History of LibQUAL

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: http://www.arl.org/news/pr/websterretirement.shtml

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.


History of LibQUAL

Through 2020, over 1,300 libraries have participated in LibQUAL, collecting over 2.9 million library user responses. LibQUAL has been implemented in libraries in 35 countries, and the project supports 20 language translations. LibQUAL continues to expand into new environments with implementations in a variety of institution types including college/university, community college, health sciences, high school, academic law, academic military, public, hospital, and state libraries.

Take the time to explore how LibQUAL has transitioned from a research project to an ongoing ARL service.



LibQUAL surpasses 1,000 participating libraries!

The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) brought a dynamic group of libraries, LibQUAL Canada, to the LibQUAL roster with 63 participating libraries, most of whom implemented bilingual surveys in American English and Canadian French. Chinese (Traditional) was introduced through the Joint University Librarians Advisory Committee (JULAC), a group funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC) of the Hong Kong SAR Government. Seven institutions participated in Session II, many implementing bilingual surveys in British English and Chinese.

In Stellenbosch, South Africa, LibQUAL met with native libraries to discuss how the survey instrument has been used in South African libraries. The meeting, held in conjunction with the , featured presentations by Sherrie Schmidt, University Librarian at Arizona State University and ARL President, Vicki Coleman, Associate University Librarian at Arizona State University, and Jim Self, Director of Management Information Services at University of Virginia Library. To view their presentations, see LibQUAL Publications (search Publication Type: Presentations). 

A LibQUAL forum was held in conjunction with the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. A. "Parsu" Parasuraman, a Professor & Holder of the James W. McLamore Chair, University of Miami, and Editor of Journal of Service Research, and one of three developers of SERVQUAL, addressed measuring both in-person and online library service quality in celebration of the 1,000 institutions that have implemented LibQUAL.


The National Health Service (NHS) in England piloted the LibQUAL survey in 10 institutions to assess users’ needs, preferences, and behaviors in an effort to coordinate digital resources provided nationally in physical libraries on NHS sites around the country.

The LibQUAL Analytics, a tool that allows participants to dynamically create institution-specific tables and charts, was released. It featured two main sections: (a) Institution Explorer: summarizes all questions and dimension means for any combination of user group and discipline, and (b) Longitudinal Analysis: allows participants to perform longitudinal comparisons of their data across years.

The second participation of the European Business School Librarians Group (EBSLG) brought 5 new languages to LibQUAL: Danish, Finnish, German, Norwegian, and Swedish British English.


LibQUAL hosted its first booth at the ACRL 12th National Conference in Minneapolis, MN.

LibQUAL sponsored its first In-Kind Grant Program for participation in the 2006 survey. An advisory committee comprised of ARL staff and LibQUAL researchers selected five institutions (one grant for every 50 registered institutions) based on three crucial factors: financial need, contribution to the growth of LibQUAL, and improvements in local service and quality.


After rigorous testing of the LibQUAL protocol over a 3 year period, the survey was standardized to include the following key elements: (1) 22 core items spanned across 3 dimensions---Affect of Service, Information Control, and Library as Place; (2) 11 additional items covering information literacy outcomes, general satisfaction with library service, and library usage trends; (3) general demographic items; and (4) a comments box for open-ended user comments. 

The survey year was segmented into two sessions to accommodate participants in the southern hemisphere: Session I (January – May) and Session II (July – December). 

Several new languages were introduced including European French, Dutch, and Swedish. The American Universities in Cairo, Egypt and Sharjah, United Arab Emirates participated in the survey bringing in over 900 responses.

Six new consortia participated in the survey including the Hospital/Medical Library Association (MLA), the American Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), the CES Library Consortium (CES), the European Business Schools Librarians' Group (EBSLG), the State University Libraries of Florida, and the University of Wisconsin System---a total of 58 institutions.


Over 300 institutions (70% new registrants) registered for the spring 2003 iteration of the survey, the highest registration in LibQUAL® history. More than 125,000 user responses were collected during the survey. Two consortia agreed to participate in LibQUAL: NY3R, a group of academic and public libraries locate in New York, and the Military Education Coordination Council (MECC)

The survey was offered in French in two ARL institutions in Canada—the first full translation of the survey instrument into another language. 

New features were added to the LibQUAL Web site such as a new survey management console, updated participant resources, and an improved registration online form

A Survey Highlights publication is first issued, providing overall data for 4 institution types: colleges and universities, community colleges, academic health sciences, and military institutions. In addition to listing mean values for each dimension, by institution type, the data are also represented via radar and thermometer charts.

Publication of a monthly newsletter, LibQUAL Update, began in December.


Over 160 institutions registered for the spring 2002 survey, including 2 large consortia: OhioLink, a group of community colleges and four-year institutions (54 institutions) and the American Association of Health Sciences Libraries (36 institutions); over 78,000 survey responses were collected. 

The first annual LibQUAL® Share Fair is held at the ALA Annual Conference in Toronto. The free, informal (science-fair style) gathering offered informative presentations by participating institutions and focused on many aspects of LibQUAL including:

 - Survey administration
 - Marketing your survey
 - Quantitative and qualitative analyses available using your survey results
 - Methods of engaging your library staff, stakeholders, and customers in understanding and using the findings 

LibQUAL held its first International Workshop in the U.K. The two-day training designed specifically for SCONUL, interested European libraries, and other international participants, covered qualitative and quantitative background for the protocol, survey process, and strategies for using LibQUAL results effectively.


ARL and Texas A&M University were awarded a 3-year grant from the National Science Foundation for digital library assessment. The funds supported the adaptation of the LibQUAL instrument for use in the science, math, engineering, and technology education digital library community.

The spring 2001 survey results were presented at the 4th Northumbria International Conference in Pittsburgh, PA, USA and the ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco, CA. This marked the tradition of LibQUAL training programs and reporting of survey results to participants. 

The Greater Midwestern Regional Library Consortium (GMRLC, formerly the Big 12 Plus) was the first consortial participation in LibQUAL, bringing 13 institutions to our roster.


The ARL Board of Directors endorsed new ARL development priorities to include new service roles. ARL was directed to "help member libraries redefine their service roles in ways that are responsive to a rapidly changing information environment." One example was to develop "new measures for assessing library performance and contributions to higher education."

The first SERVQUAL project data collection began shortly after participants were briefed on the project protocol and requirements, and testing of the data collection Web form was complete in Spring 2000. ARL was awarded a half-million dollars by the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) for the “Service Effectiveness in Academic Research Libraries” (later coined “LibQUAL”), covering nearly 50% of the estimated cost of the three-year pilot project. The remaining funds were provided through a partnership between ARL and TAMU.

Several articles were published about LibQUAL, one of which Colleen Cook, Fred Heath, and Bruce Thompson authored, “LibQUAL®: One Instrument in the New Measures Toolbox” was featured in the ARL Bimonthly Report. During the ARL symposium, New Culture of Assessment in Academic Libraries: Measuring Service Quality, interest was expressed by several institutions to participate in the LibQUAL project. For a piece on the origins of LibQUAL, see Bruce Thompson’s article, The Birth/Origin of LibQUAL®.


ARL introduces the New Measures Initiatives, a collection of projects designed to address issues of service quality, electronic usage and value, and outcomes assessment. One of the five projects, largely supported by Texas A&M University (TAMU) and foundation funds, was a study of the utility of service effectiveness measures using the SERVQUAL instrument. The project would support up to 10 institutions, each contributing $2,000. Fred Heath, Dean and Director of Libraries at Texas A&M University (TAMU), invited ARL institutions to participate in a SERVQUAL modified survey.