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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa

Standards and measures of performance

Standards and measures of performance

Virtually all the debate and action about standards for service has stemmed from the NZLA/NZLIA, but the establishment of library education at Victoria University and the introduction of advanced studies has generated research of interest to libraries. A clear statement of the research needs of the sector was made by O'Neill (1965) and with reference to the public libraries by Malvina Overy (1965).

Research undertaken has been individual and isolated, not part of a plan. There is no institute of library research in New Zealand nor any agency serving that purpose, although the National Library of New Zealand within its purposes clearly has an obligation to foster development of knowledge about library service. The Library has undertaken some pieces of research, and the Trustees of the Library have funded individual studies and research in response to applications.

A statistician in the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, working as an interested library user, demonstrated what could be achieved on a small scale with modest application of analytical methods, in three pieces of research and analysis he did in the 1960s and 1970, taking small public libraries as his subject. One of these exercises was based on analysis of the late-lamented date-due slip, which yielded a wealth of information about borrowing patterns: Roberts (1966, 1973, 1981).

The development of published standards for libraries was in part a political exercise (to support bids for higher levels of funding) and in part a professional response (to demands for better management). Standards documents were produced for the libraries of technical institutes, special libraries, and teachers colleges, in each case by the professional groups associated with the type of library. The standards for public library service were the more robust, being first developed in the early 1950s: O'Neill (1952), and maintained through a number of subsequent editions published by the NZLA (eg. 1966, 1980).

The National Library in its particular way applied a set of standards to the public libraries which it supported through Country Library Service. Its Guide for Public Libraries (1978) presented a set of minimum requirements for organisation and performance, which were a condition of granting aid to those libraries.

It was only to be expected that the late 1980s would see a shift from input standards, which is what these earlier standards had been, to measures and standards of output. In the case of public libraries the profession looked at various methodologies. The most attractive was that which had been devised by the Public Library Association, United States. The director of that organisation came to New Zealand in 1989 to explain and promote the methodology: Rodger (1990). However, within a couple of years an alternative methodology was being developed in New Zealand, designed to match our peculiar conditions. It depended heavily on the consensus of all parties involved in service as to what constituted sound measures of service success: Cullen and Calvert (1992a-b).

In a further development since that date the NZLIA has produced a manual for assessing the economic value of libraries, designed once again to support claims for increased funding, or at least sustained funding: NZLIA and Coopers and Lybrand (1996).