Why Your Library Should Have a Strategic Plan

Written By: John Connolly, who hosts our Vertical Files podcast.

The pandemic has changed dynamics in our libraries in many ways. As we face a “new normal” of in-person programming restrictions, limited resources, and shifting expectations, our organizations must find their footing and continue providing services and programs in a completely new environment. Libraries are going to have to be strategic moving forward; the limitations to operations will force us to prioritize what we can do and be for our communities.

Even under the best circumstances, it’s a great idea to have a strategic plan for the library. In the wake of the pandemic, the utility of a strategic plan becomes much higher. A strategic plan can be a practical capstone on the library’s more visionary core documents: it serves to embody our mission and vision statements and to say, “this is how we plan to accomplish our mission and vision during this period of time.”


It Can Be Unifying

The process of drafting a strategic plan can be unifying for the whole organization. It brings every department to the table to contribute to the plan, and if done well, everybody should come away feeling empowered from the process. You never know where good insight will come from; when everybody has a voice, it helps to ensure that the organization is making use of the collective experiences and ideas across the library system. When our teams are working remotely and providing services primarily through online methods, it can be truly beneficial to know that organizational leadership has listened to the needs and ideas of the library staff and taken them into consideration when setting goals and plans.


It Provides Prioritization

Many libraries are in a position right now of having to make difficult decisions about programs and services that can be offered in the short term. When libraries face these difficult circumstances, it’s helpful to know what the highest priorities are for the organization. A strategic plan is best revised regularly to update those priorities as circumstances evolve. What was considered a reasonable goal a year ago might not be as achievable this year.


It Puts Us in Touch With the Heart of the Library

The process of strategic planning makes us focus on the most important elements of our organization: our mission, our vision, our values, and our broad goals. Library staff work extremely hard on day-to-day tasks, and regularly contemplating these elements can be a refreshing break from the grind. If we remember the reason that library exists, it gives us an opportunity to refocus and reengage with our underlying mission.


It Helps Limit Scope Creep

As the library faces limited resources, it’s natural that staff try to do more and more with their finite abilities. When the organization has a strategic plan, it helps provide a limited scope for the organization or even individual departments as they do their work. Goals are set within a specific timeframe and reevaluated regularly, meaning that staff can look back to the plan to manage resources and keep the organization moving toward the goal.


Despite the uncertainty moving forward, it’s an excellent time for libraries to take stock and reevaluate realistic goals for the coming years. If you have a strategic plan, now is a good time to review it. If you don’t have one, it could be a good time to explore the process and reap the benefits of strategic thinking as we navigate the post-pandemic library world.

John Connolly is a librarian with over ten years of experience in the field, including technical, administrative, and supervisory roles in a variety of library settings. He blogs on librarianship, leadership, management and technology topics. He also hosts our Vertical Files podcast.