How do we measure the success of a Public library

From the SCP (netherlands inst. of social research) report and my talk with others in the public library sector it is clear that there is a need to rethink the standards we use to measure the success of a library ( in my opinion, more bottom up evaluation methods).

It becomes apparent to me that apart from adding another product-service which might be very relevant for the local needs of the people in the short and mid term. More importantly the library institution needs to re evaluate the factors on which is bases its success. Currently as we see it, its mostly done by the number of visitors, books borrowed etc. This is surprising in light of the fact that now we are debating the future of the book as we know it. The report mentions that for one of the core functions of the library of ‘dialogue and debate’ it is tough to get ready data (quantitative or otherwise) other than anecdotes. Which in turns makes it hard for the libraries to ask for funding on the basis of such activities, which i see becoming more important (as the information service providing role of library diminishes). There is an urgent need to ask the question, how do you measure the success of libbrary 2.0, how is social relevance/ benefit measurable.

I am sure there are studies in parallel fields giving an answer to this question. The two projects that come to mind are the kafka project (belgium) that i have mentioned before in my posts and the other – Bhutan’s gross national happiness quotient.

New performance measures need to be formulated to measure the social and economic contribution libraries make to their communities. Libraries serve citizens by strengthening lifelong learning, supporting early childhood development, and enhancing economic diversification, but they have uneven methods of demonstrating this conclusively. Statistics collected to date quantify library performance but provide less data about outcomes. Using outcome-based performance measures that show the community impacts of library services, libraries will be able to demonstrate their essential importance to community life. For example, they may show how literacy levels, healthy lifestyles, incomes or job skill levels improve because of the availability of library services.

Also, worth reading about is the political agenda of Enrique Peñalosa, a politician from Bogotá, Colombia. Here is an interview with him, where he talks about public space and social equality.

“If we in the Third World measure our success or failure as a society in terms of income, we would have to classify ourselves as losers until the end of time,” declares Enrique Peñalosa, who served as mayor of Bogotá, Colombia. “So with our limited resources, we have to invent other ways to measure success. This might mean that all kids have access to sports facilities, libraries, parks, schools, nurseries.”

Read more about his work here

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