[Guest Blogger – Marlene Gebauer]

Do you have a Service Level Agreement, or SLA at your library? If you do, I would love to hear about it. If you are wondering what I am talking about, Wikipedia defines an SLA as “a part of a service contract where the level of service is formally defined.” SLAs are common in the IT industry and particularly in the ISP world. How it works is that IT supports various Line of Business (LOB) clients (in our world think departments and practice groups) and formalizes service levels with each of them.

What is interesting about SLAs is that they define the service to be provided, and when they are commonly used, can set standards across an industry. When used appropriately, SLAs can be an excellent service marketing tool that executive management can understand and clients appreciate.

Make no mistake, an SLA is not a goal or mission statement. One of the key elements of an SLA is that the service to be provided be defined in measurable terms. So instead of saying “It is our mission to provide timely research service…”, as you might in a mission statement, you instead say “We will provide an initial response to a research request during normal hours of operations within 15 minutes of posting..”

“Wow,” you might say to yourself, “That sounds great, but how do I quantify the appropriate time? “Using dashboards with reporting functionality can assist in quantifying what, in the past, has been difficult to quantify. We use a dashboard product, Footprints, produced by a company Numara, that we have customized to record pertinent reporting data for our teams of Research, Acquisitions, Systems and Education. So with the right customization, a report can be created to see the average time a request is in queue before it is picked up. Based on this sort of reporting, you can determine a reasonable SLA focus point, whether it is time of initial response, timeframe to disburse expenses or something completely different.

Still not comfortable making a formal declaration of service levels? No problem, you can first establish Service Level Objectives, or SLOs, internally. After tracking your success rate with the SLOs, you might be more comfortable going public with an SLA.

The idea of quantification and establishment of SLAs is something for knowledge centers, research departments and libraries to closely consider. While the total scope of our work and skill cannot be boiled down into statistics, being able to clearly define to our clients and to executive management what we can deliver, even if just on a few points of service, can be invaluable because we are speaking in the language of business objectives and expectations.