The Origins/Birth of LibQUAL+(R)
Bruce Thompson, Texas A&M University and Baylor College of
In 1999, Fred Heath was Dean of Libraries, and Holder of the
Sterling Evans Chair, and Colleen Cook was Executive Associate
Dean, and Wright Professor of Library Science, both at Texas
A&M University (TAMU). Fred and Colleen for some years had
realized that use of "input" variables, such as collection
or serials counts, were limited as measures of library service
quality, especially as the Web and digital content became
In 1995, 1997, and 1999, Fred and Colleen had collected
service quality perceptions of samples of TAMU library users,
using the "SERVQUAL" protocol developed in the 1980s by TAMU
Professors Zeithaml, Parasuranam, and Berry. However, SERVQUAL
was developed for use in the for-profit business sector, and
(a) included items not considered relevant by some library
users (e.g., the attire of service staff), and (b) did not
include some items very important to library users.
In 1999, Colleen, then a Ph.D. student, approached one of
her statistics teachers, Bruce Thompson, then TAMU Professor
of Educational Psychology and Adjunct Professor of Family and
Community Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine (Houston) and
asked him to work with her and Fred in developing a modified
protocol suitable for use in libraries. At this time, Fred was
also serving on the Board of the Association of Research
Libraries (ARL), an association consisting of roughly 123 of
the largest research libraries in the United States and Canada.
The A&M team proposed to ARL that the TAMU team would
develop this alternative protocol, which the team subsequently
named "LibQUAL+(R)," and would give the protocol to
ARL for non-profit use in improving libraries.
In January, 2000, the American Library Association held
its mid-winter meeting in San Antonio, and at that conference
the representatives of a dozen ARL libraries met in a classroom
of a TAMU-San Antonio facility to discuss their possible pilot-
testing of an emerging LibQUAL+(R) protocol. The
programming for the first web-based administration of the
first-stage, draft protocol was done by TAMU doctoral student,
Russell "Trey" Thompson. Shortly thereafter, ARL employed web
developer Jonathan Sousa in this role, and Jonathan created the
Web infrastructure familiar to more recent users of the
Participating institutions paid a modest cost-recovery fee
to help defray administration expenses. Fred Heath also
committed significant resources from his endowed Evans Chairship
(i.e., roughly $0.5M) to support initial phases of data
collection and protocol refinement. In October, 2000, Heath,
Cook, and Thompson, and others described their work to the ARL
members at a one-day symposium for ARL Library Directors
presented immediately following the ARL annual meeting.
Subsequently, Colleen drafted a proposal for grant funding,
which was revised by Martha Kyrillidou, then ARL Director of
Statistics, and ultimately successfully submitted through ARL
for funding to the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary
Education (FIPSE). The FIPSE grant also facilitated the
development of the protocol, which initially had as many as
55 core items, but in subsequent years was reduced first to 25,
and finally to 22 core items.
Various ARL employees (e.g., Consuella Askew, Kaylyn Hipps
and Amy Hoseth) helped popularize the protocol in its early
stages, including Martha Kyrillidou, who has invested
considerable energy and expertise in the project, and is the
only ARL employee working on the project continuously ever
since its inception in 2000. From the ARL point of view, Duane
Webster, ARL Executive Director, has been supportive of
LibQUAL+(R) as one important component of efforts
to cultivate a culture of assessment within libraries that
helps libraries improve and market their services:
The first widescale use of LibQUAL+(R) outside
North America (i.e., the United States and Canada) occurred
in the United Kingdom. Stephen Town, initially at Cranfield
University and more recently Director at the University of
York, an important library service quality advocate and
thinker, has been especially helpful in facilitating the
use of the protocol in Europe.
LibQUAL+(R) includes the quantitative data yielded
from the 22 core items, but also includes qualitative data
provided by users in the form of open-ended comments.
Consistently, across libraries, a striking percentage of
participants--roughly 40%--provide comments, which flesh out
users' service quality perceptions, and make specific
recommendations for service quality improvements. Thus,
LibQUAL+(R) is not just 22 core items, but at
least includes "22 items and a comments box."
During 2007, LibQUAL+(R) is on track to be used
to collect data from the 1,000,000th library user from the
1,000th institution! LibQUAL+(R) now has been
used in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand,
the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales), France,
Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark,
Finland, Norway, Sweden, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates,
and South Africa. A Chinese version is being implemented in
Hong Kong in the Fall of 2007.
Currently, the system supports 12 languages: Afrikaans,
American English, British English, Chinese (Traditional),
Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French (Canadian), French (European),
German, Norwegian, and Swedish. The various editions of
LibQUAL+(R) have been used over a period of
The LibQUAL+(R) developers have scrupulously documented
their work within the refereed journal literature. In addition
to presenting background information of the protocol, this
academic documentation has also strengthened the credibility
of LibQUAL+(R) data. More than 25 articles have been
published by the developers on their development of the protocol.
Also, several additional dozens of articles have been published by
LibQUAL+(R) users at various libraries about how they
have used the LibQUAL+(R) quantitative (e.g., 22 core
items) and qualitative (i.e., user comments) data (e.g., the May,
2002 issue of Performance Measurement and Metrics, edited
by Colleen Cook, and the Fall, 2004 issue of the
Journal of Library Administration, edited by Fred Heath,
Martha Kyrillidou and Consuella Askew) to improve library
Background on the development of the protocol can be
found, among other locations, in:
Snyder, C. A. (2002). Measuring library service quality with
a focus on the LibQUAL+TM project: An interview
with Fred Heath. Library Administration & Management,
Cook, C., & Heath, F. (2000, August). The Association of
Research Libraries LibQUAL+TM Project: An update.
ARL Newsletter: A Bimonthly Report on Research Library Issues
and Actions from ARL, CNI, and SPARC, 211, 12-14.
Cook, C., Heath, F., & Thompson, B. (2000, October).
LibQUAL+TM: One instrument in the New Measures
toolbox. ARL Newsletter: A Bimonthly Report on Research
Library Issues and Actions from ARL, CNI, and SPARC, 212,
The grounding of the protocol within the qualitative
interviews of users conducted by Fred Heath and Colleen Cook
is documented, among various places, in:
Cook, C., & Heath, F. (2001). Users' perceptions of
library service quality: A "LibQUAL+TM" qualitative
study. Library Trends, 49, 548-584.
Cook, Carol Colleen. (2002). A mixed-methods approach to
the identification and measurement of academic library
service quality constructs: LibQUAL+TM. (Doctoral
dissertation, Texas A&M University, 2001).
Dissertation Abstracts International, 62, 2295A.
(University Microfilms No. AAT3020024)
Illustrative examples of early documentation of the
protocol's development and data trustworthiness include, in
Thompson, B., Cook, C., & Heath, F. (2000). The
LibQUAL+TM gap measurement model: The bad, the ugly,
and the good of gap measurement. Performance Measurement
and Metrics, 1, 165-178.
Cook, C., Heath, F., Thompson, B., & Thompson, R.L.
(2001). LibQUAL+TM: Service quality assessment in
research libraries. IFLA Journal, 4, 264-268.
Cook, C., Heath, F., Thompson, B., & Thompson, R.L.
(2001). The search for new measures: The ARL
"LibQUAL+TM" study--a preliminary report.
portal: Libraries and the Academy, 1, 103-112.
Thompson, B., Cook, C., & Heath, F. (2001). How many
dimensions does it take to measure users' perceptions of
libraries?: A "LibQUAL+TM" study. portal:
Libraries and the Academy, 1, 129-138.
Cook, C., & Thompson, B. (2001). Psychometric properties
of scores from the Web-based LibQUAL+TM study of
perceptions of library service quality. Library Trends,
Cook, C., Heath, F., & Thompson, B. (2001). Users'
hierarchical perspectives on library service quality: A
"LibQUAL+TM" study. College and Research Libraries,
Cook, C., Heath, F., Thompson, R.L. & Thompson, B.
(2001). Score reliability in Web- or Internet-based surveys:
Unnumbered graphic rating scales versus Likert-type scales.
Educational and Psychological Measurement, 61, 697-706.