Technology Benchmarking for Public Libraries

My first session at OLA was called New Technology Benchmarks for Ontario Public Libraries. The fifth edition of these benchmarks were released in November 2010, and are available at the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries web site (http://www.fopl.ca). Section 7 of the Introduction (Municipal and County Public Libraries) of http://www.fopl.ca/OntarioPublicLibrariesMonitoringandAccreditationCouncil/ is where the new guidelines can be found.

The Ontario Public Library Guidelines are used in a process where libraries achieve an accreditation, although libraries can choose to adopt the guidelines without going through the accreditation process (which also means that those libraries do not need the recognition that comes with accreditation). This process is peer audited, with an overall minimum score required for accreditation in mandatory and non-mandatory areas. While I’ve thought of these guidelines to be of interest primarily to small- or medium-sized libraries, the speakers indicated that there are areas of the guidelines where large libraries can fall short. The accreditation lasts for only five years.

The purpose of the guidelines is to establish measurable and achievable benchmarks useful for planning and development, as well as case-making for funding. The benchmarks are a measurement tool to establish the current status of each library’s use of technology in comparison to provincial norms for comparable libraries.

The technology benchmarks are primarily for tools, not for content. The benchmarks reflect current technology trends and the general technology environment.

What I found most interesting was the speakers’ discussion of the research done for the benchmarks. The group behind the benchmarks, the Ontario Public Library Guidelines Monitoring and Accreditation Council, aimed to design benchmarks that are appropriate and reasonable. The Council looked at trends and standards, and conducted a survey of libraries (the survey results are to be greeted with caution, as the survey indicated only a general impression).

The issues that were researched included integrated library systems (ILS’s), WiFi, websites and remote access to resources, equipment maintenance and troubleshooting, technology provision in library branches, social media, digitization, and use of e-learning tools.

Some interesting results from the research:

- library web sites are at various levels of development

- wireless is valued and universal

- digitization efforts vary

- e-learning (such as use of webinars) is common

Many technology trends were looked at when constructing the guidelines: the semantic web, software as a service (SaaS), discovery platforms or dynamic content (for catalogues), open source software (which is becoming more trusted), RFID (but only being adopted in larger libraries), consumer technology and library customer expectations, mobile technology, ebooks, and so on.

In the new 5th edition of the guidelines the mandatory guidelines were increased. Considered essential elements are user education and training. The new edition also includes a major revision to accessibility standards.

A sixth edition of the guidelines is planned for 2012. Grand Valley Public Library was the only library to achieve 100% of the guidelines (http://www.grandvalley.org).

Library Grand Valley Public Library


Section 7, the technology-related section of the guidelines, from www.fopl.ca:

 

SECTION 7 – Use of Technology
Public libraries need technology infrastructure and equipment suitable to the various tasks they perform, whether the task is to provide a direct service to the community (such as access to the library’s collections or to resources available on the Internet), or to support the core functions of the library such as maintaining the collections, checking loans in and out, and communicating with users, colleagues and suppliers.

7.1 Technology policy, planning and administration
Managing technology and its uses is complex, and affects the entire organization. Many aspects of technology use are governed by legislation, codes of practice, and local policy decisions. It is therefore essential that the library has a clear policy framework governing technology and its use.

7.1.1
Technology policy – The board has a written policy or policies which address various aspects of technology use by the library. e.g. public access and use of the library’s computers and Internet; acceptable use of the library’s computer equipment, software and networks; filtering software; privacy and access to personal information; and provision of assistive technology for people with disabilities. The policies are in line with current issues in technology used by the library and are compliant with applicable legislation (e.g. copyright). Elements of the library’s technology policies may be part of a municipal policy adopted by the board.
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7.1.2 The board may also have written policies on other technology related matters as relevant, e.g. staff assistance in the use of technology, the use of personal technology equipment in the library.

7.1.3
Technology plan –
To continue to perform effectively over time, technology infrastructure must be maintained, upgraded and replaced. This can require a considerable investment in various kinds of electronic equipment, as well as in connectivity, computer networks and other infrastructure. This has significant financial and service-related consequences for the library and should be planned for.

The library has in place a plan for acquiring, servicing, upgrading and replacing
electronic networks, equipment and software applications. The plan considers the
library’s existing technology, technology potential, and future trends. It includes
strategies for funding, staffing, training, and technology support.
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7.1.4
Technology budget – Stable funding for IT replacement and upgrading, and for IT staff support, is essential for successful delivery of library services. The library makes provisions in its budget for a regular/ongoing schedule of servicing and replacement of equipment and software, and for other elements of its technology plan.
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7.1.5
Business continuity and disaster plan – The library has considered and prepared for local interruptions to technology-based services (such as power outages or technical issues) as well as major disruptions or failures (such as grid failures or fire damage). The plan establishes how the library will maintain essential services during short-term or limited interruptions to service (e.g. the ILS goes down), and for recovering data in the event of short-term or catastrophic failure. It includes communicating the plan to staff, and training them in its implementation. The business continuity and disaster plan may be part of the overall library or municipal continuity and disaster plan.

7.1.6
Security – The library takes appropriate measures for protecting computer equipment, networks, applications and data from theft, corruption and unauthorized access. This includes data backup practices, access protocols to data, and the presence of up-to-date firewalls and virus protection.
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7.1.7 Performance indicators and statistics – The library makes use of technological capabilities (such as ILS reports and web site analytics) for collecting statistics to facilitate various aspects of library planning (such as collection development, open hours and staffing), and completion of the Annual Survey of Public Libraries.

7.2 Communication and Computer Networks
Public services can only be efficiently provided if they are integrated with electronic  communication networks such as phone, email, the Internet, and other networks.

7.2.1
Telephone – The library has at least one line dedicated to telephone use, with a number listed under the library’s name. (For multiple-branch library, use SECTION 6 – Multiple-branch library systems, Guideline 6.13)
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7.2.2
Fax – The library is equipped to send and receive documents either by fax or other electronic means.

7.2.3
Internet connectivity – The library is connected to the Internet with a minimum bandwidth of 1Mbps download speed. If this is not available, the library is connected to the Internet with the best speed/bandwidth available in the community. (For multiple-branch library, use SECTION 6 – Multiple-branch library systems, Guideline 6.5)
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7.2.4
Networks – Stable local and wide area networks (LANs and WANs) and wireless networks are in place which meet the technology plan’s requirements for serving the library’s needs. If the networks aren’t in place, the plan addresses how they will be achieved.

7.2.5
Local Area Networks (LANs) – The library has a LAN linking equipment and functions appropriately (e.g. a LAN that links public access computers to a printer, or that enables several computers to access network-based software).
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7.2.6
E-mail – Staff have access to a library (or municipal) e-mail system.
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7.2.7 The library has a policy or protocols about which staff and volunteers have individual access, group access or departmental access.

7.3 Computer Equipment
7.3.1 Inventory – The library has an up-to-date inventory of its technology equipment and software licences, and has a schedule for inventory-taking and updating, at minimum once a year.

7.3.2
Networked workstations and peripherals for public use – the library has defined the adequate number of networked workstations and peripherals (e.g. printers, printer servers) for public use, and has either the number required or has a plan in place for pursuing the designated number.

7.3.3
Networked workstations and peripherals for staff use – The library has defined what an adequate number of networked workstations and peripherals is for staff use, to ensure that their responsibilities can be carried out to the required standards. This will include workstations for reference and circulation duties, technical services, and office/administrative duties. (For multiple-branch library, use SECTION 6 – Multiple-branch library systems, Guideline 6.12)
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7.3.4
Wireless networks – Where appropriate, the library has installed wireless networks for public and staff access.

7.3.5
Additional computer requirements – An increasing variety of computer devices are available for use in different circumstances, such as personal digital assistants (BlackBerry etc.), tablet computers, e-readers, and laptops. The library has established its approach to assessing its needs for new or specialized computer devices, and has protocols in its technology plan for including such needs.

7.4 Library software
Library software, such as an integrated library system, enables a library efficiently to carry out essential and often complex processes related to administering resources and making them available to the public.

7.4.1
Integrated library system (ILS) The library either operates or is a participant in an ILS which has, as a minimum, cataloguing and circulation modules, and a webbased catalogue. (For multiple-branch library, use SECTION 6 – Multiple-branch library systems, Guideline 6.7)
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7.4.2
ILS modules and platforms – The library’s ILS has a range of modules and addons that support library efficiency and user convenience, such as acquisition of materials, automated notification of holds and overdue loans, federated searching, or discovery platforms.

7.4.3
ILS Records – The library has in place procedures and schedules for purging outdated records such as missing materials, and members who have been inactive for two years or more. (An ‘active’ member is one who has used his or her borrower’s identification to
borrow an item from the library’s collection or to access a library service, including an online service provided by or through the library.)

7.4.4 Software applications for public service functions – The library has an important role in the community providing public access to computers, and as such may provide  facilities for word-processing and other community use of computers, as well as access to core library services (e.g. catalogue, Internet access).

The library has office and other software applications available for public access according to the established needs of the community. The library has either the applications required, or has a plan in place for obtaining the appropriate software.

7.4.5
Office software applications for staff use – The library has office or web applications for staff use such as e-mail, word-processing and spreadsheets. It may have additional applications that contribute to the library’s administrative efficiency e.g. financial software, desktop publishing software, training software. (For multiple-branch library, use SECTION 6 – Multiple-branch library systems, Guideline 6.12.)

7.5 Library web sites and web-based services
The World Wide Web is an essential channel through which an organization delivers services, publicizes its presence, and interacts with its community. A dynamic, well-planned and up-to-date web presence extends the library’s reach in the community, offers additional services, and may be the primary form of access to the library for people with restricted mobility.

7.5.1
The library web site – The library has its own web site, or has web pages within
the municipality’s web site. The web site has been designed according to a clear
plan which follows appropriate web protocols and/or standards such as design and
usability standards, metadata standards etc. Criteria for updating content and
responding to problems are in place (e.g. turnaround times, percent of staff hours
allocated to library needs). Web site visitors can navigate easily to the information
or function they require.

Where the library’s web site is part of the municipality’s web site, an agreement is
in place that ensures that the library pages are conveniently signposted from the
site’s landing page, and that they meet the Ontario Public Library Guidelines for
library web sites and web-based services.
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7.5.2
Library information – The Web site includes up-to-date information about the library, e.g. library services, locations, programs, hours, telephone/fax/email, membership, board information, contact information, and policies relevant to public library use.
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7.5.3
Catalogue – the catalogue is available at all times on the library’s web site, except posted scheduled maintenance periods.
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7.5.4
Integrated library system – the ILS is available at all times on the library’s web site (except posted scheduled maintenance periods). Web site visitors can check the catalogue. Members can check their membership record, renew loans, reserve materials and, where available, download electronic materials.

7.5.5 Library collections – The web site has up-to-date information about the library’s collections and how to use them. It may have information such as reading and research guides, guides to media and electronic materials etc. to assist visitors choosing materials.
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7.5.6
Reference and information services – The web site provides access to at least one current electronic information resource (e.g. Canadian Encyclopedia, Canadian News Stand, EBSCOhost,, NetLibrary, NoveList ), and promotes this service.
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7.5.7
Online reference and information inquiries – Through the web site, visitors can email staff or initiate live chat to access the library’s reference services. The web site lists the times the online chat service is available, and the timeframe for responding to emails.
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7.5.8 Web sites for specific user groups – The library has sections of the web site, or additional web sites for one or more specific user groups such as children, teens, and significant cultural or linguistic populations in the community. They are well sign-posted from the library landing page.

7.5.9 Interactive services – The World Wide Web and the Internet are in a continual state of evolution. Mobile technologies, “Web 2.0” and “Web 3.0” expand the potential for using technology to deliver services and communicate with library users and the wider community.

The library has addressed social media and/or mobile technology in its various planning processes. It uses these technologies to enhance its relationships with library users and the community.

7.6 Staffing for information technology

7.6.1
Staff training in technology use – Library staff receive training in how to use library equipment and software applications to carry out their responsibilities efficiently. They are trained to assist the public in how to use equipment and applications intended for public use, as established in library policy. They receive training in basic computer troubleshooting, and procedures for assessing and reporting technology problems. Staff receive training in implementing technology policies and related procedures (e.g. privacy and access to information; business continuity).
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7.6.2 Technology expertise – The library has access to skills which support planning, purchasing, configuring and upgrading technology. E.g. advice from municipal IT department or purchasing department; OLS input.

7.6.3 Technical support – computer equipment, software and networks are complex, and skilled technicians are required to install them, maintain their performance, and repair faults in a timely fashion.

The library has access to staff that can provide skilled technical support for installing, maintaining and repairing library technology. The library has identified its requirements for technical support in terms of skill levels, knowledge of library technology, availability of support and response times. If the library’s technical support doesn’t meet its identified requirements at present, the library has an agreed plan for achieving them.

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