A trio of public library standards

Three women sitting around a table of books

Reading group fun (C) Welsh Government Libraries Inspire

Regular readers of this blog, and those up to date with Welsh public library news, will know that in April 2014 a new framework of Welsh Public Library Standards was produced. You can read about the framework in an older post.

However, also during 2014 both Scotland and Northern Ireland refreshed their models for public library standards/performance monitoring frameworks.

I thought it might be interesting to have a look at how the three approaches compare, especially as the concept of standards/benchmarking is being discussed during debates about English public libraries, for example during the recent Westminster Hall parliamentary debate on public libraries, and at the Speak up for Libraries conference. Those debates reveal that there is some appetite for the return of public library standards for England, often by library managers and campaigners. However, we shall have to see what the Sieghart review proposes, and what then happens in England.

Scotland (through SLIC) has revised its 2007 Public Library Quality Improvement Matrix and this summer issued ‘How good is our public library service: a public library improvement model for Scotland’. Like Wales, the indicators are grouped into several main areas. For Scotland these are:

  • access to information
  • readers’ experience
  • learning culture
  • individual and community engagement, and
  • vision, strategy and continuous improvement.

In Northern Ireland, the standards are part of the library strategy ‘Delivering Tomorrow’s Libraries’, and were revised in 2014. The areas of focus for the standards are:

  • tackling poverty and social exclusion
  • participation
  • customer satistfaction
  • access
  • stock, and
  • access to information and communications technology.

For Wales, the four areas for the standards are:

  • customers and communities
  • access for all
  • learning for life, and
  • leadership and development.

All these different headings can be reduced to three to neatly sum up the essence of a library service:

  • things (stock, information, ICT etc)
  • people (experience, learning, engagement, inclusion etc)
  • how they’re managed (access, strategies, leadership etc).

But I must admit this over-simplifies the richness of a library service, and that’s what the different frameworks seek to draw out.

Since the start of Scotland’s framework they have pioneered self-evaluation and peer review as an integral part of their model. In the revised framework there are outlines of what performance looks like at six levels, from excellent and very good through to weak and unsatisfactory.

Thus Scotland does not have set targets for things like opening hours, spend on stock, but, in considering and reporting on each of the points within the core themes, library services are prompted to ask themselves questions about each point and judge the level of their performance against the 1-6 ratings.

In Northern Ireland there are specified targets for each library standard e.g. “at least 50% of young people aged 11-16 entitled to free school meals to have used the public library service in the last 12 months”. In Wales some of the 16 indicators have set targets to achieve whilst some indicators are reported as percentages with no target e.g. percentage of children who think the library has helped them learn new skills.

SLIC has created a toolkit of templates for library services to use to assist with the self-evaluation and for the peer review process and I like the ‘things to think about’ prompts within each section. I think this can be helpful for a library service to consider what it is currently doing and why.

Both the Welsh and the Scottish models have also sought to create entitlements for the public (Appendix 4 in How Good is Our Public Library Service, and the Core Entitlements in Libraries Making a Difference), including things like free access to books and the Internet, access to the authority’s library policies etc.

This very brief review shows that there is no single way to measure or evaluate public library service, and I haven’t even touched on approaches outside the UK, such as the public library standards in the state of Victoria in Australia who were inspired by the original Scottish model (and Scotland have now re-adapted theirs!), or, the recent announcement that the Public Library Association in America, has been awarded a grant of USD$2.9 million from the Global Libraries Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the development of performance outcome measures.

Neither have I addressed outcome and performance measures for other types of libraries e.g. colleges and universities. Time allowing, I will do that in a future blog post.

About alysontyler

Civil servant, yoga teacher and former librarian.
This entry was posted in CyMAL, England, Governance, Libraries, Northern Ireland, Public libraries, Scotland, Wales, Welsh Public Library Standards and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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