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Performance measurement and KPI selection in the library services sector


Library KPIs

With an estimated number of 122.566 establishments of all kinds (public, academic and school libraries) only in the Unites States (American Library Association, 2010), the public library sector is of major importance for the long-term development of the mankind, collecting and making available for use valuable sources of information people need and use in all-related aspects of life.

Performance measurement in the public library sector has a long history. An important event was the establishment of the EQUINOX project , a European-wide initiative, funded by the Telematics for Libraries Program (from the European Commission). Launched in 1998, it aimed to expand the traditional performance measures with indicators for the electronic library environment, on one hand and, on the other hand, develop an integrated tool for quality management and performance measurement addressing library managers’ needs. This initiative emerged from the conclusions of former projects that outlined the need to support managers of hybrid (traditional & electronic) libraries, from a more flexible performance measurement and quality management perspective that was the ISO 9002.

However, by 2004, at the time of the World Summit on the Information Society, the Statistics and Evaluation section of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) website still did not establish a set of “robust” global library statistics. To address this need a Global library statistics development initiative was put in place (Ellis, Heaney, Meunier, Poll, 2009) and several “core indicators” were identified, focusing on five levels:

  • Access and facilities (i.e # Average number of libraries per 1000 inhabitants)
  • Collection (i.e # Average number of volumes in public libraries per 1000 literate inhabitants)
  • Library use and users (i.e # Registered users in higher education libraries as a percentage of number of students)
  • Library staff (i.e # Average number of employees in public libraries)
  • Expenditure (i.e $ Expenditure on literature and information per inhabitant in public libraries)

Along with these macro initiatives, individual libraries have their own performance measurement efforts. Why should they focus on that? Because of at least three reasons:

  1. The data they provide as a result of the measurement process can subsequently be used to produce aggregated macro statistics (similar to the ones mentioned above), needed at regional, national or global level.
  2. Public libraries, sustained by means of public financing, need to be accountable for the way they use the resources and how they deliver the service they are established for.
  3. The numbers resulted from the measurement process are of great importance for the society, mainly those connected to library use and users as they reflect dimensions connected to the intellectual or cultural state or preoccupations of the population.

Today, there is an vast amount of indicators used as part of library performance measurement initiatives. Some are constructed using different standards and formats, so measures vary from one type of library to another, depending on the nature of operations (national library, school library etc.). Others are generic and can be used in any kind of library institution.

In the case of the latter ones, the international standard ISO 11620 “Library performance indicators” describes a number of 45 indicators addressing issues relevant to nearly all types of libraries, such as (Poll, 2008):

  • # Median time of document processing
  • % User satisfaction rate
  • # Speed of inter-library lending
  • $ Cost per download per electronic source
  • % Library means received by special grants

These general indicators are complemented by several performance measures that reflect the situation at national level (and can be used in the case of national libraries):

  • % National publications acquired by the national library
  • % Collection’s coverage of the national media production
  • % Staff in national or international collaboration

An important aspect in the library’s activity is the digitization, important for at least two reasons: it makes the heritage collections universally available and it allows the conservation of the original material by making available a digital surrogate (Poll, 2008). An example of a digitization performance measure is the % Documents digitized per special collection.


For a list of library KPI examples visit:

To see some of these performance measures employed in practice, you can visit the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in Netherlands and the British Library pages in KPIs in practice section of


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