Patrons and he Community

Roles for Libraries

The Public Library Association has been helping libraries plan for services and set roles and service responses since 1980. The first planning publication from PLA was A Planning Process for Public Libraries in 1980. This process was developed so that public libraries could involve their communities in planning for their needs and serving them effectively.

The next version of this publication was called Planning and Role-Setting for Public Libraries: A Manual of Operations and Procedures in 1987. The idea of eight primary roles for public libraries took shape in this publication. Those roles are:

  1. Community Activities Center
  2. Community Information Center
  3. Formal Education Support Center
  4. Popular Materials Center
  5. Preschoolers’ Door to Learning
  6. Reference Library
  7. The Research Center

Libraries were expected to choose up to three roles to determine their focus of excellence and match community needs, interests, and priorities. Libraries could not accomplish all of these goals, and choosing a focus would insure excellence and dependable services in areas defined by the library and the community.

The most recent publication is The New Planning for Results: A Streamlined Approach. This version streamlined the process and made the outcomes more flexible. The timeline for planning is four to five months, and focuses on implementation.

Planning for Results stresses the importance of the connection between community needs and library services. It guides libraries in their efforts to design an overall program of service that is both dynamic and relevant. This process provides thirteen service responses.

What exactly is a service response? How does a service response differ from the eight library roles introduced in Planning and Role Setting for Public Libraries in 1987? In simple terms, a service response is what a library does for, or offers to, the public in an effort to meet a set of well-defined community needs. Roles are broadly defined categories of service; they describe what the library does in a very general way. Service responses, on the other hand, are very distinct ways that libraries serve the public. They represent the gathering and deployment of specific critical resources to produce a specific public benefit or result.

The Service Responses

Individual libraries are using these models to determine roles and service responses for their unique communities. Planning for services and involving the community is the best way to insure excellence. Your patrons will thank you and will be more active library users as you work with them to set the course for your future.

For more information, you can read Elsner, Edward J. “The Evolution of PLA’s Planning Model.” Public Libraries, July/August 2002, pp. 209-215.

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This page was updated on October 2, 2003.