Evidence Based Library Service


Steve Fesenmaier writes \" The following is part of a document I am creating on how to do the annual statistical survey for the State of West Virginia Public Library System -

Evidence Based Library Services by Steve Fesenmaier
During the last twenty years the term \"Information Age\" has become commonplace. Librarians have moved from the periphery to the center of our post-modern age. Whereas we once worked in a world of information scarcity, contemporary citizens work with a constant feeling of \"information anxiety.\" I believe that this requires a new attitude toward public libraries. We must ask ourselves if public libraries need to do the same things that they have been doing for almost a century in West Virginia.

The foundation for deciding what our public libraries should be doing may be called \"evidence based.\" Using an older application of this way of thing in relation to medicine, this new attitude of \"evidence based library services\" can be based on the following steps -

1. Identifying a problem or area of uncertainty
2. Formulating a relevant, focused, clinically important question that is likely to
be answered
3. Finding and appraising the evidence
4. Assessing the importance of the evidence
5. Assessing the applicability of any recommendations or conclusions
6. Deciding whether or not to act on the evidence
7. Assessing the outcomes of your actions
8. Summarizing and storing records for future reference

The key to this attitude is using evidence - library statistics and library descriptions - not custom or tradition as the main justification for actions. Library research is important since it can provide alternatives to the present state-of-affairs. It may be that all public libraries in the state do not have to do exactly the same things. Some libraries may specialize in certain areas, using their materials budgets in different ways. This happens anyway, but if librarians do apply library statistics, community assessment tools, and other ways of analyzing \"evidence\", they may begin to create a future that is better than the past.

In my own viewpoint, the key form of evidence is centered on the reality of staff.
The staff, not the building or the materials, is the heart of libraries in our age. Given that many people do have access to the web at home, through schools, or through their local public library, it seems to me that library staff are more than ever needed to help patrons maximize using web-based resources. Few patrons are well trained in web-searching, seldom knowing about valuable databases that are available FREE through the public library. Our staff needs to be constantly trained, and even more important, paid a LIVING WAGE. First Lady Laura Bush, a librarian, has proclaimed the reality of a shortage of well-trained librarians, especially school librarians, in our age. The evidence has been collected annually by Mary Jo Lynch, the director of the Research Library at ALA. She publishes an annual survey of library salaries in academic and public libraries.

The State Code requires that WVLC work with all of the state\'s public libraries, collecting data. Library boards, library directors, library staff and patrons can all look at the evidence themselves, comparing their library to others in the state or nation. Our librarians can use Bibliostat Connect or the Public Library Peer Comparison Tool at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/libraries/publicpeer/. Hopefully boards and library directors will have the desire and time to do this, using evidence for making decisions about their institutional future.

Librarians may also want to expand their paradigm of library service by reading Sanford Berman\'s ten editions of Alternative Library Literature. His concern with intellectual freedom, services to the poor, fighting erotophobia, racism, sexism, and other forms of institutional negativity has been a landmark in the profession for 30 years. Berman has provided the evidence librarians need to drastically reform their libraries and services. Uncontrolled computerism has devastated many library budgets and Library of Congress Subject Headings have crippled library users. Berman\'s writings have presented librarians with a much more democratic view of their profession. He is the best practitioner of evidence-based library service.

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