About Context-Centered Approaches to Outcome Evaluation

Librarians are increasingly being asked to justify expenditures for their programs and services. How do the programs and services you provide affect your community? How do you know? How well can you respond today to the question, "How does your library help its community?" This toolkit provides librarians the tools they need to use context-centered approaches to evaluation in order to show the contributions their library makes to the community. This toolkit will provide you with approaches and tools you can use to determine your library's contributions from the perspective of the people who access and use your services.

Libraries are frequently called upon to communicate their value to the community. In many cases, these justifications are mandated. In the past staff have likely focused on monitoring and reporting inputs and outputs. Developing credible evidence of the positive impact your services have on the lives of community residents is more difficult, but infinitely more useful. This website will provide guidance for going beyond reporting outputs and will help you to discover outcomes, or indicators of impact, of your programs that can be shared with others. Outcome-based evaluation allows you to identify achievements or changes in skill, knowledge, attitude, behavior, condition, or life status for program participants.

The context-centered approach presented in this toolkit is informed by our research on the outcomes of public library services, entitled How Libraries and Librarians Help: Context-Centered Methods for Evaluating Public Library Efforts at Bridging the Digital Divide and Building Community and made possible by a major grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Our research sought to empirically examine the use of specific community-focused services in order to develop context-sensitive approaches and instruments that identify outcomes. This context-centered approach has identified the following factors that contribute to developing meaningful outcomes.

  • The library and its service model
  • The set of activities designed to respond to the clientele.
  • Users or clientele of the specific service
  • Professional contributions

Each of these contextual factors contributes considerably to possible outcomes of interactions that occur in libraries in both their physical and digital dimensions.

Why are contextual methods for evaluating outcomes important?

Outcome-based evaluation will help your organization to provide a more compelling story of the outcomes of your services within the context of your organization and community. Outcomes define what has changed as a result of your programming. Outcome-based evaluation can help your organization to focus on your missions and goals by providing better indicators of the impact of your services. Focusing on indicators of impact will help you to better communicate the value of your organization to different stakeholders.

For more information on the benefits of impact evaluation, visit the following Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS) sites:

"Library Highlight for 2002: How Libraries and Librarians Help - Putting Outcome Evaluation in Context: A Toolkit"

Perspectives on Outcome Based Evaluation for Libraries and Museums

Introduction To Outcome-Oriented Evaluation: Selected Resources

National Leadership Grant Project Planning: A Tutorial, which includes information on:

Evaluation Approach

To cite The Outcomes Toolkit 2.0, please use the following citation:
Durrance, J. C., & Fisher, K. E. (2002). The Outcomes Toolkit 2.0. Ann Arbor, MI and Seattle, WA: University of Michigan and University of Washington.