Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The LibQUAL+ Phenomenon: Who Judges Quality?

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The LibQUAL+ Phenomenon: Who Judges Quality?

Article excerpt

For my second column as the editor of the new Management column, I decided to focus on library service assessment. It is certainly one of the most important activities we need to do; however, often we, as librarians, have little training on or knowledge of how to evaluate and assess our service. We are better at collection evaluation than service evaluation. LibQUAL+, one of the most important assessment tool libraries are using right now, was the first assessment method that came to mind. My long-term colleague, Stewart Saunders, is the Purdue Libraries statistics expert. He analyzed the LibQUAL+ data for us, and so was the logical choice to write this article.

What next for the column? I am on the lookout for ideas and writers on the broad range of topics that relate to running a reference or public service department. I encourage you to suggest column topics and to become an author and write on any successful reference programs or services.--Editor

The Internet and Google have changed the information landscape. Libraries now compete for a share of the information market, and library patrons are now referred to as customers. As libraries become businesses, they must take care of their customers in the same manner as does the private information sector. Private firms seek to satisfy customer needs, so libraries must do likewise. As libraries attempt to meet competition from other information providers, managing resources and having a sense of strategic direction become all the more necessary.

In the past, library management decisions were based on data and intuition. Data was in-house data--circulation statistics, reference activity, budget figures, and so on. But intuition? Well yes, what managers knew about patron needs was a consequence of casual conversations, rumor, and the squeaky wheel. Occasionally libraries would try a patron survey, but this was the exception, not the rule. Academic libraries, after all, had a clearly defined educational mission: they, better than students (or faculty), knew the needs of their clientele. Those needs were shaped by the curriculum and research enterprises of the college or university To guide us, we had Books for College Libraries, Choice, and the professional research literature in library science. Isn't that what we meant when we put forth the ideal of a professional librarian: someone who has been educated in the principles of collection development, reference, and the organization of knowledge? Why should we ask patrons about their needs? They have no training in these areas.


In the last decade, that scenario changed. Despite confidence in our professional knowledge, we have turned to our customers for their input. (Note they are no longer patrons.) We are not alone; even General Motors has learned that what customers think is important. Universities and colleges have come to realize that the crucial measure for an educational institution is impact, not input. We no longer talk about "research," we now use the term "discovery"; we no longer use "teaching," we now use "learning." University and college administrations now expect libraries to prove their value in terms of the learning and discovery that results from library use. This has become all the more important, as the Internet now offers an alternative to libraries as a source of information. In order to demonstrate the library's superiority to other information providers, we need to show our impact with a measure that stakeholders can understand. What better way to measure value than to ask library customers for their views about the library's impact on their learning and discovery The new wisdom has become: "Only customers judge quality; all other judgments are essentially irrelevant." (1)

That still leaves unanswered the question of how best to attain this measure. For years, the service sector of the United States economy--banks, restaurants, hotels, and so on--collected information on patron satisfaction using questions with a simple Lickert scale: "On a scale of one to five please rate your satisfaction with our accommodations. …

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