LibQUAL+ to assess the performance of library services
SUBJ: How to Use LibQUAL+ to Assess the Performance of Library Services
This report is to provide you with the background and an overview of LibQUAL+, how it can be used to assess the performance of library services, and what the experts have said concerning its advantages and disadvantages. A summary of the research concerning LibQUAL+ will be provided in the concluding section, together with appropriate recommendations for its potential at this library.
Public libraries are now widely recognized as being an indispensable part of community life as promoters of literacy, providers of a wide range of reading for all ages, and centers for community information services. However, there is an increasing need today for libraries to achieve outcome-based assessment, rather then relying merely on input, output, or resource metrics; pressure for this shift in focus has come from funding authorities as well as users themselves (What is LibQUAL+? 2004).
Outcome measures have the potential for demonstrating how well an organization provides services to its users, and can gauge an institution's efficiency and effectiveness from the perspective of those who actually use these services. According to the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), LibQUAL+ is one of several outcome-based assessment efforts begun under their "New Measures Initiative." The LibQUAL+ survey was based on a conceptual model provided by the SERVQUAL instrument, which is a popular tool for assessing service quality in the private sector (What is LibQUAL+? 2004), although it has received some criticism (Jun & Yang 2002).
The questionnaire used in the SERVQUAL model is administered to customers, managers, and first-line service employees; the existence of gaps then becomes readily apparent when the questionnaire results are compared (Bounds & Stahl 1991). The SERVQUAL model was selected as the departure point for future development in measuring library service quality because it had earned a reputation for the statistical integrity of its results over its 12-year history and there had already been significant experience with the tool in academic research libraries (Syed & Simmonds, 1998). Whereas other researchers in the area of service quality have focused their qualitative inquiries upon the providers of service, the LibQUAL+ investigators followed the guidance provided by Zeithaml, Parasuraman, and Berry (1990), that "only customers judge quality; all other judgments are essentially irrelevant" (16). According to the LibQUAL+ website, the goals of LibQUAL+(TM) are to:
Foster a culture of excellence in providing library service
Help libraries better understand user perceptions of library service quality
Collect and interpret library user feedback systematically over time
Provide libraries with comparable assessment information from peer institutions
Identify best practices in library service
Enhance library staff members' analytical skills for interpreting and acting on data (Welcome to LibQUAL+ 2004).
According to Jun and Yang (2002), the perception of the quality of service can be defined as "a global judgment or attitude relating to the superiority of a service" (19). Over the past 30 years or so, researchers have sought to identify the global or standard attributes of a service that are important to the customer and that contribute significantly to customers' quality assessment. For instance, Sasser, Olsen, and Wyckoff (1978) identified seven major attributes in the context of the service industry: security, consistency, attitude, completeness, conditions, availability, and training.
A few years later, ten dimensions were demonstrated in an exploratory study by Parasuraman, Zeithaml & Berry (1985); these were: tangibles, reliability, responsiveness, communication, credibility, security, competence, courtesy, understanding the customer, and access. Based on these ten dimensions of quality of service, Parasuraman et al. (1988) further refined these ten dimensions of service quality to five fundamental ones: tangibles, reliability, responsibility, assurance, and empathy; it was these five service quality attributes that comprise the basis for global measurement of service quality, namely, the aforementioned SERVQUAL (Jun & Yang 2002).
Librarians, just like any other business managers, would naturally be interested in their user's perceptions of the quality of services being provided, since this type of feedback is not reproducible in any other manner. It is little wonder, then, that so much attention has been paid to this subject in the recent past. Rafaeli (1989) examined the behavior of individuals to determine how they judged the quality of service they receive from various organizations (and eventually sought out or avoided those organizations).
Such theories of service transactions typically exclude the consideration of the role of emotions; this is clearly exemplified by the theory underlying the SERVQUAL measure, which focuses on aspects such as reliability, responsiveness, assurance, empathy, and tangibles (Parasuraman, Zeithaml & Berry, 1988). At the same time some researchers are working to integrate emotional experience into how we understand the interactions between service providers and customers (Otto, 1997). Rafaeli's focus has not been at the transaction level, but rather at the level of the service environment or "servicescape" (1989).
These studies make it clear that the service context of organizations conveys emotions and that these emotions then serve to affect consumer perceptions of service. Rafaeli, for instance, maintains that service contexts can be mapped based on customer perceptions of the degree to which customers experience emotions along three dimensions:
According to the ARL, the Texas A&M University Libraries and other libraries have employed modified SERVQUAL instruments for a number of years; based on the results of those applications, there was a need identified for a newly adapted tool that would serve the particular requirements of libraries. A partnership between ARL, which represented the largest research libraries in North America, and Texas A&M University Libraries, was used to develop, test, and refine LibQUAL+; this initiative was supported in part by a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) (What is LibQUAL+? 2004).
The ARL reports that LibQUAL+ is a comprehensive suite of services that libraries can employ to solicit, track, understand, and act upon users' opinions of the quality of library services being provided. These services are offered to the library community by the ARL.
The program's centerpiece is a rigorously tested Web-based survey bundled with training that helps libraries assess and improve library services, change organizational culture, and market the library" (What is LibQUAL+? 2004).
After several years of revisions involving data collection from more than 200,000 library users, LibQUAL+ has become a robust protocol comprised of "22 items and a box" (What is LibQUAL+? 2004:7). According to Cook and Thompson, between 1999-2000, 60 interviews were conducted with faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates at nine of the participating pilot institutions. A series of open-ended interviews that required between an hour to an hour and a half examined the perspective of library users concerning the variables that defined the delivery of quality library service in their experience. The 22 items used were both quantitative and qualitative measures, and were designed to assess user perceptions of:
1) Service Affect, 2) Information Control, and 3) Library as Place.
The "box" was intended to collect open-ended comments from users concerning their concerns and suggestions. These comments are an integral part of LibQUAL+; to date, almost half of the survey respondents have provided comments using the "box" (What is LibQUAL+ 2004). The survey that resulted from these pilot tests combined the 22 questions of the standard SERVQUAL with 19 questions that were specifically designed to measure the additional factors uncovered in the interviews. Although it may have been possible to have extended the pilot instrument to follow other qualitative leads, the researchers followed recent studies that suggested the optimal completion time of a web survey would be 13 minutes. According to Cook and Thompson, careful pre-tests of the web version proved out, and across all respondents to the survey as it was administered in spring 2000, the average time to completion was 11 minutes and 18 seconds (2001). As shown in Figure 1 below, during the first stage of the analysis, the 41 items on the survey were shown to cluster into five first-order factors, or dimensions:
1) Affect of Service;
3) Library as Place;
4) Provision of Physical Collections; and 5) Access to Information:
Figure 1. LibQUAL+ Pilot Survey Results, Spring 2000, Average Scores [Source: Cook & Thompson, 2001].
The first two dimensions are derived from the original SERVQUAL instrument; the other three emerged following the qualitative interviews and the resulting responses from more than 4,000 respondents. "While there is much work ahead to evaluate and validate the results of the first pilot phase, LibQUAL+ seems to have broken free from its SERVQUAL origins, and promises to more precisely measure the issues that the research library constituency deems important" (Cook & Thompson 2001:19).
To date, more than 400 institutions have participated in LibQUAL+ including colleges and universities, community colleges, health sciences libraries, law libraries, and public libraries; some of these institutions have participated through a variety of consortia, while others acted as independent participants (What is LibQUAL+? 2004).