Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Revising our Wisconsin Public Library Standards

“As with marathon runs and lengths of toilet paper, there had to be standards to measure up to.”
- Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Photo of running feet
Photo of running feet courtesy of
Over the next year our Wisconsin library community will be hearing a great deal about the revision of our state's Public Library Standards.   Our Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is charged by law to "recommend and distribute . . . standards for public libraries to public library governing bodies" - s. 43.05 (6).  Our Agency - and its predecessor, the Wisconsin Free Library Commission - has worked closely with public library stakeholders for well over 100 years to create public library guidelines / standards that reflect the changing needs of our communities.

Early versions of our state guidelines for public libraries focused more on recommended procedures and day-to-day library operations than measurable standards.  Nationwide standards for public libraries were first published by the American Library Association in 1933 with new editions published in 1943, 1956, and 1966.  Influenced by these national standards, our state guidelines gradually transformed to include prescriptive standards for library collections, budget, service, etc. While our Wisconsin standards are advisory, they play a critical role in not only measuring current library service but in planning for future excellence.

The impact of ALA's standards upon our state was especially strong when A Design for Public Library Development in Wisconsin: Standards for Measuring Progress was published by the Wisconsin Free Library Commission in 1963.  Inspired by ALA's 1956 standards which advocated a "library system" concept, Wisconsin's 1963 standards paved the way for our current network of regional public library systems.  With the formation of public library systems and statewide public library access came the 1974 Wisconsin Public Library System Standards from the recently-created Wisconsin Division for Library Services of the Department of Public Instruction.  This version emphasized the interrelations among the system, headquarters library, and a range of community library sizes.

The version of our state's standards that we're familiar with today stems from a 1987 Task Force chaired by the late Debra Johnson.  This edition of the Wisconsin Public Library Standards included imperatives for planning based upon ALA's publications on planning and role setting as well as the first inclusion of target standards for Wisconsin public libraries based upon percentile measures.  A 1994 revision - chaired by Anders Dahlgren of the DPI's Public Library Development team - reflected the technological changes that our library community had experienced since 1987 and also added the concept of "service population" for public libraries.

The next major revision of the standards took place in 2000 and was chaired by Mike Cross of the DPI's Public Library Development team.  For the first time they included quantitative standards for both municipal populations as well as "service populations."  Revised editions of the standards were published in 2005 and 2010.  We anticipate the next edition will be finished by the summer of 2016.

How can you be involved with this most recent revision of our Wisconsin's public library standards? We are assembling three Focus Teams that will be examining the broad categories of:

  • Library Governance, Administration & Staffing
  • Collection, Resources & Services (including Programs & Youth Services)
  • Access, Facilities & Technology

If you would like to volunteer to serve on one of these Focus Teams, please complete this short survey no later than June 15th.  We hope to finalize our Focus Teams in late June and schedule initial Focus Team meetings sometime during July.

Written by:
Denise Anton Wright, Public Library Development