Strategic Planning Tips and Tricks:
Part 1 – Preparing to Plan
One reason many library boards fail at strategic planning (yes, if you check the documentation, this is the board’s job not the job of library employees) is that the process seems big and overwhelming. You can’t even jump in and start revising the old plan or writing a new one. There’s an entire pre-planning process that you’ll have to complete.
In this issue of our newsletter, we’d like to give you a few tips and tricks to make the pre-planning process a bit easier. After all, you’re volunteers. You have jobs and families and commitments. For you, strategic planning can’t be a full-time job. The director and other library employees can’t devote themselves full-time to the strategic planning process – the library has to keep running, after all. These stricks will streamline the process so that you can successfully gather the information you need to develop your new strategic plan.
Tip #1: Get out of Your Bubble and Get to Know Your REAL Community
Most library boards draw from the upper-middle and upper classes. Many library employees are at least middle class. The most noticeable and vocal library patrons are often also above the median local income and education. This creates a huge issue if you want your library to serve the entire community, not just an elite subset of taxpayers. You’re living in a bubble. Your idea of the demographics of your service area is probably skewed. You need more information.
Want to improve your perceptions? Here’s a crash course in seeing the unseen people in your community.
Start with Hard Data
To get to know your community, start with data. In Indiana, a great source of current demographic data is
. Pay special attention to:
− Whether people are moving into or out of your county
− The age breakdown of your county
− Education levels in your county
− Racial minorities in your county
− The ratio of Children/Elderly/Working Age
− The ratio of Married with kids/ Single parent with kids/ Married and childless/Single and childless
− The median household income
− The poverty rate, and the raw number of households below the poverty line
− The unemployed raw numbers and percents
Check the Demographics against your user base
Now that you’ve seen the hard data, are you surprised? Do the population numbers match who your library sees at programs, who is checking out materials, and who is using meeting rooms and technology? Who are your top 20% of users, demographically speaking? Who do you hardly ever see?
At this point, you may start to realize that certain groups are underrepresented among library patrons. Who aren’t you seeing? How do your programs and services focus on some groups to the exclusion of others? Start sketching out an idea of who your library is failing to reach.
Go where the people are to collect soft data
As part of your planning process, you’ve probably already planned listening sessions. You’re probably going to meet with the leaders of schools, charities, and the chamber of commerce to find out what they want in a library. However, to do justice to the process, you’re going to need to meet with people outside the bubble, the ones who won’t come to your listening sessions. You need to find out why some demographics aren’t using the library. So, how are you going to find them?
Every community has a few places everyone goes. These are the places where you’ll find the busy soccer moms sharing space with the poorest of the poor In your community, that might be:
− Dollar Stores
− Hospital ERs
These are the places where it might be worth talking to strangers, hearing their stories, and finding out what the library does, and does not, mean to them.
As you plan to plan, notice where your bubble is, and make a conscious effort to get out of it. If your library is like most libraries, the mission and vision statements express a desire to serve all the people in your service area, not just those with a sufficient income or education. So, get out there, and start figuring out who you haven’t been serving and why they’ve been overlooked in previous planning processes.
Don’t reassess and rewrite your mission and vision statements with every planning cycle. Chances are that they’re variations on every public library’s mission and vision, and talk about bringing education, entertainment, technology, and community to people in your service area. This is fine. This is what libraries do. You don’t have to reinvent your library each planning cycle – instead, think of each cycle as re-aiming your resources so that your services are more on target.
You might have noticed a hiatus in our newsletter. That’s because we took time off to travel to Toronto for a friend’s birthday. If you love trying new foods and drinks, Toronto is an excellent vacation spot – it’s driving distance from most of the Midwest, and it’s a multinational art and cultural center on a great lake, but without Chicago’s murder rate.
While we were there, our friend introduced us to a host of new tastes-- Our favorite was the Armenian Kitchen on Victoria Park Avenue. We’d never had Armenian food before -Greek and Turkish, yes, but Armenian?
While the menu may look familiar if you enjoy middle eastern food – fried potatoes, lamb pitas, hummus, and falafel - the spice mixture was completely different from anything I’ve had before, and it was lovely. So if you decide to take a foodie vacation to Toronto, give the Armenian Kitchen a try. (There were also some other intriguing restaurants in the same strip mall. One lovely thing about a city of immigrants is how the neighborhoods overlap and how you get interesting combinations of restaurants on a single block.)
Toronto also has an excellent artisanal cider scene, and the gelato at Death in Venice was incredible. Currently, entry to Canada is easiest with full vaccination, and you do need to document your travel in the ArriveCan system before you arrive at the border, but if you’re looking for a good post-covid international trip… give them a try!