Success does not equal value in parliamentary library & research services

‘Success does not equal value’, Computers in Libraries Conference 2013, Washington DC, USA

Despite considerable success on any professional view, and good professional metrics, the value of the library & analytical service of the European Parliament was still put in question by some Members. Clearly, we were misunderstanding something. In 2010/11 we decided to focus on value – what did it mean in a parliamentary context? And how could we increase our value added?

The meaning of ‘value’ was a surprisingly difficult question to answer, even with economists from the analytical service on the team, but the conclusion on its definition in parliament was incredibly simple. The conceptual work provoked a fruitful change in strategy and a number of projects that indicated the strategy would bring results. A similar approach at the UN also produced a new operational strategy that made sense to many and got results. (Value was clearly a question waiting to be asked, and – completely unaware – we tackled it at around the same time as the Association of College and Research Libraries in the United States. They had recognised and addressed the exact same question for their libraries – with far greater resources. Their report is well worth looking into – although we had completed our work on value before we saw it, the report is referenced in this paper for Computers in Libraries).

The first two parts of the paper are a summary of the previous work on myths of the parliamentary library – the real new material starts in part three, with this opening text:

In the last ten years the service has had a steady increase in demand, a high level of client satisfaction, an effective and even certified approach to quality, and a track record of following best practice and successful innovation. Members again questioned its usefulness in 2011. We should not be surprised by this, as library value for stakeholders does not relate to “measures of internal library processes such as input and output measures, external perceptions of quality, and satisfaction with library services. Internal, service quality, and satisfaction measures are of great utility to librarians who seek to manage library services and resources, but they may not resonate with institutional leaders”

The demand from Members was for a ‘new concept’. The Library’s response was to acknowledge that no matter what success we appeared to have, notably with the Assistants of Members, we had failed to demonstrate to Members that we offered value. We needed to make our value more tangible for Members and/or we needed to change to increase the value we delivered to Members personally.

The two things that appeared clear, from some earlier deliberation, were that

1. Volume of use and Client satisfaction are not enough on their own to demonstrate value

2. ‘Value’ in a parliament flows from Members

The first point has already been discovered by some other libraries:

“the mere fact that a library service is being used does not mean that the service makes a difference or has a positive impact on the users”. In addition, input counts, output measures, and satisfaction feedback are not clearly correlated with the success of [the library’s host organisation]”

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