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Guide Evaluation of Library and Information Services (ASLIB Know How)

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In spite of the problems, however, the idea of the evaluation of IR systems is a very powerful idea which has affected librarians' willingness to think of evaluation as a desirable and necessary function to perform In the management of library and information systems. All too often, however, the IR model of evaluation is used as a criterion by which the choice of method of evaluation is determined, with its emphasis upon measurement and trade-offs between sets of variables. Ideally, of course, it is desirable to have methods of evaluation which have these characteristics, but all too often in library systems it is not possible to identlfy such methods.

The reason that IR evaluation succeeds as far as it does is that the objectives of information retrieval systems can be set down in a very explicit manner. One can say, for example, that the ideal IR system Is one which will deliver all the 'relevant' documents from a collection to the user and no 'irrelevant' documents.

This ability to identify goals and objectives is an essential prerequisite of all evaluation, because only then can we think about criteria which indicate when an objective has been met, and only then can we think of whether or not it is possible to 'measure' these criteria in a quantitative sense. The idea of evaluation seems to be one which has come into the professional consciousness only in very recent years.

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True, in an earlier time, in the s in the USA, the idea of the 'library survey' developed, and that had in it the seeds of evaluation indeed, the library survey concept goes back at least to the s in the USA. In more recent times, however, the impetus to evaluate has come from the need to justify budgets more explicitly than ever before. All service functions in all organizations are being reviewed in terms of their necessity for the aims of the organization and libraries and information systems are no exception.

In educational institutions faced with budget cuts the same phenomenon occurs, and in local government the public library is subject to the same pressures. The consequence of this is that the idea of cost has come to be associated with evaluation and there has been, perhaps, an over-emphasis on costs, at the expense of justifying services on the grounds of usefulness to the library user. The emphasis on money, a useful quantitative measure, has also led, in my opinion, to a down-grading of other criteria for assessing the benefits of library or information services, and I believe that more attention ought to be given to those criteria.

The answer to the question "What can we evaluate? Thus, we can evaluate:. In other words, if a librarian asks, 'Is it possible to evaluate X?

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The next question, and one which has a number of Implications, is, 'According to what criteria can we evaluate X? One point to bear in mind is that all of these, except the last, may involve either quantitative or qualitative types of assessment, or a combination of both. The idea of 'success' as a criterion for evaluation is clearly associated with new programmes, or other kinds of innovation.

Why do we wish to evaluate services?

Equally clearly, what counts as a 'successful' project may be a matter of subjective perception. One person's 'modest success' Is another person's 'failure' - politicians, of course, are adept at turning calamities into 'modest successes', and perhaps chief librarians ought to be equally adept. We can move away from complete subjectivity only when we can define the criteria for 'success' and, clearly, this will depend on the objectives of the new programme or other innovation.


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For example, we may introduce, in a public library, a new lending service for video-cassettes: Our criteria for success will vary depending which of these aims we have: In the second case we can measure 'success' by determining whether or not we have made a profit: The third case is much more difficult: It requires us to keep detailed records of users and to discover by means of surveys whether there is a higher proportion of former non-users of any aspect of library service as a result.

We cannot finish there, however: Is it enough that they use the video lending service, or do we expect them to use other services also? If the latter, do we have any expectations of frequency of use that would cause us to say whether or not the service has been successful?

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And so on - the more complex the reasons for doing anything, the more complex the questions become, and the more time-consuming the process of evaluation. We say that something is 'efficient' when it performs with the minimum use of whatever resource is necessary for it to function. Thus, if we are assessing the efficiency of an Internal-combustion engine we will be concerned with how much fuel it uses, relative to other engines of equivalent power. Athletes' efficiency can be measured by their capacity to take in oxygen and convert it to energy.

The efficiency of library or information systems, therefore, must be measured according to the consumption of their resources - people, materials, and money. Such questions as, 'Can we provide the same or better level of reference service with fewer people if we install on-line search terminals? Or, the question may be asked, 'Is it more efficient to buy our cataloguing from a central source, or to do it ourselves?

The effectiveness of any aspect of library operations or service requires a judgement at how well the system is performing relative to its objectives. Again, the crucial element in evaluating effectiveness, is a consideration of objectives. For example, if we are assessing the effectiveness of a cataloguing department do we make the criterion the technical one of maintaining an adequate throughput of materials in terms of the size of the backlog, or is the criterion one related to how well the resulting catalogue serves the needs of readers?

Obviously, it is easier to evaluate effectiveness if the criteria are capable of quantitative measurement - it is easier and cheaper to count the size of the backlog than it is to relate the quality of catalogues to the needs of users. This ease with which quantitative data can generally be collected might be said to have deterred librarians from trying to discover the effectiveness of their systems in terms relating to users, which may be more meaningful.

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If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support? Learn more about Amazon Prime. Provides update to current thinking about, and reasons for, service evaluation of libraries in the UK. Examines quantitative and qualitative methods including questionnaires, focus groups, suggestions boxes and interview techniques.

Problems arising from survey outcomes are summarised and long-term evaluation and the relevance of benchmarking are discussed. Contains case studies covering survey work in public, academic and special libraries; charters and service level agreements; and examples of relevant research projects. New chapter on performance measurement in the electronic library. Read more Read less. Prime Book Box for Kids. About the Author John Crawford is Library Research Officer at Glasgow Caledonian University where he is responsible for the evaluation of library services and directing and conducting research projects.

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