Public Library Strategic Plans: It’s a Big Opportunity and Challenge

A few things are clear now:

  1. The COVID-19 crisis and the attendant behavioural changes will last a long time – possibly for 4-5 years – the normal planning horizon for public library strategic plans.
  2. The COVID-19 crisis has materially changed human behaviour.
  3. Digital advancement has taken five months to cover five years of expected digital engagement change: Seriously significantly more residents / consumers are:
    • buying online
    • learning online
    • conferencing online
    • working from home
    • using government services and forms online
    • engaging with e-books, e-audiobooks, digital music, digital video of TV shows and movies . . .
    • Banking online
    • Living in a small ‘bubble’
    • Socializing online (such as book clubs. Moms and Tots groups, story times, etc.)
    • and much more

These mean that your strategic plan is probably out-of-date if it was done before the 2020 juggernaut hit.  All of these SWOT exercises, community engagement surveys and focus groups, and research are now out-of-date.

That said, the following things may not change so you have a platform to review your strategic execution plan:

  • Your libraries mission, vision, and values (although the balance internally may)
  • Your broad strategic organizational priorities may be OK, but just OK.
  • Your marketing may be good but may need adjusting given the increased digital waves.

As for strategic execution, your library is likely experiencing:

  • Staffing issues with furloughs, lay-offs, sick leaves, shortages, resistance, and fear.
  • Shortages of volunteers for book sales, reading buddies, events, Friends groups, etc.
  • Inadequate facilities for physical distancing and programs.
  • Intensified training for digital strategies, new digital services, new e-formats, new processes (e.g. curbside), or appointment bookings, etc.
  • Massive changes in staff strategic professional development activities with most conferences, training sessions, vendor training, etc. going digital.
  • If you have unionized staff, there is likely more intense engagement and negotiations on workplace protocols.
  • Extreme change with regular library partners in other sectors like:
    • Elementary and high schools are using significantly different models resulting in more learners being available during the school day
    • Universities and colleges doing coursework from home or taking a gap year
    • Huge day care changes
    • Huge changes in the rules and accessibility of long-term care and hospital residents.
    • Social services changes for community health, wellness, etc.
    • Closed or limited sports, parks, and recreation facilities (especially when they are shared facilities).
    • Closed or severely limited access to cultural activities
  • Some GTA areas have up to 85% out of town commuters which has plummeted and residents are in their hometown all day.
  • Increased social issues including suicide, drug use, poverty, homelessness, family violence, and many more.
  • Quality of life issues across Ontario and locally with the massive changes in availability of local concerts, plays, performances, team sports, clubs, fairs, farmers’ markets, and other cultural and social activities.
  • Severely limited access to food options for social engagement like coffee shops, restaurants, patios, bars, and taverns.  Indeed, some may never survive as businesses in both the short and long term.  Mainstreet revitalization plans have suffered a set back.

Public Libraries are the rudders of their community ships.  COVID-19 has presented us with opportunities and changes.  It is NOT about adapting to a new normal.  It IS about creating the NEXT normal for our libraries and our communities.

Libraries need to acknowledge that they are community change agents and proponents of community vitality, but if we do not change, libraries cannot remain what they are.

Change Quotes about our thinking