They want to stand out from the crowd and shine among their peers. But they also want to be accepted just the way they are – warts and all.
Comparisons are odious – for those who come last.
Order from chaos
The dilemma – odi et amo – is becoming more acute. In today’s knowledge intensive society, the demand for ratings, ranks and comparisons is growing. Systematic lists provide a bit of order in the torrent of information.
We compare, for instance,
- films – see user ratings of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
- colleges and universities
- levels of corruption – see Corruption Perception Index
- and degrees of well-being – see the Quality of life index
So why not libraries?
US rating systems
Wikipedia has a small but interesting article on library ratings. It is mainly concerned with two competing US indexes:
- LJ Index of Public Library Service
- Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings Information (HAPLR)
HAPLR goes back to the late nineties. The LJ Index was launched in 2009.
In HAPLR, libraries are ranked on 15 input and output measures with comparisons in broad population categories. The LJ Index is based on four equally weighted per-capita statistics with comparison groups based on total operating expenditures.
- library visits
- program attendance
- public internet computer use
The system awards 5-star, 4-star, and 3-star designations rather than library ranks.
The article also mentions the German system BIX. I would also include the Transactions indicator used in New Zealand. This combines data on
- Issues [Loans]
- Enquiries [Reference]
Below I show which indicators are included in which of these four rating systems.
- Number of visits per capita: LJ, HAPLR, BIX, NZ
- Circulation per capita: LJ, HAPLR, BIX, NZ
- Reference per capita: HAPLR, NZ
- Events per 1000 capita: LJ, BIX
- Electronic Resource Use per capita: LJ
- Total Opening hours per year per 1000 capita: BIX
- Members per 100 capita: NZ
- Expenditure per capita: HAPLR
- Materials Expend. Per capita: HAPLR
- Periodicals per 1000 residents: HAPLR
- User area in sqm per 1,000 capita: BIX
- Investment per capita: BIX
- Advanced training per employee: BIX
- Computer services in hours per capita: BIX
- Internet Services: BIX*
- Employees per 1,000 capita: HAPLR, BIX
- Collection units per capita: HAPLR, BIX
- Percent Budget to materials: HAPLR
- Circulation per hour: HAPLR
- Visits per hour: HAPLR
- Circulation per visit: HAPLR
- Circulation per FTE Staff Hour: HAPLR
- Cost per circulation (low to high): HAPLR
- Collection turnover: HAPLR
- Stock turnover rate: BIX
- Stock Renewal rate: BIX
- Total Expenditure per visit: BIX
- Acquisitions budget per loan: BIX
- Employee hours per opening hour: BIX
BIX Internet services: this index sums up various services the library offers via the internet: own homepage, OPAC accessible via the internet, interactive account management, electronic reference services (e.g. via e-mail), electronic materials and pro-active information services (e.g. newsletter). Number of these services available
Source: BIX-Information in English
Embracing Change for Continuous Improvement. By Peter Hernon and Ellen Altman
Gathering library metrics
The type of metrics that libraries have historically collected and reported has created stakeholder dissatisfaction because these metrics do not adequately reflect their contribution to their communities. The metrics typically comprise outputs or performance measures, but none reflect customer-focused outputs relating to service quality or satisfaction and outcomes—the impact of programs and services. For instance, how many people using the library résumé service or other job-related services found fulltime employment? Do children increase their reading levels after attending summer reading programs? If yes, by how many grade levels?
Such questions may involve accountability, which requires the adoption of a multiple-stakeholder framework and recognition that librarians are managers of complex service organizations. Any organization must balance its needs with those of other units in the institution, recognizing that budgeting occurs within a political context (e.g., competition with academic units and with other government agencies), while addressing issues of “How well?” “How satisfied?” “How productive?” and so forth. Consequently, the types of metrics that libraries use should settle on the quantitative and qualitative benefits that the library provides to its community.