Small libraries face unique challenges when creating a Plan of Service

  • How do you do the work of planning when you only have one or two staff and an overworked board?
  • How do you get people to show up for a meeting when no one wants to lose their entire Saturday?
  • How do you deal with STP syndrome (Same Ten People get called on to do everything in your town)?
  • And why do you need to do planning anyway, when you know what local people want and the board is busy fundraising to keep the library afloat?

The good news is that Strategic Planning for Results is fairly simple and straightforward, and it works well in smaller communities (really!). If necessary, it can be made even simpler.

Why plan?

First things first - why do small-town libraries even need to plan when everyone knows everyone else and the situation seems straightforward?

  • Even small libraries have to make choices about what services to deliver. Is your community relatively young, or older? Do people want entertaining DVDs, or challenging books? No library can do everything - you have to focus.
  • It is important to connect to your community. You might think you know what your customers are looking for, but do you really? What about the people who don't currently use the library? You might be surprised at what your community really wants and needs.
  • Talking with your community looks good - it shows everyone that you are trying to provide good service and that you care about their needs.
  • A good plan is a path to fundraising and advocacy. When you ask the community what they need, and tell them how the library can respond to those needs, you demonstrate the value of the library. This can help support fundraising efforts and municipal funding requests.
  • Finally, for all the reasons above and also to support fiscal accountability, Alberta public libraries are legally required to produce a Plan of Service including a mission statement, goals and objectives, based on a community needs assessment.

Planning for Results is a good approach for small Alberta libraries.

  • It is about as simple and straightforward as a planning process can be. (Seriously.) At the core, it consists of two community meetings, a list of library Service Responses to choose from and a technique for writing goals and objectives. Of course there are lots more details, but it is not complicated or mysterious.
  • It starts with community needs, and it focuses on library services - as every good library plan should.
  • It takes you step-by-step through planning, and if you follow the steps you will end up with a good plan that meets legal requirements.
  • It is the Alberta way to do library planning, many people are familiar with it and you can find assistance when you use it.

Small Alberta libraries who have used Planning for Results have the following tips for you:

  • Use the free help that is available to you. Your library system and the Public Library Services Branch can provide training and assistance to your board. Facilitators are available to run your public meetings.
  • Talk to your neighbouring libraries and ask them about their experiences with planning in general and Strategic Planning for Results. They might have wisdom and ideas that are relevant to you.
  • Some smaller libraries report that it is hard to get people out to public meetings. Because of this, some have had one public meeting instead of two. A shorter 6-9 PM meeting on a weekday has worked better that a 10-3 Saturday meeting for some.
  • It always helps to feed people at meetings - give them coffee, juice, treats, and a meal if you meet at mealtime.
  • Sell people on the idea of attending your meetings by telling them they can influence the future of the library. Telephone call scripts are available to assist you.
  • You can "piggyback" with other planning processes in your community. If your town is doing a Municipal Sustainability Plan, or if the agricultural society is doing needs assessment, you can partner with them or use their results in your process. Just make sure the library's questions ("What does the community need?" and "What can the library do in response?") get asked and answered.
  • Look at the Planning Toolkit that is available on the albertalibraries.ca website. In particular, look at the sample plans from smaller communities.
  • Take ownership of your planning process. Use the approach that fits your local situation. The local library board owns responsibility for planning and can determine how to do it, as long as legal requirements are met.
  • As much as possible, try to enjoy yourself and have fun. Enthusiasm is contagious.
  • Keep it simple. Just stick to the core principles: Talk to your community about what they need, and concentrate on planning the services you will provide in response.