Strategic Planning for Small Libraries

Written by Kathleen Webb

It was time to start a strategic plan.  After several years in the director’s office, the library’s previous plan was badly outdated.  I looked over the usual resources, gave the matter some thought, and then looked for some professional help.  No matter how good my ideas were, I couldn’t get around the need for community input.  Previous surveys had not had a good rate of return.  It was time to hold community focus groups.  I must admit that I had to set aside some significant trepidation.

We contracted with the North East Ohio Regional Library System for assistance and planned those community focus groups under their guidance.

We started by asking the library staff members to submit the names of people who regularly used the library.  We all seem to know different patrons, so it was easy to compile a list of 75 names.  We knew that some people worked during the day and others didn’t drive after dark.  Our solution was to hold two focus groups for adults, one on a Friday evening and the other on Saturday morning.  I composed a business letter of invitation, printed it on library letterhead and hand-addressed the greeting and the envelope for each person.  We affixed stamps, dropped the letters in the mail and counted the days until we began to receive RSVPs.  Many people were pleased to be invited.  We had some who declined with regrets due to prior commitments.  There were only a few who did not respond at all.

We prepared for the focus groups by setting up our meeting room with tables and chairs in a large square so people could see each other as well as the leader.  We provided light refreshments but found that people were too excited to eat.  Our NEO-RLS coach brought seven questions about the community and the library.  We set up a flip chart and easel to note the responses to each question.

My trepidation began to fade as friendly people arrived.  We started with introductions and a brief explanation of our strategic planning process.  The first question was presented and people eagerly shared their thoughts.  The first sheet of paper could not contain all the ideas that were brought forth.  That sense of eager participation continued through the seven questions and two hours of our focus group.  When the questions ended and our time together was finished, many people expressed their gratitude in being asked to share.

The Saturday focus group proceeded in similar fashion.  Altogether, we had 45 patron participants, plus two staff members in each group.  We compiled the responses to each question and our NEO-RLS coach helped us find similarities to condense the details.  Those responses shaped the priorities and strategies that would make up the outline of our strategic plan.

We used the momentum of success to plan a community focus group with our teen patrons.  They respectfully responded to the same questions, adding some different insights.  They also did not hesitate to enjoy the food we provided in appreciation of their time spent with us.

Altogether, our community focus groups provided very useful information.  This experience has been successful beyond my expectations.  And yes, my trepidation is all gone!

I would encourage you to invite your patrons to share their thoughts and insights as you plan for the future of your library and your community.

Kathy Webb, Director
Marvin Memorial Library

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