Wisconsin Public Library Standards

In November 2010, the Department of Public Instruction released the Fifth Edition of the Wisconsin Public Library Standards. These standards are based on the premise that all Wisconsin residents need and deserve at least a basic level of library service.

For any library, a locally developed long-range plan is considered to be the key to providing effective library service. The Standards is intended to provide a starting point that can be used to direct long-range planning efforts. They define the basic level of service that should be available in any community. They can be used as a tool for evaluating the appropriateness of current services or for setting goals and objectives. It is hoped that the standards will provide a pathway to excellence in library services.

This edition of the Wisconsin Public Library Standards includes both checklists and quantitative measures. Libraries need to consider both in order to utilize the standards most effectively. While Wisconsin's standards are voluntary, every library is encouraged to strive to provide the highest level of service possible.

The sections that follow contain more information about using the Standards. In addition, OWLS has developed an Excel workbook that any library can download and use to calculate quantitative service targets.

Chapters of the Wisconsin Public Library Standards document are published on the Department of Public Instuction, Public Library Development Team's web site. The complete document is also available in as a PDF file. It is strongly recommended that any library become familiar with the complete Standards document before attempting to use or apply any part of it.


Included in the Wisconsin Public Library Standards are checklists of recommended minimum standards. Each item in a checklist is presented as a simple statement; either a library meets the recommendation or it does not. At a minimum, every Wisconsin public library is expected to strive to meet all of these basic recommendations.

The checklists are formated to encourage libraries to copy them for easy use. The checklists are organized in five major areas:

Fifteen technology-related standards are contained in the various checklists. To make it possible for them to be considered together, they have been pulled together in the Summary of Technology-Related Standards.

Quantitative Standards

Quantitative standards have been assembled from annual report data submitted by Wisconsin public libraries. Many of these standards are minimum per capita measures, but some standards apply regardless of community size. Recommended standards have been established in the following areas:

  • FTE Staff per 1,000 Population
  • Volumes Held per Capita (Print)
  • Periodical Titles Received per 1,000 Population (Print)
  • Audio Recordings Held per Capita
  • Video Recordings Held per Capita
  • Public Use Internet Computers per 1,000 Population
  • Hours Open
  • Materials Expenditures per Capita
  • Collection Size (Print, Audio & Video) per Capita

Service targets for the recommended standards have been established to reflect four levels of effort: basic, moderate, enhanced, and excellent. Service targets have also been established in relation to the population that a library services. Specific quantitative measures for libraries in seven different population ranges can be found on the Public Library Development Team's website:

Estimating Service Population

In order to utilize the quantitative standards it is necessary to make a meaningful estimate of the population served by the library. Because libraries in Wisconsin serve nonresidents, the population of the jurisdiction that operates a library (e.g., city, village, county, town) does not usually reflect the population that the library actually serves. It is recommended that libraries determine their service populations and develop plans based on those service populations. Unfortunately, there is no definitive methodology for determining a public library's service population. However, the Wisconsin Public Library Standards do include a discussion of methodologies for calculating service population.

Calculating Service Targets

When a library knows its municipal and service populations, it can apply the quantitative standards to evaluate how it is doing and determine target service levels. OWLS has developed an Excel workbook [xls] that any library can use to generate reports that include service targets at all four levels of effort. These recommended service levels can be used in the development of local library goals and objectives.

To download the workbook:

  1. Click on the Excel workbook link above A window will appear asking if you would like to open or save the file Select SAVE IT TO DISK and click the okay button A "Save As" window will appear Select the folder location where you want to save the file on your computer
  2. Enter the filename you want to give the workbook and click on the Save button

The Excel workbook file is now yours to use. Instructions for using the workbook will appear when it is opened.

Additional Resources

The second chapter of Wisconsin Public Library Standards contains an excellent brief overview of the planning process entitled Imperatives for Planning. Also included is an appendix with definitions of the terms and acronyms used in the Standards and in the Wisconsin library world.

Libraries may also want to supplement the use of quantitative standards with peer comparisons. Annual statistics for Wisconsin public libraries are available on the Public Library Development Team's web site. There is also a nifty tool for comparing public library statistics that is provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services on their page that describes public library data research.

ROI Calculators

There are a number of library "Return on Investment" calculators that demonstrate how libraries are a good investment. They are available for library users to determine how much money they’ve saved by using the library’s resources. One example of a "Library Use Value Calculator" is available from the Maine State Library. A little closer to home, the Winnefox Library System has created a "Library Use & Return on Investment Value Calculator" that attempts to answer the question, "What is your library worth to you?"