Volume 28, Number 1, Spring 2006

Delaware Libraries' Quality Learning Journey

by Annie Norman, State Librarian of Delaware, SLAS Vice Chair

“So, what are our libraries ranked now, 60th in the nation?” The question rang out from an official during our 2002 state budget hearing. Ouch!

Despite our best efforts and significant support from the state administration and legislature, Delaware public libraries still coast along the bottom of the National Center for Education Statistics national rankings. Delaware is ranked 8th for state operating income per capita, yet low on numerous other rankings—in 2003, 43rd for book and serial volumes per capita, 47th for reference transactions per capita, and 51st for staffing per capita. It was time to uncover what was causing our poor performance in the rankings and to help Delaware libraries to truly achieve excellence.

The Delaware Division of Libraries invited the library community – staff, Friends, trustees—to accompany us on our quality learning journey. We joined the Delaware Quality Partnershi, a grass-roots organization of state employees and private-sector individuals who are interested in learning about best practices that businesses use to achieve excellence. Through grants from the First State Quality Improvement Fund, we hired consultants to assist us as we explored various trails along the way, to learn about systems, the voice of the customer, process improvement, and so on. Here are some of our favorite travel guides that we’ve used.

Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service by The Disney Institute

Be Our Guest (or BOG as we came to call it) was the first title in our program, If All The Delaware Library Community Read The Same Book, which began in 2002. A title is selected annually as a professional development tool and to communicate to the library community the challenges and opportunities that the Delaware Division of Libraries staff perceive on the horizon. Using BOG as a tool, we held numerous workshops for the library community throughout the year to learn how the backstage processes affect the customer experience. We identified our vision, mission, values, and core competency.

Insights To Performance Excellence 2005: An Inside Look at the 2005 Baldrige Award Criteria by Mark L. Blazey

Meanwhile, four Delaware Division of Libraries staff trained to become Examiners for the Delaware Quality Award assessment process. The workshops are conducted by Mark Blazey, and participants use his book as a tool to learn the principles of the National Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence. The Baldrige Criteria were first developed by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1987, primarily based on the teachings of W. Edwards Deming. The Baldrige Criteria are continually refreshed based on proven methods (not fads) that companies develop to achieve top performance.

Applicants for the Delaware Quality Award complete a fifty-page application answering hundreds of “How do youï¿Ã‚½” questions in seven categories: leadership; strategic planning; customer and market focus; measurement, analysis, and knowledge management; human resource focus; process management; and business results. Examiners conduct a two-day site visit to follow up on the application, then rate the applicant and prepare a feedback report which contains lists of strengths and opportunities for improvement (OFIs). The OFIs are designed to assist the applicant in evolving to the next level, since improvement is a developmental process.

The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy Into Action by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton

The Balanced Scorecard (BSC) was developed by Robert S. Kaplan, a Harvard professor, and David P. Norton, a business consultant, to encourage organizations in expanding their focus beyond financial measures of success to also include performance measures in customer knowledge, internal processes, and learning and growth.

The United Way uses BSC, and it has been adopted in part by the Institute for Museum and Library Services for outcome-based evaluation. Our hope is by using the entire tool -- beginning with strategic objectives, lead and lag measures, and aligning all of our library processes -- that we will ultimately achieve stronger and more pervasive patron outcomes in the end. We’re developing our BSC as a visual tool so that everyone is clear on the goals and can track improvements.

Our Key Quality Initiatives (So Far)

  • Statewide Master Plan for Library Services & Construction

    -– conducted by Himmel & Wilson and Providence Associates, included facilities and service assessments, surveys, and focus groups at each library, and a statewide telephone survey. This enabled establishment of our strategic objectives for our balanced scorecard.
  • The Delaware Library Catalog

    -– integrating catalogs of public libraries in Kent and Sussex counties, four Del Tech Community College campus libraries and Wesley College library, and the Delaware Public Archives into a single catalog. All Delaware libraries are invited to join. This will enable us to monitor our internal processes, to track collection usage, to support collaborative collection development, and to link collections with programming.
  • Customer Segmentation Pilot Study

    -– The Institute for Learning Innovation is helping us to study the impact of libraries on lifelong learning and conducted a pilot study on customer segmentation at the Dover Public Library. This project is in partnership with COSLINE, and we will use the results to bundle services for targeted customer groups to support them in achieving their goals.
Where are we now in our developmental journey? I’m proud to say that due to the efforts of the staff, the Delaware Division of Libraries received the Delaware Quality Commitment Award in 2004 and most recently, it has been announced that we will receive the Delaware Quality Award of Merit for 2005. This signifies that we are on the right path and are making progress. We still have a long way to go, so the Delaware Libraries quality learning journey continuesï¿Ã‚½

For more information, contact Annie Norman.