On Target: Benchmarks for Success as a Librarian

Here's a topic I've been thinking a lot about lately: how do we gauge the success of our youth departments (and by extension, our own work)? We all know librarians love statistics. We track circulation (daily, monthly and yearly), program attendance (same), and patron visitors (same).

At my old library, branches were given specific targets to hit. I can't remember exactly what they were, but they were things like:
  • The number of children registered for summer reading should increase 3% over the previous year
  • Circulation of picture books should increase 5% over the previous year
  • Registered library cards should increase 10% over the baseline year
There were suggestions for how you could hit these targets: 
  • School visits
  • Displays
  • Talking to every single family checking out books about joining SRP
  • Encouraging families to sign up for individual cards vs. everyone using mom's or dad's
Obviously putting smiles on faces is a wonderful thing, but I think we have an apprehension in our field about making measurable progress. We have competencies for individuals, but what does a competent youth department look like? Are there standards for how many books per capita you should own and how often they should circ? How many programs per year should you do?

The closest I can think of is the list of Starred Libraries Library Journal publishes annually. It deals with circulation, visits, program attendance, and computer uses per capita. You can then compare your library's numbers to your colleagues who are in the same expenditure category.  It's not specific to departments, however. 

At some point, ever-increasing goals become impossible to reach when the law of diminishing returns sets in. You may be able to increase circulation 20-50% one year because you open a new, awesome building and everyone wants to come visit it, but eventually the novelty will wear off and then your numbers might (gasp!) go down. There are tons of extenuating circumstances that could befall you. The Michigan Department of Transportation announced plans to redo the two major highways in town in this coming summer and guess whose library is at the intersection of them both? Lucky me! I'm not 100% sure how I will even be able to get to work. Who knows what will happen then? We will do the best we can, as we always do. 

And another question--how much can increases or decreases be attributed to staff members? If the circulation goes up, is it attributable to a new staff member who is better at collection development than his/her predecessor? How much credit (or blame!) could a librarian reasonable take, given the myriad potential reasons (demographic shifts, marketing changes, sheer luck)? 

Ask the readers: I'm curious: Does your department have written goals for what you hope to achieve in the coming year? If so, how did you align them with your library's strategic plan, if one exists?What about personally... how do "I" know that I'm doing a good job? 

I'd like to thank Abby and Melissa for the emails they sent me about how their library systems use goals and objectives for the youth department to address specific areas of their strategic plans. 


  1. Yeah. I don't have written, measurable goals like that for myself, and I'd be surprised if my library has ever had a strategic plan. To be very honest, I don't even know that we have written a mission statement. (sigh). I just take patron compliments as my sign of success and try to make my personal performance goals things that directly affect my service (this year my goals were compiling a specific number of booklists and revitalizing some story kits we circulate, for example).

  2. I've never been a fan of saying you have to have an increase in circulation by x% or you have to have so many MORE SR registrants. It's good to have goals, but communities are only so big and eventually you will plateau. It seems unreasonable to continually expect a department to up the ante every single year.

  3. My library has never counted SRP statistics in terms of how many people sign up. We keep stats of program goers but the board and FOL who provide all the SRP money don't seem interested in stats at all.

    For me, I like to compare myself to colleagues (mostly online!) and see what programs, ideas and changes they are implementing and how I can than make a similar effort at my library. I want to stay current and since I am one of only two children's librarians in my system, I need that "competitive" spirit that comes with seeing what my colleagues are doing. Also, at my yearly evaluations, we set goals and these goals are things I try to achieve or at least start. For example, this year one goal was to have more school-age program during the school year. I've started a Super Saturdays program at the library that is just launching this month geared towards elementary aged kids. I don't know how it will go yet but I'm eager to find out!

  4. Hmmm darn good questions. We don't have specific goals although we like a healthy circ and lots of kids in the department - but trying to boost and boost circ is unrealistic. We do alot of playing to see what might work; respond with more of what our patrons like and make sure that any stats we keep are important enough or informative enough to gather. If not, we don't bother.

    I hope to talk to everyone in the department about their personal goals for the year. If that helps we'll look at departmental goals down the line. One step at a time!

  5. No strategic plans here either. Our director doesn't speak with us about our evaluation, just hands it to us with her comments, then we can respond in a written manner. It would be great to ask employees what goals they might like to achieve in the up coming year. I'm relieved numbers for programs or circulation stats aren't looked at related to job performance that could put a lot of undue pressure on staff. Interesting thoughts and ideas ladies.

  6. Numbers are a big part of my evaluation, but I've never been sure exactly what "good" numbers are. So, yeah, that's a little stressful. I think circ is supposed to at the least meet previous levels and maybe increase every month, compared the last year's month, but I don't know if that's just the circulation department's way of looking at numbers or if it's a definite goal. I did get my director to pin down a minimum of ten kids at a storytime and 20 kids at an after school program as what she wanted last year I think but..um..that was after I broke down and cried in a programming meeting from sheer stress and exhaustion, so I don't know if those numbers are still "good". We get goals in our yearly evaluation ranging from "spend x grant money" to "improve supervisory skills". I kind of set personal goals as well - I wanted to even out program attendance (instead of having attendance range from 5 - 200) and hit an overall total of 10,000 last year and I did it! But I don't know that anyone except me cares.

  7. Lots of interesting questions and ideas. I am not a numbers person, but I have a lot of respect for (and maybe a little fear of) them. Numbers are necessary (especially now) but like you said in your post, relying on numbers may not be sustainable in the long run or in times of great change, etc. One of my new favorite bloggers from the library world (although not from youth services) is Aaron Schmidt. His blog walkingpaper.org is an awesome place to wax intellectual about the libraries of the future. He wrote a post called Libraries Should Become Better With Use. It's worth a serious read: http://www.walkingpaper.org/2399

  8. While I think that goals are important, numbers can be easily manipulated. For instance, if %circ of the picture book collection is part of my review, what is to stop my from having an entire collection of Disney books? They would definitely hit the circ percentage, but that doesn't necessarily make me good at collection development. My 2 cents.


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