Public Library Workforce Study: Summary

Recruit, Retain and Lead
The Public Library Workforce Study

Executive Summary

The Project was designed to help the public library service recruit, retain, support and develop a workforce appropriate to the current and future needs of the service. The aim was to increase the amount, and quality, of information available to library managers, educators, and selectors, with the hope that this might lead to more effective decision making. The study was concerned with the following areas:

  • Employer's Needs and the Curriculum
  • Career choice
  • Recruitment and Selection
  • The Retention of Professional Staff
  • Training and development
  • Career aspirations and opportunities
  • Leadership and Succession Planning

The data from the research, including that obtained from other employment sectors, suggests that an effective workforce does not depend on any one factor in isolation. The development of staff will not be achieved without the development of managers at every level. The indications are that the public library service may not only have to identify and cultivate its future leaders but may also need to modify the organisational culture in which they operate. Individual librarians, individual library services, and individual library authorities, will need to look beyond what is sufficient for their own authority, and consider what is necessary for the profession and its users as a whole.


The research showed that people are attracted to the public library service because the work is seen as having a public service ethos and providing an opportunity to work with the public and communities. However the overall picture gained from the research was that the negative image of the profession, and the downbeat representation of the public library as a preferred first choice of employment, were all too real. There was evidence of some guarded optimism, reflecting the renewed interest in public libraries and government initiatives, but the negative perceptions still predominated. The question is how to redress this image before it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There was some dissatisfaction shown during the study about the quality of the students DLIS were recruiting to their courses.. This was much more of a concern with undergraduate than postgraduate programmes . Allied to this general concern is the underlying disquiet from some public librarians about the lack of specific knowledge of public libraries. There is a tension between the call for generic skills on the one hand, and the demand for knowledge and skills particular to one sector on the other. There needs to be a discussion within the profession about the level of qualification appropriate to different positions. To some extent the debate is coloured by an overarching argument about de-professionalisation.

A high value was placed on work experience by public library staff, by educators and by students in the course of the research. For some the work experience was a satisfying one, enhancing both their self-esteem and their suitability to the workforce. Others found it a soul-destroying experience. One that could turn a potentially valuable future recruit off the whole idea of ever working in a public library.


Many recent graduates also expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of the induction programmes they received in their first work place. The research also confirmed the view that there is a link between retention and training, and that success in retaining high quality staff derived from a combination of the qualities of the job itself, and a structured approach to training. Perhaps inevitably, the single most important area of training identified was ICT training. Areas such as customer care, service delivery, general management, and finance were also cited. The private sector organisations seen as part of our study demonstrated a high degree of awareness of the need for training, especially of the need for structured training tailored to the employee's needs.


The question as to how to find the public library leaders for tomorrow was raised throughout the study. The general consensus was that there was lack of leaders in the public library profession, and no identified way in which a new generation of leaders might be fostered. There was also agreement of the need to address not just leadership at the top of the organisation, but leadership 'from the side', and right throughout the organisation.

The research data indicate that the issues of succession planning and career leadership development were seen as important areas for the profession. However at the service level, relatively few authorities had begun to address such matters. This situation can be contrasted to that in other high profile public and private sector organizations where the recruitment, identification and development of high calibre graduates is regarded as an intrinsic part of the framework for succession planning and a crucial investment for the future. Public library respondents by and large did not think that fast tracking schemes, or a staff college were applicable to the public library sector. Just under half believed that graduate trainee schemes were applicable or highly applicable. However, only a handful of authorities are currently operating such schemes.


In reviewing, and reflecting on the data, which totals over a million words, the research team make the following recommendations. This is not a simple list of skills and aptitudes. Rather the suggestions are concerned with what is required if the public library service is to recruit and retain people with the necessary potential, skills and abilities to lead the profession. The recommendations are as follows:


  • That BAILER and the Society of Chief Librarians establish a working group to establish ways in which co-operation between DLIS and public library authorities can be improved.
  • That the Library Association re-visit the question of the need for a compulsory CPD requirement for continuous professional recognition.
  • That the Public Library Standards recognize and state the need for the employment of an appropriate percentage of professionally qualified staff by public library authorities. This should not be less than that in the former LA Standards.


  • That a working group of the Library Association, the Public Library Group, and the Society of Chief Librarians be established with the task of developing a cohesive set of high quality recruitment material for widespread use at job fairs.

  • That, wherever possible, DLIS interview all prospective students, with a view to ensuring high quality recruits to their academic programmes.


  • That public library authorities be encouraged to strive to allocate appropriate financial resources to support training initiatives in their authority and or on a co-operative basis.
  • That BAILER and the Society of Chief Librarians work together to develop a system of regional programmes for the ongoing delivery of continuing education.
  • That BAILER and the Society of Chief Librarians work together to establish a regionally based system of work experience programmes. These programmes would cover mutually agreed performance evaluation and a system of compensation for costs incurred in the operation of the system.


  • That the Society of Chief Librarians, together with BAILER and the LA, investigate the provision of leadership development programmes, fast tracking schemes, and a staff college for the public library sector.
  • That a national system of traineeships, funded by contributions from each public library authority, is established to recruit the best graduates to the public library service.
  • That individual public library authorities are encouraged to retain a position in their service that becomes vacant each year and is therefore used as a training place.