Public Library Standards: Introduction

Rhode Island's public libraries have evolved significantly in the years since the Library Board of Rhode Island last adopted Minimum Standards for Rhode Island Public Libraries. Responding to the dual demands of a persistent need to fulfill their traditional roles in the community and a lightning-fast development of the information marketplace, as well as to the strictures of the Standards, libraries have grown into sophisticated community organizations with critical educational, recreational, and civic missions.

Just as important, RI public libraries have developed a complex, efficient and effective nonprofit statewide consortium, Ocean State Libraries, Inc. (OSL). OSL's single catalog unites all RI public libraries, and the joint adoption through OSL of online resources and the technologies that support them, both within and among the state's public libraries, provides all residents of Rhode Island with a consistent and seamless library experience. At the same time, public libraries maintain both the local library governance and the local character beloved of the communities they serve.

The 2013 Minimum Standards and Regulations for Rhode Island Public Libraries reflect not only the libraries' growth and development, but the remarkable prescience of the previous edition, which foresaw the transformation that would be required of public libraries. There is little need to alter the philosophy or the principles articulated in the previous edition, except to emphasize the importance of statewide collaboration and of the accessibility of electronic and remote information resources. Therefore, we have updated the principles rather than changing them; they will be familiar to those who have been working with the 2000 edition of the Standards.

We have treated the 2000 standards themselves, however, more harshly. In preparing this edition we have streamlined the standards, eliminating duplication and those items that are required elsewhere, such as by law or building code. Many of the standards in the 2000 edition have also become an integral part of operations at all RI libraries. For example, number 8 in the 2000 Standards requires that “The library provides access for users to statewide library holdings both within the library and remotely 24 hours a day, seven days a week, via the World Wide Web.”As members of OSL, RI's 49 public libraries all comply. The intent of this standard is still important for RI libraries but compliance is achieved through OSL membership; the standard need no longer be explicit. Those 2000 standards that may be regarded as best practices already adopted rather than as metrics of compliance are also not included in this version. We have discontinued enumeration of these practices as standards but recommend that public libraries continue to consult the previous edition of the standards as a source of minimal best practices.

The 2013 standards are to be taken as a project of each individual municipality through the public library, or libraries, it supports. The standards must be met in each municipality in order for that municipality to be eligible for state grant-in-aid. In some cases, the optimal strategy for compliance will be for more than one library or more than one municipality to combine resources to meet a standard. The Office of Library and Information Services encourages this collaboration when it is a way to better leverage the resources available to provide library service. Not all our public libraries or all our municipalities are exactly alike. By combining forces, libraries with different profiles may add up to one library for the service area that exceeds the sum of the parts.

Now is an opportune time to prepare new standards. The library world is changing rapidly; dated standards can be as much a hindrance as a guide to keeping up with the changes. Moreover, there is much ferment in the library world around library metrics and public library aspirations. For example, the Edge Benchmark Framework, an undertaking of 13 library organizations with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is seeking to define quality public access technology in libraries. Consequently, we have endeavored to focus on making library service derive from the library's community and the vast potential for service inherent in the public library as an institution. We urge public library boards, directors, and staff, to take an active role in continuously judging the appropriateness of even these new standards and providing the Office of Library and Information Services with feedback as seeds for the next revision.

Through these new standards, the Office of Library and Information Services and the Library Board of Rhode Island hope to ensure the highest possible level of library service for all Rhode Islanders while reducing the burden of annual paperwork required of the libraries that provide that service. Herewith, then, are the 2013 Minimum Standards and Regulations for Rhode Island Public Libraries.

The Library Board of Rhode Island
June 17, 2013