I. Introduction: Description of the Community and the Library | Further Information | Self-Assessment #18
I. Introduction: Description of the Community and the Library
It generally contains the following elements:
- The mission of the Library. This is a concise statement of the essential purpose of the library. There are many good examples as well as scores of very badly written mission statements. The mission should be determined by the Board through a prioritization process that leads to clarity of the focus and priorities of any given library.
- The purpose of the policy. A brief statement to explain for whom the policy is intended.
- A description of the community that includes basic statistical information and concise statements to explain the character, location, and any unique attributes or needs of the community that influence the library’s collection development decisions.
- A description of the library in general terms. Such a description might include the square footage, the estimated size of the physical collections, highlights of any special strengths or unique collections, and perhaps the annual circulation or gate counts (number of persons who use the library on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis – estimated or actual numbers)
- A brief statement about the source of funding for the library’s information resources.
- A short statement should be included here regarding the philosophy of the library with regards to copyright protection, the Patriot Act, and confidentiality of patron records. Citing the appropriate U.S. Code and/or state statutes is appropriate.
- Finally, the library’s philosophy regarding Interlibrary Loan services should be stated. (Does the library lend and barrow from other libraries? Is ILL considered a basic service by the library or something special for which the library charges?). If the library participates in any cooperative collection agreements which govern collection decisions, these should be stated here as well.
Much of the information for this section of your policy will already be available in the Strategic Plan. It is not necessary to restate it when you can create a link to it on the Web version of the plan and the policy. If there are sections or statements that do not already exist in some reasonable official form already, all of the above items, with the exception of the mission statement, can be drafted by the librarian or a committee for Board review, amendment, and approval at a regularly scheduled board meeting. The development of a mission statement should involve the board in a very serious discussion or series of discussions to clarify why the library exists. Each topic in this Introduction section of the policy is further elaborated below.
- Mission Statement
Good mission statements have the following characteristics: concise, meaningful, measurable, and specific. What does this mean? It means that first of all a mission statement needs to be short enough for everyone in the organization to memorize it. One simple sentence is usually about the right length. One can elaborate on the mission statement by drawing upon the service responses that the library has selected in the planning process. The goals and objectives prepared as the official plan can be pointed to for clarification and elaboration of the mission statement. The mission statement needs to be meaningful to those who read it and those who use it to define their daily work. It needs to be measurable in order that periodically the library can determine if progress towards the fulfillment of its mission is taking place. If the library says it is going to provide “excellent” customer service then a survey that in part asks individuals to rate the library’s customer service on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being “excellent” can be used periodically to measure progress towards that goal. And, last but not least, a good mission statement needs to be specific. This means that it needs both to reflect the specific environment or situation of the library and to define the library’s mission in terms that eliminate what the library is not going to be as well as encapsulate what the library intends to do or provide. There are excellent articles in the business literature about mission statements that may be of assistance to the board and staff when considering a revised mission statement. In addition, one of the steps in the planning process advocated for public libraries by the Public Library Division of the American Library Association is that of preparing a mission statement (Nelson, 2001).
A mission statement can be as straight forward as these two:
The South Dakota State Library provides leadership for innovation and excellence in libraries.
The Long Beach Public Library is to provide --
Friendly service; Useful information; Needed and wanted materials.
Or it can be as interesting as this one from the city of Penrith in New South Wales, Australia:
The Library’s mission is to implement Council’s strategy and program. It will do this through skilled and responsive management, by valuing its staff, partnerships and community involvement, by providing quality customer service, and upholding ethical standards of behavior.
For examples of both excellent mission statements that meet the criteria of being concise, meaningful, measurable, and specific and to find examples of ones that say very little but take whole paragraphs to do that, search the Web on any given day and you will find at least 4,000 links to library websites with mission statements. Some libraries have a one sentence mission statement that can stand alone but it is followed by additional elaboration to clarify specific aspects of the user community, service elements and library roles. The mission of the Seattle Public Library is just such a statement. The first sentence can stand alone:
Our mission is to become the best public library in the world by being so turned in to the people we serve and so supportive of each other’s efforts that we are able to provide highly responsive service.
This single statement is followed by further detail about their clients, services and roles. This is an excellent manner in which to have a mission that be easily quoted and referenced as a rallying cry for staff, board, and community while also enabling the library to explain further its definition and purpose.
Although we may think that the Chicago Public Library is somewhat “out of our league” in terms of size and resources, their mission statement illustrates the ways in which the values and philosophy of a library can be conveyed simply by the selection of appropriate words. By using the inclusive pronoun “we” they place additional emphasis on the concept of community and their belief that libraries serve as essential anchors for communities and neighborhoods.
We welcome and support all people in their enjoyment of reading and lifelong learning.
Working together, we strive to provide equal access to information, ideas and knowledge through books, programs and other resources.
We believe in the freedom to read, to learn, to discover.
In addition to mission statements, libraries are following the lead of many businesses by writing a vision statement for the organization and listing the organizational values as part of their definition of the library. These may be included in the collection development policy but need not be. If the library does have a vision statement and/or value statement, you may just wish to mention them and include them in one of the appendices or link to them on the Web. The same is true if you have, from a strategic plan or other document, an elaboration on the mission statement.
- Purpose of the Policy
A brief statement regarding the purpose of the policy is useful both during the process of preparing the policy to help keep everyone on target and when the policy is finished a purpose statement makes it clear to anyone reading the policy that there was a specific audience in mind when it was written. Typically, the primary audience for the policy is the library staff and board both current and future. The policy might be read by citizens of your community and will be closely read during times when materials are challenged or when there is controversy about the library’s services and resources. Language such as “to inform the work of the staff” and “to provide a clear statement concerning the philosophy and framework for collection development work at the Happy Days Library” are typical in purpose statements. Additionally, something to indicate that the policy is also written for “the benefit and enlightenment of the public and other interested persons” is useful since the policy can and will be shared via the Web and in other contexts.
- Description of the Community
In order for the policy to make sense it needs to be placed in context. That is what the description or profile of the community does for the users of the policy. This section should provide a brief description along with any essential background information that identifies general characteristics about the community the library serves, the library service area, and specific needs or situations that are influencing the library’s collection decisions and priorities. It can be as short as a couple of sentences (see Benson Public Library below) or more in-depth with the inclusion of statistical tables and/or charts.
The written policy of Benson Public Library in Arizona states:
Benson Public Library is a public facility supported through taxes from the residents of the City of Benson, Arizona. The Benson community includes people from diverse educational, cultural and economic backgrounds displaying a wide variety of interests, needs, values, viewpoints and occupations. Through a formal intergovernmental agreement with Cochise County Library, Benson Public Library provides library services to the incorporated area of Benson and the surrounding communities of Pomerene, Dragoon, St. David and J-6.
Once a library has engaged in a current planning process, the strategic plan will likely be posted on the Web and it may already contain much of this information or documents prepared as part of the planning process may fulfill this need. It is therefore possible to keep the community profile information and the identification of specific community needs to a minimum within the collection development policy itself by simply linking (in the electronic version of the policy) from a brief statement about the character and extent of the community to the expanded version of that information that is already contained in a long range or strategic plan, a vision document or even an annual report.
- Description of the library
It goes without saying perhaps that putting the policy in context also requires information about the library itself. Such information can be brief or elaborate but should aid the user of the policy and the community to understand the relative size of the library’s resources and the character of its collections and programs. Again, one might use other documents such as the Strategic Plan to provide this information. Information that might be included are brief information about the facility (square footage of the single building or the location of addition buildings), approximate size of the physical collections (round the number to a whole thousand such as 14,000 rather than 13,872), and a mention of formats of significance. In addition, the number of staff, the governance structure (i.e., a 5-member appointed board or the York County Commission), and the approximate annual budget are items of interest. One might wish to mention programming, summer reading, computer stations, Internet access, etc. Think in terms of helping one understand the library itself—its pluses and constraints. A typical constraint might be limited access to the 97 year old building and restrooms located in the basement.
- Source of funding
The source of funding for library collections or information resources is what matters here. A statement such as “95% of all revenues for the library come from local property taxes” or one that recognizes the role that grants or a library foundation play in the ability of the library to supply information resources is appropriate here. If the library participates in a statewide database program that provides citizen access to a range of core databases at a greatly discounted price, this could be mentioned here. If there is an endowment that permits or requires that the library purchase only Icelandic related materials with the earned income that is important to note. (No wonder they have the best Icelandic collection in Arizona!)
- Copyright and confidentiality
If your library already has a separate policy addressing its compliance with the current copyright law, then there is no need to repeat it here. If you do not have a statement in your policies about this, then here is the place to put it. It is not necessary to make this long. It might say something as simple as: “The Happy Days Library strives to uphold the provisions of the current copyright law. The library and its staff inform others about these issues as appropriate and encourage citizens using the library and its resources to respect the intellectual property rights of others regardless of the format or age of their work if it falls within the protection of the law.”
Some libraries also want to make statements about their stand regarding the provisions of the Patriot Act and confidentiality of patron records in this context as well as in general. If the library already has a policy addressing these issues, make sure it is easily accessible to your citizens and there is no need to repeat it here. If the library does not have such a written policy statement then you should educate yourself further about the provisions of the law, the rights of individuals, and the appropriate action for the library staff to take when a library patron’s rights to confidentiality are in danger. There are both federal and state laws guaranteeing confidentiality of library records and/or other personal information protected under the First Amendment. You may cite these laws in your policy statement. You will find many good examples regarding confidentiality policies on the Web. You can also ask the state library to provide you with the necessary information.
- Interlibrary Loan and Cooperative Collection Development
The final general topic to be included as part of the collection development policy concerns the role of interlibrary loan (ILL) in the total collection development framework. Most public libraries in the United States consider interlibrary loan service both to their patrons and to the patrons of other libraries to be a basic library service. Borrowing materials from other libraries on behalf of our citizens is a way for us to expand the array of resources available. We might not have ever owned an item, we cannot afford to own the item, we cannot justify the expense for the satisfaction of a single individual, or the item needed is so specialized that there are only a limited number of copies in the world. Interlibrary loan is really a function of collection development. It is, in some sense, our way of acquiring on demand items that we are unable to have or to maintain in our own inventories. Lending to other libraries in turn is our way of assisting them in expanding their resources in a similar manner. There are library’s that because of very limited resources feel that they must consider interlibrary loan services to be an “extra” service and these libraries charge their clients when it is necessary to borrow from another library. This is a basic difference in philosophy and requires that the governing body and the librarian have serious conversations to determine the philosophy of the library in this regard. Again, there are numerous statements on the Web regarding the interlibrary loan policies of libraries. It is not necessary here to outline the many things you will or will not loan to another library. A general statement about the library’s participation and willingness to cooperate with other libraries in this regard or a statement regarding their choice to refrain from providing access to the world of ideas beyond the walls of the local library is all that is necessary.
Any cooperative collection development agreements, both formal and informal in which the library participates should be mentioned. Below are examples of both an informal and a formal arrangement that impacts and adds an additional element for consideration when managing the library’s collections.
The libraries in Happy Days Town try to develop their information resources in a collaborative manner so that duplication and overlap are minimized and funding resources may be used to provide the largest possible array of materials and resources for our citizens.
The Happy Days Library is a participant in the FUN (Freddy’s Unusual Network) Consortium that supplies rotating collections of large print books on a quarterly basis so as to extend and enhance the large print resources available to the citizens in each member community.
While it took a number of pages to explain all of these potential elements for the Introduction or general information section of a policy statement, these elements themselves do not have to be lengthy.
When looking at library collection development policies on the web, you will find various formats and approaches to these introductory elements. Sometimes the elements are given different names or are grouped together. It does not matter how you arrange the elements as long as each is addressed. The best location for these elements is generally considered to be at the beginning of the policy. You will find both good and bad examples of mission statements, community descriptions. Remember that libraries that have strategic planning documents will include the community description and needs assessment details in that document rather than in their CD policy. That is also acceptable. General and/or business databases are the best way to find good books and articles about mission and vision statements for organizations. Specific public library related information can be found in the initial chapters of The New Planning for Results (Nelson, 2001).
Dossenbach, T. (2001). Define your vision and mission. Wood & Wood Products, 106(13), 43. Retrieved Saturday, August 26, 2006 from the Business Source Premier database.
Drucker, P. F. (1973). Management: Tasks, responsibilities, and practices. NY: Harper & Row. [Still one of the best sources regarding the importance of a mission statement.]
Friel, B. (2006). More than a slogan. Government Executive, 38(12), 60. Retrieved Saturday, August 26, 2006 from the Business Source Premier database.
Goldratt, E. (2006). Viable vision. Leadership Excellence, 23(8), 4-4. Retrieved Saturday, August 26, 2006 from the Business Source Premier database.
Ireland, D., & Hitt, M. (1992). Mission statements: Importance, challenge, and recommendations for development. Business Horizons, 35(3), 34. Retrieved Saturday, August 26, 2006 from the Business Source Premier database.
McClure, C., Owen, A., Zweizig, S. L., Lynch, M. J., & Van House, N. A. (1987). Planning & role setting for public libraries: A manual of operations and procedures. Chicago: American Library Association. [An earlier version of the Nelson book below for the planning process but still containing useful information for studying your community and assessing needs.]
Nelson, Sandra. (2001). The new planning for results: A streamlined approach. Chicago: American Library Association. [This is an excellent source to help you to understand how to do a needs assessment and description of your community. Chapter 2 provides excellent practical advice about ways to gather data and to identify community needs.]
McKinnon, P. (2006). Create a great place to work. Leadership Excellence, 23(8), 14-15. Retrieved Saturday, August 26, 2006 from the Business Source Premier database.
Wallace, L. K. (2003). Libraries, mission & marketing: Writing mission statements that work. Chicago: American Library Association. [excellent source]