are being used with these findings then informing decisions on future developments.  The library has recently extended its floor space by refurbishing an area previously used as administrative and teaching space.  Student research and their dissertation findings have produced some valuable qualitative findings linking improvements in study space provision with student achievement and retention rates. This is another example of the value of library provision and the library experience being recognised as a key element in not only student satisfaction but student attainment.  A JISC project to develop a shared analytics service for academic libraries is under way to develop these ideas further.

Here at City, a recent Operations Group meeting identified a need for us to take a fresh look at our loan periods and how and why we apply overdue fines.  The work York have undertaken  in engaging with students to produce a simplified loans policy  showed the benefits and value which can be gained from dispensing with conventional librarian thinking and getting a better understanding of what our users see as the real priorities.

All aboard….

I should also record that the conference dinner was held at the National Railway Museum, giving us an opportunity to relax and chat with other delegates, surrounded by vintage steam engines and carriages.  At the pre dinner reception, I was careful not to tarnish Mallard by using its footplate to rest my champagne flute.   And with York’s railway heritage and connections in mind, it would be remiss of me not to end this report by saying that this conference produced a lot of interesting talking points.  It raised many ideas which I hope we can get on track here at City.  This would signal our commitment to measuring and monitoring the satisfaction of our users and improving the quality of our services.



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