Using Continuous Quality Improvement Methods to Evaluate Library Service Points

By Stein, Merrill; Edge, Teresa et al. | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview
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Using Continuous Quality Improvement Methods to Evaluate Library Service Points

Stein, Merrill, Edge, Teresa, Kelley, John M., Hewlett, Dane, Trainer, James F., Reference & User Services Quarterly

This article describes a multiple-methods approach to examining and enhancing the quality of walk-in service points at a major university library. Selected methods included focus groups, benchmarking, surveys, transaction analysis, activity mapping, and secret shoppers. The results of the study generated many recommended enhancements, including the consolidation of service desks


At Villanova University, two forces converged to initiate this continuous quality improvement project at Falvey Memorial Library. The first of these factors was an ongoing interest on the part of the library staff in maximizing services to patrons, both through technology and personal points of contact. The second was Villanova's continuous quality improvement program, a well-established initiative introduced in 1993 and long spearheaded by the Office of Planning, Training, and Institutional Research (OPTIR). In recent years, several studies have been completed by and for the library dealing with the physical footprint of the library as well as the responsiveness of staff to the needs of their various patrons--students, faculty, staff, alumni, members of the surrounding community, and outside scholars. The present study located precisely the various points of patron service and delved deeper into their functions.


Villanova University, a Roman Catholic institution based on the teachings of St. Augustine, is located in a pleasant suburban setting just twelve miles outside of Philadelphia. It is home to more than ten thousand students and more than five hundred faculty members. The university consists of four main colleges (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Villanova School of Business, College of Engineering, and College of Nursing) and a School of Law. Falvey Library has a staff of about sixty-five, including twenty librarians. The library offers patrons a place for social networking and studious collaboration with wireless network access, a twenty-four hour study lounge and coffee shop, group study rooms, laptop loans, and a rich complement of electronic and digital library resources in a medium-sized academic library environment.

A unique aspect of the Villanova Quality Improvement (VQI) model is its emphasis not only on the application of time-tested work process improvement tools, but on the integration of its efforts with the mission of the university. At Villanova, there are currently more than twenty-five VQI teams involving more than two hundred colleagues from practically all of the offices of the university Some have a special university-wide goal such as the Incentives and Recognition Team or the Environmental Team, but the vast majority of teams are located within departments with the tri-fold charge of work process improvement, building community, and offering community service. VQI is coordinated by OPTIR. OPTIR staff are experienced in qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, and three have been certified in Lean Six Sigma, a popular system for indentifying and reducing waste and increasing the effectiveness of work functions.

In an effort to seek its own answer to "library as place" or, as Davenport advocates, "in a networked world ... place as library," Falvey seeks to steer a path beyond access versus ownership issues to provide a comfortable and collaborative base from which patrons can share ideas, conduct research, and receive assistance and instruction from within the library, within the colleges, and at a distance. (1) Reference and instruction services are becoming academic integration services with liaison information literacy teams; programming of library events has a programming coordinator; technical services is now resource(s) management; "access" means access to a host of services besides checking out and reserving books; and there is a growing need for even more skilled budget management and data-driven assessment coordination past standard monthly statistics.

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