Pre-intro: We picked this article because it looked like a good one for a discussion. As future librarians we will want to do a good job and we will want a way to verify that we are.
How does a librarian know how well they are doing their job? On that note: What is a library?
Bonfield thinks of a library as “a cooperative for infrequently needed, relatively inexpensive, durable goods”. This is the traditional view of libraries. When people think of libraries they think of books but libraries are much more than books. Some libraries don’t even have books. So how do we know we are doing a good job? Bonfield discusses other agencies and how they assess and measure their success at serving their constituents. He asks the question “Can libraries measure their job in the same way? Can their success be measured at all”?
Libraries are responsible for improving a patron’s well-being. It doesn’t matter how the library receives funding. The article goes on to discuss principles borrowed from other agencies and applies them to American Public Libraries. How do measure success? Now it involves standard testing but it used to involve graduation rates or whether or not graduates had obtained employment. (This is still true for some universities).
He also defines well-being.
1. Material living standards like income,consumption and wealth;
4. Personal activities including work;
5. Political voice and governance;
6. Social connections and relationships;
7. Environment (present and future conditions);
8. Insecurity, of an economic as well as a physical nature. (Stiglitz, Sen, & Fitoussi, 2009, pp. 14-15)
There are four responses to the question: Why aren’t libraries measuring outcomes?
1. We are
Libraries are doing some unplanned, unmeasured, and unscientific methods of measuring their success at improving the well-being of their patrons. This is involves looking at the feedback we get from patrons.
2. It’s expensive
Science is expensive. Far too little federal funds go to libraries. They can’t afford to assess whether or not they are succeeding using some science.
3. No one cares
The government is too busy assessing healthcare outcomes and education outcomes to focus on library outcomes. This doesn’t mean they do not actually care. They just don’t care to measure the success of a library.
4. It’s impossible
Every situation is different. There is no hard science to even evaluate these outcomes. Teachers said the same thing when No Child Left Behind was enacted.
So what are some measurable ways of assessing libraries contribution to the well-being of patrons?
Are the people in your area voting? Are they voting less or more than one would expect for the demographic? Libraries can find ways to help patrons participate in democracy.
Libraries can test for this even if it is expensive. They can then assist each other with improvements and compare notes. He does not mention where the initial funding will come from.
Libraries create opportunities for patrons to get to know their neighbors. He says there are numerous ways to measure our contribution to social capitol but does not list any.
Libraries can introduce programs to help patrons obtain employment and then measure their success.
The point Bonfield is trying to make is that people focus on what they measure.
Core Research Questions:
Bonfield addressed the following three research questions in his article.
1.“What is a library?”
2. “What’s the best way to measure how you’re making your constituents’ lives better?”
3. “Why aren’t libraries already measuring outcomes?”
Findings and Conclusions:
Bonfield concluded libraries are not measuring how their services and programming are affecting the lives of patrons they serve. He discussed how libraries focused too much on outputs rather than outcomes. Libraries measure quantitative outputs such as library visits, number of items circulated, patron attendance at programs, number of library employees and amount of library spending. Instead, they should focus on qualitative aspects. Libraries should focus more on outcome-based programming. He believes libraries need to strive for outcome measurements on how they can improve lives in the community. What is it they want to address and change? What are positive outcomes? It starts with identifying the needs and aspirations of patrons.
He mentioned the willingness of libraries to catch up with other public services on this particular issue. For example, the PLA (Public Library Association) President Carloyn Anthony created a Performance Measurement Task Force. The task force will spend three years to identify appropriate library outcomes that would make a positive impact in the community. Also, how libraries can help patrons achieve them.
Bonfield expressed concerns about libraries running out of time on outcome standards. He emphasized the need for libraries to work together to develop and measure outcomes. He suspects agencies from other fields will implement library outcomes for them. They might not truly reflect the values of libraries or the best ways to serve the public.
How can he be sure that libraries can even improve the employment rate anyway? That seems to focus more on the businesses in an area than on anything else. There is no way a library can bring new businesses in.
Which types of literacies would a library measure? Would there be a training program for digital literacies with a test afterwards? What about new literacies? Social media literacies? How necessary are these things for well-being?
What aspects of well-being do libraries wish to promote?
Bonfield provided 8 examples of well-being. Some examples were education, health and income.
What are some ways we really can measure our success at improving the well-being of patrons?
If we measure outcomes and show results would we get more federal funding? What if federal funding starts to be affected by these measured outcomes?