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Benchmarking Framework

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Libraries Deliver: how we'll achieve this

[Editor’s note: Following publication of the evidence-based strategic planning toolkit, Ian Leete, Senior Adviser – Culture, Tourism and Sport at the Local Government Association, introduces the second of our two new toolkits]

We’ve been working on a benchmarking framework to support library services to identify their strengths and weaknesses, assess themselves against recognised good practice, and deliver continuous improvement. We’ve now published it in beta, so that it can continue to evolve and develop based on your feedback, and we’d welcome your thoughts on how we can make it even more useful for the future.

Why did we develop this?

Libraries Deliver: Ambition identified the need to support all libraries and library services to develop and maintain a culture of continuous improvement. This became Action 13:

Develop and promote a sector-led benchmarking framework that libraries can choose to use to support self-assessment, planning and improvement

Respondents to the consultation on Ambition told us that it was important that anything like this should be sector-led; focussed on outcomes (rather than just inputs and activities); and one that drove improvement, not box-ticking. They told us it was equally important to keep it light-touch and manageable, given the limited amount of time and resources available to the teams that would be carrying out the assessment.

Therefore, Ambition further stated, in section 6.5, that:

Using outcome-focused descriptions, it will set out what an excellent library or library service could look like. We’ll learn from existing models and best practice in other sectors to ensure the process isn’t too resource-hungry and doesn’t inhibit innovation by precluding local flexibility.

So what have we come up with?

We structured the benchmarking framework around 10 characteristics for self-assessment. Each of these has further prompts within it to get you thinking about how your service is delivering against that characteristic. The 10 characteristics are:

  • Leadership
  • Governance and management systems
  • Evidence-based decision making
  • Community consultation and engagement
  • Outcomes-focused strategy and planning
  • Collaborative working and enterprise
  • Managing and developing people
  • Managing financial and physical resources
  • Service design, innovation and delivery
  • Review, improvement and learning

We’ve also included:

  • Advice on how to carry out self-assessment
  • Signposting to relevant guidance documents
  • Suggestions for sources of information to consider
  • An assessment framework

We tested this with a number of library services, to find out whether the benchmarking framework we produced met our aims to produce a practical tool to help self-assessment and improvement.

What did we draw on in drafting it?

We drew on a number of sources when developing the framework. The 7 Outcomes identified in Ambition run throughout, of course, but we also wanted to help library services with their managerial and operational functions as well, so we looked wider.

We did look at the previous Library Standards; but while we could identify some useful core components in them, they felt too rigid and too mechanistic to help services assess themselves against Ambition’s 7 Outcomes. However, we have used some elements from them in areas such as service design, innovation and delivery.

We’ve also linked across to SCL’s Universal Offers in a number of places, as we’d expect all library services to be delivering against these in some shape or form.

But we drew additionally  on experiences from outside the sector, in related services such as museums and archives. In particular, ‘Survive and Thrive’ – a self-assessment tool for museums - was a particularly good fit in terms of a short, simple process for driving improvement; alongside the more in-depth Culture and Sport Improvement Toolkit developed by the LGA.

What do you think?

So the final Benchmarking Framework for Libraries draws on decades of best practice from several service areas, distilling them into what we hope – and our testers found – is a simple, effective tool for you to use to benchmark your service and drive continuous improvement.

In the spirit of continuous improvement, as with the Evidence-based strategic planning toolkit, this Framework is being published in beta so that it can continue to evolve and develop based on your feedback. Please send comments to


Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce

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