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Monday, July 01, 2019

Essay, Best practices in the library

Best Practices in the Library*
By Melchor F. Cichon
June 8, 2019

Some years back, I attended a National Summer Conference on Emerging Trends in Libraries and Information Services sponsored by PAARL in Bo. Tobuan,Labrador, Pangasinan. One of the speakers there was Mrs. Lourdes David, one of the leading librarians in the Philippines today. She talked on the best practices in the library. Although that conference was held in 2007 but the issue she talked about is still relevant today.
According to Mrs. Lourdes David, best practice as an activity or procedure has produced outstanding results. She also said that a best practice is a technique or procedure or methodology that, through experience and research, has proven to reliably lead to a desired result.
A clearer definition was given by Wikipedia.
"Best Practice is a management idea which asserts that there is a technique, method, process, activity, incentive or reward that is more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other technique, method, process, etc. The idea is that with proper processes, checks, and testing, a desired outcome can be delivered with fewer problems and unforeseen complications."
This idea of best practice is not really an emerging one. It had been advocated by Frederick Taylor in 1919 when he said that there is always a one best way of doing things.
Mrs. David also defined policy as a definite course of action adopted for the sake of expediency, facility, etc.
These two concepts, best practices and policies, can be applicable to the various activities of the library like in acquisition, cataloging, circulation, reference, and periodicals. They can also be used in other functions of the library like staff development.
To come up with a line of best practices, librarians should always be observant. They must document these practices to get their pros and cons, their advantages and disadvantages. And their antidots in case something gets wrong.
But one must see to it that the chosen best practices must conform with the mission and vision of the mother institutions. So if the vision of the parent institution is to be globally competitive, the library must also be globally competitive.
Like in any corporate world, policies, once formulated, should be known by all stakeholders like students, faculty and staff so that all will conform with those policies. The library administrator should use every means to let all stakeholders know of such new policy. He/she can use the bulletin boards, hand-outs, leaflets, or during library orientation.
Unfortunately, policies are sometimes not followed because of some pressures from the administration and from the clients.
Example: The policy is to buy the cheapest price of a book. But when the person in charge in buying books has an undercurrent objective, that person will not think of this policy. What matters to him/her is the commission that she/he gets from the book dealer.
Another example: Maintain silence in the library. But if the librarians themselves are noisy, how can the students follow this policy?
Best practice is a sure way of getting quality service, but if the library administrator will always rely on this principle, there will be no innovation or progress in the institution.
There is a saying: If you will not innovate, you will perish.
One method of getting idea on how to innovate the library procedures and policies is by benchmarking.
Ms. Corazon M. Nera, another pillar of the Philippine librarianship, defines benchmarking as a management technique to improve business performances. It is used to compare a performance between different organizations or different units within a single organization undertaking similar processes on a continuous basis. The purpose of which is to document and measure a key process and then compare the resulting data with those relating to similar process in other organizations.
In addition, let me share this definition of benchmarking from Wikipedia: Benchmarking (also "best practice benchmarking" or "process benchmarking") is a process used in management and particularly strategic management, in which organizations evaluate various aspects of their processes in relation to best practice, usually within their own sector. This then allows organizations to develop plans on how to adopt such best practice, usually with the aim of increasing some aspect of performance. Benchmarking may be a one-off event, but is often treated as a continuous process in which organizations continually seek to challenge their practices.
According to Mrs. Nera, there are five types of benchmarking activities. These are:
1.Competitor—comparing with leading organizations with similar products or service and adapting their approach.
2.Generic—comparisons of business processes or functions that are very similar, regardless of industry.
3.Internal—comparison of internal operations by different departments within the same organization.
4.Functional—comparison to similar functions within the same broad industry, or to industry leaders.
5.Customer—the aim of the improvement program is meeting and exceeding customer expectations.
According to Ms. Nera, the most appropriate types of benchmarking to the libraries are the generic and the customer benchmarking because as regards to the former, it focuses on measuring and comparing key processes in different organizations.
Here are some areas she mentioned that are suitable for benchmarking:
1. acquisition, cataloging, processing
2. acquisitions of core text
3. copy cataloging
4. customer satisfaction
5. document delivery
6. information skills
7. interlibrary loan
8. library systems costs
9. materials availability
10. original cataloging
11. research support
12. shelving
13. staff perceptions
14. technical services
Other aspects of the library that can be benchmarked are staff development and salary, staff discipline.
Ms. Nera presented the Australian experience why they benchmarked.
She cited the following:
1. to facilitate dramatic process improvement
2. as part of an on-going continuous improvement mechanisms.
3. to ensure that plans are being carried out.
4. to focus evaluation on the most useful areas.
5. as part of change management process
6. to justify the existence or value of the service
7. to demonstrate areas of merit to stakeholders
8. to develop relationships/partnerships with other organizations and
9. to assess aspects of management (include the level of management
She also cited the following reasons for benchmarking as per Australian University Libraries:
1.cost comparison
2.reduction in turn around times
3.reduction in error rates
4.establishing meaningful performance indicators/realistic output measures
5.feasibility of collaboration to achieve cost saving
6.investigate in sourcing, outsourcing and collaborative opportunities
7.establish individual performance target
8.explore appropriate roles and activities of cataloguers
9.develop improved outcomes for customers
10.pilot benchmarking/instill value of benchmarking instrument to achieve change
12.develop best practice model
13.validation measure
14.develop statements of good practice
15.framework for benchmarking performance and quality
Ms. Nera cited five approaches to an effective benchmarking. These are:
1.Identify the process to be benchmarked like the generic model because it ensures elements crucial to customer satisfaction and it facilitates an in-depth scrutiny of the way operations are currently run.
2.Determine what to measure. Is it the cataloging process or something else?
3.Identify who to benchmark. Should be done by only one person or better still by a team.
4.Collect the data. Of course only the relevant data should be collected
5.Analyze the data and determine the gap.
6.Set goals and develop an action plan.
7.Monitor the processes.
Benchmarking is no easy way for there are some factors to be considered. Some of these factors include the partners. Some institutions may not like to be a part of a benchmarking activity because of time element, staff involvement, confidentiality, and competition. Since benchmarking is not a one-day affair, this activity will require key personnels, and divulging company secrets is tantamount to losing their cutting edge against their competitors. ____ *While looking for an article on librarianship, I came across this write-up which I wrote some years back. Since I believe that the contents of this article is still relevant today, I rewrote it and came up with is article.

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