polly_b By / July 20, 2012

The search for value – part two

Last time I introduced the work we are doing on ‘value’. It has been surprisingly difficult – we found no direct role…

Image Copyright Aaron Amat used under Shutterstock licence
Image Copyright Aaron Amat
used under Shutterstock licence

Last time I introduced the work we are doing on ‘value’. It has been surprisingly difficult – we found no direct role models and no ready-made answers. So we have had to do quite a lot of reading, thinking and discussion. In this series of posts I hope to engage you in this still-open process, and would love to hear of other work in this field or reactions to what we have tried.

The work here is driven by a demand from Members themselves. They want the Library to achieve the kind of performance they perceive in national parliament services. We were asked to come up with a ‘New Concept’ to do this, and we offered a focus on ‘value’. Action for the New Concept is taking place in three, inter-linked areas:

  1. Making the Library (and its work and products) more visible to Members and more accessible
  2. Engaging with Members and their offices to bring services closer to them, and to build the Library’s understanding of their needs.
  3. Increased knowledge of Members, and also the long-term development of policy and professional knowledge.

    See diagram below

We are addressing this ‘New Concept’ through a programme running from 2011 to 2014, although some of the deeper changes in knowledge and the place of the Library in the Parliament’s culture will take much longer. One element of the ‘New Concept’ is to define more precisely ‘value’ in this context, and to develop the programme according to that understanding.

In considering value we started from a discussion held at IFLA (in Ottawa in 2008?) in which many of the world’s leading parliamentary libraries were represented. As I recall, that discussion revealed that no-one was satisfied with their methods of measuring impact. It is worth reflecting on this – despite the worldwide historical investment in parliamentary libraries, no-one had yet found any good way to tell what impact (or value) they have.

For the New Concept we had a common-sense idea of what ‘value’ meant but we considered we might need to measure it – to quantify the impact of the programme. Measurement implies a definition. Even if measurement proved impossible we wanted a clear definition in order to target our programme more precisely. We had already eliminated volume of use and client satisfaction as adequate measures of value. We had also eliminated the methods used by some types of libraries – to trace the library’s impact on the output of their organisation – because the Parliament’s output was itself not quantifiable and the Library’s contribution to the output not easily traceable. The preliminary conclusion we had reached was that value in the Parliament is defined by Members. The Library might be in some objective sense ‘valuable’ but this was worth something only if it was recognised by Members. It is a simple, obvious, idea – but it can take the Library in a different direction to the traditional pursuit of clients, volumes, client satisfaction and professional benchmarks.

Our first step in 2011 was to include a question about ‘value’ in our annual survey – this time, aimed only at Members and their offices. The standard question on quality of service produced one rating, quite high and in line with previous years, but the rating on the new question about value was lower. Clients can be very satisfied but this does not mean, necessarily, that they see the service as being of top value.

The next step was to go to technical definitions of ‘value’ to see if we could at least clarify the elements we had to work on. We discovered that ‘value’ is a word with multiple meanings even in academic/scientific writing; and it is used with abandon, not always with a clear definition, in the management and marketing literature. Out of this potpourri we sought to extract some elements that made sense of our case.

PS the issue of value has already been taken up in other library sectors – last time I mentioned a study by US academic libraries which usefully reviews other major sectors also. Now, just issued, a study on value including some European academic libraries, focused in particular on value for teaching and research staff: http://libraryvalue.wordpress.com/report/.

Next: some concepts of value

The search for value: a ‘New Concept’ for the Library

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