The basic structure
In Part II we analyzed five response mechanisms which we viewed as determining the provision and use of library services: inquiry; the demand for library services; retrieval; becoming informed; and the provision of library services. Part III examines library services as a whole from various perspectives. In the present chapter we shall examine connections and interactions between the parts. The area with which we are concernedthe provision and use of library servicesis a highly complex area. In particular, it involves a variety of different and complex sorts of human behavior: economic, political, cognitive. In consequence, it is not to be expected that any very simple model would be able to reflect reality. However, it is proposed that a model based on three connected systems constitutes an economical representation of the true complexity. These three connected systems have the following characteristics:
- The three systems are quite different from each other in nature;
- The three systems are connected to each other, but only to a very limited extent; and
- Each of the three systems is dominated as much or more by interaction with the external environment as it is by other features of the library service.
We shall consider each of these three systems separately, and then together.
Provision: a political and managerial system
The allocation of resources to and within a library service has been discussed in detail in chapters 11 and 12. The process can be briefly summarized. The external environment (society) possesses resources, some of which are allocated for library purposes. There are also, in this environment, other potential uses for these resources. The library service is in competition with these other possible uses of the resources.
There are, in any given social environment, social values that guide the allocation process. There is variation from one individual to another, from one time to another, and from one place to another in these social values. Consensus is likely to emerge but is liable to change. There are also changes with respect to who gets to do the allocation of the resources. Resources may be more or less plentiful; other uses may be more or less pressing; social values vary; and the balance of influence on the political processes may change as power structures evolve. Nevertheless, the combination of these factors dominates the allocation of resources to and within the library service, and this allocation determines in detail what sort of service is provided.
The allocation of resources is, then, a political and managerial process within the limitations imposed by the library technology available at the time and place. It is tempting to try to be logical and to distinguish the allocation of resources to the library from the allocation within the library. However, it is unreasonable to do so because the distinction is imperfect in practice. Those who allocate to the library ordinarily do so with specific expectations concerning the allocation of resources within the library as part of their intentions, even though managerial discretion concerning details is ordinarily left to the library administrator.
The detailed allocation of resources determines the profile of services provided:
- how many of what sorts of titles are acquired
- how many of what sorts of titles are discarded
- regulations of access and use; shelf access, duplication, borrowing, etc.
- the availability of space and its use
- type of arrangement of books on the shelves
- catalogs and retrieval services
- readers' advisory and reference services.
These aspects of service are not, in practice, independent of one another, as we shall consider further in chapter 14 below.
Perceptions of the quality of service by those who allocate (including the library staff) provide an element of feedback which can affect future (re)allocations of resources and, thereby, modify the profile of service. However, this feedback mechanism has tended historically to be rather weak, mainly on account of difficulties associated with knowing what is actually happening in the use of library services. It is important to remember that the quality of a service is perceived and judged in terms of the social values derived from the environment and held by those who do the perceiving. However, the "goodness" of the service is seen in relation to the use (hence, the benefits) as well as to the nature (or quality) of service. In other words, resources may be reallocated away from even an excellent service if little or no use is being made of itor away from a cost-effective service if it is perceived as having little relevance to the mission of the sponsoring body.
This political and managerial system which determines the pattern of library service is shown schematically in figure 13.1. It can be seen that it is the "library feedback loop" in chapter 10. In our final chapter we will consider in more detail how and why the profile of library service varies from one situation to another.
Figure 13.1 The provision of library services: a political and managerial system
Information through retrieval: a cognitive system
In chapter 6, we considered inquiries as the driving force behind the use of libraries as information systems. Inquiries, we speculated, derived from "distressing ignorance," which, in turn, we attributed to the combination of particular states of personal knowledge (notably gaps and incongruencies) and of personal values that alone make important (and, therefore, distressing) particular portions of our ignorance.
Some inquiries reach the library and, by a combination of collection development and a retrieval process which is rooted in logic, linguistics, and technology, a set of signals is retrieved. This process is examined in chapters 7 and 8.
If the signals are perceived by the user, then through a cognitive process, which is dependent on the individual's prior personal knowledge and cognitive skills, a learning process takes placea process of becoming informed, of changing the state of the individual's personal knowledge. This was considered in chapter 9.
Here, again, the external environment dominates. Even though library services can be regarded as being of great actual or potential importance, it should be recognized that, for any individual, most personal knowledge by far, derives from sources of information other than library services. 1 The environment is also the dominant source of personal values, cognitive skills, and factors that spark the desire to do things for which library services are appropriate. This cognitive system is summarized in figure 13.2.
Figure 13.2 Information through retrieval: a cognitive system
Deciding to use a library service: an economic system
The mere fact that distressing ignorance has engendered an inquiry in somebody's mind does not mean that an action will in fact be taken to resolve the inquiry-and even less that a library service will be utilized to reduce the distress.
As discussed in chapter 10, there is a decision process whereby the perceived probable benefit of using the library is compared with the perceived probable cost. The benefit derives from the personal values of the individual and the perceived chances of successful reduction of the distress through use of the library. The costthe "real price"is mainly nonmonetary, having elements of time, effort, and discomfort.
Significant, therefore, in the decision whether or not to use the library is the perceived quality of the library service from the perspective of the potential user. How beneficialand how costlyprevious experiences in using the library services have been are likely to influence heavily the potential user's perceptions of the quality of library serviceand of the cost of using it. The decision to use a particular library service for a particular inquiry is likely to be taken only if it seems likely to be worthwhile. More formally, all of three conditions would need to be met:
- the perceived probable benefit exceeds the perceived probable cost;
- alternative sources of information are perceived as less attractive in terms of probable cost and benefit; and
- the individual has not decided to discontinuetemporarily or permanentlythe attempt to resolve the distressing ignorance. This is liable to happen at any point.
Here, again, the external environment dominates because there are so many alternative sources of informationother people, other libraries, other booksin addition to any given library service. Most people, most of the time, resolve their inquiries by means other than the use of library services. In that sense, using a library service is an unusual, atypical activity. The challenge, for all parties, is to determine what sorts of inquiries library services are most appropriate for. Anyone eager to increase library use would be well- advised to seek to reduce the perceived costs and to publicize probable benefits.
We describe this process as being "economic" even though the monetary element is mainly absent. We summarize this system in figure 13.3, which can be seen to be the same as the "user feedback loop" described in chapter 10 as one part of the double feedback loop which characterizes library services.
Figure 13.3 Deciding to use a library service: an economic system
How are the three systems connected?
The one and only element that connects all three systems is the act of using the library service.
- In the cognitive system, using the library service generates the set of retrieval signals that leads to the user becoming informed and acquiring new knowledge.
- In the political and managerial systems, use of the library provides principal justification for allocating resources to the library and also generates the perceptions of use which constitute a feedback loop to those who allocate.
- In the economic system, the experience of using the library provides part of the basis for the user's future, decisions whether or not to use the library. The other parts are the potential user's assessment of the alternative sources of information and of the importance (and urgency) of the inquiry itself.
The other, separate interaction by two of the systems (the cognitive system and the economic system) is the role played by the demand decision in determining whether an inquiry will be directed to the library service or whether it will be directed at some other source of information in the environment. The critical importance of this decision-point in determining library use can hardly be exaggerated.
Each system is dominated by the external environment which determines the resources for provision of library service; the values and preferences of allocators and of users; most of the communication to and, hence, the knowledge of individuals; and alternative sources of information. The provision and use of library services are deeply rooted in their social contexts. 2 This aspect can be easily overlooked when one is concerned with the study of libraries and especially of the techniques of library services. Aside from surveys of actual or potential users there has been remarkably little research and writing on the relationships between library services and their social contexts. 3
The relationships between these three different systems can be visualized by superimposing figures 13.1, 13.2, and 13.3, which represent the three systems. This is done in figure 13.4. 4
Figure 13.4 The three connected systems determining the provision and use of library service
Go to Chapter 14
1 A. Campbell and C. A. Metzner, Public Use of the Library and Other Sources of Information (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research, 1950), esp. pp. 11-14; C.-C. Chen et al., Citizen Information Seeking Patterns: A New England Study. Executive Summary Report (Boston, Mass.: Simmons College, School of Library Science, 1979), (ERIC report ED 186 031) pp. 6-7.
2 In systems theory one would say of an open system that the output of the system is exchanged in the environment for renewed input and that the value of the output is decided in the environment. See M. P. Marchant, Participative Management in Academic Libraries (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976), chapter 2, "The Library as an Open System," pp. 13-28.
3 Useful starting points include: Libraries in Society: A Reader, edited by D. Gerard (London: Bingley, 1978); Information and Society: A Collection of Papers, edited by M. Barnes (Leeds: School of Librarianship, Leeds Polytechnic, 1981); A. O. Amadi, African Libraries: Western Tradition and Colonial Brainwashing (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 198 1); B. Landheer, Social Functions of Libraries (New York; Scarecrow Press, 1957). See also footnote 13 of chapter 11.
4 For a similar approach see N. A. Van House, "Public Library Effectiveness: Theory, Measures, and Determinants," Library and Information Research 8, no. 3 (JulySeptember 1986): 261-83.
Go to Chapter 14
Copyright © 1988, 1999 Michael K. Buckland.
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