National libraries may resemble a ballroom or a UFO, but no matter what they look like, they house the documents of an entire country’s history. These libraries contain numerous rare, valuable or significant works of great cultural importance; in other words, a country’s prized possessions. Some of these national libraries are centuries old and serve as a major tourism attraction, but all of them aspire to quality service.

ISO 21248:2019, Information and documentation – Quality assessment for national libraries, provides 34 performance indicators for assessing the quality of national library services. The standard tries to cover the whole spectrum of national library tasks, from the national collection and the national bibliography to cultural events and educational services.

In addition, the standard identifies and describes methods for assessing the impact and influence of national libraries. National libraries have other ways than a public or university library of exercising their influence on a visitor; their impact concerns above all institutions or the general public. The standard identifies the most important user groups, such as researchers, educators and learners, libraries, publishers, and the public administration. Specific questionnaires are presented for these and other user groups for assessing an impact of the library.

Dr Roswitha Poll, leader of the ISO group of experts that developed the standard, comments: “National libraries play an important role in providing and ensuring permanent access to the knowledge and culture of the past and present and have special tasks and services compared to other libraries. ISO 21248 will help them improve and promote their public service mission.”

By Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis