Birth of LibQUAL+

Bruce Thompson, Texas A&M University and Baylor College of Medicine

In 1999, Fred Heath was Dean of Libraries, and Holder of the Sterling Evans Chair, and Colleen Cook was Executive Associate Dean, and Wright Professor of Library Science, both at Texas A&M University (TAMU). Fred and Colleen for some years had realized that use of "input" variables, such as collection or serials counts, were limited as measures of library service quality, especially as the Web and digital content became increasingly ubiquitous.

In 1995, 1997, and 1999, Fred and Colleen had collected service quality perceptions of samples of TAMU library users, using the "SERVQUAL" protocol developed in the 1980s by TAMU Professors Zeithaml, Parasuranam, and Berry. However, SERVQUAL was developed for use in the for-profit business sector, and (a) included items not considered relevant by some library users (e.g., the attire of service staff), and (b) did not include some items very important to library users.

In 1999, Colleen, then a Ph.D. student, approached one of her statistics teachers, Bruce Thompson, then TAMU Professor of Educational Psychology and Adjunct Professor of Family and Community Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine (Houston) and asked him to work with her and Fred in developing a modified protocol suitable for use in libraries. At this time, Fred was also serving on the Board of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), an association consisting of roughly 123 of the largest research libraries in the United States and Canada. The A&M team proposed to ARL that the TAMU team would develop this alternative protocol, which the team subsequently named "LibQUAL+®," and would give the protocol to ARL for non-profit use in improving libraries.

In January, 2000, the American Library Association held its mid-winter meeting in San Antonio, and at that conference the representatives of a dozen ARL libraries met in a classroom of a TAMU-San Antonio facility to discuss their possible pilot- testing of an emerging LibQUAL+ protocol. The programming for the first web-based administration of the first-stage, draft protocol was done by TAMU doctoral student, Russell "Trey" Thompson. Shortly thereafter, ARL employed web developer Jonathan Sousa in this role, and Jonathan created the Web infrastructure familiar to more recent users of the protocol.

Participating institutions paid a modest cost-recovery fee to help defray administration expenses. Fred Heath also committed significant resources from his endowed Evans Chairship (i.e., roughly $0.5M) to support initial phases of data collection and protocol refinement. In October, 2000, Heath, Cook, and Thompson, and others described their work to the ARL members at a one-day symposium for ARL Library Directors presented immediately following the ARL annual meeting.

Subsequently, Colleen drafted a proposal for grant funding, which was revised by Martha Kyrillidou, then ARL Director of Statistics, and ultimately successfully submitted through ARL for funding to the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE). The FIPSE grant also facilitated the development of the protocol, which initially had as many as 55 core items, but in subsequent years was reduced first to 25, and finally to 22 core items.

Various ARL employees (e.g., Consuella Askew, Kaylyn Hipps and Amy Hoseth) helped popularize the protocol in its early stages, including Martha Kyrillidou, who has invested considerable energy and expertise in the project, and is the only ARL employee working on the project continuously ever since its inception in 2000. From the ARL point of view, Duane Webster, ARL Executive Director, has been supportive of LibQUAL+ as one important component of efforts to cultivate a culture of assessment within libraries that helps libraries improve and market their services:

The first widescale use of LibQUAL+ outside North America (i.e., the United States and Canada) occurred in the United Kingdom. Stephen Town, initially at Cranfield University and more recently Director at the University of York, an important library service quality advocate and thinker, has been especially helpful in facilitating the use of the protocol in Europe.

LibQUAL+ includes the quantitative data yielded from the 22 core items, but also includes qualitative data provided by users in the form of open-ended comments. Consistently, across libraries, a striking percentage of participants--roughly 40%--provide comments, which flesh out users' service quality perceptions, and make specific recommendations for service quality improvements. Thus, LibQUAL+ is not just 22 core items, but at least includes "22 items and a comments box."

During 2007, LibQUAL+ is on track to be used to collect data from the 1,000,000th library user from the 1,000th institution! LibQUAL+ now has been used in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales), France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and South Africa. A Chinese version is being implemented in Hong Kong in the Fall of 2007. Currently, the system supports 12 languages: Afrikaans, American English, British English, Chinese (Traditional), Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French (Canadian), French (European), German, Norwegian, and Swedish. The various editions of LibQUAL+ have been used over a period of eight years.







The LibQUAL+ developers have scrupulously documented their work within the refereed journal literature. In addition to presenting background information of the protocol, this academic documentation has also strengthened the credibility of LibQUAL+ data. More than 25 articles have been published by the developers on their development of the protocol. Also, several additional dozens of articles have been published by LibQUAL+ users at various libraries about how they have used the LibQUAL+ quantitative (e.g., 22 core items) and qualitative (i.e., user comments) data (e.g., the May, 2002 issue of Performance Measurement and Metrics, edited by Colleen Cook, and the Fall, 2004 issue of the Journal of Library Administration, edited by Fred Heath, Martha Kyrillidou and Consuella Askew) to improve library service quality.

Background on the development of the protocol can be found, among other locations, in:

  • Snyder, C. A. (2002). Measuring library service quality with a focus on the LibQUAL+™ project: An interview with Fred Heath. Library Administration & Management, 16, 4-7.
  • Cook, C., & Heath, F. (2000, August). The Association of Research Libraries LibQUAL+™ Project: An update. ARL Newsletter: A Bimonthly Report on Research Library Issues and Actions from ARL, CNI, and SPARC, 211, 12-14.
  • Cook, C., Heath, F., & Thompson, B. (2000, October). LibQUAL+™: One instrument in the New Measures toolbox. ARL Newsletter: A Bimonthly Report on Research Library Issues and Actions from ARL, CNI, and SPARC, 212, 4-7.

The grounding of the protocol within the qualitative interviews of users conducted by Fred Heath and Colleen Cook is documented, among various places, in:

  • Cook, C., & Heath, F. (2001). Users' perceptions of library service quality: A "LibQUAL+™" qualitative study. Library Trends, 49, 548-584.
  • Cook, Carol Colleen. (2002). A mixed-methods approach to the identification and measurement of academic library service quality constructs: LibQUAL+&trade. (Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University, 2001). Dissertation Abstracts International, 62, 2295A. (University Microfilms No. AAT3020024)

Illustrative examples of early documentation of the protocol's development and data trustworthiness include, in chronological order:

  • Thompson, B., Cook, C., & Heath, F. (2000). The LibQUAL+™ gap measurement model: The bad, the ugly, and the good of gap measurement. Performance Measurement and Metrics, 1, 165-178.
  • Cook, C., Heath, F., Thompson, B., & Thompson, R.L. (2001). LibQUAL+™: Service quality assessment in research libraries. IFLA Journal, 4, 264-268.
  • Cook, C., Heath, F., Thompson, B., & Thompson, R.L. (2001). The search for new measures: The ARL "LibQUAL+™" study--a preliminary report. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 1, 103-112.
  • Thompson, B., Cook, C., & Heath, F. (2001). How many dimensions does it take to measure users' perceptions of libraries?: A "LibQUAL+™" study. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 1, 129-138.
  • Cook, C., & Thompson, B. (2001). Psychometric properties of scores from the Web-based LibQUAL+™ study of perceptions of library service quality. Library Trends, 49, 585-604.
  • Cook, C., Heath, F., & Thompson, B. (2001). Users' hierarchical perspectives on library service quality: A "LibQUAL+™" study. College and Research Libraries, 62, 147-153.
  • Cook, C., Heath, F., Thompson, R.L. & Thompson, B. (2001). Score reliability in Web- or Internet-based surveys: Unnumbered graphic rating scales versus Likert-type scales. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 61, 697-706.