Planning for Library Excellence: Standards for Virginia Public Libraries



The Library of Virginia has promoted excellence in the development of public libraries since establishing Traveling Libraries in 1904. As noted in the Report of the State Librarian, 1903–1904, "Aside from the consideration of the possibilities of this system of library extension, it is the duty of the State to afford every possible educational opportunity to its citizens. An investment in literature, . . . such as the Library represents, without extending its resources to every section of the Commonwealth, is at least an unequal condition, and should be rectified at once.” The enormous investment in staff, time, funding, creativity, and energy through many years has resulted in a statewide system of public libraries truly dedicated to serving the people of Virginia.

With the uncertain economic conditions present as this document is approved, libraries are more important than ever before. The “people’s university” is now the people’s source for job searching, access to government information only available online, and e-mail and Internet resources, as well as traditional library activities.

Planning for Library Excellence, 2009, would not have been possible without the body of work not only in building a strong library system, but also in providing practical standards to guide that development. The paragraphs below are quoted from the 1988 edition of PLE. Twenty years later, these words retain their impact.

Planning for Library Excellence seeks to improve the quality of library service available to each resident of the Commonwealth. This document’s clearly voiced concerns underscore the dedication of Virginia librarians to this end. In the context of these recommended goals, these concerns include:

Planning for Library Excellence (PLE) is not a document intended only for the use by librarians. It is important that it be available to, and used by, boards of trustees, governing officials, members of funding agencies, and community support groups involved in planning at the local level and within the context of regional and state library service. The document provides information to help libraries plan and evaluate their services and meet the needs of their users in the most effective way their resources will allow. Even as planning is a dynamic process, Planning for Library Excellence is intended as a dynamic document, one which will spark debate and discussion, evaluation, and revision. Providing quality library service is an integrated process in which goals serve as an important tool in measuring a library’s success in fulfilling its stated mission or role. The desired result of this process and of this document is excellence in the response of each public library in Virginia to the needs of its community of users.

The title, Planning for Library Excellence, 2009, denotes the importance of continuous efforts. Planning and improving library service are constants in a world in which current information is as necessary to government and an informed citizenry as oxygen is to human survival. Planning tools are numerous and adjustable to library size. The Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association, has published several planning guides including A Planning Process (1977), Planning and Role Setting for Public Libraries: A Manual of Options and Procedures (1987), Planning for Results: A Public Library Transformation Process (1998), and The New Planning for Results: A Streamlined Approach (2001). These materials, and others cited as resources, are available from the Library of Virginia.


These standards are part of a series of efforts to support Virginia's public libraries. In 1936 Assistant State Librarian Randolph Church published a Regional Library Plan in which he made a strong plea for a state grant-in-aid program. His plan included ten regions to serve the state. Although funding for state aid was not allocated, the General Assembly enacted the first comprehensive general library law and declared, "It the policy of the Commonwealth, as a part of its provision for public education, to promote the establishment and development of public library service throughout its various political subdivisions." This very important language remains in the Code of Virginia §42.1-46.

In 1942, William A. Wright, of Tappahannock, was the patron of the first state-aid bill to receive funding—$50,000. In the original state-aid formula, city libraries were eligible for grants up to $5,000 while county and regional libraries were eligible for grants up to $15,000. The state-aid program took its current form after changes to the formula and library laws in 1970. In January 1978, the State Library Board approved Recommended Minimum Standards for Virginia Public Libraries. The five-page document covered staffing, salaries and benefits, buildings, outlets, collections, reference service, staff development, children’s services, adult services, programs, and cooperation. Two additional documents were later approved: Children’s Service Suggested Guidelines and Young Adult Services Guidelines for Virginia.

In 1982, the Library Development Committee of the Virginia Library Association started to review the Recommended Minimum Standards. In 1986 their document was sent to the Library of Virginia Board for consideration. These standards, Planning for Library Excellence (the blue book), were adopted on November 7, 1987. Chapters included Administration and Planning, Resources, and Services. The preface by Peggy Forehand, Board Chairman, and Ella Gaines Yates, State Librarian, notes:

The guidelines do not set forth statistical standards that represent a hypothetical average Virginia public library. Rather they set goals on various levels to which every public library in the Commonwealth may aspire.

Unfortunately, the first edition of PLE did not contain many references to technology at a time when the impact of technology on libraries was becoming a driving force for change. By the mid-1990s the need for revision was obvious. In 1994 a committee of the Virginia Library Association (VLA) reviewing the formula for state aid to public libraries suggested that Planning for Library Excellence be revised. The Librarian of Virginia requested that VLA begin the process to revise the document, and a VLA committee was appointed to do so. In 1995 the Virginia Public Library Directors Association (VPLDA) asked for, and was granted, the responsibility for the revision.

In July 1999, the Virginia Public Library Directors Association requested that LVA assume responsibility for the revision of Planning for Library Excellence. Incorporating new tools from ALA such as Planning for Results and the ability to analyze statistics from public libraries, the second edition of PLE was more of a planning tool than a traditional standards document. Libraries could quickly determine whether they met a basic standard, but to use PLE correctly, they needed to analyze progress toward essential, aspiring, and excel guidelines depending on the planning profile for their library. Planning for Library Excellence was intended to be a dynamic document. In order for it to continue as an effective planning tool, it required periodic revision and adaptation to reflect changes in library trends and services and the availability of new data. The 1998 planning profiles were to be updated yearly. This did not happen for a number of reasons, thus limiting the usefulness of the document.

In 2004, LVA commissioned a long-range study to ”assist in assuring that the Commonwealth’s public libraries are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century as valued community resources responsive to the rapid change in technology and society.” The consulting firm of Himmel and Wilson was hired to conduct the study. In 2005, their study, "Inventing the Future of Public Library Service in Virginia", recommended that PLE be “reviewed, revised, and strengthened” because of the many changes in public libraries. Particularly noted were the need for better (updated) technology, a user-friendly format, a checklist, and a discussion on partnerships.

The H&W Task Force on Standards began work in April 2006. Members of the committee represented all types and sizes of public libraries. Using the new technologies, including a wiki, members were assigned sections to research and for which to draft standards. In June 2007, the Task Force substantially completed a working draft that was turned over to the LVA staff for standardization. Various drafts were shared with the public library community. At the Virginia Public Library Directors Association conference in April 2008, the directors requested testing of the standards. Test results were discussed at the September 2008 directors’ meeting.


On November 17, 2008, the Public Library Development Committee of the Library of Virginia Board received the standards draft and approved its submission to the full board for consideration at the January meeting. According to the Library Board minutes of January 30, 2009, “Mr. Woodrum entered a motion on behalf of the Public Library Development Committee to approve the document Planning for Library Excellence: Standards for Virginia Public Libraries, subject to stylistic and formatting changes. The Board unanimously voted in favor of accepting the standards.

Library Excellence: Standards for Virginia Public Libraries (Full document, 115 pages, pdf format)


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