Output measures

In Uncategorized

What are output measures?

Output measures are a means of measuring the effectiveness of library services and performance of a library i.e. measuring “what a library gives to the community” (Veatch, 1982, p. 11). According to Nancy Van House, “The purpose of output measures is to help managers make their libraries more effective. Increasing a library’s effectiveness requires a definition of effectiveness, so that the library staff know what they are striving for; criteria and measure of library effectiveness, to measure their progress; and some understanding of the factors that affect the measures, to guide efforts to increase effectiveness” (Van House, 1985, p.102). In other words, output measures are valuable in assessing and improving the management of libraries.


Circumstances leading up to the increasing use of Output Measures:

There were several reasons that resulted in the increasing use of output measures in the 1980s – there were many more librarians and researchers interested in conducting research relating to library management issues; libraries were increasingly growing in size and complexity; library managers were adopting new decision making strategies; non library researchers were discovering libraries because of their complex nature and tremendous scope for research; use of quantitative methods and evaluation research by librarians to remain competitive and increase efficiency of library services; evaluation requirement for grant funded projects; new planning focused on setting objectives and goals and which emphasized formal planning (Van House, 1989, p.268-269).


Significance and Use of Output Measures:

In 1982, the Public Library Association published Output Measures for Public Libraries: A Manual of Standardized Procedures (Chicago: American Library Association, 1982). This manual provided tools to improve efficiency of public libraries (McClure et al, 1986, p.49). It was a first step toward assisting libraries in collecting specific output data in a standardized manner. Since no single measure can determine the efficiency of a library, a variety of measures, twelve in total, along with methods to obtain data and report results were highlighted in the manual (Veatch, 1982, p.12). They are as follows –


  1. Circulation per capita
  2. In-library materials use per capita

  3. Library visits per capita

  4. Program attendance per capita

  5. Reference Transactions per capita

  6. Reference fill rate

  7. Title fill rate

  8. Subject and author fill rate

  9. Browser’s fill rate

  10. Registration as a percentage of population

  11. Turnover rate

  12. Document delivery


In the 1980s there was a radical shift in thinking regarding the use of national standards in evaluating output of public libraries. Library service planning was being framed on local or community needs, and there was a trend toward developing library objectives and goals to satisfy user needs. Library users therefore play an important role in evaluating a library’s performance. Success of a library also depends on the library’s ability to achieve these objectives and goals (Veatch, 1982, p. 11).


The twelve measures relate to objectives and goals that are common to most public libraries. Data for these measures can be collected with minimum effort and without disruption of services (Veatch, 1982, p. 12). Since there are “no pre-determined correct scores,” libraries are to interpret the “optimal scores” or results of the data in relation to their goals and objectives i.e. results to be interpreted to community within context of library and local needs (Veatch, 1982, p. 12). Therefore results of output measures would necessarily be different for different libraries. To further improve efficiency and determine progress, libraries are to compare results from previous years or with results of another library.


Output measures are used in academic, research and public libraries to assess their collections. Evaluation of collections helps understand its depth as well as the speed with which materials are easily obtained by the user. Outcomes of reference transactions help determine, from a librarian’s perspective, if reference questions are being successfully answered. Reference transactions are likely to be affected if the librarian is aware of being monitored during a reference transaction (Bunge, 1990, p.44). Library facilities i.e. size of library, seating, browsing and book shelf space, access to electronic resources etc, can be planned and organized better once evaluated or measured. Nolan Lushington points out that library services objectives can be related to space planning – “this is not to say that facilities alone will lead to increased use … but facilities improvements may be a necessary part of the service plan to reach that objective” (Lushington, 1987, p.393).




Bunge, C. (1990). Factors Related to Output Measures for Reference Services in Public Libraries: Data from Thirty-Six Libraries. Public Libraries, 29, 42-47.


Lushington, N. (1987). Output Measures and Library Space Planning. Library Trends, 36, 391-398.


McClure, C., Zweizig, D., Van House, N., & Lynch, M. (1986). Output Measures: Myths, Realities, and Prospects. Public Libraries, 25, 49-52.


Van House, N. (1989). Output Measures in Libraries. Library Trends, 38, 268-279.


Van House, N. (1985). Output Measures: Some Lessons from Baltimore County Public Library. Public Libraries, 24, 102-105.


Veatch, L. (1982). Output Measures for Public Libraries. Public Libraries, 21, 11-13.



Shilpa P. Rele