As managers within library systems, we have the opportunity to be involved in the development of strategic objectives – and hence – the actions needed by staff to complete these objectives. Service planning is an important part of this process. As you have probably read from previous postings (e.g. see posting) there are various techniques which can be applied ‘on the ground’ to actively engage with community – in order to ensure that the services developed by public libraries truly reflect the needs of community, and not just staff perception of community based information needs.
So, how can a library system involve community in the development of regional plans? This is a good question, and there is no ‘one’ answer, since each library system will develop plans differently. However, there are some steps which will be important to consider if you want to ensure your library system is developing programs and services with community.
As library staff begin to work with the newly targeted community, it is beneficial to create a plan which is multiphased – so community input and involvement can continuously have impacts. Predetermined outputs, outcomes, and impacts, which are based on library management perceptions at the beginning of a service planning process – implies library led, not community led. Each of these steps are part of the service planning process. They include:
Determine which community you are writing a service plan for (e.g., Immigrants, Older Adults, People with Varying abilities, Teens etc.). You can’t write an effective service plan for the entire community.
Internally – What resources/strengths/relationships does the library currently have to work with targeted community (e.g. – existing knowledge of community (gathering locations inside the library system or in the community, cultural norms, etc…), relationships with individuals from the community, collections, other existing services …
Externally – Who are the key individuals or organizations which should be contacted, in order to begin building external relationships with the targeted community? Remember, the intent of community led services is not to have organizational representatives or community spokespersons identify community need; however, they can provide a wealth of information which will guide the service planning process – and provide the library with access to individual community members. As relationships are built, start to document what you are hearing from the community (what is their perception of need, asset, role for the library etc.)
Analyze – Analyze what you/staff are hearing from the community and go back to the targeted community and verify… is what we are hearing correct? Start exploring or at a minimum, thinking about potential service responses.
Build Staff Capacity
If a library system is going to work closely with a targeted community, it is essential that library staff are given the opportunity to know about the targeted community (what has been learned to this point from relationships which have been built) and community led approaches. If branch or public service staff who will be working with the community are not provided with upfront training, it highly increases the danger of failure.
Systemic Change / Branch Based Change
Build in mechanisms which allow for community involvement in impacting the development of program and service responses either across the system or in a specific community/library branch. Many times a change in one branch can be expanded to have a regional impact. If the change only occurs in one branch, community members will be disappointed if they visit another branch which has not implemented the change….
I am sure there are more steps to this process.. at this point in the morning.. and off the top of my head, this is a great start for library systems. I hope this posting made sense??
P.S. This can also be applied in university library settings – where I would say librarians need to step up and assist universities in justifying the relevance of university education, not just to students and faculty, but to the greater community which subsidies these institutions. The earlier we start doing this, and the more relevant universities are to their local communities, the more public taxpayer support they will receive!!