Service quality models and tools to evaluate and measure quality of library service

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This chapter examines literature and empirical studies relevant to this study. The main focus areas for the literature review presented in this section include the literature that has been published, and studies conducted in the areas of service quality, service quality assessments, and the various tools used in service quality assessment. Literature was reviewed from journal articles, books, thesis and website content as well as other research relevant to the study. According to Boote and Beile, (2005:3-15), a literature review aims to do the following:
a) Evaluate previous research and problems that directly or indirectly relate to the study
b) Acquaint the researcher with the latest information in the field to be studied
c) Keep the researcher up-to-date on work done by other researchers
d) Give the researcher an understanding of the research methodology
e) Be cognisant of the tools and instruments proven useful in similar studies
f) Show what is already known and what remains to be investigated.
The literature review takes into account all of the above.


As part of research, the literature review plays the essential role of sharpening and deepening the theoretical framework of research, familiarising the researcher with developments in the study area, identifying knowledge gaps, exploring research instruments and expounding on the definitions of key concepts in context. The literature review is an essential part of research as it enables researchers to sharpen and deepen the theoretical framework of the research, to familiarise themselves with developments in the research area, identify knowledge gaps, identify valid and reliable instruments and ascertain accepted definitions of key concepts (Bless & Higson-Smith, 2000:20; Babbie & Mouton, 2001:87). According to Mouton (2001), a literature review should be a review of scholarship.
According to Henning, Rensburg and Smit (2004:27), a literature review is a body of text that seeks to critically examine the salient points of a current body of knowledge, including research findings and theoretical and methodological contributions to the topic under study. It is a methodical, explicit, and reproducible method for identifying, evaluating, and interpreting an existing body of completed and recorded work produced by researchers, scholars, and practitioners (Fink, 2010:3).
A literature review helps place information in perspective by providing the researcher with a wide, comprehensive and in-depth overview of the subject matter (Green, Johnson & Adams 2001:102). It also serves the following purposes as outlined by Johnson and Christensen (2008: 65) and Welman, Krueger and Mitchell (2005:38-39):
a) Information from a literature review can help avoid duplication of past research
b) It brings out inconsistencies and gaps that may require further research
c) It reveals important facts and background information about the subject under study
d) It is a good source of motivation for further research
e) Relevant research questions can be formulated from a literature review
f) It makes it easier to identify appropriate data-collection instruments.
Literature reviews are important to the field under study because they make extensive contributions to the knowledge base of that field (Torraco, 2005: 356). Analysis of existing literature on a study topic is important in guiding evidence-based decision-making (Tranfield, Denyer & Smart, 2003; Whittemore & Knafl, 2005). According to Booth et al. (2012), it also helps in pinpointing gaps and synergies in the existing literature of a body of knowledge. In the publishing industry, journals frequently publish review articles, whose citations enhance the stature of the authors and the journal (Denyer & Pilbeam, 2013).
In this study, a combination of the thematic, methodological, theoretical, and empirical approaches were adopted. The literature review was therefore presented as follows:
a) The literature review discussed various quality assessment models and instruments relating to quality assessment in libraries. This was with the purpose of building the theoretical foundation of the study.
b) In the review, various research methods applied in previous similar studies were also identified.
c) Literature that is closely related to the study was reviewed thematically. This was done by focussing the literature around different themes derived from the research questions and objectives.
d) A review of various empirical studies relating to the current study was done.
e) Several studies have been conducted on service quality in library and information centres. The discussion below presents literature and key empirical findings of some of the service quality studies.


The library has been described as the heart of any institution (Somaratna & Peiris, 2011:171). This is because it provides a place for authors to share their ideas and for users to advance their knowledge and complete their work. Libraries provide many services to users, addressing diverse needs, characteristics and interests (Somaratna & Peiris, 2011:171). The library addresses users’ needs by providing services that meet their needs, characteristics and interests. It is through the provision of quality services that libraries can distinguish their services through friendly, helpful knowledgeable advice, in tandem with the best technological resources available (Somaratna & Peiris, 2011:171).
In the 1980s consumerism took root in most Western countries. With the rise in consumerism, scholars started to take interest in the quality of services offered by providers. It was at this point that scholars made attempts to define service quality from the perspective of the customer, and thus the term service quality took root.
Scholars such as Kotler (1999), Grönroos (1988), Garvin (1987), Cronin (1992), Taylor (1994), Teas (1993), Rust (1994), Parasuraman et al., (1994) took a keen interest in the subject and carried out various studies. These studies have contributed significantly to the development of the subject and it is from them that various models have been developed to measure service quality. To get a clear understanding of service quality, it is important to first understand the components that make up the term. These are service and quality.

Service defined

It is to be noted that product quality differs from that of a service in that quality in a product is tangible, whereas quality in a service is intangible (Muhammad & Alhamadani, 2011:61). Service is also defined differently.
The term “service” can be defined as behaviour or act based on a contact between two parties: comprising a provider and a receiver, whereby the nature of the transaction is reciprocal and intangible (Kotler, 2003). Other scholars have viewed service as a set of economic activities that provide time, location, form and psychological benefits (Haksever & Render, 2013). According to Beer (2003), service is a set of characteristics and overall properties which aim to satisfy the clients and meet their needs. Lasser, Manolis, & Winsor (2000) viewed service as a set of characteristics designed to meet the needs of clients, and at the same time building links between the service providers while strengthening the value of the client.
A service is defined as any economic activity that produces an intangible product (Heizer & Render, 2014:10). It may, or may not, be intended for profit, thus a service may be an action, or effort performed to satisfy an implicit or explicit customer need or expectation. Examples of services provided to customers in libraries include reference, reading space, lending, reservations and customer awareness service, among others.


Characteristics of service

Despite the continued debate about the validity of the four characteristics in distinguishing between products and services, these have come to be widely accepted by scholars as constituting the key characteristics of services. These characteristics explained below form the basis of most scholarly work in the services industry (Zeithaml & Bitner, 1996; Zeithaml, Parasuraman & Berry, 1985).

Intangibility of services

Unlike physical products, one cannot feel, touch, weigh, look at, smell, or taste a service before deciding whether or not to buy. Thus for services, there is no need for transport, storage or stocking. It is possible for a service to be re(sold) or owned, but it cannot be turned over from the service provider to the consumer. This intangible nature of most services gives rise to special problems both for suppliers and consumers. This is because services are activities, benefits or satisfactions which are offered for sale, or are provided in connection with the sale of goods (Haksever & Render, 2013).
According to Zeithaml (1981), the degree of tangibility affects the ease with which consumers can evaluate services. Service is intangible, which makes it complex. This is because it begins with design and is present through the whole process of delivery and performance, with assessment during the delivery process (Somaratna, Peiris & Jayasundara, 2010:2).

Inseparability of services

A key feature of service is that the service provision and provider cannot be separated from the service consumption and consumer. For example, one cannot take a restaurant home for consumption. A service consumer must sit in the barber’s shop or on a plane; the barber must be in his shop and the pilot on the plane to deliver the service. Neither can one take home the service offered at a library reference desk; one has to experience it in the library. In other words, one must make use of this service at the point where it is offered. Inseparability here implies the simultaneous delivery and consumption of services (Zeithaml et al., 1985). This enables consumers to affect or shape the performance and quality of the service (Zeithaml, 1981).

Heterogeneity of services

Heterogeneity of services reflects their high variability (Zeithaml et al., 1985). This means that each service is unique in its delivery and consumption and cannot be repeated in the exact manner, time location or conditions. This is chiefly caused by the fact that services are in most instances provided by different people at different times under different conditions, for example a librarian at the reference desk might be rotated to another section. There is also the issue of the unpredictability of human beings. A jovial service desk librarian today could be very moody the next day. The service rendered at the point of borrowing a book is completely different from the service rendered at its return. This is a particular problem for services with a high labour content, as the service performance is delivered by different people and the performance of people can vary from day to day (Onkvisit and Shaw, 2004; Zeithaml, 1985).

Perishability of services

This refers to the non-ownership of services. After purchase of a service, a customer does not acquire ownership of that service, unlike in the case of a physical product. This means that on purchase of a service, you cannot carry and store it for future use, chiefly because services have little or no tangible components. They are produced and consumed during the same period of time. What the customer pays is to secure access and use of the service (Zeithaml et al., 1985). The perishability of services comes in two forms. First, the relevant resources needed for a service are allocated for it during a defined period of time. If the consumer does not request and consume the service within this time, the service cannot be performed. Secondly, when service is performed for a user, it vanishes irreversibly since it has been consumed. For example, a book that has been issued to a user, cannot be returned at the same particular point in time.


Participation of the customer in the service delivery process is one of the most important characteristics of services. With this involvement, a customer is in a position to get the service modified to fit his specific requirements.
Each of these characteristics is retractable per se and their inevitable coincidence complicates the consistent service conception and makes service delivery a challenge in each and every case.

Quality of service in libraries

Quality is a much-studied subject in the manufacturing and service sectors, but scholars agree that there is no definition that can be termed as universally accepted (Al-Dararkah, 2002). Defining quality can be subjective, personal and subject to various changes depending on the situation, time or organisation (Feather & Sturges, 2003).
There are various definitions of quality. The term quality comes from the Latin word qualitas, which refers to the nature of a person or the nature of an object. In the past quality meant accuracy and perfection (Al-Dararkah, 2002). It has been defined as the extent to which products or services are able to satisfy users’ needs (Besterfield et al., 2003:8; Tam, 2000:350). It is the extent to which a set of characteristics comply with a set of requirements (ISO 9000 standard, 2005).
Karim and Alan (1996) defined quality as anything that accords with the characteristics of the product to meet a client’s needs. This definition agrees with that of Heizer and Render (2014:190), who defined quality as the ability of a product or service to meet customer needs, whether stated or implied. Such ability is inherent in its distinctive features (attributes). If these features meet customer needs, the service or product is rated by the customer as superior to others (Dash & Padhi, 2010:12).
The global apex body for library professionals, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), has defined quality as fitness for purpose whereby purpose is set and defined by the user (2007:2). Thus for library and information centres, quality is the ability to satisfy the customers’ needs, requests and desires for information. For this study, the definition adopted for quality will be the ability of the library to meet the needs of the users (Yu et al., 2008:521). This will be measured by the gap between the users’ expectations and their perceptions.
The empirical study of quality gained momentum in the late 1950s and early1960s, when scholars started to view it with academic interest. This was a culmination of studies by various scholars such as Deming, Juran, Crosby, Taylor, Feigenbaum, and Peters (Brophy & Couling, 1997). At this stage, studies on quality were focussed on its application to products in the manufacturing sector.
Quality has emerged as a very important issue in today’s world to the extent that it is now considered as an organizational weapon in the battle to win and retain customers (Muhammad & Alhamadani, 2011:60). In order to remain competitive, organisations need to continually develop and upgrade their services. To do so, they need the information that can only be acquired from measuring service quality. The results from this exercise form an empirical basis from which steps can be taken to improve the quality of services.

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Quality perspectives

According to Heizer and Render (2014:190-194) and Bhattacharjee (2011:117-118), quality can be viewed from several viewpoints. They identify five key areas, as follows.

Transcendental approach

According to this view, quality can only be experienced, but not discussed or written about (documented). This particular aspect of quality makes its management practically unrealistic. There is a general assumption among customers that the more expensive the service, the better the quality. This is not always true.

Manufacturing approach

This approach asserts that quality conforms to standards and that service providers should make it right the first time. It approaches quality from the manufacturer’s point of view whereby requisite specifications are set in advance and any departure from this is regarded as a sign of low quality. This approach removes the assessment of quality from the consumer and places it on the standards set by the provider.

Product approach

According to this approach, quality is a variable that is exact, quantifiable and can be determined objectively. The limitation of this approach is that it is largely based on personal preferences, which implies that the standard for measurement can be misleading.

Value-based approach

In this approach, quality is equated to value, asserting that service providers need to reach a balance between conformance and performance. This means that benefits and prices have to be carefully evaluated to reach customer satisfaction. It defines quality in terms of costs and prices, and holds that customers base their decision to purchase on quality at the best price.

Customer-based approach

In this approach, quality is seen as a personal matter and services that best satisfy customer needs and their perception of quality are those with the highest quality. Quality is equated to improvements such as appealing attributes and better performance. Though rational, this approach is faulted on the fact that preferences of consumers can vary widely making it hard to capture all in a service or product.
Studies have shown that the above approaches are applicable to libraries. The service-based approach is the focus of this research. This is primarily because it presents many opportunities that libraries can seize to improve service quality for their customers, while at the same time developing new services to target previously untapped users to the library.

1.1 Introduction
1.2 Conceptual setting
1.3 Contextual setting
1.4 Research problem
1.5 Literature review
1.6 Theoretical framework
1.7 Significance and justification of the study
1.8 Originality of the study
1.9 Research methodology
1.10 Scope and limitations of the study
1.11 Organisation of the thesis
1.12 Definition of terms
1.13 Summary of the chapter
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Concept of theory
2.3 Theoretical framework on assessing quality of services in libraries
2.4 Service quality models and tools to evaluate and measure quality of library service
2.5 Models adopted for the study
2.6 Summary of the chapter
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Nature of literature review
3.3 Service quality
3.4 Assessing the quality of library services
3.5 Challenges in measuring service quality
3.6 Related studies
3.7 Summary of the chapter
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Research paradigm
4.3 Research approach
4.4 Research design
4.5 Study area
4.6 Target population
4.7 Data collection methods and instruments
4.8 Data collection procedures
4.9 Data analysis and interpretation approach
4.10 Data analysis procedures
4.11 Validity and reliability
4.12 Ethical considerations
4.13 Summary of the chapter
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Response rate
5.3 Characteristics of the respondents
5.4 Minimum level of service that users would find acceptable
5.5 Desired expectations of library users
5.6 Perceived level of service by users
5.7 Gaps between users perceptions and expectations
5.8 Presentation of data from focus group discussions
5.9 Summary of the chapter
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Minimum expectations of users
6.3 Desired expectations of the library users in LibQUAL and SERVQUAL
6.4 Perceptions of library users in LibQUAL, SERVQUAL and SERVPERF
6.5 Quality of library services
6.6 Service Quality variables that meet users’ expectations in LibQUAL and SERVQUAL
6.7 Discussion of findings from focus group discussions
6.8 Assessing the quality of service using the three protocols and focus group discussions
6.9 Summary of the chapter
7.1 Introduction
7.2 Overall summary of the study
7.3 Conclusions
7.4 Recommendations
7.5 Suggestions for further research

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