Library Evaluation Primer

Evaluation addresses two questions: (1) What progress are we making, or what difference has the library made for the people it serves? and 2) What changes occurred?

I. Identifying Desired Outcomes

Part of the Board's responsibility in completing the long-range plan is defining its goals or desired outcomes. Outcomes result from a discussion of the critical question, "What changes or accomplishments are expected?" These can occur in the library users, the library, local agencies and organizations, and ultimately, the community.

For library users, changes might be expected in their knowledge, behaviors or attitudes. Examples of these changes include learning more about a specific subject, being a more informed consumer, reading more for relaxation or becoming more open to divergent viewpoints. Program attendance figures, the number of information requests and collection use statistics also can be used to indicate outcomes. Community collaboration is another area where desired outcomes can be defined.

II. Setting Targets

Once the Board has defined its desired outcomes, it can set measurable or observable objectives, or targets, including timeframes for completion. For example, targets may be to increase circulation by 10 percent within a year reduce complaints by 50 percent by the end of the fiscal year or hold three adult programs. These targets provide useful benchmarks for both the extent and quality of library services. Without clear targets, the evaluation process can only describe what was done, not what was accomplished.

"Impact stories" can be done to supplement measurement of outcomes. These are stories that illustrate how things have changed for the users, library, collaborators or community. The process of describing impact uses quotations and observations to tell the library's story, providing a better understanding of how others are influenced by the library. They also bring multiple "voices" to the evaluation process.

III. Evaluation Process

Once the first two steps are completed, the evaluation process is primarily a mechanical one. The Board will need to determine who will be responsible for the evaluation and the timeline. Among those involved may be library staff, volunteers, users, community partners and funders.

The Board will also need to determine how information is collected for the evaluation. Possible methods include collecting statistics, interviews, questionnaires and structured observation. The key to choosing strategies is to consider which are the most appropriate for the information needed to document change, while keeping in mind the time and cost of each approach.

Evaluation helps promote both the effectiveness and efficiency of the library's operations and services. The goal of the process is to use the information to improve the library, making it a learning process for all involved.