Chapter 4

CAMEO Handbook

Chapter 4 Role Setting as a Tool for Looking-Around


Libraries seldom meet all the information needs of their patrons--but they try. Library planners have long sought a way to help them decide on what services they should concentrate their resources.

To respond to this need, the Public Library Association developed the concept of roles for public libraries. The premise behind this concept is that there are distinct roles that a public library can play in the community it serves. Each role emphasizes a different pattern of service. The "Role Selection Activity" described in this section provides a method for library planners to discuss roles and choose a limited number on which the library can concentrate.

The Role Selection Activity has been used successfully throughout the country because the role descriptions are easily understood not only by librarians but by library trustees, friends, and citizens. This activity can be an organizing framework for developing a mission statement, gathering information about the community and the library, and choosing goals. The concept of roles is fully explained in Planning and Role Setting for Public Libraries beginning on page 27.

This section will describe:

PLA identified and defined eight roles. Below is a description of each role and what it means for the library to choose that role. While these roles encompass virtually all the various programs and activities of public libraries today, individual libraries might wish to adapt or modify them to meet unique local needs.

  1. Community Activities Center

    The Community Activities Center library is a central focus point for community activities, meetings, and services. It works closely with other community agencies and organizations to provide a coordinated program of social, cultural, and recreational services. The library provides both meeting room space and equipment for programs sponsored by community or library. The library establishes an effective communication network with organizations in the community.

  2. Community Information Center

    The Community Information Center library is a clearinghouse for current information on community organizations, issues, and services. It responds to community problems with specialized services both inside and outside the library building, such as a job information and skills center for a community with high unemployment. The library creates a communication link with local government.

  3. Formal Education Support Center

    The Formal Education Support Center library assists students of all ages in meeting educational objectives established during their formal courses of study. This may include students in elementary and secondary schools, college, community college, university, or technical schools, as well as those involved in training programs, literacy or adult basic education, and continuing education courses. This emphasis on registration for formal instruction distinguishes this role from the Independent Learning Center. Libraries emphasizing this role may specify the education levels supported (for example, elementary/secondary but not post-secondary).

  4. Independent Learning Center

    The Independent Learning Center library supports individuals of all ages pursuing independent learning projects outside formal education such as citizen education, self- improvement, job-related development, hobbies, and cultural interests. The library helps learners to identify an appropriate learning path, determine needed resources, and obtain those resources from the library's collection or through interlibrary loan. The library may assist children with interests that go beyond the school curriculum, such as pets, rock collections, or dinosaurs.

  5. Popular Materials Library

    The Popular Materials Library features current, high-demand, high-interest materials in a variety of formats for people of all ages. The library actively promotes and encourages the use of its collection. Merchandising techniques may be used within the library to increase circulation. The library may circulate materials at off-site outlets, such as shopping malls or community facilities.

  6. Preschoolers' Door to Learning

    The Preschoolers' Door to Learning library encourages young children to develop an interest in reading and learning through services for children and also for parents and children together. Parents and other adult caregivers can locate materials on reading readiness, parenting, child care, and child development. Cooperation with other child care agencies in the community is ongoing. Programming introduces children and adults concerned with children to a wide range of materials and formats.

  7. Reference Library

    The Reference Library actively provides timely, accurate, and useful information for community residents in their pursuit of job-related and personal interests. The library provides on-site and telephone reference/information services to aid users in locating needed information. The library may answer practical questions and provide specialized business-related research; help government officials; and provide consumer information. The library participates in interlibrary loan and cooperative reference services to meet patron needs for information not available locally.

  8. The Research Center

    The Research Center library assists scholars and researchers as they conduct in-depth studies, investigate specific areas of knowledge, and create new knowledge. The library's collection is usually developed over a long period of time.

What selecting a role means

Most small and medium-sized libraries might choose one primary role and one or two secondary roles on which to concentrate library resources and staff effort. Larger libraries with branches might choose different roles for different branches, depending on the characteristics of the community served by each branch. For example, a branch located close to a school might choose Formal Education Support; small community branches might choose the Popular Library role; and a larger downtown main library might choose the Reference Library role. Not choosing a role does not mean that the library discontinues all services in that area. A library that did not choose the role of Formal Education Support would not stop serving children who come to the library after school closes. Likewise, a library that did not choose Preschoolers' Door to Learning would not cancel its story hour.

It is helpful to think of the chosen roles as those in which the library will take a proactive approach. This means that the library will actively plan programs, build collections, and make staff assignments to support the role. For those roles not chosen, the library will play a more reactive role, responding to patron requests as it is possible to meet them. Obviously, a larger number of continued requests in one role might suggest that role should be chosen for the library for concentration.

Libraries should be cautioned about choosing too many roles for emphasis lest they fall into the old trap of trying to serve "all of the people all of the time."

Conducting the role selection activity

The Role Selection Activity described in this section can be conducted with any group of people. It has been successfully used with:

To conduct the Role Selection Activity, the participating group should first be given the role descriptions to read or have the opportunity to hear a presentation about the different roles. Participants are given 100 points to divide among the eight roles. This process is conducted twice. The first time, participants divide the 100 points according to how they feel the library is currently allocating its resources. Individual scores are compiled and combined with those from other members of the group. The second time, participants divide the 100 points according to how they believe the library should be allocating its resources. During this second round, participants should allocate no fewer than 20 points C to any one role. This forces participants to choose what they consider to be the most important roles. Scores are again tabulated for the group. (See WorkSheet #3 (A-B) for the directions and score sheet.)

By comparing the role rankings between current allocation of resources and desired allocation, library planners can see where changes in library activities might be appropriate.

The Role Selection Activity can easily be done in approximately 75 minutes using the following schedule:

Minutes Activity
20 Leader describes the roles and explains the instructions.
10 Participants allocate 100 points based on their perceptions about current services.
15 Leader tabulates scores and debriefs the participants by asking them to discuss what they see in current services that made them assign their points the way they did.
10 Participants allocate 100 points based on the priority services they believe the library should emphasize in the future.
20 Leader tabulates the scores and asks participants to describe what made them rank the future priorities the way they did and describe the strengths and changes needed in current services to achieve the desired future prioritity.

No consensus or final decision on specific roles for the library needs to be reached by most of the groups. Only the Board of Trustees (or the Planning Committee if it has been given that charge) need make final decisions about roles to be the focus for the allocation of funds, programs, services, or staff effort.

Level of effort

The Role Selection Activity easily can be used as part of any level of effort. In the lowest level of effort, the library director might conduct the Role Selection Activity with the library trustees, the library staff, and possibly the library friends group. Conducting the Role Selection Activity with a group has the benefit of allowing for questions and discussion about the meaning of the roles and why a particular role was selected. If it is easier, however, the role descriptions and instructions for completing the activity can be mailed to individuals and returned to the library by mail as well.

At a medium level of effort, the groups who participate in the Role Selection Activity can be expanded. Library staff or members of the Planning Committee can attend meetings of community groups such as the chamber of commerce, service clubs, race/gender/age groups, educational groups, or even broadly representative community forums. If the library is conducting focus groups, the Role Selection Activity can be used as part of the focus group process.

At the highest level of effort, the Role Selection Activity would involve all the groups mentioned in lesser levels of effort and can also be included in surveys conducted with users or non-users. In this context, the names of the roles are sometimes changed to be more obvious to people less familiar with libraries. Using the Role Selection Activity in this way can give a richer picture of what services community members believe that the library should emphasize. Surveys can ask for preference of roles, ranking of roles, or evaluation of each role. Surveys from the Appomattox Regional Library System and the Gallup organization illustrate two different methods.

In the Appomattox Regional Library System's 1993 planning effort, respondents to the various surveys were asked the following question to determine their role preferences:

Which two of the services listed should Appomattox Regional Libraries place as "top priority?"

In a recent Gallup poll, respondents were asked to evaluate the public library roles in terms of their importance to the community using the categories "not important," "slightly important," "moderately important," or "very important." Respondents were given the following choices to rank in that way:

Using the results of the role selection activity

The ultimate use of the results of the Role Selection Activity is decided by the governing authority, sometimes after receiving recommendations from the Planning Committee, if it has been given that charge. The results of the Role Selection Activity can be used in at least four ways. They are:

To guide the planning committee in gathering additional information about the community

The point in the planning process at which the Role Selection Activity is used brings up the "chicken or the egg" conundrum. Should the library gather information about the community before it does the Role Setting Activity--or after? In this handbook, we recommend it be done before, for the following reasons:

The Role Selection Activity is itself a means of gathering information about the community. Selection of roles is often more value-based than fact-based. People have definite opinions about the kinds of services and/or collections their local library should have. By conducting the Role Selection Activity with different groups, the library can get a clearer picture of the priorities of various constituencies of the library. Sometimes the results are surprising, sometimes predictable, and sometimes they conceal hidden motives. Chamber of commerce members might not choose the role that would presumably serve the business community the best because the chamber itself wants to provide this kind of service and views the library as competition. School administrators might select the Formal Education Support Center role because they want to avoid building, supporting, and staffing school media centers in school buildings. Public library staff might rank the Formal Education Support Center low because they find teenagers unruly and do not want to serve them.

When comparing the rankings of several groups, the Planning Committee should look for roles where there is agreement on the ranking. Usually, two, three, or four roles float to the top of the rankings. Even if the precise ranking differs, a common grouping of certain roles near the top can be an indication that the library should move in that general direction.

Using the Role Selection Activity as a guide for additional data-gathering allows the library to test the assumptions behind the selection of the roles. For example, Preschoolers' Door to Learning might be selected because there is a real need for this in the community or because there is a common perception of whom the library serves. A library might follow up this selection by looking at census data on the number of young people in the community or by identifying the number of day care centers operating in the community and interviewing their staffs about their needs. A library might explore the Formal Education Support role by conducting a survey of students (extensive level of effort); by interviewing school administrators, teachers, and media specialists; by interviewing students who use the library; or by looking at census data on the number of school age students. The existence, quality, and available hours of school media centers can also influence the selection of this role.

WorkSheet #4 can be used to analyze the roles selected and determine what additional information might be gathered during the Looking-Around phase.

To provide a central focus for the library's mission statement

Some libraries build their mission statement around the roles they select. This indicates a commitment on the part of the Board to proactive implementation of these roles. The ARLS project resulted in the following mission statement:

The Appomattox Regional Library System serves the citizens of Hopewell, Prince George, and Dinwiddie, providing leisure materials and information services to all. For the Young, we provide an introduction to the benefits of libraries, and we support formal education.
We strive to continuoously inprove library services for our users through planning, a knowledgeable and committed staff, and the effective use of resources and technology.

Although a library may actually have chosen more roles than is realistic to implement, its mission statement gives a clear indication of the library's intent to offer specific services in the areas of these roles. Ideally, a mission statement should be twenty-five words or less for ease of remembering and repeating it.

To provide a framework for the library's goals

A common use of the Role Selection Activity is to transform the top roles selected into some of the library's goals. For example, two roles chosen by the Findley and Hancock County Public Library in Ohio were Popular Materials Library and Reference Library. The goals and objectives they wrote directly relate to those roles

Goal 1: Residents of Hancock County will be able to obtain print and audio-visual materials to meet their recreation and leisure needs.
Objectives: 1.1 Best sellers will be available within 7 days of their availability in the county. 1.2 Increase the use of the young adult collection so that turnover of materials is at least 5 circulations per holding annually.
Goal 2: People have access to accurate, timely information through their public library to help them in their jobs, school work, and daily decisions.
Objectives: 2.1 By July 1995, staff will answer at least 64% of all reference questions to the satisfaction of library users. 2.2 By July 1995, 100% of the telephone reference calls will receive immediate attention from a reference staff member at the Central Library.

To give guidance to the library board on the allocation of library resources

This is the ultimate use of the Role Selection Activity. By establishing the roles as priorities for library resources and efforts, future decisions about the allocation of resources can be based on these priorities. Similarly, if cuts are required in the library budget, the previously determined priorities can receive priority for funding maintenance.

Proceed to Chapter 5 - Looking-Around-Outside-the-Library .

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