Random House defines the word effective as “adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result.” As an intangible concept, it can only be measured through subjective means.
What to Test
One aspect to test is whether reference librarians are effective. That is, whether they answer questions posed to them and/or whether these answers are correct. Such studies as done by Thomas Childers and Beth Woodard reflect this measurement. In his study, Childers (1978) tried to “capture a realistic, objective picture of reference and information service…from the client’s point of view” (p. 1). He noted whether answers given were correct, mostly correct, mostly wrong, or wrong, and took into account whether the answers given in referrals fit these categories. Woodard observed whether the answers given by graduate students at the information desk were correct, and whether proper referrals were given, as opposed to the students attempting questions they might not properly answer.
Another aspect is whether the library accommodates the user, so that he/she will want to return. Edward Miller (1973) focused his study on users having a say in the “decision-making process” (p. 151) of the library, thus lending their voice to changes that management sought to implement.
How to Test
There are several methods for testing effectiveness. Unobtrusive studies try to get a realistic picture of actual librarian responses by not informing the librarian that he/she is being studied. This is meant to save anxiety and stress that can be produced from a testing environment by seeing performance in a natural setting. Obtrusive studies are done with librarians aware that they are being tested. This might be more in the form of an exam or a pseudo-encounter in which an official asks a reference question and notes how the reference librarian responds. Questionnaires are more geared for users to fill out regarding library performance.
The studies of Childers and Woodard use unobtrusive methods. Childers used seven “proxies” to ask a cluster of libraries twenty-one questions with varying content, so that libraries that communicated would not get suspicious. These questions ranged from factual questions to question negotiation, and no intricate queries were included. Woodard used one-hundred “surrogates” made up of undergraduates, graduates, staff, and faculty to ask two questions to the graduates at the information desk at various times. I have not yet encountered a study that used obtrusive methods, though there has been mention of them in these papers.
Miller spoke of formulating questionnaires to address alternatives for changes in library operations. Users had to evaluate each alternative on a 1 to 100 percent scale “based on the value to him of having that change made” (Miller, 1973, p. 151). When multiplied to the feasibility that management would adopt a certain alternative, the highest score (that is, the option that both users and management felt to be the best plan) would be established.
To Take into Account
In trying to measure the effectiveness of library procedures, it is important to understand that the results will mean different things for different people in different situations. Thus it can only be defined in terms of a satisfactory outcome. This adds a level of complexity that should be noted before undertaking any experiments or interpreting any data.
1) Childers, Thomas A. (1978). ‘‘The Effectiveness of Information Service in Public Libraries: Suffolk County. Final Report.’’ Philadelphia: Drexel University. School of Library and Information Science.
2) Flexner, Stuart B. & Hauck, Leonore C. (1993). Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition. New York: Random House Inc.
3) Miller, Edward P. (1973). An Effectiveness Measure for Information Center Operations. In Waldron, Helen & Long, Raymond (Eds.), ‘‘Innovative developments in information systems: their benefits and costs, proceedings of the 36th annual meeting of the American Society for Information Science.’’ (pp. 151-152). Westport: Greenwood Press.
4) Woodard, Beth S. (1989). The Effectiveness of an Information Desk Staffed by Gradutate Students and Nonprofessionals. ‘‘College and Research Libraries, 50’’, 455-467.
Laura R. Gonzales