Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Is This Strategic Plan 'Strategic' or a 'Plan'?

In May 2013, the Urbana Free Library's Board of Trustees voted to accept the Library's Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2014 - 2016. You can read the full document here.

On pages 2 and 3, you can read about the process. Among the items absent from this description of process is any attempt at a community needs assessment. The only document that points to some attempt at a needs assessment is a 5-year old patron survey, which had a 30% response rate (<350 REGISTERED BORROWERS). Yes, there is a more recent survey of parking that the library conducted, but that doesn't really count as anything complete.

In fact, the Director worked used a planning strategy that discouraged participants from considering the Library's history and traditions. The planning model even discouraged the use of focus groups and surveys, as "they are rarely visionary" (p. 2). Read more here.

Our Library's direction - the service priorities that omit lifelong learning (p. 6) - were determined in large measure by an appointed panel of community representatives, an appointed Board of Trustees, and the Library's administrators. Library staff had limited roles. The community of Urbana - whether registered borrowers of the Library or those who have less formal or no connections to the Library - were disenfranchised.

The strategic plan also omits action steps, a vital element in any plan. For instance, how will the Library achieve an increase in the circulation of adult materials? What must it do to see an increase in the use of meeting spaces?

It includes generic objectives and evaluation targets, It only minimally addresses how evaluation will occur; for example, it fails to address who will do the evaluation or when evaluation will occur or how the evaluation will be used?

The Urbana Free Library's strategic plan, as it currently exists, is neither strategic nor a plan. Consider instead the process and result from Seattle Public Library's most recent strategic plan: http://www.spl.org/about-the-library/strategic-planning  There are most likely imperfections in it as well, but as a whole, it comes infinitely closer to responsible and responsive planning and stewardship than the shallow, uninformed plan produced for Urbana Free Library.

Why is the Director opposed to re-opening the strategic planning process, even to allow for public comment (p. 3)? If this is a strong plan, it should withstand public scrutiny.

Let's say the planning process started anew, using a better model. Perhaps it will result in the same service priorities. That's fine. At least we can be certain that the Library is moving in a direction that the community values and demands.


  1. Can you explain what lifelong learning means in the context of public libraries? It isn't immediately obvious to non-library folks.

  2. Great question, Anonymous. Lifelong learning is a bit of a nebulous term, but most library folks would define it something like this: the voluntary and engaged pursuit of knowledge and understanding throughout one's life. It can be formal or structured learning, but most often it's simply informal learning.

    Participating in a book discussion group, attending a program how to edit digital images, conducting solitary research on a topic of interest, figuring out how to adjust the clutch on your '72 Harley Sportster, looking through genealogical records to discover stories about your ancestors: all of these are examples of what lifelong learning might look like in a public library setting.

    Want to know more? You can Google "lifelong learning and public libraries." Better yet? Ask your local adult reference librarian!