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Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State (2023 Edition)

Content from the latest edition of the Trustee Handbook.

Planning and Evaluation

Every public and association library in New York is required to have a written long-range plan of service, based on community needs, and to make that plan easily accessible by the public through the library website. (Education Department Regulations (8 NYCRR) §90.2) There are many excellent publications on planning. Some, such as the Public Library Association’s Strategic Planning for Results and Joy L. Fuller’s Strategic Planning for Public Libraries, are specifically library-oriented.

Though planning may be mandated, it is an activity you will be thankful for as a trustee as it greatly informs decisions at board and committee meetings about budgeting, personnel, capital improvements, library services and community involvement.  

Every trustee must be prepared to ask difficult, searching questions about the library’s goals and objectives, programs and services, and about the Board itself. What are the objectives of this library? Have they been accomplished? Are they appropriate? Is the community well served? Is the library contributing to creating a more sustainable, resilient community? How do we define good service? Does the director manage the library properly? Is the board functioning effectively? What do we want our library to look like in the future? 

Long-range planning requires an organization to prepare for the future based on its current understanding of what the future holds. 

A long-range plan contains several components:

  • Vision: A short, carefully crafted statement that tells the world the ideal state of the impact the library’s services will have on the world.
  • Mission: A short, carefully crafted statement that tells the world why the library exists and how it will achieve its goals.
  • Core Values: Guiding principles that drive the library’s vision and mission. 
  • Goals: Broad statements of intent that support the mission statement and respond to your community’s aspirations, as discovered through the community input phase of your planning process. They are measurable only to the extent that they provide targets toward which to strive, for example: Our library will be carbon neutral by the year 2030. 
  • Objectives: Specific, measurable, tasks or projects in support of a goal, usually stated in terms of outcomes, for example: Our library will develop a sustainability plan that will address benchmarking and reduction or offset of our library’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20% a year for five years. 
  • Strategies: How you will achieve your goals and objectives, for example: Our library will enroll in the Sustainable Library Certification Program to guide the implementation of our sustainability plan and identify best practices in libraries.
  • Tactics or Action Steps: Operational planning that may be iterative and fast-paced, focusing on the improvement of things the library already does, for example: We will provide training to our staff to empower them to make decisions that reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as an organization. 

Creating a plan involves answering questions:

  • What does the community need?
  • What is to be done?
  • Who is responsible and who should be involved?
  • How will it be done?
  • What is the timetable?
  • What resources (people, money, materials, etc.) are available?
  • Who are the stakeholders in the process?
  • What is to be reported to whom, and when?
  • What options are available?
  • How is success measured?

A practical planning process is outlined in the Appendices.

Evaluation is an assessment process and a measurement of activities that have already occurred. Evaluation should provide a foundation for moving forward. Objective measurement, supplemented by subjective, anecdotal information, can help the Board decide if its goals are being met. However, it is important to determine the appropriate measurements upfront and to measure the right things.  Conversely, it is a waste of time to measure things that do not matter. 

For example, library circulation is a traditional measure of library use, but it is only a small part of the activity in a library and is often misleading if not presented as trend data over the past few years. What are those numbers telling you? What other measurements can be used to get an accurate picture of how the public uses and benefits from the library? This might include a combination of metrics and outcomes.

Examples of additional metrics could include: Library visits; event attendance; Wi-Fi usage; number of active library users; in-house use of materials; Internet use; database searches; engagement on the library's social media channels and so on. Outcomes are the changes, benefits, learning or other effects that happen as a result of your library’s efforts - how you are improving your community. Project Outcome from the Public Library Association provides easy-to-administer tools for outcome-based evaluation. Significant projects, like planning, may exceed the Board's collective skill and experience, making it advisable to call on the public library system or outside consultants for assistance.

As a steward of the library, you are called upon to leverage the planning process to strengthen your library as an enduring, relevant, and responsive institution. To do that well, your Board’s planning process will first need to focus on what your community needs to be successful before defining what your library needs to be successful. The core value of sustainability, adopted by the American Library Association on behalf of libraries everywhere, calls upon us to consider the need for balance among environmental stewardship, social equity, and economic feasibility to not just survive, but thrive as institutions and communities. Only in the balance of these three things can we ensure our libraries, and our communities, are resilient and regenerative. Our planning approach should reflect this and focus on community aspirations in the face of the challenges we all face. This will then allow the Board and staff to design services, programs, and partnerships that reflect back what was heard, and demonstrate the vitality of the library in the community.