Best Value and Better Performance in Libraries
B: Putting the model into actions
As we have already noted, most librarians don’t start here, but we think it is important to give serious consideration to the areas in which your service is (or should be) trying to make a difference. This is the point at which to take on:
- The national agenda as it affects your service (e.g. reading promotion, the National Literacy strategy, social inclusion, lifelong learning, the people’s network, the National Grid for Learning, the University for Industry, etc.).
One difficulty is that the government has encouraged local authority targets to be set in these areas, but they have been applied differentially to various local authority departments (e.g. social services have to adhere to 64 performance indicators in relation to looked-after children, education has 2 indicators, libraries have none – but does this mean that they have no role?) This can make inter-departmental negotiation problematic, around such areas as lifelong learning – should public libraries be key players or merely providers of some infrastructure for the LEA – and who should decide?
- the local and, especially regional agendas (since development funds are increasingly being made available on a regional basis) including the corporate strategic aims, policies and priorities. It is important to integrate the service aims/objectives with the local authority priorities, and
- the interests of other key stakeholders (and potential partners). We have already offered our view that libraries should consult about aims and objectives rather than services. One important reason for doing this is that if you do not prioritise your aims in consultation with user communities, you are leaving yourself open to challenge within the Best Value review process (see X below). Pertinent questions include: ‘What would the community lose if there was no service?’ ‘What would clients lose if there was no service?’ ‘What would the loss look like in practice?’
- it is important to be clear who the stakeholders are and how they will be involved in the process. When consulting about aims the quality of the consultation is crucial – numbers will not be enough (see ‘Collecting data’ below)
Despite the need to take all these perspectives into account you will still need to keep your professional judgement in play. The wants expressed by community representatives may not fully reflect community needs. You may have to help people to see what is possible, to open up alternatives and present new ideas. (As more than one Schools Library Services manager observed, “It is no good talking to Heads about a quality service if they have no idea what quality looks like.”) Consultation should be about developing relationships and not just asking questions. This will help people to move on in understanding what a library service can achieve.
- Linley and Usherwood's research9 can be used to provide a framework to support you in thinking about the aims of the service. When collecting evidence about the value of the library to the community and its impact on people’s lives, they focus on four strands:
- established functions, including culture, education, reading and literacy, information provision and leisure
- social and caring roles, including personal development, community empowerment and learning, local image and social cohesion
- economic impact, including business and employment information, training opportunities and tourism information
- equity between groups and communities, as well as equity of access.
Developing clear aims is important – the impact of any organisation can only be assessed in relation to its aims.
In setting aims and objectives you should be realistic about what can be demonstrably achieved. It is pointless to set ambitious aims for the service on the lines of ‘the local community will read better’ or ‘children in schools served will achieve better exam results’ if there is no way of establishing whether or not any such impact can be achieved, how to go about it or whether the service made any contribution to achieving any change (if it could be measured). Simple cause and effect relationships are difficult to establish in the real world but it should be possible to find aims and objectives where you can show if you are having any impact – usually by asking people!
This part of the process is not easy, but it is the secret to preparing the ground for achieving impact indicators that mean something to your service.
Some examples of aims/objectives:
- [All the examples in these boxes were generated by library service managers.]
- Public library services
- to empower individuals and communities to engage in democratic processes
- to promote equitable access to resources for leisure and learning
- to support the study needs of young people
- to build individual's capacity to engage in lifelong learning
- to assist in the reduction of disadvantage and inequality
- to promote and encourage reading across generations
- to contribute to the economic regeneration of the locality
- to sustain community identity and confidence
- Schools library services
- to enrich/extend learning opportunities for all pupils by providing classroom resources
- to support the development of pupils' independent learning skills
- to offer parity of access to resources across schools
- to increase awareness in schools of resources available to support teaching and learning
- to help extend the range of teaching strategies used to support literacy
- to contribute to school improvement as part of the LEA
- to develop school librarians and school libraries to more effectively support reading and learning within schools
- to promote wider reading
- to support schools’ implementation of the Literacy Strategy
- to enable teachers to more easily use a wide range of resources in the classroom
- to promote effective use of ICT within school libraries
- to survive as a business
9. LINLEY, R. and USHERWOOD, R.C. New measures for the new library British Library Research and Innovation Centre Report 89 Centre for the Public Library in the Information Society, University of Sheffield 1998 ISBN 07123 971249. ↩ [ op.cit ]