The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Feb 19, 2012

How libraries can track their impact in the digital age

Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller

Seattle Central Library. Photo Credit: Flickr user Thomas Hawk.

Librarians from across the country are gathered this weekend in Miami to re-envision the future of the library in a digital world, as part of Knight Foundation’s Libraries Initiative.

And while libraries have become hubs for experimentation and learning in the digital age, they face a challenge: they don’t currently have a way to measure the impact that reflects that evolution, said Amy Webb, CEO, WebbMedia Group, who helped kick off the gathering Saturday night.

To solve that problem, Webbmedia Group released, for the first time, a toolkit offering new ways for libraries to measure community impact, helping them “go beyond just the measurement of book circulation and foot traffic,” Webb said.

The “Key Performance Indicator Toolkit” provides an overview of what metrics libraries should track in the digital age, how to track them, suggestions for sharing and measuring library content and recommendations for evaluating the impact of a library’s core digital services.

The toolkit provides over 50 different ways to measure that impact and also creates a framework for librarians to set benchmarks for success. Some of these metrics include measuring customer satisfaction, direct customer support, tracking computer productivity and usage and customers’ use of digital content.   

In the toolkit, an InfoStat Scorecard helps note what items to measure, specific inputs and outputs and preliminary benchmarks. There’s also a section on how a library system could use social media to help better serve customers.

Webb also offered ideas of scalable projects and ideas for public libraries, such as creating a program where patrons who have experience with technology can  “adopt” a librarian and mentor them on emerging technology trends.  Another idea is to provide access to shared workspace for local tech savvy members of the community and start up technology entrepreneurs to engage new audiences in spending time in the library.

The toolkit’s release marks the first time that a set of metrics has been introduced to the library community in this fashion, Webb said. It was done in partnership with the Chicago Public Library System. A digital copy of the toolkit, which is available for free, is available online at Webbmedia Group.

The two-day conference is part of Knight Foundation’s Libraries Initiative, which helps libraries in 27 cities become true digital community centers that help foster informed and engaged communities.  The Libraries Initiative is led by Knight Foundation’s Director/IT Jorge Martinez.

To follow the second day of the conference, follow @knightfdn on Twitter and use the hashtag #libraries.

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