Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Challenge of Assessing Digital Library Services

As the world of technology continues to grow, the options for libraries to reach their users electronically can seen overwhelming at times. Should a library have a Facebook profile? A Second Life presence? How about offering reference service via text messaging or video chat?

Sarah Houghton-Jan, Digital Futures Manager at the San Jose Public Library, emphasized the importance of planning and evaluation to assure libraries are most efficiently and effectively utilizing available technology.

While it may be tempting to jump right in and catch up with the latest technological fad - say, start a Twitter feed - a technology plan can help save headaches down the road.

Houghton-Jan suggested surveying users first to know on what types of services a library should concentrate its efforts. Librarians should ask their users what technologies they own and use, and whether they would use these to interact with the library. For example, if only 5 percent of a library's users are active in Second Life, dedicating much time and resources to creating a Second Life presence may not be the most efficient use of a library's resources.

Houghton-Jan also encouraged creating a "hierarchy of needs" to inform a library's technology plan. This pyramid of what is required and what is desired can help the library prioritize resources.

Evaluation is also a key part of a technology plan, and Houghton-Jan emphasized the importance of setting evaluation goals prior to implementation. If you are measuring success as change in use, you will need to take a baseline measurement to be able to compare results.

When evaluating the success of a service, it is also important to evaluate the library's followthrough on promotion of and training for the new service, which could also affect statistics.

Once a library has completed evaluation, it can make an informed decision on whether to continue a service, modify it, or do more promotion or training. And Houghton-Jan said libraries should not be afraid to discontinue a service if the evaluation results warrant it.

"Discontinuing a service is not failing," said Houghton-Jan. "Persisting in a failed effort is failing."

- Lori Ann Saeki

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