Part 8: Library services

Local government: Examples of better practice in setting local authorities' performance measures.

What are the services that the library group of activities generally provides?

Gore District Council's 2009-19 LTCCP stated:

Libraries are viewed as a community asset and a "living room away from home" – a place not only to find a good book to read or find information, but a safe meeting place in which to spend quality learning time. Customer expectations are growing and increasingly there is demand for more sophisticated delivery of library services, programmes and events. Libraries are expected to embody competence, to be confident about their areas of expertise and deliver excellence.

Libraries provide the community with access to recreational and learning material, resources for lifelong learning, and spaces to use. Libraries also preserve heritage and historical material. Technological developments are changing the way people want to view and obtain information, and libraries are responding accordingly through initiatives such as internet facilities and off-site catalogue access.

What are the typical features of service levels and performance measurement?

Users' perception

Libraries are promoted as a safe and welcoming place to spend time, with opportunities for learning and access to a large range of materials. People expect libraries to be clean and comfortable.

A library's location and opening hours should reflect the community's needs. In parts of the country, mobile libraries are provided to cater for people and/or parts of the community that have difficulty getting to their library.

The only performance measures that assessed the physical library environment were satisfaction survey measures. The use of satisfaction survey measures for this activity provides meaningful information about why people use the libraries and what attracts them to the library services. On the other hand, if people are dissatisfied with or do not use the library, then local authorities need to understand why. There could be a range of reasons – for example, a lack of access or space for disabled users and children's pushchairs, safety, or the cleanliness and comfort of the library environment.


The Act stipulates that, if a library is provided in a district or region, "the residents in the district or region are entitled to join the library free of charge".10 Therefore, there is no financial barrier to residents becoming a member of a library. The membership of residents and others in the community indirectly demonstrates the demand for this community facility and service. We saw two better performance measures (see Example 15).

Example 15
Better performance measures for library membership

A minimum of [x]% of customers have used their library card at least bi-annually.

Number of registered members as a percentage of total population Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) standard, [x]% of total population.

Library items

People go to libraries because of the variety of items available. The library collection generally includes children's and adult fiction, reference books, books in large print, magazines, talking books, reference and special books, collections, foreign language books, CDs and DVDs, and newspapers.

Libraries need to have a large range and number of items. The type of items read and borrowed has evolved with changes in technology. Some local authorities have responded to technological expectations by offering enhanced services through their websites and providing free internet and wi-fi access. Those services are in high demand because, increasingly, the community is relying on libraries for free (internet) access to electronic information.

The quality of library items may be indicated by the condition, nature, or content of an item. The replacement frequency and number of times an item is borrowed are also indicators of service quality. For example, magazines deteriorate quicker than a hard cover book and will therefore need to be replaced more often. Likewise, highly demanded items will also deteriorate faster because they are handled more. As a result, expenditure on the library activity is typically on purchasing new or replacement items rather than on maintenance.

Example 16 shows the better performance measures for different aspects of library items.

Example 16
Better performance measures for library items

There is a minimum of [x] items per capita within the collection.

Meet the LIANZA standard of [x] new items per [x] population added to the collection yearly.

[x]% of books requested, not currently available, provided within [x] days.

Frequency of books being taken out (turnover rate).

Other potential areas for consideration

Library programmes

Many local authorities included performance measures on the number of education programmes provided. However, none of those performance measures looked at the quality aspect of the programmes. Assessing the number of programmes, number of attendees, and satisfaction with the programmes will assess whether programmes provide value for money as well as their quality.

Service request

We consider that the following sentence from Gore District Council's 2009-19 LTCCP applies to library services around the country:

There has been an explosion of information available to consumers, accessible through an ever increasing array of modes and channels. This has resulted in customers requiring the skills of library staff to help them evaluate and find their way through the maze of information now available.

However, we identified only one better performance measure that assessed service requests: "[x]% of books requested, not currently available, and provided within five days". We consider that "The library undertakes to respond to [channels for suggestions, comments and complaints] within [x] working days of receipt" could be used as a performance measure. Response times to email and phone queries could also be measured. There is value in assessing requests and responsiveness because a library is a people-based activity and the services provided are more transparent to the community than many other activities.

Many local authorities have web-based services that allow users to, for example, search catalogues, reserve a book, and download audio books. The performance measure "percentage year-on-year growth in users accessing library services electronically" indicates the demand for that type of access to library information and services. A satisfaction survey would also be useful for measuring users' perceptions about the quality of the information systems and services provided.

Library asset management

The library building, mobile libraries, furniture and fittings, and library items make up the library assets. When it came to discussing asset management in the LTCCPs, local authorities focused more on managing the physical library building and less on managing library items, although library items were recognised as part of asset renewals and replacements.

We consider that the performance measure "at least [x]% of the collection is no more than [x] years old (by date of acquisition) excluding local history titles" is one way of providing an informative assessment about how well a local authority manages its library items asset.

10: Local Government Act 2002, section 142.

page top