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