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portal: Libraries and the Academy 3.4 (2003) 693-695

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Meaningful Measures for Emerging Realities: Proceedings of the 4th Northumbria International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries and Information Services, ed. Joan Stein, Martha Kyrillidou, Denise Davis. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries, 2002. 364 p. $150 (ISBN 0-918006-83-X)

This spiral-bound collection of conference papers includes contributions from librarians around the world and is centered on the theme of performance measurement and its impact on decision making, service quality, budget justification, technological change, and the design and testing of new measures. The proceedings consist of eight keynote and invited papers and thirty-seven seminar papers arranged under the headings of standards/strategies and policies, user-centered measures, and assessing the emerging environment. Together they provide a comprehensive view of research, trends, and developments in the [End Page 693] evolving field of performance measurement for libraries and information services.

All aspects of libraries and library services—administration, collection development, reference, circulation, instruction, use of electronic resources (including freely available Web sites), cataloging, document delivery—are addressed in terms of performance measurement and use of resulting data. Most of the papers address the dynamic nature of newly developed electronic resources and services and how the quality and value of resources and services can be measured. Also, the majority of presenters are employed in academic libraries, and their presentations reflect their focus on the issue of performance measurement in higher education, although public and special library services are also covered.

The use of many evaluation measures and the interpretation of their results remain controversial. The authors agree that evaluating service quality and the impact of information services can be extremely difficult, given the multitude of factors affecting various libraries and their constituents. Users often find it difficult to articulate (or may not even be aware of) the impact of library services. The terminology used in assessing institutional performance is still under development and reflects the basis for professional disagreements. The complex relationships between attributes of service and of users as individuals and as members of diverse constituencies make the development of standards and evaluation methodologies challenging at best, and the interpretation, or misinterpretation, of results can often produce more confusion than benefit. Though a definitive measure of service quality in libraries remains elusive, the papers within this collection describe effective techniques and propose cutting edge solutions to the challenge of performance measurement in libraries.

The proceedings are all the more valuable because they assemble the views of practicing professionals from around the globe—professionals who bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to their subject from a wide variety of organizational environments. Readers will be introduced to dozens of practical ideas about reliable data collection. The international flavor of the papers provides an excellent perspective on performance indicators and higher education initiatives worldwide. What emerges is a realization that libraries everywhere are struggling to define dependable performance measures and no one has determined the way. The papers describe a shared experience among those librarians working to define and refine comprehensive, acceptable, and reliable standards. Even devotees of specific measures (such as LibQUAL) recognize limitations and deficiencies of their measures. Well-known instruments, such as E-Metrics, activity-based costing (ABC), LibQUAL, and SERVQUAL, are discussed, but the contributors offer other highly original approaches to their evaluation work. Many authors stress a combination of measures tailored to the distinct characteristics of the institution and user population.

Many different types of motivations for performance measurement are also addressed—from accreditation and budget justification to the desire for collection or service analysis, changes, or improvements. Together, the essays provide clear guidelines for how to determine strategies when undertaking a performance measurement project, and they explain the limitations of many approaches. Indeed, the collection can be seen as a reference book for those involved in assessment projects in that the reader may browse particular entries of interest. To read the entire compilation cover-to-cover is a daunting (though...


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