Are Best Practices Really Best? A Review of the Best Practices Literature in Library and Information Studies

Jackie Druery, Nancy McCormack, Sharon Murphy


Objective - The term “best practice” appears often in library and information science literature, yet, despite the frequency with which the term is used, there is little discussion about what is meant by the term and how one can reliably identify a best practice.

Methods – This paper reviews 113 articles that identify and discuss best practices, in order to determine how “best practices” are distinguished from other practices, and whether these determinations are made on the basis of consistent and reliable evidence. The review also takes into account definitions of the term to discover if a common definition is used amongst authors.

Results – The “evidence” upon which papers on “best practices” are based falls into one of the following six categories: 1) opinion (n=18, 15%), 2) literature reviews (n=13, 12%), 3) practices in the library in which the author works (n=19, 17%), 4) formal and informal qualitative and quantitative approaches (n=16, 14%), 5) a combination of the aforementioned (i.e., combined approaches) (n=34, 30%), and 6) “other” sources or approaches which are largely one of a kind (n=13, 12%). There is no widely shared or common definition of “best practices” amongst the authors of these papers, and most papers (n=94, 83%) fail to define the term at all. The number of papers was, for the most part, split evenly amongst the six categories indicating that writers on the subject are basing “best practices” assertions on a wide variety of sources and evidence.

Conclusions – Library and information science literature on “best practices” is rarely based on rigorous empirical methods of research and therefore is generally unreliable. There is, in addition, no widely held understanding of what is meant by the use of the term.


best practices, best practice, library practices

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