Performance Measurement

Project Outcome: Measuring the True Impact of Public Libraries

PLA officially launched Project Outcome, its latest field-driven outcome measurement initiative, on June 26, 2015. Sign up to participate in this exciting new project, available to libraries of all sizes. New to outcome measurement? Learn more about How to Enroll In Project Outcome in this recorded webinar. Also, read the article, "Project Outcome – Looking Back, Looking Forward," in Public Libraries Online.

Upcoming Webinar

This webinar is free, but registration is required and space is limited.

Results thumbnail image FREEProject Outcome: Communicating Your Results
Thursday, November 10, 2016
Instructors: Instructors: Crystal Schimpf, Julia Cottrill & Oscar Gittemeier

Second in a series of three webinars designed to help library leaders and staff turn your Project Outcome results into action. This webinar will focus on turning survey results into compelling messages about a library’s impact for internal and external audiences. This session will set up the final webinar about using Project Outcome data to support funding requests and grant proposals. Participants will also hear from other library leaders about their own experience and lessons learned from communicating about their Project Outcome survey results. More…

Project Background

Public libraries offer a broad range of vital community services: digital readiness training, preschool literacy education, employment counseling, workforce development, and outlets for creative expression and communication. Typically libraries rely on simple attendance counts and anecdotal success stories to measure the effectiveness of their services; however these statistics are not enough to guide internal strategy or build persuasive arguments to secure library funding. Enhancing existing service data with outcome data offers tremendous potential in many areas of the public library.

While some libraries have taken the initiative to do this on their own, there are no standard outcome measures widely in use. PLA leadership recognized this gap and saw an opportunity for the association to lead a wide-spread conceptual shift in the field by proactively developing and disseminating outcome measures and support tools.

In the summer of 2013, then PLA president, Carolyn Anthony (Director, Skokie Public Library) established a Presidential Task Force on Performance Measurement (PMTF). The task force, chaired by Denise Davis (Deputy Director, Sacramento Public Library) is charged with “develop(ing) standardized measures of effectiveness for widely-offered public library programs and promot(ing) the training for implementation and use of the measures across public libraries.” Task force participants were invited from a broad base of public libraries, representing the geographically and operationally diverse library community.

Current Activities

After conducting an environmental scan and surveying the field, the PMTF landed on seven core service areas to address:

  • Civic/Community Engagement
  • Digital Inclusion
  • Early Childhood Literacy
  • Economic Development
  • Education and Life Long Learning
  • Job Skills
  • Summer Reading

Each survey is six questions long. At the end of the relevant program, patrons are asked to rate their level of agreement on a five point Likert scale, ranging from Strongly Agree to Strong Disagree, with an option of Not Applicable.

In the fall of 2014, task force members and a few additional pilot libraries tested the surveys in each of the seven areas. Early feedback indicates the surveys were well-received by patrons as they were short and very specific. Participating libraries were able to use the resulting data in board presentations, branch activity reports, and to underscore advocacy stories.

Following the successful task force-led pilot testing of the measures, PLA is expanding the reach of the project with funding received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through the development and deployment of Project Outcome. On June 26, the Public Library Association (PLA) will officially launch Project Outcome during a preconference at the 2015 ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco, Calif. Although registration for this preconference is now closed, PLA will offer additional opportunities for your library to participate later in 2015.

At the 2015 ALA Midwinter Meeting in January, several members of the Project Outcome task force presented their findings from the pilot testing of the seven performance measure surveys they developed. A recording of this session, "Performance Outcome Measures for Public Libraries," is now available for viewing at

What’s Next and Getting Involved

This exciting three-year project will support the development and implementation of outcome measures and also generate communication and training tools to help libraries effectively apply their findings. These additional tools will be just as important as the surveys in creating an industry-wide shift in measuring effectiveness. After the June launch, Project Outcome will offer a variety of ways for libraries to enlist and participate in outcomes-based performance measurement. If you have additional questions about this project, please contact Emily Plagman at

PLA believes performance measurement is a key next step in library development and the work already begun by the task force signals this commitment. In June 2014, the PLA Board of Directors approved a three-year strategic plan with a strong emphasis on development of outcome measures, further supporting this work.