by Chauncey Montgomery, Director of the Community Library in Sunbury, Ohio
Does anyone remember the McPizza? In the 1990s, McDonald’s ventured into the pizza market with the McPizza. Like
most consumers, I can remember being quite confused about a hamburger restaurant offering pizza, and I never purchased
one. Apparently I wasn’t alone, and the product eventually died. At the time, McDonald’s saw potential in expanding their
menu, but in the end, customers were not interested. Some cite the longer cooking time for its failure; however, it has been
suggested that most people did not associate McDonald’s with pizza and so they continued to frequent traditional pizza
shops. Why would a restaurant known for its hamburgers want to serve pizza?
Any organization is susceptible to the same mistake McDonald’s made, even libraries. We are constantly being
bombarded with new ideas. These ideas can be services we envision, recommendations from professional journals,
suggestions made by staff, or needs expressed by patrons. We need to be prudent about how we invest our resources, so
that we do not end up with a McPizza.
One of the best ways to help protect the library against pursuing a service that will not benefit users is knowing the library.
What is the library about in the community? What role does the library fulfill. Just as McDonald’s is the fast food hamburger
joint, the library is the fill-in-the-blank in your community, and that is what your focus should be. In 2005, OCLC reported
that 68% of Americans associate libraries with books. In 2010, that number jumped to 75% . I’d argue that whatever
unique role each library may play in its community, the core brand is still books and everything else should derive from a
culture of books, reading, and communicating ideas and stories.
Another critical step in protecting the library from investing in superfluous services is having a written strategic plan with a
clear, concise mission statement. I firmly believe that each work day should begin with a quick reading of the mission
statement as a reminder of the end goal. Our local school district always recites their mission statement at the beginning of
the board meeting, which I have always thought was an admirable practice. A strategic plan with a clear mission
statement and measurable goals which is based on community feedback can help libraries stay on course and weed out
ideas that can easily distract us from our greater purpose.
As new ideas are recommended, look over the strategic plan and ask if the proposed service fits anywhere within the plan.
If not, move on. If it does somehow fit within the plan, then ask if the library takes on the project, how would it affect other
projects already in the works? Would staff and money need shifted from another project to work on this new one? How will
that shift affect the outcome of both projects? If the result is two marginally implemented programs, then decide which one
needs dropped to ensure one is spectacular.
Several years ago, we had some patrons suggest the library install a splash pad. Our community does not have a public
swimming pool, so the splash pad would seemed like a great alternative. When the idea was pitched to us, we all initially
thought it was a great idea. We would be fulfilling a community need while also pulling in users that otherwise may not
visit the library. Then we started thinking about price, insurance, maintenance, supervision, among other factors. Although a
splash pad would be an awesome addition to the library it didn’t fit within our strategic plan and it wouldn’t really be the
most prudent use of resources; therefore, we decided to pass on the idea. Having a strategic plan in place made it an easy
and obvious decision.
Some think that passing on projects or turning down new ideas is showing a lack of innovation and reveals a fear of
something new and unknown. Saying no to new ideas, simply because they are different, is not what is being suggested.
What is being suggested is a thoughtful examination of those new ideas and ensuring they fit within the overall
organizational mission and goals. Shying away from projects beyond the library’s scope of service is not showing lack of
innovation; rather, it is liberating the library to focus on what it does best and frees up time and money for more suitable
Steve Jobs said, “innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” Knowing your organization and having a strong strategic plan
will help you decide what 1,000 things you should say no to. Then you can focus on just the essential services that make
the library a strong, vibrant community resource. If you do not have a plan, the State Library of Ohio offers assistance in
developing plans. We have used the service on several occasions and it is outstanding. With all the changes in our
culture, technology, and the ways we interact with information, it is easy to be overwhelmed with the volume of new ideas
and services. As public libraries, we need to ensure that whatever we embark on is not a McPizza, but a Big Mac.