Quality of Public Library Services
Recommendation # 1
Review, revise, and strengthen public library standards.
The publication entitled Planning for Library Excellence, last revised in the year 2000, serves as Virginia’s standards for public libraries. The document, which reflects a great deal of work over a considerable number of years by the Library of Virginia’s Library Development and Networking Division, by members of the Virginia Public Library Directors’ Association (VPLDA), by the Virginia Library Association, and by individuals in the State’s public library community, is comprehensive and well organized.
However, much has changed in public libraries in the last five years and the consultants believe that the time has come to review. revise, and strengthen the document. While every section should be revisited, the technology chapter is particularly out of date. It is also recommended that the revised standards should include new content related to collaboration and partnerships.
Whatever group is asked to spearhead the effort (the consultants believe that VPLDA may be the best choice if they are willing to assume the task), part of the charge should be to attempt to enhance the "user friendliness" of the standards. Consideration should be given to organizing the basic standards in a checklist format that can be used by library directors with their library boards to foster a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the library.
In carrying out the revision, those working on the task should recognize that they are, in effect, defining quality library service. An effort should be made to identify how meeting the standards will improve services to the end user and to offer examples of how achieving the standards will benefit the communities being served by the library.
Recommendation # 2
Review and seek the strengthening of Code of Virginia and administrative rules regarding the certification of public library directors.
It is truly unfortunate that Virginia has been losing rather than gaining ground in terms of public library certification requirements. The increase in the service population that triggers the certification requirement followed by the reinterpretation of Code language leaves Virginia with a certification requirement that has little or no teeth. The fact that these changes have taken place at a time when public libraries are becoming more complex and more technical makes the erosion of the certification requirements even more regrettable.
It is the consultants’ opinion that a master’s degree in library science (MLS) from a program accredited by the American Library Association should be the minimum requirement for ALL public libraries in Virginia that receive State aid. A population base below which certification is not required does nothing more than underscore the idea that small communities don’t need library services on a par with larger communities. It also provides a convenient mechanism for avoiding participation in regional systems that have proven to be cost effective and responsive to their regions. While the consultants do not wish to disparage library workers who do not hold the MLS, and while there are undoubtedly capable individuals with considerable experience who do not hold the degree, a weakening of the certification requirements, taken to their logical end, will result in a larger number of inadequate libraries.
Recommendation # 3
Develop a comprehensive curriculum for all library workers based on recognized skills and competencies and implement a coordinated program of continuing education.
As Virginia has been weakening its certification requirements, some other states are expanding their efforts to ensure that all library workers possess the skills and competencies needed to offer quality services in 21st Century public libraries. Significant work is being done by state library agencies, state library associations, and library schools to identify and develop extensive programs aimed at equipping library staff with the skills they need to provide modern library and information services. An excellent web site that provides an overview of such efforts as well as links to providers of continuing education can be found at:
Virginia lacks a significant continuing education provider that is available in many states in that there is no American Library Association master’s program in the State. This places a greater burden on the Library of Virginia, the Virginia Library Association, and on individual libraries to develop and implement the types of educational experiences that will ensure library workers have the tools they need to do their jobs well.
The consultants believe that the Library of Virginia is best suited to coordinate continuing education for library workers in the commonwealth. However, to do so, the agency will require at least one additional professional position and clerical support. The role of this staff member would be to work with all libraries and all providers of continuing education to develop a curriculum for library workers. Virginia can build on the work of others. A number of eastern seaboard states have been working together on leadership initiatives and several states have well developed library assistant programs. The Western Council of State Libraries has done an impressive amount of work identifying basic skills and competencies. If Virginia’s libraries are going to be exceptional, then Virginia’s library workers need exceptional skills.
Recommendation # 4
Encourage the Virginia Library Association to develop an annual awards program to recognize libraries that meet or exceed standards.
Standards are often seen as rules to be enforced rather than as being the right thing to do. Virginia needs to encourage public libraries to meet standards by offering incentives as well as by enforcing penalties. The consultants believe that the Virginia Library Association can play an important role in offering such incentives.
Retail establishments often display certificates that proclaim that they were voted "the best delicatessen" or "the best florist" in an online or newspaper readers’ poll. The consultants occasionally encounter libraries that fly banners proclaiming that they are among the top ten libraries in Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings (the HAPLR index). This type of recognition is often used as a source of pride AND as a mechanism to motivate staff and to increase public support.
An annual awards program organized and carried out by the Virginia Library Association would provide positive reinforcement to libraries that are striving to meet or exceed a full range of standards. The consultants envision Board members coming to their directors asking why a nearby community was recognized and why their library was not. This would offer an opportunity to point out the areas which need to be improved to qualify for the award in subsequent years.
The Virginia Public Library Directors’ Association already has an awards program. VPLDA and VLA could possibly work together to develop award criteria and to review library performance on selected standards each year.