Performance Measurement

Introduction to Project Outcome

About Project Outcome

Wherever public libraries are working, possibility lives. Project Outcome is a FREE toolkit designed to help public libraries understand and share the impact of essential library services and programs by providing simple surveys and an easy-to-use process for measuring and analyzing outcomes. Project Outcome also provides libraries with the resources and training support needed to apply their results and confidently advocate for their library’s future.

While many public libraries collect data about their programs and services, what is often lacking are the data to indicate the benefits libraries are providing their communities, such as programs serving childhood literacy, digital and technological training, and workforce development. With Project Outcome, patron attendance and anecdotal success stories are no longer the only ways libraries can demonstrate their effectiveness. Developed by library leaders, researchers, and data analysts, Project Outcome is designed to give libraries simple tools and supportive resources to help turn better data into better libraries. 

Measuring outcomes helps libraries answer the question, “What good did we do?” An outcome is a specific benefit that results from a library program or service. Outcomes can be quantitative or qualitative, and are often expressed as changes that individuals perceive in themselves. Project Outcome helps libraries measure four key patron outcomes—knowledge, confidence, application, and awareness—in seven key library service areas:

  • Civic/Community Engagement
  • Digital Learning
  • Economic Development
  • Education/Lifelong Learning
  • Early Childhood Literacy
  • Job Skills
  • Summer Reading

The Project Outcome toolkit provides libraries with FREE access to quick and simple patron surveys, an easy-to-use survey management tool to collect their outcomes, custom reports and interactive data dashboards for analyzing the data, and various resources to help move libraries from implementing surveys to taking action using the results. Libraries are encouraged to use their data to support and promote future action – from allocating resources more efficiently, to advocating new resources more effectively, to providing support for future library funding, branch activity reports, and strategic planning. For the first time, public libraries, whether they are new to outcome measurement or advanced in data collection, have free access to standardized outcome surveys and data analysis tools they can use to effect change within their communities and beyond.

Annual Report & Case Studies

Access Project Outcome's Annual Report to analyze survey results, learn what patrons benefited from most, and see what Project Outcome and participating libraries did in the first year to make Project Outcome a success.

To learn more about how libraries are utilizing their Project Outcome data for programming improvements, to gain funding, and to deepen community partnerships, review the 2017 Project Outcome Case Studies below.

Project Background

Project Outcome is managed by PLA and builds upon a 2013 initiative led by then-PLA president Carolyn Anthony (former director, Skokie Public Library), who established a Performance Measurement Task Force to develop standardized measures of effectiveness for library services and promote training and implementation tools for using the data collected. The Task Force is comprised of a diverse group of public and state library leaders, consultants, data researchers, and analysts. After collecting outcome data from 2013 PLDS survey responses and conducting pilot tests in 27 libraries in late 2014, the Task Force identified the seven essential library service areas for Project Outcome to assess that could be easily and directly linked to improving or changing a patron's knowledge, confidence, application, and awareness.

PLA launched the Project Outcome Immediate Surveys and online toolkit on June 26, 2015 at the ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco. Upon release, the Task Force quickly started working on the next set of performance measures for libraries to capture community impact. Throughout 2015–2016, the Task Force developed and tested the Follow-Up Surveys that were released to the public on June 24, 2016 at the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando. 

The work of the Task Force caught the eye of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Their generous funding support has enabled PLA to accelerate and expand the reach of Project Outcome. PLA is dedicated to sustaining the project's work beyond the terms of the grant and aims to add Project Outcome to the long list of other successful PLA services, such as Every Child Ready to Read and Turning the Page.

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. To learn more and to register for free, visit http://www.projectoutcome.org.

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. Performance and outcome measurement is also a key part in PLA’s participation in the Global Libraries Legacy Partnership.