Every public and association library in New York is required to have a written long-range plan of service and to make it easily accessible by the public; including on 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 Planning for Results series, are specifically library oriented.
The conscious decision to engage in planning is far more important than the planning tool used. Though planning may be required, it is simply a smart way to inform decisions 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 prepares for the future. Strategic planning is based on the premise that change is necessary to survive and thrive in the future. Strategic planning answers the question, "What do we have to do now in order to improve our ability to operate five years in the future?" If the planning time frame is shorter it involves operational planning. Operational planning focuses on the improvement of things the library already does and is primarily concerned with the allocation of resources.
Creating a plan involves answering questions:
A practical planning process is outlined in the Appendices.
Every plan has the same general components. The mission is a short, carefully crafted statement that tells the world why the library exists. Many libraries capture their mission in a single sentence. Goals are broad statements of program 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. There is always more to do to reach a goal! Objectives are specific, measurable, tasks or projects in support of a goal, usually stated in terms of outcomes. Action steps or activities are the specific assignments that must be completed in order to reach an objective. Finally, every good plan should come full circle with an evaluation process.
Evaluation looks at the past in order to plan for the future. It is an assessment and a measurement of activities that have already occurred and it provides a foundation for moving forward. Objective measurement, supplemented by subjective, anecdotal information, can help the board decide if its objectives have been 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 don't 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 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 metrics could include: in-house use of materials; Internet use; database searches; program attendance; engagement on the library's Facebook Page 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. Your evaluation should be appropriate for the service package your library offers to the community. Significant projects, like planning, may exceed the board's collective skill and experience, making it advisable to call on the library system or outside consultants for assistance.
As a steward of the library, your planning process should work to create a library for your community that will not just survive, but thrive. Public library services are too important to leave to chance. Planning for the future should incorporate the core value of sustainability. Choices the board makes should be made with an eye towards creating an enduring, sustainable institution and facility that will be viable, vital and visible for generations to come.