Competency N – Evaluation

…evaluate programs and services based on measurable criteria

Introduction

Libraries operate as part of a service industry dedicated to customer satisfaction and repeat use. Evaluation is a systematic means of assessing library programs and services in terms of their relevance and usefulness to the user community. Moreover, our current economic climate necessitates that library professionals regularly assess new and existing programs and services in order to sustain funding support. Stakeholders often consider repeat usage, high circulation, and large attendance counts to be strong indicators of a successful program or service.

Evaluations are an effective way to gauge “quality of service” and allow managerial staff to check-in with staff and refine or change existing services as necessary. It is an ongoing and iterative process that enables library professionals to consider program accordance with library missions and goals as well as whether planning efforts have worked or failed.

There are several types of evaluation typically performed in libraries. Assessments are made based on the validity, reliability, and usefulness of quantitative and qualitative data. (McClure, 2008). Quantitative data are statistical in nature and help managers determine counts for specific elements of library programs and services; examples include circulation statistics, program attendance, and service usage. Qualitative data comprise patron surveys, interviews, and unobtrusive patron observations. At the public library where I work, head counts are taken at each story hour to determine interest in extant programming choices as well as to provide a record for donors considering renewed funding provisions to our library. Compiling this kind of quantitative data also helps plan for future library programming.

The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) provides us with a set of guideline criteria to improve reference services as well as evaluate potential effectiveness of a reference transaction. These criteria include “approachability, interest, listening/inquiring, searching and follow-up.” (RUSA, 2012) “Approachability” refers to the librarian’s demeanor when patrons seek assistance; is the librarian engaged and willing to help or otherwise distracted? Reference librarians appear “interested” if they make eye contact and pay attention to patron requests. One example of “listening/inquiring” is to practice reflective listening by repeating a patron’s request to ensure understanding. Among the guidelines for “searching” are involving patrons in your search process by mentioning aloud the steps required to reach a desired result. “Following-up” is a way to assess patron satisfaction by asking whether their reference needs have been met.

Performing ongoing and iterative evaluations is a creative way of standardizing the process to promote a cycle of continuous renewal and health. In making evaluations a standardized part of operations, it becomes more manageable and integral to daily procedures. Libraries must regularly assess existing programs and services to keep them fresh and well aligned with user and other stakeholder needs.

Evidence

Libr 261_Implementing Advocacy

My first piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency N is a paper I wrote for LIBR 261-A: Programming and Services for Young Adults in which I evaluate the teen services area at my local public library: BPL. Through population statistics, usage data, and an interview with the Senior Teen Librarian, I base my assessment on both quantitative and qualitative analyses. I also considered expert recommendations to determine the teen space’s usefulness and suitability for teens based on their forty known developmental needs and assets. This paper demonstrates my competency in integrating qualitative and quantitative data to form an evaluation. As a benchmark, I also compare BPL’s teen services area to another local public library (OPL)’s teen area, and offer suggestions for improvement based on the aforementioned analyses and teen assets/needs.

Libr 285_Facebook for RA

My second piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency N is a proposal I wrote for LIBR 285: Research Methods: Evaluating Programs and Services in which I evaluate existing teen programs and services at KPL. In this proposal, I analyze both local teen population and teen library usage statistics, and also interview KPL’s Director to assess areas for improvement to KPL’s teen services. My evaluation of current teen trends and this user group’s skyrocketing social media use provided further impetus to consider virtual teen space options. My proposal discusses the benefits of using Facebook as a reader’s advisory tool to meet teens where they are, and provide a virtual library space for teens to discuss, share, and remix content in a participatory learning environment. This paper demonstrates my competency in evaluating existing teen programming and services as well as my clear ability to analyze both quantitative and qualitative data as a means of reinvigorating teen interest in reading. This vital service also promotes healthy relationships between teens and libraries, which fosters lifelong learning.

Libr 287_Website Evaluation

My third piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency N is a short paper I wrote for LIBR 287: Virtual Services in which I evaluate a library website based on a set of criteria. Due to the proliferation of web content and user reliance on Google’s search options, it is imperative that library websites facilitate, rather than hinder the research process. Universal accessibility is an important criterion to consider when evaluating websites, and it is recommended that web designers follow guidelines devised by the W3C. I used these guidelines to gauge BPL’s website compatibility for accommodating hearing and/or vision-impaired users. Other important criteria include choice of font, background color, and language to set an appropriate tone to warrant return visitors and aid resource findability. Along with a simple and clean design, the use of federated search engines aids retrieval and allows for easy user navigability. Users must feel a website encourages their search process. This paper demonstrates my competency in evaluating a library website based on a defined set of criteria to gauge its’ viability for user needs and efficient resource access.

Conclusion

Ongoing and iterative evaluations are necessary for libraries to foster quality of service and longevity. Library professionals must routinely assess and reassess existing programs and services to promote robust and energetic operations. As emerging technologies cycle through our libraries, it is critical to standardize evaluations to remain relevant and current to our user communities.

References

McClure, Charles R. (2008). Learning and Using Evaluation: A Practical Introduction. In Haycock and Sheldon (Eds.), The Portable MLIS (179). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Reference and User Services Association (RUSA). RUSA Guidelines. Retrieved September 27, 2012 from http://www.ala.org/rusa/resources/guidelines/guidelinesbehavioral

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