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:
- Community Activities Center
- Community Information Center
- Formal Education Support Center
- Popular Materials Center
- Preschoolers’ Door to Learning
- Reference Library
- 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
- BASIC LITERACY: A library that offers BASIC LITERACY service addresses the need to read and to perform other essential daily tasks.
- BUSINESS AND CAREER INFORMATION: A library that offers BUSINESS AND CAREER INFORMATION service addresses a need for information related to business, careers, work, entrepreneurship, personal finances, and obtaining employment.
- COMMONS: A library that provides a COMMONS environment helps address the need of people to meet and interact with others in their community and to participate in public discourse about community issues.
- COMMUNITY REFERRAL: A library that provides COMMUNITY REFERRAL addresses the need for information related to services provided by community agencies and organizations.
- CONSUMER INFORMATION: A library that provides CONSUMER INFORMATION service helps to satisfy the need for information that impacts the ability of community residents to make informed consumer decisions and to help them become more self-sufficient.
- CULTURAL AWARENESS: A library that offers CULTURAL AWARENESS service helps satisfy the desire of community residents to gain an understanding of their own cultural heritage and the cultural heritage of others.
- CURRENT TOPICS AND TITLES: A library that provides CURRENT TOPICS AND TITLES helps to fulfill community residents' appetite for information about popular cultural and social trends and their desire for satisfying recreational experiences.
- FORMAL LEARNING SUPPORT: A library that offers FORMAL LEARNING SUPPORT helps students who are enrolled in a formal program of education or who are pursuing their education through a program of home-schooling to attain their educational goals.
- GENERAL INFORMATION: A library that offers GENERAL INFORMATION helps meet the need for information and answers to question on a broad array of topics related to work, school, and personal life.
- GOVERNMENT INFORMATION: The library that offers GOVERNMENT INFORMATION service helps satisfy the need for information about elected officials and governmental agencies that enable people to participate in the democratic process.
- INFORMATION LITERACY: A library that provides INFORMATION LITERACY service helps address the need for skills related to finding, evaluating, and using information effectively.
- LIFELONG LEARNING: A library that provides LIFELONG LEARNING service helps address the desire for self-directed personal growth and development opportunities.
- LOCAL HISTORY AND GENEALOGY: A library that offers LOCAL HISTORY AND GENEALOGY service addresses the desire of community residents to know and better understand personal or community heritage.
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.