Mystery shopping in libraries

Ranking of European public libraries from a customer perspective

Companies and institutions that produce goods or services often use ranking systems for development of their products. This includes for example hotels, restaurants, schools, universities and cities. Ranking is however an instrument that is not commonly used among public libraries. We are proposing a ranking system that stimulates benchmarking and strengthens the citizen and customer perspective.

It exists however already a variety of ranking and rating systems in the library sector. There are examples in USA, Great Britain and Germany, but they are mostly based on hard facts as economy, staff, circulation, visits and they are primarily indicating efficiency. Our initiative, Library Ranking Europe (LRE), is based on the perspective and the needs of the citizen and customer. We anticipate that the customer is more interested for example in personal service, supply of media and opening hours. The existing customer surveys do not always provide information that is useful for improving services .

This assessment, this ranking, is based on the Nordic public library tradition and ideology. In the Nordic countries public libraries are important for freedom of expression and democracy, culture, education, research and social development.

The ambition with LRE is to visit, observe and to rank European public libraries. We are using the method of Mystery shopping. Aspects we especially investigate are access to information about the respective library, location and the customer service. Site, visibility and accessibility are of main importance including public transport, handicap accessibility and opening hours. Services and supplies that are included in the surveys are for example media and fees, cafés, lavatories and identifiable staff. Architecture, aesthetics and premises, standard concerning lighting and facilities for children and youth are observed. The versatility of the library regarding supply of media and the presence of controversial titles and authors is also evaluated.

Evaluations are summarised in a scale of six levels, six stars being the highest level .

Already 2001 we published an article in a number of European library journals about this possibility to systematically stimulate quality and in the combination with this create a joint Europe-logo for public libraries,

We strongly believe in ranking as a tool for development for public libraries. That is why we now test “a system of stars”, comparable with systems in other industries. You can find LRE at the web, In the beginning of 2015 the first ranked libraries were introduced.