Volume 29, Number 3, Fall 2007

Kentucky's Public Library Standards

Judith Gibbons, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives

In 2000, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA) Field Services Division staff began prepping for the development of state standards as an outgrowth of internal planning efforts. Work groups were assigned to review specific state standards for content and relevance to Kentucky law and practices.

During this process, standards from thirty-three states were analyzed for baseline data that could be adapted for the study. Eight areas were targeted for inclusion: governance and administration; personnel; access; collections; services and cooperation; facilities; technology; and marketing and public relations.

Simultaneously, the incoming president of the Kentucky Library Association (KLA), Judith Burdine, was approached with the possibility of making this a joint project between KDLA and KLA. The development of these standards became the focus of Burdine's initiatives. Through preliminary discussions, a joint decision was made that the standards would be voluntary, utilize a sliding scale, and feature an easy to use format.

Informational meetings were held around the state to discuss the concept and to recruit volunteers. Committee members were enlisted from association membership, public library trustees, directors, staff and State Advisory Council for Libraries members, with two KDLA Field Services staffers assigned to each work group as facilitators.

The rationale for this investment was to define base levels of public library service available to all Kentuckians; establish a foundation from which to develop local goals to meet community needs; provide an assessment tool to evaluate the library’s effectiveness; and serve as a guide to assist in planning for improvement. Funding was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act.

Committees met during 2001 and early 2002, where it was determined that there would be three levels of service: basic, enhanced and comprehensive. Statements were developed citing an accepted area of service. Each would have four possible answers: yes, no, planned or N/A (non-applicable).

Standards manuals were distributed with much fanfare at the 2002 Public Library Conference, accompanied by numerous programs and reports from committee members. Subsequently, data was collected for a future revision while state library staffers assisted libraries in conducting the self-evaluation.

By 2003, standards evolved into an integral part of Kentucky librarianship. The committee was institutionalized as part of the Kentucky Public Library Association, a KLA division. In order to generate sustained involvement from the public library community, a formal awards ceremony was planned at the 2004 association luncheon. A formal self-assessment chart was developed and mailed to all public libraries. These self-assessments were submitted to the committee and graded through blind scoring.

At the conference, framed certificates were distributed to fifty libraries including thrity-four basic, fifteen enhanced and one comprehensive. This opportunity was repeated at the 2005 conference where an additional nine libraries attained basic status and eight received enhanced certificates. This totaled 58 percent of Kentucky’s public libraries.

Following the 2005 conference, the Standards Committee began work on revising the document, utilizing the first edition as a benchmark. Key factors addressed included refining the methodology; eliminating duplication, ambiguities and inconsistencies; correcting errors; accounting for changing trends and customer expectations. For example, “The library director monitors statutory changes and recommends any policy changes needed to maintain legal library operations,” was originally considered enhanced. In the revision, it was moved to the first tier.

After much discussion, the levels were changed to essential, enhanced and exemplary. In particular, essential was chosen to reflect core services expected at every public library. The responses were changed to eliminate planned or N/A as a response. Libraries checked planned fewer than one percent of the time, and primarily in the areas of access. N/A was the response for two percent. However, upon closer examination, there were some responses marked N/A that were vitally important for appropriate governance, access, and technology and should have been part of core services. A few participants confessed that if they didn’t understand the question, they responded N/A.

The eight sections were reduced to seven, and several received name changes. The 2006 edition included governance, human resources, collections, services, facilities, technology, and marketing. Access was blended into the other subject specialties.

Again printed with federal funds, public libraries were given a year to review the document. In 2007, a second public evaluation began. This time, there were fifty-nine responses to the formal evaluation (51 percent of Kentucky public libraries). After the blind judging, there were two non-qualifying libraries, forty-seven were ranked essential, ten were merited enhanced, and none received exemplary. Libraries will again be eligible for certificates in 2008. It is planned that work will begin on the third incarnation of the document in 2009.

Testimonials included this statement by Judith Burdine, director, Pulaski County Public Library: "Armed with the statistical ammunition furbished by this tool, I was able to convince a relatively new board of trustees to do a petition drive which successfully doubled our tax rate."

Lori Acton, director, Laurel County Public Library noted, “Using the standards self assessment tool, we were able to see how weak our book collection was. The library board approved a special three-year collection development plan. The collection has doubled from 55,000 to 127,000 and circulation has increased by four times from 110,000 to 450,000. This tool not only helped us in our planning, but had a tremendous impact on our users.”

These are the outcomes realized for public libraries:

  • more services and programs were developed to meet community needs;
  • readily identifiable benchmarks were established; and
  • current factual information was made available to influence community, governmental ,and corporate funders.

KDLA is using the data for:

  • creating baseline information for developing programmatic plans;
  • revamping the Kentucky Annual Report of Public Libraries;
  • strengthening links between KDLA and public libraries; and improving and equalizing statewide public library service.

The utilization of public library standards has brought a heightened awareness, renewed flexibility, and resolution of effort to public library service in Kentucky.