Given the on-going emphasis placed on evaluation, measurement and Return on Investment (ROI), many public libraries have struggled to successfully integrate evaluation practices into operational workflows. Unfortunately, it appears that for some libraries who have implemented evaluation, they have focused on metrics that do little to inform the library’s practice, do not demonstrate how a library contributes to its community, and do not assist public libraries in the enhancement of their operations. While traditional output metrics such as circulation, program attendance and technology use provide data about library activities, these metrics are simple counts that fall short in providing insight into why people visited the library, if they accomplished their goals during their visit, or what would have improved their visitor experience. In addition, this reliance on “empty metrics” has had the negative effect of leading stakeholders, policy-makers and funders to believe libraries are nothing more than book depositories. Empty metrics reinforce old and inaccurate stereotypes about public libraries and the role of librarians. We contend that we are at a turning point: evaluation practices are now successfully being embedded into day-to-day library operations and have become a part of library culture. The next step is to ensure libraries develop meaningful metrics that demonstrate the library’s social contribution, and then engage stakeholders to recognize the necessity of adopting these new metrics.
Bill Irwin & Kimberly Silk (2019) Changing Stakeholder Expectations of Library Value, Public Library Quarterly, 38:3, 320-330, DOI: 10.1080/01616846.2019.1571398