Libraries are an extremely important asset to local communities, but membership numbers and lending statistics only address a small part of the value of a library to its community.
Measuring the role of libraries and the value communities place on them gives libraries the ability to engage more deeply with the public, impact the community more strongly, and provide an evidence-based argument for greater funding. Using standardised measures means that libraries can learn from direct comparisons with their peers, or from wider sector trends and insights.
In 2016, a project paper commissioned by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), Australian Public Library Alliance (APLA), and National and State Libraries Australasia (NSLA) established draft national standards and guidelines with which to help public libraries better measure and report on their activity. Culture Counts worked with these peak body representatives to help test the draft outcomes and identify the best tools for capturing and analysing feedback from the community. View the 2016 Pilot Report >
In 2019, Culture Counts and Public Libraries Australia reached out to the PLA membership to pick up where the pilot left off. Members were looking for:
- A certified evaluation framework that lets libraries consistently monitor and benchmark performance.
- A common survey platform to easily collect feedback on the impact of their work including community engagement, digital inclusion, literacy and lifelong learning.
- A shared reporting dashboard that generates insights and comparisons to support their reporting, strategies and community impact.
Where we are now
The Public Libraries Evaluation Network was established to help generate a greater understanding of how to measure, analyse, and articulate the unique value of libraries for the community, provide ongoing opportunities for participating libraries to share learnings with each other, and give feedback on evaluation measures and methods.
The nation-wide data collection initiative is now in its fourth year, with more than 30 participating libraries across Australia collecting over 24,000 survey responses from library members, communities and stakeholders. The comprehensive data set is a strong advocacy tool demonstrating the vital outcomes generated by libraries. It provides unparalleled opportunities for participants to deeply understand their impact and reach, and learn from other libraries.