By Isobel Hunter
Unlike the rest of the UK, public libraries in England have no set standards to support their planning or guide their decision making. Each local authority decides how it will deliver its responsibilities, which has led to significant variations in services around the country.
Heads of library services want a system that will help them to improve and advocate for their services with a strong focus on demonstrating how they meet community need. This is critical as local budgets come under increasing strain.
To address this, we have been funded by Arts Council England to scope an accreditation model for English libraries, in partnership with CILIP, The British Library, LGA and The National Archives. We have just completed the research phase of this project which included:
- A review of existing accreditation schemes and approaches
- A national survey of library staff
- Two workshops with our reference group of library heads and staff
- A national/public webinar for users and staff that explored what quality means for a modern library service.
Based on this evidence, we have developed some key principles for the scheme:
- Self-assessment, validated through a peer check and challenge process
- Using a mixture of qualitative and quantitative measures, mainly based on outcomes for communities but with some internal elements such as workforce development and leadership
- A tiered system that awards a Gold, Silver or Bronze or ‘working towards’ accreditation
- Library services given a development plan and support to improve or maintain their accreditation level
- Involvement from key sector stakeholders, including Heads of Service and other library staff, as well as individuals from outside the library sector.
We contracted Shared Intelligence to manage this project and they have written up a full report of the work we’ve carried out so far.
As we move to the design stage of the project, we will begin with a series of workshops with the reference group, and other key stakeholders, to start thinking about what the content of the accreditation scheme will look like.
We plan to complete this work over the summer so that we can propose a model for testing soon afterwards. Some form of national accreditation for libraries is long overdue and we are determined to get this right for our members and the communities they serve.