A blog from the Southern Ontario Library Service

Accreditation: What is it and why bother?

As part of our 130th Anniversary, St Thomas Public Library was accredited in 2014. Accreditation is like ISO 9001 for libraries: The process ensures that libraries achieve a standard level of service for customers, and meet all the legislative requirements.

Representatives from libraries across Ontario assisted in the definition of required standards for all public libraries. These standards – Ontario Public Library Guidelines, or OPLG – are now in their 6th edition. There are 160 guidelines; some are mandatory, and of the others, a library must achieve more than 80% to be successfully accredited.

In my first year as CEO, I used the accreditation checklist results as a guide for determining where my priorities would be in my first few years. It was a really easy way to determine St Thomas’ strengths, and areas where the library needed improvement. I did a follow up review of the standards a few years later to see how well we had progressed – and found that the standards had been updated, (especially in technology) and there was more work to be done. That fitted well with my professional goal of “continuous improvement”!

Some of the standards relate to required policies which we already had, making the standard easy to achieve. Others dictate that libraries must provide a certain level of service in particular areas, and some govern Board operation. Luckily, St. Thomas Public Library didn’t have many concerns about meeting the majority of the standards. You’ll be surprised how many of the standards are easy to meet, so have a look, or try out SOLS’ new accreditation self-audit tool. Here are some sample guidelines:

1.4.2  Financial Records – The board ensures accurate records of the library’s finances are maintained in the fashion outlined by applicable legislation or advised accounting practices.

2.6.1  Service to housebound or institutionalized people – The library provides library materials on an organized and regular basis to residents of the community who are unable to travel to the library, e.g. the housebound, residents of institutions such as nursing homes.

4.4.1  Readers’ advisory service – The library staff provides guidance and assistance to library users as to which library materials will most suit their needs, e.g. by identifying the author of books featuring a certain character; directing library users to materials in a particular genre, or to biographies about a certain person.

See? Not too bad.

There are some standards where we had concerns that we would not meet expectations. Most of those related to the physical configuration of an older building. We had a renovation planned, and I used the checklist to identify long standing issues that needed to be resolved, such as:

3.3.5  Interior lighting – Lighting levels are adequate in all areas, e.g. in book stack areas, general reading and staff areas, computer stations, reading tables and carrels.

We achieved accreditation with a score of 159 out of 160 (our shelves were too high!) and since then, we use it in our reports to council, much of our publicity, and in the signatures on our emails. It’s worth bragging about.

Next time, I’ll talk about the who and how of accreditation.