This blog post is based on a proposed dissertation that aims to study how public libraries and their stakeholders understand their impact and use impact assessment in the post-colonial public library in Africa, with Zimbabwe as a case study. Public libraries in Zimbabwe typically measure outputs – how many people visited the library, how many books were borrowed, how much money was made from subscriptions, and how many patrons used their computers. This is an easy and inexpensive way to measure as it is about counting. Counting can even be automated, for example, through using an integrated library system that reports the number of books borrowed over a specified period. Outputs are a measure of use, but not a measure of impact. To measure the impact is a longer-term, more resource-demanding, user-centered, and program/service-specific exercise. Public librarians, who wish to understand their impact, need to assess the outcome of their services and programs. Measuring impact provides public libraries with information on the effect of their services and programs on their communities.
Zimbabwe was formerly colonized by the British, who founded public libraries to serve the colonizing community and not the indigenous (local) community. The post-colonial public library in Zimbabwe is a centralized public library system called the National Library Documentation Services (NLDS). The National Library and Documentation Services Board (NLDS) is appointed by the Minister of Education (equivalent to Secretary of Education in the United States of America) to oversee the management of all public libraries. The public library system was divided when it was established in the colonial era, with libraries in the former white-only suburbs being subscription libraries. In contrast, libraries in the blacks-only suburbs were council-funded. What has been the impact of this ghettoized system on the different communities in Zimbabwe? The Zimbabwe Library Association (ZimLA) is a professional organization supporting the development of libraries and librarians in Zimbabwe. Does ZimLA provide support for public librarians to assess the impact of their services and programs? This question leads to more questions: If Zimbabwean public librarians are assessing their impact, what is the source of their knowledge? Where did they train at the local institutions? Or did they inherit the assessment systems from the former colonial public libraries and library education? These questions and the lack of existing answers prompted my research question: How do Zimbabwean public libraries and their stakeholders determine the impact of their services and programs?
Surveys, interviews and focus groups with public librarians, municipality officials in charge of libraries, library association officials, and library school deans will be used to investigate the perspectives of public library workers and stakeholders on impact assessment in public libraries in Zimbabwe. I will also analyze library reports and assessments, and city council reports on libraries, library conference proceedings, and library school syllabi to answer my research question. The study will address the following areas:
What the public library and its stakeholders in Zimbabwe know about public library impact assessment.
How the public library and its stakeholders in Zimbabwe conduct impact assessment.
How the public library and its stakeholders in Zimbabwe use impact data; and
How the public library and its stakeholders in Zimbabwe learn about impact assessment and develop their capacity.
The findings will have implications for enhancing public library practice, service and assessment, library accountability, education, and professional development, and understand their benefits to society.
Acknowledgements: The author(s) is solely responsible for the content of this article, including all errors or omissions; acknowledgements do not imply endorsement of the content. The author is grateful to Siziwe Ngcwabe, the content committee and the Africa Evidence Network team for their guidance in the preparation and finalisation of this article as well as their editorial support.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in published blog posts, as well as any errors or omissions, are the sole responsibility of the author/s and do not represent the views of the Africa Evidence Network, its secretariat, advisory or reference groups, or its funders; nor does it imply endorsement by the afore-mentioned parties.