Total Quality Management In Libraries

Total Quality Management in Libraries

M. Senthilvelan


The word Quality has many different meanings ranging from conventional to those that are strategic in nature.   Conventional meaning of quality usually describe a quality as one which looks good, works well, which is reliable etc. ,  Strategic meaning of quality is concerned with “meeting customer requirements”.   When a manufacturer is able to meet the exact   requirements of the customer consistently then that is called as Quality.   Quality then need not always mean good, reliable, long lasting etc.   If the manufacturer provides what the customer demands (good or bad) then that is Quality.

Some classical definitions of quality are as follows:

Quality if physical or non physical characteristics that constitutes that basic nature of a thing or is one of its distinguishing features. Quality should be aimed at the needs of the consumer, present and future.

By Deming Webster’s Dictionary

TQM is “a system of continuous improvement employing participative management and centered on the needs of customers” (Jurow & Barnard, 1993). Key components of TQM are employee involvement and training, problem solving teams, statistical methods, long-term goals and thinking, and recognition that the system, not people, produces inefficiencies. Libraries can benefit from TQM in three ways: breaking down interdepartmental barriers; redefining the beneficiaries of library services as internal customers (staff) and external customers (patrons); and reaching a state of continuous improvement (Jurow & Barnard, 1993).

A library should be focusing on providing the best services possible, and be willing to change to serve its customers. To determine if changes need to be made, a librarian might ask:  What do the customers come in for? How can I look at the efficiency of my library? How do we serve the current users that exist today? First learn about the customer, then solve the problems. An American, W. Edwards Deming, developed the concept of Total Quality Management (TQM) after World War II for improving the production quality of goods and services. The concept of TQM is applicable to academics. Many educators believe that the Deming’s concept of TQM provides guiding principles for needed educational reform. In his article, “The Quality Revolution in Education,” John Jay Bonstingl outlines the TQM principles he believes are most salient to education reform. He calls them the “Four Pillars of Total Quality Management. ”

Principle 1: Synergistic Relationships:-

According to this principle, an organization must focus, first and foremost, on its suppliers and customers. In a TQM organization, everyone is both a customer and supplier; this confusing concept emphasizes “the systematic nature of the work in which all are involved”. In other words, teamwork and collaboration are essential. Traditionally, education has been prone to individual and departmental isolation. The very application of the first pillar of TQM to education emphasizes the synergistic relationship between the “suppliers” and “customers”.

 The product of the successful work together is the development of the student’s capabilities, interests, and character. In one sense, the user is the customer for the library, as the recipient of educational services provided for the student’s growth and improvement. Viewed in this way, the library is the  suppliers of effective learning tools, environments, and systems to the users, who is the customer for library. The library staff  must educate the users regarding how to access the resources in the library for the users s by teaching them.

Principle 2: Continuous Improvement and Self Evaluation

The second pillar of TQM applied to education is the total dedication to continuous improvement, personally and collectively. Within a Total Quality library setting, administrators work collaboratively with their users. The foundations for this system were fear, intimidation, and an adversarial approach to problem-solving. Today it is in our best interest to encourage everyone’s potential by dedicating ourselves to the continual improvement of our own abilities and those of the people with whom we work and live. Total Quality is, essentially, a win-win approach which works to everyone’s ultimate advantage. According to Deming, no human being should ever evaluate another human being. Therefore, TQM emphasizes self-evaluation as part of a continuous improvement process.

Principle 3: A System of Ongoing Process

The third pillar of TQM as applied in academics is the recognition of the organization as a system and the work done within the organization is an ongoing process.   Quality speaks to working on the system, which will identify and eliminate the flawed processes.  Since systems have made up of processes, the improvements made in the quality of those processes largely determine the quality of the resulting product.

Principle 4: Leadership

The fourth TQM principle applied to education is that the success of TQM is the responsibility of top management. The librarians must establish the context in which users can have benefit by providing best services through the continuous efforts and improvement in the services.   According to the practical evidences, the TQM principles help the library in following clauses:

 1) Redefine the role, purpose and responsibilities of libraryschools.  2) Improve library as a best user center for a best “way of life. “ 3) Plan comprehensive leadership training for users at all levels.  4) Create staff development programmes.  5) Use research and practice-based information to guide both policy and practice.

In order to achieve the above as opportunities to the academic scenario, in addition to patience, participatory management among well-trained and educated partners is crucial to the success of TQM in libraries, everyone involved must understand and believe in principles. Some personnel who are committed to the principles can facilitate success with TQM. Their vision and skills in leadership, management, interpersonal communication, problem solving and creative cooperation are important qualities for successful implementation of TQM.


Based on his work with Japanese managers and others, Deming (1986; Walton, 1986) outlined 14 steps that managers in any type of organization can take to implement a total quality management program.

      3.  Cease dependence on mass inspection. Inspect products and services

          which only enough to be able to identify ways to improve the process.

    4.   End the practice of awarding business on price tag alone. The lowest priced goods

         are not always the highest qualities; choose a supplier based on its record of   

          improvement and then make a long-term commitment to it.

   5.   Improve constantly and forever the system of product and service. Improvement is

         not a one-time effort; management is responsible for leading the organization into

         the practice of continual improvement in quality and productivity.

6.     Institute training and retraining. Workers need to know how to do their jobs

         correctly even if they need to learn new skills.

7.      Institute leadership. Leadership is the job of management. Managers have the

        responsibility to discover the barriers that prevent staff from taking pride in what

        they   do. The staff will know what those barriers are.

8.  Drive out fear. People often fear reprisal if they “make waves” at work. Managers

     need to create an environment where workers can express concerns with confidence.

9.  Break down barriers between staff areas. Managers should promote teamwork

     by helping staff in different areas/departments work together. Fostering  

     Interrelationships among departments encourages higher quality decision-making.

10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the workforce. Using slogans

     alone, without an investigation into the processes of the workplace, can be offensive

     to workers because they imply that a better job could be done. Managers need to

     learn real ways of motivating people in their organizations.

11. Eliminate numerical quotas. Quotas impede quality more than any other

      Working condition, they leave no room for improvement. Workers need the

      flexibility to give customers the level of service they need.

12. Remove barriers to pride of workmanship. Give workers respect and

     feedback about how they are doing their jobs.

13. Institute a vigorous program of education and retraining. With continuous

      improvement, job descriptions will change. As a result, employees need to be

    educated and retrained so they will be successful at new job responsibilities.

14. Take action to accomplish the transformation. Management must work as a

       team to carry out the previous 13 steps.


Many libraries have implemented TQM successfully. Harvard College Library created a task force which rewrote the library’s vision statement, and considered changes that would have to be made in order to develop a new organization culture–one that “highlights the changing nature of staff roles and responsibilities in an era of pervasive change” (Clack, 1993). With the help of consultants, Harvard learned about TQM, and found that its principles of service excellence, teamwork, ongoing training and skill building, process/systems focus, continuous improvement, and cooperation across boundaries could help them make the changes they needed.

The Oregon State University Libraries also decided to test TQM. Two small teams, the Shelving Team from the stack maintenance unit, and the Documents Team from the government publications unit worked with outside facilitators. Each team surveyed users and staff and found that some issues, perceived as critical by staff, were not perceived as critical by customers and therefore needed rethinking in terms of TQM. The Shelving Team, which wanted to address the problem of long lasting shelving backlogs, found that the shelvers, who worked alone on the floors, felt isolated and unmotivated to make progress. Using this information, the team devised a plan for shelvers to work in small groups and have an assigned floor. The result was an increased “espirit de corps,” tidier shelves, and less backlog (Butcher, 1993).

Sirkin (1993) suggests some ways a library might use the principles of TQM to enhance library services.

Create service brochures and information kits

Conduct a user survey about library services

Change hours of operation

 Provide a more convenient material return

 Simplify checkout of materials

 Use flexibility in staff assignments

 Ask vendors to give product demonstrations

 Give new staff a thorough orientation

 Create interdepartmental library advisory groups

  Improve the physical layout of the library

  Track complaints

  Develop an active outreach program

  Publicize new or changed services

  Develop user and staff training materials

  Target services to specific groups

   Offer electronic document delivery


While TQM clearly has positive aspects, implementing it can have potential challenges as well. Jurow and Barnard (1993) identify four barriers to the adoption of TQM in libraries:

1)  Vocabulary: objections to terms such as “total,” “quality,” and “management”

2) Commitment: TQM takes several years to implement and requires a long-term

     Commitment by library managers

3) Process: Our culture tends to be impatient and we try to solve problems quickly,    

     to TQM’s careful process analysis; and (4) professionalization: professional staff can  

     be resistant to turning over their practices and services to what they perceive as

    the  uninformed whims of the customer”.

Riggs (1992) summarizes the notable principles of TQM:

(1) Manage by fact: make library decisions after careful analysis of data gathered

     With tools such as check sheets, histograms, and Pareto charts;

(2) Eliminate rework: library work is often labor intensive-simplify it and make

     sure, it is done properly the first time;

(3) Respect people and ideas: staff is the library’s most valuable resources, and

     they should be encouraged to point out problems without fear of management;

(4) Empower people: trust library staff to act responsibly and give them the

     appropriate authority to make decisions that can improve the quality of work they do.


Libraries are apt places to implement TQM.  Libraries are service organizations dedicated to their users (customers). By formulating a strategic plan, and following it with a commitment to continuous quality improvement, library managers can transform and improve their organizations.


Butcher, K. S. (1993). Total quality management: The Oregon State University Library’s experience. “Journal of Library Administration,” 18(1/2), 45-56. (EJ 469 102)

Deming, W. E. (1986). “Out of the crisis. ” Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Advanced Engineering Study.

Jurow, S. & Barnard, S. B. (1993). Introduction: TQM fundamentals and overview of contents. “Journal of Library Administration,” 18(1/2), 1-13. (EJ 469 099)

Mackey, T. & Mackey, K. (1992). Think quality! The Deming approach does work in libraries. “Library Journal,” 117(9), 57-61. (EJ 446 234)