A blog from the Southern Ontario Library Service

Great Expectations! Initiating Outcome-based Programming in Rural Libraries

A guest post from Chris Stephenson, describing how he and colleague Kim McMunn worked collaboratively on outcome-based evaluation as a powerful tool to help tailor programs, report the difference they make, and improve library service.

My birthday last month will be forever memorable, because the day after turning 43 coincided with my debut on the Ontario library scene.  Shortly after moving to Bancroft from Vancouver last summer, I agreed to a speaking opportunity.  At the time I thought maybe about 70 people might show up!  However, alongside Kim McMunn, from Hastings Highlands Public Library, we presented to almost 200 attendees at the Ontario Library Association’s 2017 SuperConference.  We spoke on the topic of building performance measures into your library’s programs and services.

Our February 2 talk was entitled Great Expectations! Initiating Outcome-based Programming.  This was a pretty hot topic in research methods just as I was leaving library school.  For rural librarians, such as Kim and myself, it’s also crucial to apply strategic planning to daily or weekly decision-making.  Our shoestring budgets go a lot farther when we use research to make targeted and intentional decisions in developing our initiatives.

Fortunately, as a SuperConference newbie, I didn’t know enough people in the audience to be nervous.  So I didn’t at first recognize Barbara Franchetto, CEO of SOLS, or Rod Sawyer, the Library Services Advisor from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport…  Until they came up afterwards to ask Kim and I some questions!  I’m glad we did our homework in advance, because it felt good to have some answers for them.

We were commended for describing the rural public library perspective, and for telling the story of how we’ve faced our respective challenges with this model.  Barbara later endorsed us by writing that “[Chris and Kim] presented their clear five step approach in evaluating outcomes within their respective communities and the successes they and their communities are enjoying as a result. It is very evident that both want to serve their communities to the best of their abilities and with outcomes based evaluation, they have found the means to do so.”

Kim and I are excited about any opportunity to ensure that rural libraries remain visible, vital, and vocal.  Kim has spent almost twenty years in three different rural, public settings and sees the value in planning and evaluating library services.  She’s told me that limited resources and budgets mean that library administrators need to be more than creative thinkers, they need to be critical thinkers, too.  Kim says, “As partners in community development, our roles in building capacity expand far beyond the quantitative measure of how many seats we can fill for a program.  We also need to ensure we’re meeting the qualitative measures, such as social inclusion and shared learning.” And this is what our talk was all about.  I’m lucky to have Kim just up the road!  Our partnership is important to success in both our libraries.  We’ve also agreed to support the future strategies of SOLS and the Ministry, especially as they relate to Outcome-based planning through a rural lens.

Kim’s library in Hastings Highlands, and my library in Bancroft, belong to a broader group of regional library CEOs, including those from Whitney, Barry’s Bay, and Carlow/Mayo Public Libraries.  We collaborate to share resources, and find ways to remain progressive and sustainable as stand-alone, rural libraries.

Our doors are always open, and we encourage you to drop us a line to find out more about how we’ve incorporated outcome-based planning and evaluation into our operations.  Stay tuned to the OLA website too, as our slide deck will likely be uploaded here shortly.  Another great resource can be found through the Public Library Association.  They’ve created Project Outcome, a free toolkit to support public libraries who want to benefit from the model we’ve been using.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Kim McMunn can be reached at CEO@hastingshighlandslibrary.ca or @HHCentre

Contact Chris Stephenson at chriss@bancroftpubliclibrary.ca or @ALibraryAtNight

Image of Chris and Kim speaking at OLA 2017
Chris and Kim speak at OLA 2017


Hasting Highlands Public Library Exterior Image
Hasting Highlands Public Library

Bancroft Public Library Exterior Image
Bancroft Public Library