It’s quality assurance Jim, and it’s pretty much as expected … by Matt Holland

No one likes doing quality assurance. It’s hard work. A distraction from the real business of delivering services to users. On the other hand everyone likes the feeling of achievement that comes from getting a good score. This personal reflection on the experience of the Library Quality Assurance Framework or LQAF looks at the good and bad points. It’s not all positive, but it’s not all doom and gloom either.

Quality assurance is a high stakes game

The NHS likes targets and numbers. The idea of LQAF, with a score out of 100 feeds right into the NHS managerial mindset. The target culture. Your score also goes to your CEO in a letter. That’s Target Central. You could run, but you can’t hide.

For better or worse, LQAF has become a token for the Libraries success or failure. Recent job adverts for library managers talk about libraries that achieve 100% LQAF score. We are all at it. This is fine of course provided you achieve your health care library sector average or above. However, sustaining a consistent performance as we all gaining an improved LQAF is getting harder. In other words, the bar is being raised each year. This means an increasing amount of work required to achieve your existing LQAF score. If the worst happens and your score falls year on year, prepare for a Public Relations disaster. That is the high stakes bit.

Is there an upside? Hell yes! It is great Marketing and Public Relations for the Library. It provides a focus senior managers and Board Members. Even if they are not clear what you do, they know that 90% plus of anything is a good thing. Being externally validated helps as does having a comparator against the health care library sector average. From your organisations point of view it’s welcome aboard. You are now a KPI in the broader strategic plan. Our library has or will achieve an LQAF score of XX. That’s high stakes as well.

LQAF is a blueprint for a Library and Knowledge Service

LQAF arrived just as NWAS LIS (now LKS) started.   NWAS LKS didn’t have a clear plan. It relied on many years of professional experience to shape the service. Completing the LQAF test submission and then the full submission provided a blueprint for a library service because it required all the elements to be in place. Just a few examples: a Collection Development Policy, a User Survey/Analysis and a properly costed budget. These may have been completed eventually. However, it was impossible to prevaricate once the LQAF submission deadline approached.

For NWAS LKS the prescriptive nature of LQAF has been a positive. NWAS LKS made the decision to make LQAF the core of the service. To do only those things that are assessed and could be included in our LQAF submission. Of course you have to trust the LQAF is sound and based in good professional practice. I think it is. It created a service that is well formed but flexible enough to allow innovation. The development of a virtual LKS service.

LQAF is a tool for strategic planning

The shelling out of the HEE from the NHS blob has had some predictable effects. A sharp spotlight on Library & Knowledge Services, drilling down into their function and purpose. Questioning the status quo and looking for a way forward. No surprise then that LQAF is a key component of the HEE Knowledge for healthcare a development framework: for NHS library and knowledge services in England Library and Knowledge Services 2015 – 2020 [ Link ]. Without getting into the messy detail, LQAF is a tool to direct strategy from the top along the four drivers for Transforming the Service. This follows the old saying, what gets measured gets done. If LQAF measures it, we do it. This might be a problem if you felt you couldn’t sign up to the guiding principles and values, summarised, perhaps a little briefly, as a bigger, leaner, using technology, delivering a customer focused service with easy access to resources. All underpinned by collaboration and partnership working. Hard really to find anything to disagree with.

The downside? Well there isn’t one really. Except, possibly, that the steamroller of progress might crush those innovative services that are outliers to the standard model. Virtual LKS with a strong customer focus. NWAS LKS as a for instance. The sneaking suspicion from here is that the tide of progress is flowing in favour of the virtual, agile and customer focused service and that smaller services have more to gain than to lose from the benefits of scale and lean. But we digress.

No such thing as a free LQAF

Quality assurance isn’t free. Costs include the cost of completing a full submission and the potential costs of resubmitting all or part of LQAF if you fall below the 90% benchmark. Add to that the opportunity costs of focusing on LQAF rather than other service developments. How much does it cost km in pounds, shillings and pence? Well if you spent one day a week in a six month run into a full submission on LQAF related activity it would be in the area of 3000 to 4000 GBP per service.

This is really a case of costs vs. benefits. The case for quality assurance has been made. However, there is another discussion about the type of quality assurance and the costs it imposes. Those at the bottom can articulate the costs. Those at the top have to articulate the benefits.

Is it safe?

An apocryphal tale. A university vice chancellor sits at their desk on the first day on the job. The first question to the senior staff “Is it safe?” Strange. Well no. If you have just taken charge of the welfare of 10,000s of staff and students you want to know that all the Health and Safety Regulations are in place. Turns out no one knew for sure, but they assumed it was. Of course, they had to find out.

That’s one of the benefits of an item by item quality assurance system. You know what’s going on. You can answer those tough questions and share good practice by driving up performance to the level of the best.

The views expressed here are the authors own.

Matt Holland, Librarian NWAS NHS Trust BA, DMS, Dip Lib, MA, MCLIP Mobile: 07747456736 E-Mail: Website: NWAS LKS is supported by NW Health Care Libraries Unit (HCLU)

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