Mary White, director of the Howe Library in Hanover, NH, led a Table Talk on Sunday at 3:45 in the Board Room. She facilitated the discussion about long-range planning, starting by explaining the process at Howe: there, they have a 10-year strategic plan with a 5-year review, and a separate technology plan. All plans are available to the public from the library website.
- Strategic plans are important documents (especially for new directors)
- A separate technology plan is smart because technology changes quickly, often in unanticipated ways
- Make a “community asset map” – what resources already exist? Where are the gaps? Don’t duplicate services, put library resources toward what is necessary and useful to the community
The Howe Library plan has “four areas of strategic opportunity” and “16 goals for the future” (PDF, see p. 9). Mary White’s monthly director’s report is structured to address each area and goal, so that the strategic plan is always at the forefront for the library staff and Board of Trustees (not mouldering away, forgotten in a drawer).
Participants in the Table Talk discussed how best to go about collecting information from the community and how to get community participation and input to develop the strategic plan. Ann Knight from Wayland, MA framed it, “Help us plan the future of the library by answering 10 questions.” She also suggested a potentially revealing question for library patrons: “Do you use other local libraries? If so, which? Why?”
John Bucci from Cranston, RI suggested using volunteers from LIS programs to go out into the community and ask questions. Other techniques include using social media, surveys (online and/or paper), and talking to voters once they leave the polls. Of course, it’s important to try to reach non-library-users; John suggested visiting organizations such as Head Start. If there is a survey, it should be marketed widely, not just in the library. It can also help to incentivize by offering prizes. Aside from surveys, focus groups and stakeholders often produce the best results. Remember that children are stakeholders too – ask them what they like best/least about the library.
The topic of survey design came up, and several resources are available:
- ALA’s Planning for Results
- Consultants (can be expensive, but there may be someone in the community with experience)
- State organizations (e.g. the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners has this resource page for planning, and the Massachusetts Library System has these long-range and strategic planning resources)
- Other local libraries are usually willing to share their tools
- Pay attention to how corporate surveys are designed
Another important point to note is that the library has a positive economic effect on the town; people might come to the library and patronize local businesses while in the area.
Mary White said to remember when planning, “Something is better than nothing.” If your library doesn’t have a plan, don’t be too intimidated to start one.
Edited to add (10/31/13): Here are a few additional resources from Mary:
State Library of Ohio – Planning for Results:
Building Shared Vision:
Kalamazoo Public Library:
Book: Strategic Planning for Results:
Howe Library’s Plans: