Listening carefully to your members

Case study


Module 3: Sustaining your library association


Topic 4: Measuring Performance


One of the most important functions of an association is to determine the needs and expectations of members and ensure that they are met, and to engage with them to discuss issues of professional significance.  Member needs can be identified through a range of tools, for example surveys, meetings, focus groups or via the feedback section of the association’s website.  This case study examines a survey of members conducted by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), considers some of the key findings and reports on how the data has been used to improve the services provided to members.

Key Ideas

As you read the case study, think about the following issues:

  1. The role of library associations
  2. The value of research to inform practice
  3. The importance of understanding the needs and expectations of members
  4. The relationship between members’ expectations and the association’s strategic planning process?
  5. The significance of partnerships and alliances


The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) was established in 1937 as the Library Association of Australia (LAA). While different library associations represent the interests of the diverse aspects of the library sector in Australia, ALIA is regarded as the peak body for the industry. It seeks “to empower the profession in the development, promotion and delivery of quality library and information services to the nation, through leadership, advocacy and mutual support” (ALIA, 2010). The association is governed by an elected Board of Directors, comprising President, Vice President and five Directors. A series of regional meetings are held each year to enable members to have input into issues of importance to the profession. The national office in Canberra is managed by the Executive Director and staff.


Step 1: A survey of members

In 2008, ALIA commissioned two surveys, one of its personal members and one of its institutional members, with the goal of examining their views, ideas, and suggestions as part of the association’s commitment to improvement (InSync, 2008). The primary objective of the survey was to enable ALIA to determine member concerns:

  • To identify, prioritise and manage the key issues affecting members
  • To provide members with the opportunity to communicate openly and honestly with the management team of ALIA.

Members were invited to rate the importance of various services, activities and publications offered by the association and to rate their impressions of ALIA’s performance on each variable. There was ample opportunity to provide qualitative feedback on the various issues.

The survey required members to provide some demographic information and background to the reasons that they had joined the association, so that ALIA was able to develop a picture of the membership profile. It then displayed 24 statements about issues that were considered critical to the continued success of the association. Respondents were asked to rate each statement twice: firstly to measure the importance of each of the statements to them personally, and secondly to measure their impression of ALIA’s performance on each statement. A Likert scale was used to record the level of agreement/disagreement with the statements. The survey was made available online, with all responses being treated confidentially. 983 responses were submitted.

The questions about the member services covered the spectrum of services currently provided to members, to cover lobbying and advocacy, recognition of LIS courses, conferences and professional development, ALIA publications (print and electronic), industrial relations advice, copyright advice, awards etc. The findings revealed that top five services were:

  • Recognition of LIS courses and qualifications
  • Professional development opportunities, including conferences
  • Lobbying and advocacy
  • Networking opportunities
  • inCite (monthly magazine)

When rating ALIA’s performance in service delivery, the responses generally resonated with the services that were found to be the most important:

  • inCite (monthly magazine)
  • Professional development opportunities, including conferences
  • Recognition of LIS courses and qualifications
  • Networking opportunities
  • ALIA e-lists

Notably, the top 10 performance list contains seven factors from the top 10 importance list, which can be regarded as a positive result for ALIA: not only are these factors among the most important issues to members, they are also, generally, being performed well. In identifying factors for improvement, managers can analyse the perceived difference – or ‘gap’ – between the importance and performance scores for each variable. These gaps indicate areas of frustration or dissatisfaction for clients and therefore represent potential improvement opportunities. The data revealed that there was room for improvement across most areas of service delivery. Analysis of these gaps has enabled ALIA to prioritise strategies for improvement around factors considered most pressing by members. The survey confirmed that the association’s role in the accreditation of LIS courses and qualifications was highly regarded by members, and that services associated with professional development and networking should be core activities. The main area of concern was found to be lobbying and advocacy, with an importance ranking of 3, but a performance ranking of 18.

In the survey, respondents were asked to prioritise the potential new services they would like to receive access to. The results were recorded:

  • Access to full-text online journals (priority 1)
  • Careers advice for members (priority 2)
  • Resume Review Service (a service where resumes are reviewed by a senior
  • professional (priority 3)
  • Online collaboration space for groups (priority 4)
  • National mentoring program (priority 5)

Information was also gathered about the members’ preferences for the delivery of association news (e-lists, e-newsletters, InCite (monthly magazine), RSS feeds etc), as well as their preferred modes of delivery for professional development. Again InCite was found to perform well: the findings showed that 81% of respondents read InCite ‘often’ (as compared to ‘sometimes’ or ‘not at all’) and 74% preferred to receive in print, rather than electronically.

Step 2: Strategic planning

While the overall results from the survey were positive and encouraging, the data provided ALIA with information they could use in their next round of strategic planning processes. Since the beginning of 2009, ALIA has worked to improve performance in terms of meeting members’ expectations. The national office has been restructured to ensure a stronger focus on service delivery in the priority areas, with the industrial relations advisory services outsourced, rather than managed in house, and new appointments made to reflect the significance of education and professional development and lobbying and advocacy.
It has been recognised that to achieve effective outcomes in the area of lobbying and advocacy, ALIA needed to develop closer relationships with other associations and agencies within and beyond the LIS sector.

One of the key outcomes in the current strategic plan is therefore Partnerships, with the goal of achieving a united profession that speaks with one clear, collective voice. ALIA has hosted a Public Libraries Summit to engage the sector and to create a national framework which will better enable library services to share best practice, develop improvement plans and speak with a united voice to Federal Government (ALIA, 2009). It has also begun planning for a National Year of Reading 2012 campaign.

A program of lobbying and advocacy workshops is being run nationwide; the workshops are free for ALIA members. Over the past few months, the association has coordinated a successful program to lobby the Western Australian government to reverse a decision to cut funding to public libraries; it is playing a lead role in establishing the Safer Internet Group, in conjunction with Google and Yahoo, to challenge the Federal government’s plans for a national Internet filtering scheme.

In addition, ALIA has formed an alliance with the Australian School Library Association (ASLA) to lobby for a funding model that would see a teacher librarians appointed to every school. The alliance has been successful in prompting a government inquiry into school libraries and the role of teacher librarians.

In the area of LIS education, ALIA has undertaken a national evaluation of the 17 paraprofessional courses that offer the Diploma of Library/Information Services and has recommended the review of the training package to ensure that the competencies are aligned with industry needs. New services that have been recently introduced have included member access to a package of 130 online LIS journals offered by Proquest and a suite of careers services called Career Connect. The association monitors its program of activities and services to ensure they are closely aligned with the findings from the members’ survey.


ALIA has demonstrated the importance of being not only aware of, but also in a position to respond to members’ needs and expectations for service delivery. The members’ survey conducted in 2008 has provided a wealth of valuable information that has fed directly into the strategic planning process and provided the opportunity for the Board of Directors and the Executive Director to make evidence-based decisions regarding the prioritisation of services and the staffing requirements to ensure high quality outcomes. A second survey examined the views of institutional members and a third survey has been planned to investigate the needs and concerns of members who are actively engaged with the association as members of committees or working groups.


  1. Can you outline some of the key benefits of conducting a survey of members? Can you propose any strategies that ALIA could use to keep their members informed of the outcomes of the survey work?
  2. Has your library association conducted any research into members’ needs and expectations? If so, please describe what approaches were used and how the findings may have impacted on the association’s services and activities?
  3. What channels of communication are used in your library association to ensure that members have a voice? What barriers do you feel exist between the leadership team and the members of the association?
  4. What do you believe are the top five services provided by your library association? How do you think your members would rate the association’s performance in these areas?
  5. Can you list a few services provided by your association that could be improved? Taking one of these services, can you offer some ideas about how the issue might be addressed in your association’s strategic plan?

Case Notes

Resource: Case study
Country: Australia
Region: Asia-Oceania
Agency: Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA)
Topic: Member expectations
Keywords: members, needs, expectations, service delivery, evaluation, strategic planning, quality, continuous improvement


Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) (2009). ALIA public libraries summit: 16 July 2009. Available online: Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA). (2010). Strategic plan 2010-2015. Available online: InSync Surveys (2008). Personal membership survey report. November 2008. Available online:

Associations, Australia, Building Strong Library Associations

Last update: 21 October 2012