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The search for value


Christiana, Copenhagen

Last week’s ECPRD conference in Copenhagen (“Members’ use of information and changing visions of the Parliamentary Library”) heard about the work of the EP Library on ‘value’. We have the challenge to deliver a ‘New Concept’ of the Library which will increase value for Members. At one level it is straightforward: to make the Library, and the value it adds, more visible to Members. But when you get into the question of what exactly ‘value’ means in this context, and how you might prove it has increased, then things get tricky. It is a word with many meanings. Trickier still, once we have understood what value might mean for Members, how much of the service are we going to have to change? Value is about changing perceptions, yes, but also about challenging professional assumptions and (probably) making real change in what the service delivers.

We will give you stories about our search for ‘value’ in some future posts on this blog. As a beginning, we can say that value is not about volume of business and not about client satisfaction. A busy library with many satisfied clients does not actually prove you are adding value where it counts for the institution. Equally, just because your service compares well with professional best practice or has good statistics in professional terms, that will not necessarily impress your stakeholders. The EP Library has a good track record on those terms over many years but still its value periodically comes into question. We are not alone in these discoveries – value is an issue for many types of libraries worldwide and these insights were also developed by others. (The survey of ‘value’ in different types of library by Oakleaf for the Association of College and Research Libraries is not a bad place to start)

But it doesn’t seem that value has fully emerged yet as an issue for parliamentary libraries. One attendee found the topic ‘depressing’ and ‘negative’. Others thought some of our actions for the New Concept to be a waste of time, even dangerous. There are certainly parliamentary libraries whose value is unlikely to be questioned anytime soon, given their long histories and secure position within their organisations. So they have no immediate reason to act – especially not if it involves risk. But others at the conference – many others – thought there was reason to think ahead and seriously consider this question of ‘value’. We certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers here at the EP but we want to at least share our questions!

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