What Makes a Great Public Library?


Elements of a Four Star Library

I was in a meeting with a group of Library Directors who were describing their trials and tribulations.  I started wondering what criteria we should use to rate our libraries.  As a library user, what gets the four star rating?

It starts out like Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.  Without the basics covered, nothing added on will matter.  It’s not just a minimum standard, like having a director, computers or space.  It’s even more basic than that.

Level One of library needs:

  • needs to be open
  • electricity, water, heating/cooling
  • accessible
  • bathrooms
  • clean, not foul smelling
  • materials
  • someone there

Level Two of library needs:

  • internet access/wifi
  • organization of materials
  • access to catalog
  • seating, tables
  • friendly staff person able to find items and answer questions
  • office services like copier, faxing

Level Three of library needs:

  • programs for kids, teens and adults
  • function as community hub with local information
  • friendly, professional, knowledgable staff
  • up-to-date materials, in-demand materials in stock
  • easy access
  • beautiful, pleasant surroundings
  • meeting the needs of all ages
  • collaboration with other educational facilities

This helps me to clarify what level four is.  Level four is a beautiful, inviting facility that is open when the user needs it, has the materials the user is looking for, and works to be innovative in providing services to their entire community.  The level four library is known to everyone in that community as the place to go to get information, entertainment, informal education, referrals to assistance, social interaction, cultural enrichment and access to new technology.

The question is, can you achieve a level four (or at least three) library on a tight budget?  Or does it take a lot of money to make excellence?

3 Replies to “What Makes a Great Public Library?”

  1. I know I’m writing to a librarian here, but…I spent three blissful years enjoying a library that was not staffed in the way I think you mean it. At all. You checked out your own books in writing in a large book. Student volunteers reshelved. It was open at all times, and everything there was ancient, and I never knew what the organizational plan was so I was always having adventures and delightedly discovering things.
    Maybe this is not what you meant, but I always thought it was the best library because it was always open, which would not have been the case if it had been staffed. No library since has equalled it.

    1. That sounds like a great Reading Room! A Reading Room is a unstaffed room full of books available to the public- many libraries started as Reading Rooms. It’s a great thing, but it’s not really a library.

      1. I didn’t know they had a name! I wish we had more reading rooms. Not that I have time at midnight anymore.

Leave a Reply