Strategic Planning

A director of a small library once told me that he never bothered to develop a strategic plan because even if he had a plan, there was no money to implement it. Although I do not think this sentiment is common among library leaders, I do think it is common to find libraries operating without a strategic plan. However, developing a strategic plan can be a great benefit to the library.

First, user feedback typically provides the framework for a plan, and this is critical. When the plan is based on user feedback, the library will be certain it is focusing on the needs of its users. When workshops, collections, and other services are designed around the articulated needs of the community, not only should public use and participation increase, but it should also make demonstrating the library’s value much easier.

Second, a plan provides a road map of where you want to go and what routes to take on that journey. The board of trustees will know why the library is undertaking certain initiatives. Adapting to change among staff is met with less resistance because they know why changes are occurring. The community will be aware of what goals the library is striving to meet. Everyone will be on the same page.

Third, a plan keeps the library focused on what matters. Just like unforeseen traffic conditions, the plan is not infallible; challenges and opportunities will present themselves and will attempt to detract the library from its stated goals. The plan keeps the library pointed in the right direction and helps staff focus attention on the most meaningful activities. While unanticipated situations try to impede progress, if the library adheres to the plan, everything will stay on track.

Fourth, a plan provides a mechanism to measure library effectiveness. Every good plan should have benchmarks to aim for. Throughout the life of the plan, regular assessments should be completed to see if the library is meeting its stated goals. If not, services and activities can be adjusted for better results. Under-performing programs can be cut and resources can be allocated to successful programs or to create new pilot programs. The plan also provides documentation on how far the library has traveled, which again easily demonstrates the library’s effectiveness to the community.

If you have never completed a strategic plan, perhaps put it on your calendar for the coming year. Strategic Planning for Results by Sandra Nelson is an excellent resource, going step-by-step through the process.   If time is a concern or if assistance is needed, contact the State Library of Ohio. Consultants can assist your library at no cost. While the presence of a strategic plan does not guarantee automatic success, you will find it can be an asset to your library.

Chauncey Montgomery, Director
Sunbury Community Library

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Extreme weeding

Ever since I started at my library I’ve been weeding. Every 6 months, in every department, a constant battle to make space on packed shelves for the influx of newer books. But, after recent conversations with other libraries–one small library, one large library–about their choice to “extreme weed,” their collections, I decided to give it a go.

When I began weeding at this library, over 3 years ago, I balked at the pull list, (based on circulation stats), at all the materials which hadn’t circulated in more than 3 years (my cut-off for weeding). But, as I began to weed I panicked at the thought of getting rid of over a third of my adult non-fiction section. Three years later, with the same findings, I’ve decided to extreme weed.

To be fair, it should be mentioned that we are part of a 90+ library consortium, so, though we’re a small library, we do have access to many collections outside of our own, a huge reason I felt confident in this decision. If I were at a small library who is not part of a consortium would I still consider an extreme weed? Heck yes! Space is a hot commodity in our buildings, and if something isn’t being used, well, you get the idea…

My 3 simple rules for extreme weeding:

  • Anything that hasn’t circ’d in 3 years or more (or whatever your timeline is) goes
  • Any topic/info that is out of date, i.e. a book about the planets from 2004 vs. one written in 2015, goes
  • Duplicates, or more materials close enough to duplicate info. goes. Does our collection need both an Audubon’s Books of North America and a National Geographic one, if neither circulates much?

I began weeding our adult non-fiction last week and what is glaringly obvious is that the shelves went from packed-to-the-gills, to half full with one to two books displayed on the now open shelf space. It was scary at first, I mean, come on, what if we’re missing that one book from 1987 that no one ever checked out before, but need NOW!? But, no, so far the feedback has been positive, and we’ve already seen the books on display within the non-fic shelves getting checked out. Obviously only time will tell how successful this project will be, but I definitely don’t regret the extra space we’ve created!

P.S. I love the odd gems we’ve been finding and weeding. This was our favorite. Embedded image permalink

Amanda Bennett, Director
Ada Public Library

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So What’s Up With Mindcraft?

First thing I learned: It is Minecraft NOT Mindcraft. When you work in the public library and you see kids obsessed with playing this video game on the library computers you have to stop and wonder.

First, the game has very bad graphics and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to what happens on the screen. At my small public library we see kids arrive in packs to play the game and to interact virtually with each other, which is funny because they are usually sitting right next to each other. I admit they can get rowdy sometimes, and a bit loud, and yes, annoying, but I then think that at least they are at the library in a safe environment.

So, what is Minecraft all about? Did you know that Minecraft, since its inception in 2009, is the third most popular video game of all time behind Tetris and Super Mario Brothers? Players create virtual worlds in Minecraft and basically dig holes and create blocks worlds. Our Teen Librarian and Technology Manager recently put together a “Minecraft for Parents,” program to clue moms and dads in a bit about the video game that is currently king of the mountain. We also recently did a Minecraft Party that allowed the kids to stay after hours in the library and get as loud as they wanted and play Minecraft and eat pizza.

So, in my book the jury is still out. I like the fact that the kids are using their imaginations and not virtually blowing each other up, but to be honest it disturbs me that they spend so much time playing a video game while real life is happening all around them–if they could only look up from their glowing digital screens. And in the end that is the real challenge for me at a small library: How do you stay relevant when so much changes so quickly? How do you balance the traditional views and roles of the public library with what it has become and is becoming? It is a challenge for us all but that is why I like the small public library.

Jim Gill
Dover Public Library


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Where do you get your programming ideas?

We’re all looking for program ideas for adults and families, and we’re all familiar with the usual suspects: neighboring libraries, the newsletter from the nearest metro library, some idea you remember from an OLC Chapter Conference or Convention. But there are other sources to consider.

Event Calendars:  Online event calendars are an easy way to find out what programs other organizations are hosting or presenting.  Calendars may be hosted by a Convention and Visitors Bureau:;; , etc.  Local newspapers may host an event calendar:;;, and either manage it themselves and link through a commercial service. Then there are commercial aggregators such as and which have postings from all over but can limit geographically and by type of program; they might not list events for your specific area, but they both cover much of Ohio. Basic posting to any of these services, including the commercial ones, is free, and it’s a good way to advertise your own programs. In addition, many newspapers have cut back staff, and draw from the newspaper’s online event calendar to generate content for the print edition.

Programming Librarian:  The ALA Public Programs Office completely reconfigured its website in May to create a place for libraries of all types and sizes to share program ideas, take part in webinars, follow programming news, and keep track of ALA-sponsored program opportunities.The program idea database can be sorted by budget, library type, topic, program type and age group. Libraries submit their own program ideas, so the amount of detail and description will vary; contact information is always included so one can follow up with the librarians who submitted the ideas. Webinars are ALA-sponsored, are archived, and almost all of them are free. The website does not require a log-in or ALA membership.

–Tom Dillie, Director
Minerva Public Library

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Customer Service

Customer service is key – on the road and in the library I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about customer service.

The topic is hard to avoid when you are driving in rural North Carolina on the way home from the beach and discover a slow-leaking car tire. We were lucky to find Bert at our first stop, a garage in a small town that triggered thoughts of Mayberry. Bert helped me find the small slit in the tire, which couldn’t be repaired, and helped me put on the temporary spare to get us to the next larger town 30 miles down the road.

This town actually had a tire store, but it was open only from 10:30 to noon on Saturdays. And my plea to the gentleman on the phone that I could make it there by a couple minutes after noon did not earn any sympathy. The next best option was a car dealership that ended up not stocking any tires, but two employees we dealt with did everything they could think of before pointing us toward a Wal-Mart about 30 minutes out of our way.

Never being so happy to see a Wal-Mart, we were able to get a new tire and eventually get on the road again.

The topic of customer service also is hard to avoid when patrons come to you with complaints about your staff. Providing quality customer service has been one of the top priorities in my nine years at the library, but we still have a few staff members who tend to lapse occasionally.

Libraries obviously need to continue to evolve to meet our communities’ needs, but I have a feeling our future success depends upon an even more basic tenet – especially in small libraries – our ability to provide quality customer service and develop strong relationships with our community members that make them keep coming back.

Of course, you can find an abundance of literature regarding customer service. But Mary Rzepczynski, the Assistant Director at Delta Township District Library in Lansing, Mich., sums up the topic quite nicely in her column “Ten Common Customer-Service Mistakes” for the January/February issue of Public Libraries. (I was unable to find the full-text article online, but I would highly recommend it.)

I may be able to condense the topic down even further than Ms. Rzepczynski. If someone called and asked if you could something that would require you to keep the library open a bit later than normal, what would you do?

Chris Owens, Director

Blanchester Public Library

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Getting things done

If you’re anything like me, you have a lot to get done and never enough time to do it. As library employees we have many tasks and must be able to multitask like no other because you never know what is going to happen next. I remember being told to never keep a to-do list because it would only lead to frustration at the end of the day when nothing is checked off.

To help with organization, which is not my strongest quality, I do make a list, but it is more of a weekly to-do list. Every day I try to get at least one item checked off the list with the goal to get to most of it by the end of the week. As I think of new tasks that need to get done I add them to the master list. Usually, my goal is to have everything off my desk by the end of the week because I like coming back to a clean desk and desk bin on Monday morning. If most of the items end up getting checked off the list then I am satisfied.

I have also learned to delegate. When I first started as Director I understood that the employees were working hard with many responsibilities. I was very hesitant to ask for help. Now I know the employees better and I am able to ask for assistance when the task suits the strong points of an employee. This applies to all employees of the library. No matter what your position is, do not try to do everything yourself. If you are working on a project and you know another employee would be great in that area then do not be afraid to ask for help.

The most important thing I have learned is that it’s okay if everything does not get done. Tomorrow is another day. Just try your best to get your workspace clean by the end of the week to help keep you organized and at least feeling like you are top of your to-do list.

Betsy Eggers
Napoleon Public Library

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the 500 hats of library staff

In the 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, the protagonist is ordered to take off his hat before the king, only to find that another hat sprouts in its place, until (you guessed it!), Cubbins gets to the 500th hat…and I will stop there, as I’d hate to ruin a wonderful story! In much the same way library directors and staff at small libraries may sometimes feel like Bartholomew–constantly switching hats to meet the demands of our jobs.

We are called upon to work the CIRC desk, catalog new materials, run programs, clean up messes, handle patron complaints/concerns, offer ready reference, and the list goes on…It is therefore imperative to our staff that we offer as many opportunities for continuing education as possible, so that we don’t just wear our 500 hats, but we rock the look!

I am encouraging folks to consider attending the Ohio Library Council Chapter Conferences or regional conferences in your home states! Here are just a few reasons to consider:

  • Lasts only one day, making it easy(ier) for library staff to get away. Consider closing the library for a Staff Training Day–tell your Board that continuing ed is a way for your staff to better serve the public!
  • Much of the content tends to be geared more toward smaller libraries, which means many ideas can be changed to fit your needs; smaller numbers also makes it easier for you to ask more questions
  • Courses offered are on a variety of pertinent topics
  • Great opportunity to network with professional peers

Amanda Bennett, Director
Ada Public Library

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