The Longitude II project, funded by the UK Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), was designed to develop and test a methodology for assessing how the impact of IT-based services in public libraries is achieved over time – in other words, to move from the more usual ‘snapshot’ views of impact towards assessing longer-term effects. We were concerned in this project both with situations where there was continuing engagement between the user and the library service, and where a single or short series of interactions led to effects later in life. We tested approaches suited to both these situations, although it is fair to say that the former predominated.
Fieldwork was carried out in two public library authorities in the UK: Cheshire County and Birmingham City Libraries. This enabled us to check that the methodologies were practical and economic to apply, as well as being sound and rigorous. As a subsidiary benefit of this approach, we gathered data on longitudinal impacts that shed light on the longer-term achievements of IT-based services in public libraries.
There is at present particular interest in the UK in securing evidence of the impact of investment in IT-based infrastructure and services in public libraries. The investment of more than £170 million (including the cost of a major training programme for library staff and the associated content digitization programme) by the People's Network (www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk) has enabled a stepchange in service delivery. However, it brings with it the need for both accountability for past investment and justification for continued expenditure.
The project followed on from earlier work, notably the VITAL (Value and Impact of End-User IT Services in Public Libraries) project, which developed methodologies for assessing impacts on individuals and groups at particular points in time. VITAL has been described in detail elsewhere (Eve and Brophy, 2001).
During the Longitude II project we undertook a study of published research on the topic of longitudinal impact, and this has been published elsewhere (Craven, 2002). As that paper noted, ‘Although much work has been undertaken in the field of library performance measurement, it tends to be of a more quantitative nature such as population and usage statistics, which only provide part of the picture and are not enough to enable assessment of impact on the users’.