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Performance Evaluation in Library and Information Systems of Developing Countries: A Study of the Literature

Performance Evaluation in Library and Information Systems of Developing Countries: A Study of the Literature
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  106 Performance Evaluation in Library andInformation Systems of DevelopingCountries: A Study of the Literature G ASHAW K EBEDE Department of Library Science, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia Based largely on a study of the literature, this article outlinesthe nature and purposes of performance evaluation in li- brary and information systems in general. It further deline-ates the information scenario of developing countries andpinpoints the specific issues that performance evaluationcould address in the library and information systems of these countries. It then raises the challenges that the libraryand information systems of developing countries face inconducting performance evaluation to achieve the expected benefits from it. The article identifies the following stumb-ling blocks: lack of awareness, cost of conducting the evalua-tion, shortage of staff and lack of methods and tools to em-ploy for the purpose. Methodological problems are identi-fied as important. It concludes that the library and informa-tion systems in these countries have to develop their ownmethods and tools appropriate to their needs and relevant totheir environment. It further discusses key issues in the de-velopment of the required framework such as assessing theenvironment and identifying what is important from thepoint of view of the system for the evaluation effort to focuson. The means of generating data usable for performanceassessment and training as a means of improving the staff shortage and absence of awareness of the role of perform-ance evaluation to address among the other challenges. Introduction Evaluation of the performance of library and in-formation systems is one of the major concernsand an integral part of the library and informa-tion systems manager ’ s job. It is widely recog-nised as an important issue, although it has beenlooked at or defined variously. For example, Cro-nin (1982b) writes that it is “ a process of systema-tically assessing effectiveness against a predeter-mined norm, standard... ” ; or according to Mac-kenzie (1990), “ a systematic measurement of theextent to which a system (for example a library)has achieved its objectives in a certain period of time ” . It is also described as a systematic processof determining “ value ” (in terms of benefitgained) and “ quality ” (as reflected in customerssatisfaction) of a system (McKee 1989: 156). Butfundamentally evaluation remains comparing “ what is ” with “ what ought to be ” for the pur-pose of exercising judgement (Van House et. al.1990: 3). The process of evaluation of perfor-mance can focus on the whole of a system or thecomponents of a system (such as the individualservices of a library and information system) asthe assessment needed could be at any level of agiven library and information system.Performance evaluation can also be a one-time-only activity where “ data are collected only untilan intelligent appraisal of a situation can bemade ” , or “ a continuous activity where data pro-cessing eventually becomes an established house-keeping routine ” (Cronin 1982b) on the basis of which continuous and long-term improvementseffected.Not only do library and information systems ’ administrators benefit from and require perfor-mance evaluation data but also others such as Gashaw Kebede is lecturer, Department of Library Science, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia and is currently doing his PhD atInformation Studies, University of Natal. Postal address: Information Studies, University of Natal, Private bag X01, Scottsville3209, Pietermaritzberg, South Africa. E-mail: Libri, 1999, vol. 49, pp. 106  –  119Printed in Germany · All rights reservedCopyright  Saur 1999 ____________________________________________ Libri ISSN 0024-2667  Performance Evaluation in Library and Information Systems of Developing Countries 107 “ governing bodies, library staff members, pa-trons, accrediting agencies ... ” (Lancaster 1977:vii) and external funding agencies (Cullen 1998),to name few. Cognisant of the benefits and neces-sities of having evaluative data, performanceevaluation has become a mainstream exercise inall service giving institutions like libraries inmany countries of the world (McKee 1989: 156;Baba and Broady 1998). Purposes of evaluation of performance of library and information systems Performance evaluation of a library and informa-tion system or its components can be required fordifferent reasons. For example, the evaluation of the performance of library and information sys-tems and the resulting data could be used to as-sess how well the system meets its objectives orfor justification of continuance of a service (Baw-den 1990: 49). It can be used to convince institu-tions that the library needs the same relativeshare of institutional budget, even if the budgetitself is shrinking (Mackenzie 1990; Rodger 1987).It may allow a librarian to demonstrate howone ’ s library stands in relation to others (Wink-worth 1993). It can help the librarian to describethe extent, range and importance of the service being provided and that it is being given effi-ciently (Abbot 194:4). It may be used to assesshow well the library and information systemcontributes to achieving the goals of parent con-stituents (Pritchard 1996). It can diagnose partic-ular problem areas of service or monitor progresstowards specification or even compare past, cur-rent and desired level of performance (VanHouse et. al. 1990: 8) It can identify areas whereimprovement is needed (Van House et. al. 1990: 3).Finally, it can identify what we have yet to ac-complish and to communicate what we do, howwell we do it and what we need to accomplishthem (Van House 1995) or to provide evidencethat the expectations of a variety of stakeholdersare being met (Cullen 1998).However, there is an overwhelming agreementthat library and information systems first andforemost have to justify their existence and thecost to their constituencies (Abbot 1994:4; Roger1987; Van House 1995). Secondly, they have to beevaluated in order for their managers to find outif there are any deficiencies in the system and todetermine what needs to be improved (Pritchard1996; Van House et. al. 1990: 3; Van House 1995).Therefore, we can say that performance evalua-tion is done for both “ internal ” and “ external ” purposes as the following paragraphs further il-lustrate. Performance evaluation for justification purposes Parent organisations require proof that the activi-ties of their library and information systems andthe organisational expenses incurred are worththe investment in that they contribute towardsachieving organisational objectives. In justifyingtheir worth library and information systems arerequired to prove that they are “ performing auseful, relevant and valuable function withoutwhich the institution would be the poorer ” (Ab- bot 1990: 4). Thus, library and information sys-tems have to prove that they are useful for theorganisation and for the purpose for which theyare established. In this aspect specifically, the “ only way ” for library and information systemsto make their contributions and worth known toconcerned bodies is by using some measure of li- brary performance (Pritchard 1996).Library and information systems also need to justify the money that their parent institutionsare expending on them is well used just like anyof the rest of the organisational units (Baba andBroady 1998; McKee 1989: 9). Particularly as a re-sult of economic constraints leading to fierce com-petition for institutional budgets, more tangibleand appreciable evidence is required on a con-tinuing basis from the library and informationsystems in order to convince management of theimportance of continuing to devote resources tothem (Abbot 1994: 4). The old ways of talkingthat suggest that library and information systemsare “ good in themselves ” no longer work, and thelanguage and the logic of their argument should be meaningful and appreciable in the current en-vironment in which the library and informationsystems exist. Library and information systemscan best prove that “ the benefits derived are worththe expenditure ” and that no resources have beenwasted through data obtained from performanceevaluation exercises. This evidence has proved to be one of the main weapons that departmentshave when it comes to fighting for organisational budgets or to attracting funding bodies at large.  Gashaw Kebede 108 This is the major reason why performance evalua-tion started to gain in significance in the 1980s inthe “ increasing hostile financial climate ” of theperiod (Bawden 1990: 73). The “ rising costs of li- braries ” , in particular, have become one of themajor concerns causing the management of manyorganisations to require library and informationsystems (Van House et al. 1990: 3) to provide evi-dence to justify their cost using objective data ac-quired from evaluation of performance.External funding agencies financing projects,or some aspect of services or resources, of course,normally require progress reports to monitorwhether or not the activities as well as the ex-penditures are according to the agreed upon plan before releasing funds or before letting them-selves into any additional financial commitment.They also require a final report, whose major partis the financial detail, on the success or failure of the project. This is the basis for any healthy, con-tinuing relationship between funding agenciesand a given library and information system. Everylibrary and information system has to be carefulabout it to stay in the good graces of a particularfunding or other similar agency. It is also re-quired that library and information systemsshow funding agencies, in acceptable form, thatthey are competent and trustworthy in managingtheir finances. Library and information systemscan also communicate their “ concern for efficiencyand effectiveness ” to the funding agencies by us-ing performance evaluation data as evidence(Van House et al. 1990: 3). Particularly “ in timesof tight budget ” resulting in stiff competition fordonor recipients, evaluation data to justify theworth and importance or value of library and in-formation systems has become critical (VanHouse et al. 1990: 3).Thus, it is essential for library and informationsystems to prove that the activities they are en-gaged in and the subsequent costs that they incurare worth doing. It is also critical that the invest-ment made on the systems is well managed andutilised in the best interest of the funding bodiesas library and information systems almost entirelydepend on these internal and external sources of funds. And all such proof to justify the impor-tance and the resources consumed by the libraryand information systems require compelling datathat can be acquired through conducting perfor-mance evaluation, as evaluation can provide “ ob- jective data ” on library and information systems ’ performances (Van House et al. 1990: 3). Performance evaluation for self-improvement purposes Apart from justifying their existence and the costthat is expended on them, library and informa-tion systems need to take a look at themselves ona continuing basis to find out whether each ac-tivity undertaken by them is relevant and beingimplemented in the best possible way. Libraryand information systems ’ managers, like any re-sponsible managers, need to monitor their prog-ress to determine if they are on the right track inimplementing their various undertakings. Theseinclude determining the relevance and meaning-fulness of each activity, the cost effectiveness of each activity, the system ’ s efficiency in executingtasks, what is needed to realise the desired goal,and the professionalism of their work.To determine what is needed and that each ac-tivity/service being undertaken is appropriateand worth continuing, an assessment or evalua-tion can provide reliable and complete informa-tion. In the first place, as Van House points out, “ improving performance requires informationabout how good performance is currently, plusfeedback on the success of efforts to improve ” (Van House et al. 1990: 3). It is also in the sameway that we can determine whether things beingimplemented are being done in the most efficientway. Progress and achievement (or failure, for thatmatter) need to be learned by evaluating servicesand products in the context of the expectationsand targets set as well as within an acceptablecost. This is also the only means that achieve-ments or failures can be determined and correc-tions and improvements introduced. Willemse(1995) confirms that a continuous evaluation con-tributes to improving services by revealing re-medial actions that need to be taken based on theresult of the ongoing evaluation. In his report of the experience of the University of South Africa,Willemse discusses in detail how performanceevaluation has been useful in improving servicesand instrumental in winning over the support of the parent institution. As a management tool per-formance evaluation helps library and informa-tion systems managers to have better knowledgeof the status of their system, allowing them to be  Performance Evaluation in Library and Information Systems of Developing Countries 109 in a better position to make informed decisionsand to exercise better control over the destiny of their systems. Without performance evaluationdata, managers have to rely on intuition and an-ecdotal information as the basis for assessing theusefulness and value of their activities (McClureand Lopata 1995) which could lead to failure.It is also key that the staff to find out how mucheach activity reflects the professional standardsrequired of them. In the earlier report Willemse(1995) points out that performance evaluation al-so “ forces the staff to focus on their most impor-tant areas, where the whole experience revolvesaround. ” He also indicates that the exercise of performance evaluation creates an environmentthat makes staff  “ regularly consider what theirrole in the library is and the way they support ” the parent institution in meeting its target.To justify the existence and cost of these sys-tems, and to improve continuously their internalworking, performance evaluation is thus a nec-essity. This applies equally to library and infor-mation systems in developing and developedcountries.  Major features of library and informationsystems in developing countries Many authors indicate that developing countrieshave common features distinguishing them fromdeveloped countries such as poor economic situa-tions with their populations living below stand-ard and low technological development (Adeyami1991). The issue of development, which theyhave to tackle with a high sense of urgency, hasprofound meaning for these countries. As a re-sult, they have their own set of priorities to ad-dress with low resource capabilities (financial,human, technological) to realise these priorities.One can see a similarity in the information scena-rios of developing countries, likely resulting fromsimilarities in their general situations.Library and information systems of developingcountries are, in general, backward and con-strained. “ The basic informational resources of libraries and data- banks and the likes that are available to the poorest coun-tries are hopelessly inadequate, frequently taking theexclusive form of published sources arriving sporadically by sea mail to understaffed libraries ” (Adeyami 1991). This is one of the reasons why library and infor-mation systems in developing countries havefailed so far “ to provide even what has been con-sidered the obvious benefit obtainable from li- braries ” (Neill 1991).In connection with this situation, Neill (1991)comments that “ governments became disen-chanted with libraries ’ lack of tangible achieve-ments and librarians failed to plead an effectivecause or provide supporting evidence as to theirworth. ” Consequently, the image and status of library and information systems in developingcountries are very tarnished. In these countries “ a low esteem of librarians ” and a “ lowly statureof the librarian ’ s profession ” is very common.They are in general marginalised and tend to beignored by governments and their dominatingfeatures are “ under-resourced, understaffed andunderdeveloped ” . Thus, library and informationsystems in developing countries commonly aredeprived of the means of meeting the demandsof their constituency requiring hard work and anappropriate approach if this is to change. And sothe future of library and information systems inthese countries seems rather bleak.And it is in this context that diagnostics and justification research acquire the highest signifi-cance as management tools in library and informa-tion systems of developing countries. Particularlyas gaining favourable attention from funding bodies largely depends on one ’ s ability to dem-onstrate the impact of its services (Baba andBroady 1998), which is achieved through contin-uous evaluation of one ’ s performance for thepurposes discussed above. The potential roles of performance evaluationin library and information systems of developing countries From the discussion above it becomes clear thatlibrary and information systems require the exer-cise of performance evaluation and the resultingdata can justify their existence and the need for betterment of their activities. A closer look intothe prevailing situation under which library andinformation systems of developing countries ex-ist also confirms the crucial role that performanceevaluation and the resulting data could have inaddressing their major problems.  Gashaw Kebede 110 Justification of worth and resources consumed One of the major obstacles that library and infor-mation systems face in developing countries isthat their role and importance is highly under-mined and so they are not taken seriously. Forexample, Rosenberg ’ s report indicated that the li- braries and information systems in Africa did nothave access to expenditure figures (quoted inTown 1998). Consequently the library and infor-mation systems in these countries are in desperateneed of data to prove that they have useful con-tributions to make in the fulfilment of the objec-tives of their parent organisations, or to provethat without them the organisation can be at adisadvantage. Library and information systemsin developing countries have more at stake be-cause they are units that are “ grudgingly tolerat-ed ” by government bodies and that appear at the “  bottom of any national list of priorities ” (Neill1991).The library and information systems man-ager ’ s struggle to win sufficient funding or to re-ceive a due share of the organisation ’ s budget iseven more difficult when compared to managersof most of the other departments within the sameorganisation. This is because library and informa-tion systems rarely are accorded the proper statuson a par with other departments (Neill 1991).When the financial constraints on the parent or-ganisations increase, a common phenomenon indeveloping countries, library and informationsystems are among the first departments to betargeted for budget reduction. And it is not evenuncommon for library and information systemsto have no separate budget of their own or tohave no channel to fight for the manager and forthe budget like managers of other departments.If they can not come up with strong evidenceto support their claim to change the opinion of the already decided management, the possibilityof getting financial support will continue to getworse. Therefore, engaging in an evaluationprocess is a life and death option if library andinformation systems in developing countries areto live up to their purposes. It is the only way togenerate objective data about their performanceto demonstrate their worth against the traditional belief of their worthlessness held by parent man-agement and the nation at large. The prevailingattitude of management towards library and in-formation systems in developing countries,which implies worthlessness, can be changed on-ly by showing their worth using performanceevaluation data, the only effective way to provetheir value (Pritchard 1996).Thus, the diminished status of library and in-formation systems in developing countries con-tributes both to the difficulty and the necessity of demonstrating their worth. And to extricatethemselves from the low position and tarnishedimage, the library and information systems in de-veloping countries need evaluative data justify-ing that they are worth maintaining. Improving competitiveness for securing financialsupport As finance underpins everything, it is a key issueto library and information systems in developingcountries for a number of reasons. The scarcity of finances in these countries makes the competitionfor organisational budgets among departmentsfiercer than in developed countries. This makesperformance evaluation data more important tolibrary and information systems in developingcountries. Furthermore, as Rodger (1987) stressed,evaluation is needed more in economically con-strained situations “  because there is less moneywith which to attempt to do the same, or morethan before ” , the permanent situation of libraryand information systems in developing countries.It is also true that performance evaluation is mostneeded during times of economic constraint assuch situations result in “ pressure for cost justifi-cation of all activities ” (Baba and Broady 1998;Bawden 1990: 73).The fight waged by librarians in developingcountries for more finances is also severe sincetheir goal is not only to maintain the status quo but also to acquire more each year in order toovercome the already existing state of beingunder-funded. They have to present strong casesto justify increments in investment because whatthey currently receive is already much belowwhat they require. To justify not only their exist-ence but also increased funding in this con-strained environment, library and informationsystems have to provide sound and strongerreasons to the parent institution to keep support-ing them. This is difficult especially because inthe past these requests needed no proof.
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