Helpful Information for Meeting Minimum Public Library Standards

Long-Range Plan

Each . . . library has a community-based, board-approved, written long-range plan of service developed by the library board of trustees and staff.

WHY IS A LONG-RANGE PLAN IMPORTANT FOR EVERY LIBRARY?

Every library needs a long-range plan as a formal document to:

  • Provide information about the community and library to use in decision-making;
  • Clarify for board, staff, and community the role of the library in the community;
  • Evaluate the usefulness and quality of specific services and activities;
  • Assist in preparing for change (dropping old services or adding new ones);
  • Establish priorities for the allocation of resources;
  • Document the need for sustainable funding.

WHAT IS A LONG-RANGE PLAN? DOES IT DIFFER FROM A STRATEGIC PLAN?

A long-range plan and a strategic plan both involve investigating the library's services in light of community needs and resources, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the library and the services the trustees and staff believe the library should or can provide, and creating a structured plan for providing the resources and direction for the "right" services for that community. 

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. (Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State, 2018 Edition, pg. 59)

WHAT IS THE PROCESS FOR LONG-RANGE PLANNING?

The way a library moves through its planning process is as important as the plan itself. The planning process helps raise the community's awareness of library programs, services and needs and gains library support from the community.
The long-range planning process is a cyclical one. While there are a variety of ways to develop a long-range plan, a successful planning process often includes the following steps:

  1. Develop a board vision. Have a conversation at a special planning meeting to discuss the hopes, dreams, and concerns for the future of the library.
  2. Assessment. Identify usage trends through library circulation, program and technology data.  Comparing the library to others with similar budgets or service populations can be a useful planning activity as well. The New York State Library provides a compilation of financial and service statistics
  3. Gather input from the community. Talk to the community. Use a combination of focus groups, surveys, and interviews with community opinion leaders to get a broad amount of input, from both library users and non-users, which will help the board to identify community trends, aspirations, and priorities. This is an outward-looking activity asking the community what their aspirations and priorities are.
  4. Analyze what was learned. Identify the library’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
  5. Assess the library’s capacity to move forward in the areas of:
    *Personnel
    *Finance
    *Facility
    *Policy
    *Partnerships
    *Governance
    *Marketing & Public Relations
    *Measurement & Evaluation

Through these five steps, the board and staff will have the information they need to create and write a solid plan for the future of the library.

WHO PARTICIPATES IN THE PROCESS?

Many people should be involved in the planning process in addition to the library director and the board of trustees. These may include: staff, library users, and representatives of business, education, government, or other key community groups. Public library system consultants or, in larger libraries, consultants under contract, may also advise or otherwise assist with the process.

idea graphicHELPFUL TIP: One way of involving the community is through the information- gathering stage of the plan. For example, use focus groups of community members, or community surveys that ask people to identify ways the library can meet community needs.

WHAT ARE THE COMPONENTS OF A LONG-RANGE PLAN?

  • Mission, Vision and Core Values
    • The mission is a short, carefully crafted statement that tells why the library exists. The vision of a library is the type of statement that answers the questions: “where are we going?” and “what can we achieve?”. Values are the principles and ideals that bind the library together including patrons, employees, vendors, and all stakeholders. Values are critically important to organizations because those who have the same value systems, or core values, tend to succeed within the organization, while those who do not share that set of values generally do not succeed.
  • Goals
    • Broad statements of program intent that support the mission statement.
  • Objectives
    • Specific, measurable, tasks or projects in support of a goal usually stated in terms of outcomes.
  • Action Steps or Activities
    • Specific assignments that must be completed in order to reach an objective.
    • Timeline.
  • Evaluation
    • Assessment and measurement of activities that have already occurred and provides a foundation for moving forward. 

HOW MANY YEARS SHOULD A LONG-RANGE PLAN COVER?

The time frame of the library’s plan depends on the organization and the initiatives the director and board set. Typical plans are for 3 to 5 years. Although most libraries will want to use a long-range plan to set a direction for an extended period, they will probably limit detailed planning to a shorter period, perhaps two or three years. Although every library board should take into consideration continuous development for the library and the opportunities presented by the electronic information environment, they should set objectives and plan activities which, with a reasonable amount of effort, the library and community can achieve in the identified time period.

HOW DOES A LIBRARY USE THE PLAN?

Planning is a smart way to inform decisions about budgeting, personnel, capital improvements, library services and community involvement. Often, plans are used to develop a yearly "Action Plan" which is an outgrowth of the direction and choices made in the longer-range plan. Persons with responsibility for tasks within the plan work on these assignments according to the timeline in the plan. Staff and trustees review the entire plan for action and accomplishments according to a schedule provided in the plan. Many institutions use a "rolling" process in which one year is "added" or revised when the current year is completed (or nearly completed).

SHOULD LONG-RANGE PLANS OF SERVICE BE MADE AVAILABLE TO THE COMMUNITY?

Yes. The current, board-approved long-range plan of service is required to be publicly available online (See Standard 11: Provides access to current library information) and the library should also have printed copies available for public distribution.  Online and printed long-range plans provide the community with transparency and accountability about library operations.

WHERE CAN THE LIBRARY GO FOR HELP?

Consult the library system for examples of different types of plans, as well as other assistance. It would also be helpful to submit a copy of the plan to the library system so it can be shared with others. Also, check out "Planning and Evaluation" in the Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State 

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Last Updated: December 13, 2018