Library Watch ：What is your opinion about applying KPIs to facilitate library services in Singapore?
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to us is a very important component of library service development in Singapore. The reason for this is that only by measuring how our users use and perceive us, can the library develop services that best meet their needs. At the National Library Board (NLB) of Singapore, we measure the use of each service on a monthly basis, both for physical and digital library services, and we measure the satisfaction rate of users on a yearly basis. We also measure the overall organisational health of our staff, by way of an staff survey, to understand the level of their engagement and satisfaction with the organization. This is done every two years.
I shall relate here an example of how we use KPIs to measure and improve the use of our content. The NLB provides a service called Singapore Infopedia. Infopedia is a database of articles on and about Singapore, written by librarians, based on the enquiries that they frequently receive from users on anything Singapore. As the publishing output of Singapore is small, it is not easy for a user to find such materials. When the NLB first started putting articles out to its users, it was through the library’s website. We found that use of the content is very low, about 400 accesses a month. The team then brainstormed ideas on how to increase use. One of the ideas suggested by staff was to use the search engine optimisation method to put the content out to internet search engines for them to crawl and index the articles, so that users can find the articles when they search any internet search engines, for example Google. Staff were also trained to write the articles in such a manner so that internet search engines will want to index them. Between 2007 and 2008, after the content was put out to the internet search engines, we started seeing a rise in use. From 4,800 accesses a year, Singapore Infopedia today enjoys more than 3.4 mil page views for its 2,500 articles, a 700-fold increase. This is one way KPIs are used to improve services and to increase the use of the content.
Another example was the digitisation of newspapers. For a long time, users had to come to the NLB libraries to make use of the microfilms to search for articles in the library’s newspapers archives. This was time consuming and cumbersome. The NLB decided that it would digitise the newspapers so that users can access them from anywhere in the world. Rights were secured from the publishing company to allow the NLB to provide remote access to the library’s newspapers that are older than 20 years old. This was a significant breakthrough. After digitising the newspapers, and putting them out to internet search engines to crawl and index, use also increased dramatically. From a low use level of about 36,000 accesses a year, the use is over 10.3 mil page views a year today. This is a 286-fold increase.
KPIs are also very important when we use them to ask the government for more funds. It is an effective way to let them know how libraries are valued by our users through the use and compliments data.
Measurements of staff feedback is also very important for an organisation. KPIs are used to measure the level of engagement of staff in the organisation and staff’s perception of how the organisation is doing in terms of management leadership, clarity of vision and mission, and teamwork. Based on the results, the management team works with the respective divisional teams to improve on the way we work, so as to reduce the anxieties or frustrations of staff, and improve the conditions for work. A higher level of engagement brings about a much happier workforce. This is important as a happier workforce brings about better customer services.
Library Watch ：From the perspectives of providing library services and making the best use of library collections, what are the major trends in the Singapore ?
The major trends in Singapore as I see them are :
Higher levels of education of citizens, which translates to more discerning and demanding library customers
Aging population which results in a need to re-design library spaces, collections and services to cater to this growing need
A more internet savvy and more mobile citizenry. This means that users are more likely to use their hand-held mobile devices to access the libraries’ collections and services. Just today, the NLB launched its latest mobile library service to make it even easier for user to borrow library books. After downloading an app “NLB Mobile” on their mobile phone, they can now borrow books using their mobile phones, without going to a library staff nor a self-service book borrowing machine to do this. This will free the library from putting in self-service machines to facilitate borrowing of books, and also, make it easier for users to borrow books anywhere in the library. Over the past 5 years, the NLB had also been aggressively been making its content accessible via mobile phones.
Greater need for information literacy skills : especially in the internet age, more and more users are finding it difficult to find information for specific needs. Most of them are able to search the internet search engines for general information, however, if they need authoritative information, they find it difficult to find the most appropriate sources to get to the best piece of information that they need. To help the users attain this skill, the NLB worked with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to embed information literacy skills into school textbooks so that teachers teach information literacy skills as they conduct their lessons in school. Information literacy skills are not taught separately from their classroom learning. This enables the NLB to reach out to all the students in the schools, by working very closely with the MOE curriculum development teachers.
Library Watch ：Can you talk more about the accomplishments of your KidsREAD and Read@school program?
KidsRead is a programme initiated to reach children from poor families where the parents are too busy earning a living and have no time to bring their children to the library. The NLB actively recruits volunteers who are keen to help these children read and trains them to read to children from these families on a regular basis. The volunteers visit the homes of the children to read to them. The families are identified with the help of the authority that provides social welfare to them. KidsRead was started in 2004. It has helped the NLB reached 27,742 children over the years through 184 reading clubs, and with the help of 9,828 volunteers.
Read@School is another programme to reach students who are captive audiences in schools. As it is hard for the NLB to reach every student due to their different family situations, the NLB has a programme that provides support to schools to help them run fun and engaging reading programmes to promote reading, and provides reading lists to schools for different age groups. NLB trains the teachers to run these programmes and they have been immensely popular. Between January 2013 and June 2014, NLB has reached 260 schools (out of total of 360 in Singapore) and 1.17 mil students. Book loans made through programmes : 894,700, and number of reading activities conducted : 4,149.
Library Watch ：With a multi-culture environment, the NLB success is shining examples among library communities. Can you share with us some of the stories behind the scenes?
The NLB is one of many great libraries in the world that had successfully been transforming its libraries to meet the needs of its users. I would like to summarise the NLB’s critical success factors as follows :
The relentless pursuit of customer service excellence. From 1995 when the National Library became a statutory board called the National Library Board, the leadership of the board had pursued a strong and clear journey of customer service excellence. This included reviewing every single service provided by the library to see how best to improve the service so that users can save time and effort to get what they want, without wasting precious time. During the first 8 years of the NLB from 1995-2003, the NLB focused on making library visits and use of collections very convenient and hassle-free. This is to reduce the pain of users visiting and using libraries. All the manual transactions were automated, so that users need not wait for staff to help them to get things done. Users select books that they want, they borrow the books at the self-service machines, and if they wish to pay a library fine, they pay the fine at an e-kiosk that also allows the user to register as a new member and to get a new library card, if the user wishes to have one. Most of the services provided by NLB is now so convenient, that there is no queue at any of the libraries and borrowing books is a breeze. Returning of books is even easier, as books are returned via book drops that require no other effort. Users just drop their books into the book drops and they can immediately borrow new books. All NLB staff are regularly trained to provide a good customer service. Today, 388 compliments are received for every complaint made. This is a far cry from the early days when more complaints than compliments were received regularly.
Excellent use of information technology (IT) and digital platforms. Although the journey is far from over, the NLB had made great strides in leveraging the internet search engines and digital platforms to help provide a better service to the users. Today, users can access and use the NLB’s many services using its digital platforms, and more importantly, find materials that they need from wherever they are.
Focus on staff competency. This is equally important. Even with mass digitisation of content, and use of IT, staff is a critical pillar for excellence in customer service. Staff needs to be trained to be very good in helping the user, they need to be knowledgeable in content and services, and they need to have the mindset to keep learning, unlearning and relearning. This is an ongoing journey that never ends as new services are innovated all the time, and staff needs to be learning all the time.
Leadership and vision : NLB has been very fortunate that it has had very good CEOs. Dr Christopher Chia, the first of the NLB CEOs had a great vision to make NLB a world class library system by smoothening the internal and customer facing processes and ensuring that customers have the best experience ever when they visit any of the NLB’s libraries. He succeeded in achieving this. Today, NLB is one of the world’s best library systems where library operations are labour efficient, and user experience is often described as fantastic, hassle-free, no queues and an oasis for learning and discovery. For financial year 2013, use of services totalled 23 mil visits, 35.5 mil loans, and 71.4 mil e-retrievals. Dr Varaprasad, who joined NLB in 2003, achieved mass digitisation on a large scale and brought the NLB’s collection into the hands of the user. This gave the user instant access to most of the NLB’s digital resources, 24 by 7. Dr P, as he was also affectionately known, also initiated services to serve the underserved through KidsRead and Molly, the mobile bus service that serves disadvantaged users. Mrs Elaine Ng, current CEO built on the efforts of the former two CEOs that improved the hardware of the libraries. She has articulated a vision that focuses on building the software of the nation. NLB will increase its efforts on reading and information literacy, re-design of library spaces, promote use of Singapore content and continue to innovate in services.
Committed and passionate library staff. This is the real asset of NLB, a team of highly committed, passionate and dedicated staff, many of whom had serve NLB for decades. They came, they learnt and they were truly immersed in the mission and vision of the NLB. They put their hearts and souls into transforming the NLB from a traditional library system to one that is up-to-date and “cool” to many of our users. We are very grateful to them.
Library Watch ：With your past experiences as a consultant to promote library enthusiastically, can you tell us more about your professional passion and beliefs ?
I have been in the library industry for over 35 years. I have been very grateful for the opportunity to serve and I believe very strongly that libraries make a difference to people’s lives. My view is that if children are read to from young, they will become life-long readers and life-long learners. I have seen so many of our users from young and they have turned out to be really fine citizens. Some of our users have joined the NLB as staff members as well. It is always so heartwarming to hear stories from them and from other users who tell us about how libraries changed their lives. I believe that if libraries focus on what users want, libraries will remain relevant to them for a very long time, whether libraries are physical or digital.
NLB launches mobile app to streamline borrowing process (Access from
社團法人台灣國際資訊整合聯盟協會版權所有 | International Federation for Information Integration copyright. All Rights Reserved. 11441台北市內湖區內湖路一段91巷40號 | Tel : +886-2-26581830 | Fax : +886-2-26577071
11441,No. 40, Lane91, Sec.1, Nei-hu Rd., Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C.