Short Paper #2

Susan Lee

I find the indicator elements of OBPE among the most important. OBPE focuses on output measures, specifically how much a service or resource is used, instead of input measures, which was the library’s prior primary focal point, as well as measurable objectives. It is not a whole organizational plan and evaluation method but intended to be used in accordance with the vision, mission, goals, and objectives of the library organization and its strategic plan. It allows for the involvement of youth as a representative force, allowing them to express themselves and participate throughout the process as part of the program. It also helps educate library staff to “work smart,” assists them in enhancing youth services by opening up communication lines throughout the community, and attaining instant feedback on library programs and services. These were the basic OBPE concepts that I found were most important

OBPE is helpful in managing library services and programming but libraries and library staff can encounter obstacles when implementing it into their organization. The initial obstacles of introducing such a new program are the typical start-up costs, time, and training. These can be overcome with proper budgeting and time management after the initial costs, which tend to be the most impactful. Grants and donations can be solicited as well to help cover additional costs including stipends for staff who take on additional workloads and paperwork (hard copy or digital). Instead of creating a new position, OBPE-related duties can be distributed among current staff with the needed skills and knowledge, or given the proper training. Over time, OBPE can save a library organization time and funds in the long run. Having proven and established outcomes from library services can aid in funding and community support. The additional skillset will make employees more valuable to the organization and give them more relevant experience for the future.

Creating organization interest and sustaining interest within the library system can be a problem. The central point of OBPE is that it is ongoing. It doesn’t end after a few months or one year. It occurs throughout the life of a program and service, adapting as the library changes. The ‘old regime’ within the administration may not want to take on additional duties, or as they retire or turnover occurs, new staff members must take over. Identifying or selecting a library staff member or members that are committed and genuinely interested to both lead and participate can make the transition easier. Having a chain of command and written training guidelines or policies can lighten transition loads.

OBPE provides a more holistic model for planning and evaluating children’s services. Involving young people within the community to participate in a library’s OBPE of its youth service is an important aspect of the program and vital to its success. It is hard to identify their needs or obtain direct feedback without their involvement. There is a lack of prior research regarding youth services in this area. The focus was on academic or public libraries in general or adult services. Consulting with OBPE creators or libraries with more OBPE experience would ease concerns and answer any questions that staff may have.

Speaking with youth and figuring out how to communicate with them can be daunting. It is one obstacle. As Dresang pointed out, while many have no issue surveying adults regarding library services, some consider it “meddling” with children’s privacy. The attitudes of library staff towards the youth may be an obstacle. There can be a tendency to treat children as a lesser, or ‘other’ foreign element instead of respecting them in their own right. Young people know their needs and can communicate them better than a grown-up could for the most part. The children’s librarian, or staff members willing to take on the formation of a youth advisory board or council, would be ideal to lead the way. Improvements and potential for improvements can be identified and implemented much easier. The youth are a valuable data source.

Encouraging the youth’s involvement or soliciting their help can be as easy as approaching local schools or putting up a sign-up sheet in the library. Perhaps teachers can identify students that would be a good fit. The library staff can highlight benefits for participating including improving library services, improved literacy, volunteer hours, and learning leadership skills. These things could appeal to their parents or guardians when obtaining their permission for signing up. There could be rewards such as gift cards or a pizza party for participating. It can be a challenge to select children; staff must decide what traits, age, or other characteristics they are looking at when selecting participants.

Existing library policy or strategic plans can oppose an OBPE program. Often they focus on short term or immediate results rather than long lasting outcomes. Policies and plans must be rewritten and altered if youth service policies prohibit changes OBPE ends up recommending. It’s looking past seats filled, the number of reference questions answered, and circulation numbers. It can be a challenge to change the staff’s outlook to a more forward-thinking point-of-view, and drive change over time. OBPE’s focus on long-term outcomes versus formative and summative outcomes can be different. Feedback can be difficult to hear, especially if it is negative. OBPE allows for more open communication. Expected feedback should be both positive and negative. Nothing is perfect although library staff may be proud and work diligently; there is often room for improvement overall. Staff may not be receptive or open to criticism. It can be hard to hear in a professional or public service capacity.

Selected staff members can be assigned to filter feedback or comments regarding library services and programming and condense them into one report. That is not to say negative comments will be erased or purged but combined with positives, and suggestions for improvements can be added as a counterpoint. Perhaps an independent, impartial party or a library staff member who does not work with youth services can review the feedback first. Feedback can be used to determine future budgets and allocation of resources, which will make planning easier and improve services.

OBPE focuses on youth services and technology; IT staff is sometimes a separate department from library staff. They would be the most useful when fielding computer service or programming-related issues, and considering technical changes. They may not be inclined to step away from their regular duties, or comfortable enough to be included. Creating an open dialogue can be accomplished if the mutual benefits of OBPE are conveyed: creating more successful programming, the potential for additional funding, improving youth services, measuring current use, and encouraging more young people to use the public library.