Poulter, A. and McMenemy, D. and McGettigan, L. (2006) Justify or die? - using contingent valuation of service provision in a UK public library. In: LIANZA Conference, 2006-10-08 - 2006-10-11, Wellington, New Zealand.
The public library service in the UK is currently under pressure to justify its existence. An Audit Commission report suggested that if current borrowing rates for libraries continue into the future, libraries would be effectively issuing no books by 2020. Recently the Coates Report asserted about book loans that, "in simple terms, if a service is without separate charge and the public decides not to use it, then the service is de facto without any value to these individuals". Yet Coates' simplistic notions of the services public libraries provide lies at the heart of the problem. Performance indicators based on book loans are unable to assess 'the totality of library effectiveness'. Conversely, qualitative analysis, interviewing users about service impact, shows that libraries 'promote social cohesion and community confidence'. However qualitative findings are by nature not quantitative and not comparable. To try to produce a measure for service quality, contingent valuation was chosen. It elicits economic value judgements from users on both services they use and services they do not use. A major independent study using contingent valuation was conducted by the Department of Computer and Information Sciences at the University of Strathclyde on East Renfrewshire Library Services, near Glasgow, which is recognised as an exemplary public library service. The study revealed the inability of contingent valuation to adequately assess the complex mix of services provided. The study concludes that an urgent rethink is required regarding measures for public library service evaluation.
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