[Editor’s note: This post was written by James Pearson, Interim Head of Libraries, Registration and Archives, Kent County Council]
With a population of 1.4 million, Kent is one of the largest counties in England. The library service covers 99 library buildings, 5 mobile libraries plus a range of outreach and online services. We are also fully integrated with the Kent Archives and Registration service meaning we offer seamless access to customers to a wide range of services.
On 1 April 2016, Kent Libraries, Registration and Archives (LRA) became an internally commissioned service as part of Kent County Council (KCC). The aim of this model is to ensure that LRA delivers the best possible outcomes to the residents of Kent.
A service specification has been developed that aligns the service against KCC’s three key strategic priorities, which are that:
- Children and young people in Kent get the best start in life
- Kent communities feel the benefits of economic growth by being in-work, healthy and enjoying a good quality of life
- Older and vulnerable residents are safe and supported with choices to live independently.
Members, led by the Cabinet member, were fully involved in developing the specification.
Measuring our performance
The service specification has required LRA to look at two different approaches as to how it measures performance:
- Key Performance Indicators: These are mainly outputs; numbers that indicate level of use, for example, the number of people who visit our buildings. This is the traditional way that LRA has been measured and is still an important benchmark of performance, but we have thought carefully about what are the relevant KPIs for a modern library service.
- Outcomes: These criteria are a really important development and something that LRA endorses as a way forward. Outcomes allow a focus on the quality of the experience/services for the customer which is at the heart of what we do. This enables LRA to better demonstrate the positive difference these services can make to the people of Kent.
Measuring contribution to outcomes should also allow the services to better demonstrate the impact and difference we make to the customer. LRA is looking at how it can devise a toolkit for outcome evaluation as this is an area that needs more development. This could have wider benefits, not just for KCC but also for other library services, and we note this is a theme of the Libraries Deliver: Ambition document.
Some examples of outcomes by objective achieved so far this year:
Children and young people in Kent get the best start in life
“My middle child completed your Summer Reading Challenge this year. Before the Challenge she was on Level 8 of the Oxford Reading Tree. After the summer holidays, she was assessed as a Free Reader (normally you would need to be on Level 11 or above to be promoted to a Free Reader). I'm convinced that the Summer Reading Challenge inspired her to read more frequently and more confidently than she had done before. Thank you so much!” Parent, Canterbury
Kent Communities feel the benefit of economic growth by being in work, healthy and enjoying a good quality of life
“This is an absolutely brilliant service, which allows me, my husband and my children to download books onto my e-reader (which was a present), and to take all of our books with us everywhere.” Customer commenting on the e-book service
We also continue to look at opportunities to modernise our buildings and these were some comments received about the recent refurbishment of Dartford library: ‘The library looks lovely with lots of new books available’, ‘beautiful - fresh but still retained the essence of the building’.
Older and vulnerable residents are safe and supported with choices to live independently
Our service continues to deliver a home library service through a team of volunteers that deliver books to people’s homes, and we now also offer a ‘Touch a New World’ service where housebound customers can also loan an iPad and get the support of a volunteer to use it.
“I would like to thank you for this wonderful service, without which my mother’s life would be almost unbearable”. Mrs S Barlow commenting on the home library service
‘The world can come into my life. Now that I am 95, I can’t do what I did. I used to love travelling and, with the iPad, I can explore the world from my armchair’. Customer commenting on Kent’s ‘Touch a New World’ service.
Kent welcomes the opportunity to join the discussion on outcome evaluation so we all get better at recognising and evaluating the difference our services can make.
LRA is developing a more commercial outlook. This includes looking at a range of opportunities to generate income and looking at how we can upskill staff to meet this challenge.
Reactions from senior people at Kent County Council
Barbara Cooper, Corporate Director, said: “In increasingly difficult times, it is important that we are able to demonstrate the impact all our services have on the council’s key priority outcomes. Through internal commissioning, we are able to better demonstrate that libraries are ‘more than books’; they make a real impact on people’s lives and, while still early days, we need to develop this approach more.”
Mike Hill, Cabinet Member for Community Services, said: “I am pleased and proud that the Libraries, Registration and Archives service has continued to provide excellent results despite the financial constraints and has grasped the concept of an internal commissioning service with enthusiasm. I look forward to an exciting future, supporting core outcomes of the County Council and delivering an efficient service to all our customers.”
Through the service specification, KCC articulated what was required to be delivered and, in response, LRA has produced a service plan that explains clearly how it will deliver against this. This is being monitored quarterly and will be subject to a review against how we have done at the end of the financial year.
Keep up to date with activities in Kent libraries by following them on twitter.
Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce