Chapter 1: Academic library services: quality and leadership – Libraries for Users


Academic library services: quality and leadership

Universities in a globalised setting

Even though there is no agreement on the elements that comprise excellence in higher education, in the past decade we have witnessed a veritable explosion in university rankings. We can cite, for example, the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)1 published by the Center for World-Class Universities and the Institute of Higher Education of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. This system emphasises publications, citations and academic prizes, especially in science and technology. The QS World University Rankings2 relies heavily on academic peer review (which accounts for 40 per cent). The SCImago Institutions Rankings (SIR)3 is built with data from Elsevier database Scopus. The SIR 2009 World Report ranks the best 2,000 worldwide research institutions and organisations and analyses their research performance in the period 2003–7 through five global output indicators. In turn, Webometrics Ranking of World Universities4 produced by the Cybermetrics Lab (National Research Council of Spain), offers information about more than 8,000 universities according to their web presence, a computerised assessment of the scholarly contents and visibility and impact of the whole university web domain.

Obviously, the results are not all similar because of the relative weight assigned to the indicators used, which means that we can find a single institution with widely divergent rankings depending on the list chosen. A careful statistical analysis of international ranking concludes that there is broad consensus about the first 10–12 universities, but after that the lists begin to diverge. The lack of an absolute set of performance criteria may mean that ‘world class’ standing will probably be based more on academic reputation than on a set of formal standards (Mohrman et al., 2008).

The popularity of this kind of ranking is a clear sign of the globalisation of knowledge and the internationalisation of university teaching. The more traditional comparisons among institutions within a single country have been eclipsed by observations that scrutinise a university’s position beyond the restricted political or linguistic frontiers.

In this context, networks of excellence have arisen. The International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU)5 is perhaps the network that best illustrates this phenomenon. It was set up in 2006 and includes ten leading research universities: Australian National University, ETH Zurich, National University of Singapore, Peking University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Cambridge, University of Copenhagen, Oxford University, University of Tokyo and Yale University. Equally noteworthy is the fact that several universities have set up a group that they define as the ‘Emerging Global Model (EGM)’ for the university of the twenty-first century. Mohrman et al. (2008) argue that the development of the EGM is both a response to and an influence upon the major factors in contemporary society. EGM universities look worldwide for research partners, graduate students, prospective faculty and financial resources. This group of global universities will form an elite subset in a larger universe of higher education institutions. The growth of international university associations demonstrates the interdependence of EGM universities through transnational activities.

Without downplaying the controversy over the methodology used in this kind of ranking, we believe that they are yet another element reinforcing higher education’s commitment to evaluation and quality and acting as an incentive and stimulus in the quest for excellence in institutions’ teaching and research. In European universities, the political measures aimed at intensifying research competitiveness and restructuring higher education systems have been ratcheted up in recent years. A well-known multinational organisation is the European Union’s Erasmus Mundus Programme,6 a cooperation and mobility initiative that enhances the quality of European higher education and promotes the European Union as a centre of excellence in learning around the world.

The EFQM Model of Excellence was established as a guide for rating the organisations that vied for the European Quality Award created by the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM).7 On 29 September 2009, the results of the revision of the EFQM Excellence Model were presented and a new version of the 2010 EFQM Model was previewed at the Annual EFQM Forum in Brussels. This model will coexist with the current model dating from 2003 throughout 2010.

Today EFQM is being accepted as a management model by organisations that are seeking institutional excellence, and it is a benchmark in Europe for excellence as its design encompasses the most up-to-date management practices within an organisation. This model is based on self-assessment and defines the parameters that must be taken into account in order to assess the maturity of the management system within any organisation.

EFQM applies the concept of quality to higher education by defining quality as the degree to which a continuum of differentiating features inherent in higher education fulfils a given need or expectation. Quality is an asset of an institution or programme that fulfils the standards preset by an accreditation agency. In order to be properly measured, this usually involves the evaluation of teaching, learning, management and results.8

The European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA)9 was established in 2000 to promote European cooperation in the field of quality assurance. The idea for the association originates from the European Pilot Project for Evaluating Quality in Higher Education (1994–5), which demonstrated the value of sharing and developing experiences in the area of quality assurance. Subsequently, the idea was given momentum by the Recommendation of the Council (98/561/EC of 24 September 1998) on European cooperation in quality assurance in higher education and by the Bologna Declaration of 1999. The European Commission has, through grant support, financed the activities of ENQA since the very beginning. The third edition of Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area was published in 2009 (European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education – ENQA, 2009).

Likewise, the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR)10 aims at increasing the transparency of quality assurance and thus enhancing trust and confidence in European higher education. EQAR will list quality assurance agencies that operate in Europe and have proven their credibility and reliability in a review against the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (ESG). It publishes and manages a register of quality assurance agencies that substantially comply with the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (ESG) to provide the public with clear and reliable information on quality assurance agencies operating in Europe.

The different European Union member states have their own national and/or regional quality evaluation and accreditation agencies with the goal of contributing to improving the quality of the higher education systems through the evaluation, certification and accreditation of their programmes, faculty, institutions and services, including libraries.11

In a competitive and internationalised context, evaluation processes can spring from a regulatory requirement – either regional or nationwide – or can be conducted on the initiative of the institution itself in an effort to consolidate or accentuate the university’s prestige. The library must have solid grounding in quality management in order to adapt to the demands of the evaluations it might be subjected to in order to support the institutional strategies.

Quality in academic libraries

A university library is a key element in the institution it serves and is one of the indisputable indicators for measuring its quality. For this reason, as a provider of services that make teaching activities, learning and research activities possible, and with responsibilities in providing lifelong training for graduates, the library is fully immersed in the processes of quality assessment in higher education.

The most frequently cited definition of quality is the one contained in the ISO 9000 standard (ISO 9000, 2005), in which quality is described as ‘the consistent conformance of a product or service to a given set of standards or expectations’. In turn, the ISO 11620:1998 (ISO 11620, 1998) norm views quality as the set of all the characteristics of a product or service that affect the library’s capacity to meet either stated or implicit needs.

The principles and practice of quality management have evolved in recent decades. As Gimeno Perelló (2009: 40–1) points out, four significant stages in quality management can be pinpointed: inspection, quality control, quality assurance and finally total quality management (TQM) and management of organisational excellence. University libraries in the United States were the first ones to introduce quality models, systems and plans into their management. At first, library quality was viewed as the quality of the technical processes and, to a lesser extent, the services. This conception has gradually evolved towards quality in patron satisfaction, as, indeed, a twenty-first century academic library must be a highly efficient organisation oriented towards its patrons.

However, the perception of a library’s quality will differ among stakeholder groups, as underscored by Poll and Boekhorst (2007: 15):

Users see library quality according to their experience with the service they use. They will not care for the efficiency of background processes, but for the effective delivery of services. The funding or parent institution will be interested in the library’s benefit to the institution and in the library’s cost-effectiveness. Staff, on the other hand, will rate the libraries’ quality by their working conditions, by adequate offers for further education, and by an efficient organisation.

Along these lines, the ACRL Standards for Libraries in Higher Education (2004) states that a comprehensive assessment requires the involvement of all categories of library users as well as a sampling of non-users. The choice of clientele to be surveyed and questions to be asked should be made by the library administration and staff with the assistance of an appropriate advisory committee. Questions should relate to how well the library supports its mission and how well it achieves its goals and objectives.

Methods of evaluating quality

Evaluation requires the use of a standard, rigorous methodology that systematically yields objective information, both qualitative and quantitative, which makes decision-making possible. It is wise for the library to have an evaluation and improvement plan.

The evaluation methodology is not an end in itself; rather it is a way of helping to achieve and ensuring sound end results. A quality evaluation plan with an ad hoc methodology cannot be called a plan per se; rather, it is an effort that is lacking a tool or procedure to guide it (Gimeno Perelló, 2009: 79).

ISO 9000 quality norms

Since 1987, the year when they appeared, these norms have become increasingly widely used, especially in business, which has meant that a rising number of information services that support companies are also managed according to these norms. They are a set of rules mainly targeted at comprehensive quality management systems or TQM. They began to be used in libraries in the United Kingdom and the Nordic countries in the late 1980s.

According to Balagué Mola (2007), the ISO 9000 series encompasses a variety of norms, but today the only certifiable one is the ISO 9001:2000 (the fourth version is the ISO 9001:2008). ISO 9001 is being adopted by public institutions; it is based on process management and it is applied in the libraries of higher education institutions of all sizes, regardless of whether the library system is made up of a single library or an extensive network with numerous service points and locations scattered about several campuses. The conclusions of the exhaustive study by Balagué Mola which surveys quality management based on the ISO 9001 norm in libraries of higher education institutions in up to 34 countries stresses that the factors holding the greatest weight when deciding to launch a certification process are the desires to improve the quality of the library services and to improve the university’s strategy on quality matters. External factors like the existence of other libraries with this certification and the prestige of the norm are not so decisive and are secondary when deciding on certification. Instead, what prevail are factors aimed at improving the organisation internally. In short, the libraries earn the certification in order to have a true, comprehensive system of quality management, not only a marketing tool.

According to Balagué, the implementation of ISO 9001 is a major first step in implementing other more holistic quality initiatives which libraries must be willing to consider. The future of ISO 9001 in libraries does not involve a restrictive position, rather an integrative one within the framework of TQM that is open to other techniques and models.

EFQM Model

As mentioned above, this was designed by the European Foundation for Quality Management. It is one of the most widely used evaluation methodologies in Europe. The model is based on self-assessment, and its goal is to help organisations get to know themselves better and as a result to improve their performance. The EFQM Guide outlines three phases or stages of evaluation: self-evaluation or internal evaluation (which comes with tables of figures and indicators to be used and the excellence matrix), external evaluation (which includes tools prepared to facilitate the committee’s efforts at analysis and synthesis) and the Final Evaluation Report (which asks for an assessment of the contrast between the library’s internal and external evaluation processes; it also includes a section to synthesise the results on each sub-criterion, and another for strong and weak points; it finally includes an improvement plan).

The strongest points of this model according to Gimeno Perelló (2009: 95–96) are the following:

 It shows the status of the library on its pathway towards excellence, helping to identify both problems and their solutions.

 It serves as a foundation for the planning and management process as it enables strong and weak points to be detected and actions to be prepared to improve them, as well as the possibility of benchmarking.

 The model is transversal in nature.

 It provides management of external alliances, especially in contexts in which networks, consortia and other forms of partnership are particularly important.

In short, TQM as a new management philosophy encompasses all the library’s activities, processes and services in an effort towards constant improvement. It goes beyond the organisation itself to also include suppliers and clients, a concept that includes both the person who receives the product and anyone who takes part in the productive process. The four basic points of TQM are: keeping the improvement of products and services as the main objective; acting so that quality does not depend on inspections; constantly training staff; and eliminating barriers among services. This situation requires the library to constantly strive to adapt and work with its users through innovation, creativity and cooperation (Pinto et al., 2007).

User-oriented quality

As Brophy (2005: 60–2) stresses, it is fundamental for quality management that ‘quality’ be understood as being inextricably linked to user satisfaction; the user is the focus of judgements about quality. Additionally, higher and further education institutions are working in the public sector, where much of their responsibility is to society as a whole. For this reason, Brophy broadly interprets the academic library’s stakeholders by including, for example, former students, the higher education funding councils, the national and international research community, the local or regional library community, etc.

User satisfaction is measured by the sound quality of the services, including: customer care, bibliographic reference, virtual reference, user training, information literacy, reading room, loans, conditions of facilities, OPAC, website, digital collections, accessibility, etc. Yet academic libraries’ quality plans must also respond to crucial issues like: the degree to which the library is integrated into teaching in the case of Europe with the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), the degree to which it is integrated into research, its degree of commitment with the institution, the collection’s fit with the curricula of the degrees offered, open access repository and quantity and quality of accessible materials, ease of electronic publishing of research studies and publications, the library’s integration into the classroom or virtual campus.

Quality in the library means having the state-of-the-art evaluation mechanisms and tools that enable libraries to act on the results. Furthermore, quality must be particularly linked to knowing and understanding users’ needs and expectations. The library must have an organisation, processes and systems that are properly structured and targeted at user satisfaction.

Library staff involvement and a proactive attitude are necessary for working with a new philosophy with quality, evaluation and strategic planning as the cornerstones. As part of the policy of total quality, improvement groups can be set up in libraries as a tool for improving their efficiency, optimising their resources and establishing methodologies and instruments for learning more about users’ needs, specifications and requirements. Improvement groups foster teamwork and especially participation and consensus. University libraries have also sought a greater commitment to users by drawing up and publicising menus of services that include a list of services available as well as specific quality pledges, along with the indicators that are used to measure their degree of fulfilment.

For years, university libraries have been gathering statistics that have gradually become more comprehensive and reliable. These instruments are extremely important and today comprise key databases in decision-making within the sector. The ARL statistics have been collected and published for the members of the Association every year since 1961–2.12 The Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) in the United Kingdom began to gather statistics in 1987. Creaser (2009) lists a wide range of uses for the SCONUL statistical products, which are divided into three groups: service evaluation used by individual libraries, benchmarking and advocacy.

As Poll and Boekhorst (2007: 31–42) accurately point out, libraries have always been capable of calculating the input into their services (funding, staff, collections, space, equipment) and the output of those services (loans, visits, downloads, reference transactions, etc.). Measures have also been developed for assessing the quality of library services and the cost-efficiency of the library’s performance. Performance measurement evaluates whether a library is effective and efficient in delivering its services. However, they also caution that the quantity of use and quality of performance do not yet prove that users benefited from their interaction with a library. Measuring impact or outcome means as reflected in Figure 1.1, going a step further and trying to assess the effect of services on users and on society. Outcome or impact means that there is a change in user’s skills, knowledge or behaviour.

Figure 1.1 Measuring impact or outcome Source: Poll and Boekhorst (2007: 31).

Poll and Boekhorst speak about short-term effects (find relevant information, solve a problem, save time in their work, gain searching skills, gain self-reliance in using information, etc.) and long-term effects of using library services (higher information literacy, higher academic or professional success, changes in attitudes and motivation, and changes in information behaviour). The changes can be represented in a pyramidal fashion, ranging from the cognitive impact (knowledge acquisition) to changes in attitudes and opinions, and finally to changes in behaviour.

Determining whether a library provides good service has been a constant concern for several decades now. In Europe, the point of departure was the Follett Report (Joint Funding Council, 1993), which stressed the need for a strategic change in British libraries and recommended the use of a series of coherent, generic performance indicators. Since then, major studies like the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and ISO have been joined by numerous projects and proposals, including EQUINOX,13 eVALUEd,14 COUNTER,15 etc. (Poll and Payne, 2006; Poll and Boekhorst, 2007).

Regardless of whether the methods are quantitative or qualitative, we agree with Brophy (2005: 194) on the imperative need to pay special attention to how the indicators are interpreted. Evaluating the performance of a university library is a matter of enormous complexity that goes beyond individual qualities and that after years of experience seems to be headed towards a synthesis in which the best of the different methodological approaches are being used.

Because of its prominence and international expansion, the Model LibQual + ®16 deserves a special mention of its own. It dates back to 1999 as a project to adapt the ServQual model developed by Texas A&M University (TAMU) and Association of Research Libraries (ARL). It is a standard for measuring users’ degree of satisfaction with the services offered by libraries. It is a suite of services that libraries use to solicit, track, understand and act upon users’ opinions of service quality. These services are offered to the library community by the ARL. The programme’s centrepiece is a rigorously tested web-based survey bundled with training that helps libraries assess and improve library services, change organisational culture and market the library. The 22 core survey items measure user perceptions of service quality in three dimensions: Service Affect, Information Control and Library as Place. To ensure the validity of the responses, each dimension is assessed through a variety of questions. The goals of LibQUAL + ® are:

 to foster a culture of excellence in providing library service;

 to help libraries better understand perceptions of library service quality;

 to collect and interpret library user feedback systematically over time;

 to provide libraries with comparable assessment information from peer institutions;

 to identify best practices in library service; and

 to enhance library staff members’ analytical skills for interpreting and acting on data.

More than 1,000 libraries have participated in LibQUAL + ®, and the model has been implemented in 17 countries. Kyrillidou et al. (2008) conducted an exhaustive survey of the articles published that document the use of this model. The most important development in LibQUAL + ® in recent years took place in 2008 when the ARL/Texas A&M research and development team tested an alternative form of the conventional LibQUAL + ® survey, called ‘LibQUAL + ® Lite’ (Thompson et al., 2009). The Lite protocol uses item sampling methods to gather data on all 22 LibQUAL + ® core items, while only requiring given individual users to respond to a subset of the 22 core questions. The LibQUAL + ® Lite protocol is being implemented in such a manner that individual libraries will determine what percentage of their users will randomly be assigned the traditional LibQUAL + ® protocol and what percentage will randomly be assigned the LibQUAL + ® Lite protocol.

Leading libraries in service provision

Quality is the users’ perception when comparing a product or service with others and with their own expectations. Therefore, it is a social construct. Quality is always relative, it is dynamic in nature and it is constantly evolving. Higher education and university libraries are consumer goods governed by market laws and the attitudes and preferences that influence citizens’ perceptions. For this reason, a quality management system must make it possible for the services that a library provides to be constantly adapted and improved. We must evaluate in order to evolve along with our users.

The concept of leadership bears a close relationship to quality management, so the EFQM model is grounded on strong leadership exerted over policy planning and the strategy for managing human resources, material resources and partner organisations with the purpose of improving the processes. In the end, this will lead to improved customer satisfaction, providing key performance results for the organisation, which thus learns from itself and constantly improves on its pathway to excellence.

The challenges and demands of higher education institutions in a setting which is internationalised and competitive, as mentioned above, require libraries focused on users with rigorous quality policies that enable them to act as leading organisations within the university itself and in society as a whole. It should come as no surprise that Rowley and Roberts (2009: 197) believe that ‘higher education and academic librarianship are being re-shaped by the actions of professionals and the institutions in which they work’. They add that ‘the information profession and its members have no choice but to exercise influential leadership, to act in a more entrepreneurial style, seeking out ways in which to add value and make significant contributions to the organization’s goals that go beyond the traditional parameters of an information service’ (Rowley and Roberts, 2009: 198).

University libraries are facing complex challenges stemming primarily from the digital environment, which has drastically transformed the context of education, access to information resources and the way the library traditionally operated to support learning and research. We believe that this challenge must be seized upon as a chance to set up ambitious plans that reinforce library services creatively and innovatively.


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