OBA

10 Jan

I love Library Journal‘s articles this month.  I also love Annoyed Librarian, but that’s an unrelated comment I just had to add.

For me, LJ is typically a love/like/hate relationship because I use it for collection development (the love), the occasional article (the like), but what doesn’t work is the seemingly single-minded focus on public libraries with the passing nod to academic libraries (the hate).  My library doesn’t fit into any of those, so for the most part LJ gives me information I have to do Pilates on in order to derive some applicable meaning.

Not this month.  January 2012 has a great article called “Moving from Outputs to Outcomes” and if you’ve ever wondered or had to justify your existence to anyone, I recommend you read it.  There are a lot of great ideas in there, but one stuck with me: librarians like numbers we can show to people, like X% increase in circulation over last year with only Y% new volumes added to the collection, all with a budget of $Z!  Those are all output numbers, and are important in the running of any business.  As we (should) all know, libraries are indeed businesses.

The article then discusses a logic model that suggests a new measure for your library’s value, based on outcome instead of output.  They called it “squishy” versus “hard”, squishy being outcomes.  The formula is something like: In this year, we will implement X policy/procedure/etc, which will lead to Y result/action/skill, ultimately leading to Z outcome for the library/patrons/the community.  It’s assessable because it has steps that must go in sequence and each step is measurable.  Did you implement X?  Why not, or how did that happen?  Did it lead to Y result, and why or why not?  What was Z, and was it what you expected?  The outcome itself is intangible, but think of it like the workshops we conduct, on a larger scale.  A person comes with X goal, we teach them Y, and they leave knowing how to Z.  We can certainly say that by doing a workshop on Facebook, patrons come to learn how to use it, we teach them to set up a profile/timeline/page, and they leave better able to connect with family and friends or market their product.

What do you think of this outcome-based assessment (OBA)? Do you think outcomes are more important than outputs, vice versa, or equal?  If outcomes are more important, why haven’t we taken to illustrating that import in a way that makes sense for what we attempt to accomplish, instead of numbers?  Does your library use any methodology like this?  I’m eager to hear your thoughts!

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