在2013年初芬蘭坎培爾大學的Pertti Vakkari教授榮獲資訊科學和技術的專業學會(ASIS&T，Association for Information Science and Technology)在資訊行為研究的傑出成就獎，他研究主要貢獻在資訊行為和資訊搜尋策略(註1)。根據他在Google Scholar的引用文獻統計，他在資訊搜尋上的著作被引用次數達200次以上的文章就有4篇，可見其Task-based Information searching研究受到重視知程度(註2)。
1. What differences are there between output and outcome evaluations and how would you define them?
2. Would you tell us what are the major drivers for the libraries that shifted from output to outcome?
3. Are there any differences between the outcome dimensions of an academic library to those of a public library?
4. What are the trends and development challenges for the public library outcome evaluation today?
From output to outcome evaluation
Evaluation literature makes a distinction between outputs and outcomes of a system or service. Outputs are the products delivered by a system, whereas outcomes are the benefits the system produces to its users (Rossi, Lipsey & Freeman, 2004). Rubin (2006) specifies the benefits as changes in user knowledge, skills, behavior or attitudes. In the library and information world there is a shift in evaluation paradigm from counting the outputs to observing the outcomes, i.e. the benefits the library brings about in users’ lives.
Earlier it was typical to indicate the library’s influence in its community by observing the number of transactions between users and library be they the number of loans, visits or reference questions answered. This may tell in part to what extent the library reaches its community or the demand of services, but it does not inform how the library benefits its clients. Instead of counting e.g. the number of book loans, the emphasis is on how the loans benefit readers. Reading a book may e.g. increase one’s knowledge on a topic like the history of Taiwan or help one recovering from daily responsibilities. The growth of personal knowledge and recovery are examples of the benefits the library produces to the users by its outputs.
Manifesting library’s value
The increasing availability of information and services on the Internet has provided people with ample alternatives to paying a visit to the local library. Search engines like Google, recommender systems on sites of book vendors like Amazon and the multitude of free information on the Internet are competing with the services of public libraries. Add to that the public spending cuts due to the current economic recession in large areas of the world, and it becomes understandable that local and other authorities have begun to question the self-evidence of their investment of taxpayers’ money in the public library systems (Vakkari et al. 2014).
The emphasis on evidence-based policy in public decision-making requires service institutions to justify their claims on the value of services to the community and citizens by qualitative or quantitative evidence. It is not enough just to claim e.g. “that investing in the public library is investing in citizens well-being”. The politicians expect the public library to provide empirical evidence for backing its claims about the importance of services.
These two trends have activated libraries to arrive at indicators for what good the library brings about for its patrons, their communities and society at large. Different terms - outcome measurement, impact assessment or value assessment - are used for what is roughly the same practice for inferring outcome indicators.
Outcomes in public and academic libraries
In academic libraries it is less complicated to derive outcome indicators compared to public libraries. The former have less diffuse outcome dimensions compared to the latter. The public library is expected to advance a broad range of goals from recreation to learning. At universities it is typical to distinguish between learning, research and external service (societal impact) as the major goals of the activity. Therefore, the outcomes of academic libraries should be related to advancing these goals. Academic libraries reflect and operationalize how their services support effective learning, high quality research and influential external service. Perhaps most demanding is to explicate the mechanisms, which connect the benefits of library services to the expected outcomes of the university.
Developing public library outcome evaluation
There are excellent manuals for establishing outcome indicators in public libraries. They steer almost by hand the design process of defining service goals, outcome indicators for reaching these goals and criteria of success in goal achievement. However, the manuals do not liberate the librarians to reflect their own goals, outcome indicators and success criteria, because the context of library services varies considerably between municipalities. These indicators may produce clear figures of the extent to which the goals are met or to what extent the clients derive benefits from the library. In the assessment process, it is important to distinguish the contribution of a particular library service or program to the outcomes from the impact of other possible factors. These may be e.g. the provisions of parallel, competing services. One means to elaborate the contribution of the library to the outcomes is to sketch models representing the mechanisms, which connect library services to the expected outcomes, i.e. in which way the use of a certain service supports users to derive the intended benefits. In general, reflecting the mechanisms that produce public libraries’ intended outcomes increases our understanding of the benefits the library brings about in users’ lives.
1.Inside ASIS&T, Bulletin, December 2012/January 2013 http://www.asis.org/Bulletin/Dec-12/DecJan13_Inside.html
2.Pertti Vakkari, Google Scholar, http://scholar.google.com/citations?user=eOp9s9wAAAAJ&hl=en
3.Pertti Vakkari, Perceived outcomes of public libraries in Finland,(2012) http://www.siob.nl/media/documents/pertti-vakkari-alleen-lezen.pdf
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