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May 27, 2013

Show Me The Awesome: Strategic Planning

"Artwork by John LeMasney,"

"Show Me The Awesome!" was started by Kelly, Sophie, and Liz to give bloggers a chance to step up and discuss something special or that they want to promote. Today is my opportunity to discuss something that many may not quite think of as awesome, but is important to a lot of libraries: strategic planning.

For those who may not know, a strategic plan is a document that defines the library's vision of itself within its community and outlines how it will achieve that vision through various goals. Those goals will usually have related actions that follow, creating a template for building the library in a specific direction. Usually this document is structured around five years. In Massachusetts, libraries must have a strategic plan, along with a yearly action plan, to qualify for LSTA grants administered by the state.

At the time I left a network position to become the director at my library, I was serving on the Strategic Planning Committee for the network. As a member of that committee, I had a voice in what I believed were the goals of the network and its constituents--member libraries. Switching from my "inside" job to running a member library meant that I had a unique perspective on the process, and I've appreciated the experience I gained when helping to develop the vision and goals for the network's next five years.

Fast forward to this spring: with a full year as a director under my belt, I knew that one of my goals was to implement a new strategic plan. The last plan was woefully out of date--about ten years--and the library had gone through many changes since it was written, including automation. Needless to say, serving on a committee and being the person who is actually responsible for forming that committee are two different things. I believe that the public library should be an anchor in the community; to make sure that happens, we need key community members to help create a strategic plan. This means not only people involved with the library directly, like board members or wonderful patrons who use the library every day, but also people who may not step through our doors, but are in and out of doors throughout the city.

So, I went after the big names: the Mayor, the President of the Chamber of Commerce, the heads of the School Committee, Council on Aging, and the Arts Collaborative. I sent them personal letters letting them know that the library needed their help. We need their perspectives from the community and their knowledge--or lack of knowledge--about the library. I wanted people that could see our past, but who would also have a vision of our future.

I was extremely pleased when many of them responded positively! The Mayor, the head of the Senior Center, and a member of the Arts Collaborative are all on the committee. It also includes the Headmaster of the private secondary school in the city, plus a devoted library patron and a library volunteer. These people, along with board members, are all working with me to define the library's presence in the community and how it can provide support for people, businesses, arts, schools, and city government.

While this can certainly be a long process, our regional office of the Massachusetts Library System has streamlined the process using Sandra Nelson's New Planning for Results, outlining a three-meeting system that is concise yet thorough. We complete a visioning exercise for the library and one for the community, conduct a public survey, and use information from all of these to develop the strategic plan. Once the library board approves the document, it goes to the Mass Board of Library Commissioners for approval. Each year we will also have to submit a revised action plan detailing what we will accomplish in the coming year.

We had our first meeting earlier this month, outlining our process and participating in a SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) analysis to start building the library's goals. It was amazing to hear the perspectives of committee members, and hear what was already great about the library and what we can do better. I have no doubt I have the right committee for this work, and I am pleased that I didn't hold back from asking the people I really wanted to join us.

What's your experience with strategic planning?