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The Complete Guide to Preparing and Implementing Service Level Agreements

Sheila Pantry and Peter Griffiths


Library Association Publishing


2nd ed




ISBN 1 85604 4106


Using case studies, examples and helpful checklists, this step-by-step guide explains the fundamentals of working with SLAs in a clear and easy-to-read style.

It covers:

  • the development and use of SLAs
  • why SLAs are important
  • negotiating an SLA
  • the outline SLA and detailed specification
  • managing your customers and your suppliers.

This second edition contains additional material relevant to trusts and other public sector developments, and expands the content of SLAs covered to include more Internet and other ICT services. There is in-depth new material on service monitoring; job specifications; monitoring continuous professional development; developing and evaluating skills; charging for services; communication, product development and marketing; and managing customers. A new chapter is included on outsourcing and similar agreements.

The book offers essential advice for managers who need to create an SLA and will be of keen interest to all practitioners who wish to know how their standards of service are set. Applicable to sectors of the information industry, this is a much-needed handbook for the information professional.


‘…it offers many insights drawn from the personal experience of the authors and takes relevant examples from outside the profession, which is always a good sign.’

Mmit and Lamit News

‘the whole process [of SLAs] is very professionally covered. Many of us will be grateful to this help and mentoring’

LA Record

Library organisational structures have changed considerably in just a few years. Long vertical hierarchies are disappearing and in their place are many structures that recognise the new technological realities. Castells has described the “network organisation” as one that takes advantage of the Internet to improve the allocation of resources both in speed and effectiveness (The Internet Galaxy, Oxford University Press, 2001). A key new element of the network organisation is that it buys in expertise rather than trying to provide it in-house. The application of this to a service provider such as a library is that even customer services can be outsourced if an outside agent can perform them in a more cost-effective way than the library itself. An obvious example of this is the licensing of access to online databases. The problem for library management then becomes one of ensuring that the outside agent remains accountable for its performance of the chosen service. This can be difficult because in some cases it is the outside agency that provides the customer interface, and as a result the library does not have access to data on activity or on customer satisfaction. This makes it necessary for library managers to become expert at writing and implementing a service level agreement (SLA) with each outside agency. In practice it is all too easy to set misleading performance measures for the outsourced activity. Another weakness is the failure to manage the agreement adequately and correct any tendencies to depart from the spirit and letter of the original. That is why some guidance is necessary on the writing of an SLA.

There are two other works on the preparation for outsourcing of a library service: Benaud and Bordeianu (1998), and Hirshon and Winters (1996). Only Pantry and Griffiths concentrate on the SLA, so for managers interested in developing outsourcing, this is a vital resource. It includes chapters on difficult yet crucial topics such as charging for services and on managing the various players in outsourcing such as customers, suppliers, and the organisation’s own staff (sometimes disturbed by outsourcing). Of particular interest for librarians focusing on electronic developments will be the chapter on managing your e-suppliers. As an example, contracts and licences now loom large in any arrangements made to access electronic journals and matters such as the number of workstations allowed to access a title, and the length of the subscription period, are likely to be part of the legal agreement. Other matters, such as who is the contact in each organisation for dealing with disputes, who deals with password control, what level of “failures” such as dead links, may be in the contract but equally may be left to an SLA.

This is a necessary purchase for the library’s own collection. There is a brief index, plenty of further reading, and some useful appendices.

Philip Calvert, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
The Electronic Library, Vol. 20, No. 3, 2002


Benaud, C.-L. and Bordeianu, S.M. (1998), Outsourcing Library Operations in Academic Libraries: An Overview of Issues and Outcomes, Libraries Unlimited, Englewood, CO.

Hirshon, A. and Winters, B. (1996), Outsourcing Library Technical Services (How to do it Manual for Librarians series), Neal-Schuman, New York, NY.


SERVICE LEVEL agreements are becoming an increasingly common tool for the management of library and information services. They have an obvious appeal to both customers – who know what service they can expect – and managers – who know what they are required to provide. However the path from concept, through definition and implementation, to the delivery of a stable service level agreement is seldom an obvious one – and the second edition of this guide is a very good place to start the planning process.

After a useful review of the basic philosophy and use of service level agreements (SLAs), the authors begin the discussion on exactly what elements you should include in an SLA, how these should be presented and how the service itself should be defined. These sections should be required reading for anyone who is trying to build such an agreement from the ground up – as there is little point in reinventing material that is so carefully covered here. While the individual circumstances of organisations will inevitably differ, all the main considerations are presented here for you to evaluate.

One of the major benefits of this book is that the authors provide useful sample passages that can be easily edited for inclusion in your own documents. When used with the appropriate degree of care, these can be real time savers when you are building your own model of service delivery.

Mechanisms for monitoring the agreement are covered in some detail, as are a number of issues relating to the management of suppliers – including e-suppliers – staff and customers. These are supported by some useful material on the outsourcing of services and how to manage risk. There is also a sensible and comprehensive discussion of how charging models can be established and managed – including the important issue of how you account for the inevitable changes that will occur during the period of the agreement.

Happily, there is also a chapter which emphasises the importance of communication, at all levels, as a key contribution to the success of service level agreements. This is an area that is often under-regarded, but here it gets an appropriately open treatment. The book is rounded off by a very comprehensive set of references – with both print and electronic sources being cited – and a substantial amount of recommended reading.

Overall, this is a well considered and well executed guide to the construction of service level agreements. If you are considering implementing SLAs for the first time, or if your use of them is under review, then this book represents a valuable resource.

John Gilbey, Awelon
Managing Information, Jan/Feb 2002

‘Your custom is important to us’

This second edition does indeed show that the LIS manager today ‘…continues to face many challenges in providing services that meet the requirements of all customers’. The authors note in the introduction to the new edition that:

…in the public sector and the wider information marketplace the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering, market testing, value-for-money concepts, and more electronic services, coupled with downsizing and flatter management structure in organisations, have brought about significant changes.

The aim of this volume is to provide guidance for those called upon to produce a service level agreement (SLA) document in the current economic and electronic environment. The authors have drawn on their personal experience and ‘…knowledge of cases where problems have arisen through lack of understanding between service provider and client’. Although written for the British market, there are hints and lessons for all called upon to write such documents.

Each chapter is written to provide maximum assistance to those writing an SLA. Chapter 1 outlines the origins and use of SLAs; Chapter 2 describes a SLA and its main features, while Chapter 3 covers the parties involved in the agreement. Further chapters expand on service monitoring, managing suppliers and outsourcing. The guide ‘…not only offers essential advice for managers who need to create a Service Level Agreement, but will also be of great interest to all practitioners who wish to know how service standards affecting performance and quality are set’. Service level agreements could well become more important in the workplace as further charges are introduced for library and information services. Hence this guide will fulfil a role in an ever-changing environment.

Sally C Anderson, NSW Agriculture
Australian Library Journal, February 2002

Increase in outsourcing, contracts with ISPs & increased fragmentation in the public sector have all been factors in making SLAs a common way of doing business, rather than some fancy management technique.

The book contain new examples of SLAs in practice, in a variety of settings, and a good proportion of updated references and further reading.

Pantry and Griffiths provide a clear step by step approach to negotiating and implementing SLAs and include very good chapter not only on what to include in an agreement, how to describe services and the monitoring of an agreement but also, importantly, chapters on managing stuff and on communication strategies.

It’s this practical focus that makes this book valuable.

Amazon Reviewer: Joseph Adir ( from Gibraltar


Sheila Pantry OBE BA FCLIP manages an independent information services consultancy and electronic publishing business, including websites. She has had a long and varied career in information management in a range of industry sectors, and also in government as Head of Information Services for the Health and Safety Executive. She specializes in worldwide occupational health and safety information and is an experienced trainer, writer, editor, lecturer and conference organiser.

Peter Griffiths is an independent information specialist with particular interest in library and information services, knowledge management and wider aspects of information management in the public sector. He was previously Head of Information at the Home Office, a role that included being head of profession for librarians, information scientists and latterly records managers across the Home Office group. He is an experienced trainer, writer and speaker. Peter is currently 2009 President of CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.

Available at a 20% discount to Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals members.
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