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Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Measuring Library Performance

My Sunday blog on library performance suggested that our standard measurements are rather old fashioned.  The basic logic is that book borrowing is the core activity of libraries, and that all the other activities can be broadly captured by visitor numbers.

That is maybe a workable model for 1990, but hasn't the game changed by two big technology changes? I am thinking of the Internet and of wireless technology.

To some extent, libraries are used to the Internet, but our measurements still tend to assume that everyone goes to a building to access library services.  I often point out that many traditional library activities _ reading newspapers, borrowing books, searching a catalogue _ can be done online.  The amount of stuff this covers is much more extensive than people generally think.  Despite ebook borrowing being much slower to take off than I anticipated, getting on for a quarter of Brent's book loans occur without someone going to a library.  Therefore our footfall figures simply don't capture a lot of what libraries do, even by proxy.

The second big change is the rise of wireless.  Libraries are getting used to this.  All Brent libraries are wireless foot example, but we don't really capture it in measurements.  Of course, a lot of it is still quite new.  iPhones were launched only in 2007, and iPads only in 2010.  Whereas a few years ago, a library could monitor its IT activity via the log ons at desk bound computers, there is now a growing trend to bring in their own devices, which drives the growing use of soft furnishings rather than desks in library design.

We need to find ways of tracking all this activity, so that policy can be determined by evidence about how modern libraries actually work rather than childhood anecdotes.

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