There are a number of ways to describe the Mathews Memorial Library. The first, and most important, is that of athenaeum, defined as an institution for the promotion of learning. Although rarely heard in today's world, the term denotes a larger role than that of merely providing access to books, magazines, etc. A second description might be as a center for civic support. This comes into play through such activities as childhood literacy, career counseling, creative programming, genealogy and history archival center. A more recent descriptor is that of computer center. An unlikely, though highly supportable concept, is one of tourist attraction.
Today, the success of the Mathews Memorial Library, like most public libraries, is measured, not so much by what they bring to the community, but rather the resources (budget, collection size and staffing) that the library has to utilize. This form of measuring success is reinforced by the annual collection of data provided to the Library of Virginia which, in turn, impacts on the level of State Aid funding provided. Currently, the most widely collected and reported service measures indicating the level of library use are circulation, reference requests, door counts and program attendance. Even attempts to collect data on the extent of the library as computer center fall short, for instance, in capturing the role of the library website, where efforts are made to record the number of hits, page views, etc. The number of onsite visits to take advantage of the library's wireless network may be captured, but the impact of its availability is not currently measureable when, in fact, this service is the bridge over which information and service flows for many patrons.
The means for assessing and measuring the impact of much of what the library currently does are lacking. What is needed is a set of performance measures that will capture the essence of what the library is providing. It is important to measure the outcome or impact of the difference that some of these programs make in the lives of individuals and the well-being of the community. Such a task is not for a single library to undertake but, rather, will require attention at a higher level, It has never been more important than the present for Mathews Memorial Library to tell its true story than now as we look toward occupying the outstanding and highly functional H. Bland Hudgins Wing. We will need to figure out – one step at a time – how best to serve the teen population for whom a large portion of the Wing is apportioned. Without the means to ensure consistency and validity, the difference that library services make in the lives of young people may be skewed and unproductive.
The mission and role of the library is too important to the patrons and to the community to take for granted. We must, first, seek balance and equity of service and, with commitment, we can figure it out – one step at a time.