Earlier this year, I started a brand new role – Coordinator of Evidence Based Practice at a university library here in Queensland. My last post reflected on my first six weeks in the role. Understanding theory of evidence-based library and information practice is one thing. Being the facilitator and enabler of its application is another. In my interactions with others across the library, I need to translate and apply what I know about evidence-based practice into context in order to give meaningful and relevant advice. Enter awesomeness.
Let me explain….
Recently, I met with the library’s leadership team individually to gain an initial understanding and sense of how the library delivered its services, and how services and their ongoing improvement were informed. In a few of these meetings, I asked a somewhat, left-field question. I did this for two reasons. 1) Collecting evidence isn’t (or shouldn’t) always be driven by a need to identify or solve problems. There are likely to be areas where the service is going well, and so evidence could identify future possibilities. 2) I wanted to spark thinking about what the library wants to achieve, turning focus away from external and/or operational reporting requirements if only for a moment. The question was,
How do you know you’re delivering awesome service?
What do I mean when I say ‘awesome’?
In the new book, ‘Being Evidence Based in Library and Information Practice’, edited by Denise Koufogiannakis and Alison Brettle, “being evidence involves:
- questioning our practice;
- gathering or creating the evidence if we don’t have it already;
- using information or evidence wisely, such as making decisions or helping others to make decisions about services (value, impact, etc), and
- using professional skills to help others.” (p. 3)
When I say ‘awesome’, I mean “using information or evidence wisely” to measure the value, effectiveness and impact of library services, either for our own decisions, or to communicate this to key stakeholders. The ‘awesome’ being the ends the library wishes to achieve or demonstrate.
‘Awesome’ is impact
I see two perspectives of ‘awesome’. Firstly, there’s the ‘awesome’ according to the library. Take away the reporting requirements and pressures from above and what you have is a mission for the library that is driven by professional values of what a library does, and you have the community or the users that the library serves and learning experiences it strives to enhance. This is what I think of ‘aspiration impact’ that is driven by what you know a library service should be and is.
Then, the second perspective of ‘awesome’ is one that combines the above with the impact the library needs to demonstrate within its broader context, whether this be within a university, a corporate organisation, local government, etc. This is what I think of as ‘necessary impact’, driven by context.
The different ways to think about ‘impact’ helps me to identify purposes and priorities for collecting, interpreting, applying or communicating evidence, whether this be for accountability or curiosity.
Measuring ‘awesome’ needs thought
What I’m saying, and where my head’s been at these past few weeks, is that ‘awesome’ is impact. ‘Awesome’ means looking beyond the transactional and descriptive, to what we do day-to-day actually means. Congratulations, you had hundreds of appointments with academics over the semester! But, what does that actually mean? You had a full calendar? What outcome did those appointments achieve? Measuring this activity is only meaningful when compared to the ends it achieved. You could have a gazillion meetings, but if they weren’t giving the desired result, then you’d need to review your strategy.
There are a multitude of frameworks around service quality and what it looks like, etc, but really, ‘awesomeness’ is contextual. For example, every university will have a different student cohort and different needs for supporting researchers. Every library community will be different. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to thinking about what makes a service awesome. So to make the most of the evidence and to ensure that evidence is meaningful, its collection has to be strategic.
Know your ‘awesome’. Be your ‘awesome’.
In order to be awesome, you need to know what makes awesome. Then you need meaningful measures help you on the way to being that awesome. Still with me? You need to define the ‘awesome’ or the ends to your means, so you know what it looks like once you’ve reached it.
This ‘awesome’ speak arose out of one particular meeting with a colleague who was quite taken by the idea when the use of the word was meant almost light-heartedly. After the meeting, I was about to email her a couple of the questions I had asked so she could put them handy to reflect on. I created an image instead. Here’s me using Canva in was initially a bit of a goof, until I realised its power. I’m not saying it’ll have the same effect on you, but you never know.