Best Value and Better Performance in Libraries

C: ‘Getting out of the box’, choosing indicators and other issues

C1: Moving beyond traditional strengths

Our national survey of public library services for the National Year of Reading19 shows that library services are better at ‘staying in the box’ by focussing on traditionally strong areas of their community support than at challenging themselves by undertaking reading promotion to other parts of the community.

Most of the targeting for the Year reflected traditional areas of public library strength although there were many imaginative activities (pre-school children were targeted by 82% of respondents; other main groups were children in and out of school, parents and other adults). The emerging social inclusion agenda was poorly reflected in the target groups, through ethnic minorities (targeted by 24% of services), children with special educational needs (13%), unemployed people (6%) and disadvantaged areas of the country (14%).

One issue that became clear during the project is that, for Best Value reviews to succeed, it will be important to consult about objectives of the service rather than the services offered. This will require a different form of consultation, not just asking questions and seeking opinions from a citizens forum; there is a need to be engaged at a deeper level – building relationships to open up options and show alternatives. Consultation should focus on what people want for their communities but also involve librarians’ professional judgement. The librarian can present new ideas, work with readers groups to develop approaches to widening reading, help to set up mentoring in the community and support involvement in community decision making. Consultation should not just be about validating where people are now but should move them and their communities on:

  • Consultation should develop strategies to make decisions, not just involve people in the existing decision making.
  • Who should be consulted? Who are the stakeholders? Should just anyone be consulted? For a sustained relationship and qualitative consultation (not just numbers) should there be a job description for membership of citizens’ forum? If so, it should be possible to use members to work in communities afterwards and empower them/build capacity.
  • Where is the role of consulting expert opinion and external expertise to help service development?
  • It is easy to get hung up on numbers in a consultation exercise - hundreds of people, filling in questionnaires. Where is the role of qualitative data from fewer people?
  • How seriously is consultation with staff taken? What methods do you use to ensure that focused information comes out (e.g. do you use similar methods to focus groups)?

One service manager said:

“We mostly consult through community groups (quite representative) e.g. ethnic minority groups. We use other methods when there are no representative groups in place.”

“We will go further into impact indicators in discussion with the community. How will you know if we are helping you? For example about employment, training, improving the quality of life?”

19. STREATFIELD, D.R. and others Rediscovering reading: Public Libraries in the National Year of Reading Information Management Associates [in press]