UK academic libraries are expected to demonstrate that their services provide value for money. One way to do this is to measure the impact our services have on users. Impact is quite hard to define. Generally, if something has impact it results in a change of some kind, e.g. in attitude or behaviour, or as Payne and Conyers (2004) expressed it, ‘Are we making a difference?’ Impact is also difficult to measure (Everest and Payne, 2001). A number of studies have looked at ways of doing this, such as The Centre for Research in Library and Information Management – CERLIM's Longitude project, which aimed to develop a toolkit of impact assessment techniques for measuring changes over time (Craven and Brophy, 2004). One of the latest impact measurement projects, aimed specifically at the UK higher education (HE) sector, is the Library and Information Research Group (LIRG) and the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) Impact Implementation Initiative. This paper describes the University of the West of England (UWE) Library Services’ participation in the Initiative, and reflects on our methodologies and outcomes.
The LIRG/SCONUL Impact Implementation Initiative was set up in 2003 (Payne and Conyers, 2005). Its aim was to develop a toolkit of impact research methodologies for HE libraries. The Initiative is based on action research principles that encourage reflection on the processes of investigation, and uses an established impact measurement methodology as the common model for all the participants (Markless and Streatfield, 2005). Working to this model the participants set objectives for their chosen impact theme, identify success criteria, specify the evidence required to assess whether those criteria have been met, and select appropriate data collection methods.
UWE Impact Study
UWE is the largest HE institution in southwest England, with approximately 26,000 students, 1000 academic staff and 10 faculties spread across seven campuses. Three years ago a virtual learning environment (VLE), Blackboard, was introduced. This has provided new ways of teaching and new learning opportunities for students, and has the potential to create new partnerships between the library and the teaching staff. It was within this context of change that the Impact study was carried out.