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Performance Indicators for Digital Research and Information Services:

A Literature Review


Network for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, Education Services

prepared by

Debbie Booth -



^ Table of Contents

Search Strategy 2

Search Statement 2

Definitions 2

Search Terms Used 3

Sources consulted 3

Results 4

List of References 5

Search Strategy

Search Statement

Conduct a literature review for resources published since McClure’s 2001 Guidelines1 to “investigate the availability and use of qualitative and quantitative performance indicators and measures for digital reference library services”.

While ‘digital information and research’ is the preferred title to ‘digital reference’ services, no relevant references were located in the literature using the former phrase, hence for this review these two service titles are interchangeable.


Definitions of the key concepts included in this literature review was an essential first step in this process.

Performance Indicator:

A particular value or characteristic used to measure output or outcome. Measures of service quality, performance efficiency and customer satisfaction. Quantitative performance indicators may include volume of backlogs, processing time, reference response time, ILL delivery time, FTE to user ration, availability of information needed, etc. Qualitative performance indicators include user perception of service quality, user satisfaction with reference response, types or levels of service available, etc.2

Digital Reference Service. A number of definitions were found in literature reviewed. The following two define the scope covered by this literature review:

An information access service in which people ask questions via electronic means (such as e-mail or web forms). In turn knowledgeable individuals answer questions, and responses are transmitted via electronic means. Interim search processes need not involve electronic devices although they often do. There may even be interim contact with questioners via telephone or electronic means if questions require clarification.3

VRS (virtual reference service) is defined as the provision of real-time personal assistance to patrons via web-based interactive software. To meet the user at his or her "point of need" and to satisfy the patron's information need, the librarian can use a "chat" component of the software to answer a fairly specific or simple question, possibly deliver slideshows, 'push' web sources to the patron, and provide online bibliographic instruction. The "point of need" may happen when the library is closed, or when the user is unable to get to the library. This way, users can still be in contact with experienced reference librarians. (Alaska’s Virtual reference Service Project.4


Search Terms Used

Two keywords were identified in the search statement:

performance indicators/measures digital reference library services

Synonyms and related terms:

performance measure*

performance evaluat*

performance analysis


performance trends

performance standard*


quality standard*

digital reference

online reference

electronic reference


live reference

asynchronous and reference

synchronous and reference

web conference* (and reference)

chat reference

online information service

instant messag* reference


Sources consulted

Sources consulted for the identification of relevant resources for this literature review covered a wide variety of scholarly databases, web search engines, web sites, research projects, and web bibliographies.

1. Journal Databases

  • Emerald Library

  • ERIC

  • ScienceDirect

  • Mega File Premier

  • Proquest 5000

  • Proquest Education Complete

  • Expanded Academic ASAP

  • Ingenta

  • LISA: Library and Information Science Abstracts

  • ISA: Information Science Abstracts


2. Research Projects

  • EQUINOX 1998 - 2000 –

  • EQLIPSE - Evaluation and Quality in Library Performance: System for Europe

  • CAMILLE – Concerted Action on Management Information for Libraries in Europe –
    JUBILEE Project - monitoring and evaluating user information behaviour in relation to EIS (Electronic Information Services) funded by the JISC.

  • E-Metrics Project - The E-Metrics project is an effort to explore the feasibility of defining and collecting data on the use and value of electronic resources. Although ARL has some experience in tracking expenditures for electronic resources through the ARL Supplementary Statistics, there is a widely held recognition that more work needs to take place in this area.

  • LIBECON - The LibEcon project uses internet communications to develop a continuously updated database of library activities and associated costs in the context of their national economies. LibEcon is a project funded by the European Commission DG Information Society.

  • Virtual Reference Desk Project - The Virtual Reference Desk Project is dedicated to the advancement of digital reference and the successful creation and operation of human-mediated, Internet-based information services.


3. Web Bibliographies


4. Organisation Web Sites

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