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Monday, 16 February 2015

Quality assurance improvements in Australian university libraries


By Janine Schmidt

Karen Tang, Quality assurance improvements in Australian university libraries
Performance Measurement and Metrics vol. 14(1) 2013 pp.36-44

The need to reduce costs and maintain or extend services has led to an increasing focus on continuous improvement strategies within libraries. The libraries of the Australian Technology Network, LATN, comprising Curtin University, RMIT University, QUT, UTS, UNISA and the Auckland University of Technology have collaborated for some years on various projects. This paper describes the maturing of service improvements by the group from 2005 – 2010.

In 2005, a study reviewed quality assurance practices at the member libraries through examination of websites, a questionnaire and interviews. In 2010, the findings were revisited using the same questionnaire to determine further actions undertaken. This paper focuses in particular on the responsibility for quality assurance, the use of appropriate performance frameworks and the extent of involvement of individual training and work planning, to determine growth in line with a framework developed by Wilson and Town in the United Kingdom. This framework establishes five levels of quality assurance from an ad hoc approach at Level 1 to an advanced approach at Level 5, where all activity and the organisation culture are focused on continuous improvement.

What is quality assurance? It includes performance measurement, planning and benchmarking against others to ensure that services provided are “fit for purpose”. Who determines the quality? It is the customer. Notions of TQM, balanced scorecard, the Australian Business and Service Excellence guidelines,  ADRI (Approach, Deployment, Results, and Improvement) and LEAN (have expanded on the approach. The paper notes the changing emphasis on quality, referring to AUQA (Australian Universities Quality Agency), whose activities have since been transferred to TEQSA (Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency). We aim to create a smarter future for Australia - by upholding standards for students.

The paper notes the growing sophistication of approaches to quality assurance within the libraries studied. All have a documented quality framework; most allocation responsibility for quality improvement to a specific staff member; and almost all provided training programs at the individual level and emphasised individual performance as part of organisational performance. Planning, performance measurement, client surveys, documentation, systematic reporting and analysis of findings and encouragement of best practice have all become part of the organisational conversation. Most libraries have undertaken continuous improvement strategies as part of their overall institutional framework.

Libraries continue to operate under significant pressures for accountability. The tertiary education changes mooted add to the importance of ensuring that library services meet client needs effectively and provide value for money. All libraries must operate within a quality assurance framework. Collaborative activity, an appropriate organisational culture, training of staff and an emphasis on performance measurement from the client perspective will assist libraries in ensuring they deliver services cost-effectively.  Libraries who wish to win awards and plaudits from their customers must manage their quality assurance processes effectively.


This article was first published in Incite, Jan/Feb 2015

Janine Schmidt, AM FALIA
Director, Mukurta Solutions

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