How good is our public library service: a public library quality framework for Scotland builds on a mechanism originally developed in 2007, Building on Success: a public library quality improvement matrix for Scotland produced by the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC). It sits alongside successive national strategies for public libraries in Scotland and with the Public Library Improvement Fund as the cornerstones of developing and enhancing Scotland’s public libraries.

This revised version, developed in 2022, takes into account the changing environment in which public libraries currently operate, and provides a quality assurance and enhancement tool to assist public libraries in meeting their service obligations and objectives. How good is our public library service focuses on planning, service delivery, and continuous improvement. It has been streamlined with three quality indicators instead of five; it embeds the exploration of both the vision and strategic management as well as impact of services in each indicator. The self-evaluation process helps demonstrate the continuing relevance, contribution and impact of public libraries, the ways in which they make a difference in their communities, as well as considering continuous improvement and enhancement.


For over 150 years public libraries have adapted to user needs and interests, and sought to achieve the underpinning principles in the original 1853 Public Libraries Act (Scotland) “for the Instruction and Recreation of the People” and local authorities continue to have a statutory duty to provide an adequate public library service. This framework was developed, and revised, in order to support and inform the adequate provision of universal public libraries services throughout Scotland. An adequate service is delivered through a planned strategic network of public libraries delivering core functions:

  • Providing universal access to hardcopy and electronic resources which are free, consistent and customer focussed;
  • Enabling access to resources for reading, information and learning;
  • Creating social capital by encouraging community involvement and community-based activity;
  • Helping to minimise social and digital exclusion;
  • Supporting learning and information needs in the information society and knowledge economy;
  • Promoting access to Scotland’s cultural heritage and promoting cultural and creative activities;
  • Encouraging the public to pursue individual interests;
  • Promoting social justice, civic engagement and democracy;
  • Working in partnership with other agencies and organisations to offer value-added services;
  • Supporting economic development, co-creation, and sustainability;
  • Strategic network provision across Scotland’s communities.

Despite the changing environment in which twenty-first century public libraries find themselves operating in, the principles of equity of access to information, the right to know, freedom of expression, the right to participate fully in a democratic society, and a professional and objective ethos remain as fundamental in the digital age as they were when public libraries were first established. 

The contribution of the staff to the success of the service cannot be overestimated. Individual users’ experiences and satisfaction depend on the quality of knowledge, expertise, customer service and professionalism at all levels.This was particularly true as library services pivoted to digital provision during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. The role of staff in public libraries as digital enablers encompasses supporting the public in the use of ICT, digital participation and literacy, as well as reader development and access to information.


The vision for Scotland’s public libraries has been outlined in two national strategies: Ambition and Opportunity and Forward, both of which provide clear strategic direction highlighting that public libraries are trusted guides connecting our people to the world’s possibilities and opportunities. Scotland’s public libraries are also part of a shared civic ambition helping fulfil the potential of individuals and communities; every step taken towards fulfilling that potential adds to Scotland’s social, economic and cultural wellbeing.

Public libraries in Scotland have a key role to play in supporting the digital participation, and are widely recognized as playing an important part as digital enablers. It is generally regarded that increased digital participation can improve people's quality of life, boost economic growth and transform the delivery of public services.

Using This Framework

The How good is our public library service framework is designed for public library services to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of their service provision, to consider the value and impact of their services, identify areas for improvement, and demonstrate their contribution to wider policy goals.  It is divided into three Quality Indicators:

  • Quality Indicator 1: Supporting Reading 
  • Quality Indicator 2: Supporting Learning
  • Quality Indicator 3: Engaging Communities 

Within each of these quality indicators it is necessary to address overarching strategic questions about (a) how we plan and manage high-quality people-centred services, (b) how we work in partnership to create more resilient, fairer and healthier communities, and (c) how we use qualitative and quantitative evidence to support continuous improvement. 

Each quality indicator encourages services to consider a series of key themes and questions as well as how to provide meaningful evidence of impact.  Services should grade their provision for the whole Quality Indicator using the following six point scale:

  • Level 6 Excellent
  • Level 5 Very good
  • Level 4 Good
  • Level 3 Satisfactory
  • Level 2 Weak
  • Level 1 Unsatisfactory

Use of the European Foundation for Quality Management’s RADAR© assessment methodology and framework can provides a means of considering objectively which aspects are working well and where there are opportunities for improvement. 

The major change introduced in this revision is the reshaping of the quality indicators into three main elements around reading, learning and communities.  The former QI 5 which looked at the vision and strategy for the service has been removed and the aspects it covered are now embedded in a series of ‘overarching questions’ that should be addressed for all the new quality indicators. This means that the vision and strategy for the services is now considered more explicitly, and more directly, in relation to what the library service does, rather than as a separate exercise on its own. The revision has been informed by the achievements of Ambition and Opportunity as well as the goals of Forward but sits independently of these to assess the quality of what libraries do, and what difference they make

It will be instructive for library services to consider the evidence that they gather associated with each quality indicator in the light of the National Performance Framework as this may shape and inform approaches to completing the self-evaluation report.

It is important to bear in mind that some themes or library activities will fit into more than one quality indicator. For example, health literacy could be included in Quality Indicator 2 Supporting Learning but would also be relevant in Quality Indicator 3 Engaging Communities.  It is, therefore, perfectly acceptable to use the same evidence in support of the library service’s submission for two or more of the indicators. Inevitably, however, some of the focus and commentary may be slightly different.  Indeed, the cross-over between library activities and the themes in How good is our public library service should be regarded as a strength and a positive.