Editorial: The art of defining quality

In Finland we strongly focus on the role of the public library as conveyor and provider of knowledge and culture in a networking society. Library expertise and services ofquality are key words. Libraries are expectedto mediate relevant information and knowledge and to create quality onlineservices. They are seen as places for learning and personal development. Centralactors in the knowledge provision forindividual citizens, organizers and initiators of online contents they bridge the digital information gap. The National Digital Library will soon provide access to cultural heritage. Public libraries are part of this huge project, functioning as access points but also digitising regional collections of national interest. Providing access to this extensive treasure of cultural heritage will certainly improve the quality of services.

According to the Library Act the municipality shall evaluate the library and information services it provides. The purpose of the evaluation is to develop and ameliorate the services. As no time limit is mentioned in the paragraph the self-evaluation is done from time to time, if ever perhaps, in some cases.

Evaluation methods are of varying quality, from simple questionnaires to ambitious surveys. The regional administration evaluates so-called basic services annually, and library services belong to these services along with health, education and rescue services. Certain service areas are targeted, for example supply of material in electronic format or the extent of services supplied by SMS and e-mail.

The new quality recommendations, issued in 2010, will be fundamental for renewing the performance indicators. The working group behind the recommendations represents different kinds of libraries as well as library administration on regional and national level.

There are many factors behind the reborn interest in measuring performances. Library use and user behaviour have changed. There are newservice expectations, new ways oflooking up and processing information. Other information providers and the social web influence user expectationsof how information should be presented and conveyed. The structure of collections and services has changed, and so has the use of the physical library. Measuring instruments and indicators have begun to appear partly inadequate and unsatisfying.

Last but by no means least there is also the existential question, the need to testify to societal implication and effect in order to argue maintenance and financing in times of profound structural change. In municipal service surveys inhabitants tend to give local libraries full marks for excellent, friendly services. Decision-makers, on the other hand, tend to ask for specification and reasons of expediency.

Barbro Wigell-Ryynänen
Counsellor for Cultural Affairs
Ministry of Education and Culture
barbro.wigell-ryynanen AT minedu.fi

Retired, former editor