In several recent blogs I have discussed the Strategic Plan for the Williamsburg Regional Library. As I have indicated, the Library takes planning seriously and develops its services and programs based upon our planning document. Recently the Library Board of Trustees appointed a Strategic Plan Review Committee to examine how the library was doing with its current plan. While the report of this committee may be found on our web site, I am including it in its entirety in this blog to emphasize the importance that I as library director view the plan and its implementation. What follows is the report of this committee in its entirety.
Strategic Plan Review
The Strategic Plan 2006-2010 has guided the Williamsburg Regional Library’s operations since the plan’s adoption in 2005. At this midpoint in the plan, the review committee was charged with examining four primary areas and evaluating the Library’s progress in developing each of them. The committee was asked to prepare a written report presenting findings and recommendations for action during the remainder of the current plan and for consideration in the development of the next strategic plan.
The review committee believes the library has adhered to the plan well. Planning assumptions have generally been correct, and demographic trends have not changed appreciably. While the library can improve on some items related to values and strategic directions, it is making solid progress toward achieving the plan’s goals. Future plans will benefit from the refinement of some values statements, clarification about the role of demographic information, and an expanded consideration of technology.
The committee examined the assumptions, assessing how accurate each one has proved to date. Commercial, residential, educational, and not-for-profit development has clearly had “an impact on the use of the Williamsburg Regional Library facilities.” Use of the James City County Library is up significantly; we attribute this increase to development in upper James City and York counties. The library has demonstrated its commitment to providing “a wide variety of materials, formats, and delivery options” both in its building-based offerings and in the execution of its outreach plans. The City of Williamsburg and James City County have provided steadfast support for “the services of the Williamsburg Regional Library for their residents.” The Friends, Foundation, and other donors have also supported “the provision of non-budgeted resources, services, and special programs.” The library’s partnership program has continued to evolve. Ineffective partnerships have been terminated and the library has narrowed its focus to a core of central, stable relationships. To date, businesses have preferred informal partnerships.
The assumption that “economic uncertainties will continue to affect the Williamsburg Regional Library” has been a prescient one. The economic downturn that began in late 2007 is having a significant effect at the state and local levels. Virginia’s revenue shortfall has triggered decreases in state aid to public libraries. Although the library’s Board of Trustees adopted a PSA Dewberry building study in April 2007, financial circumstances have forced James City County to remove a third library from its current capital improvement plan. York County plans to open its own upper county library by April 2009, and it will withdraw all WRL funding in fiscal year 2010. Consequently, the library will continue to examine all options for service to users.
The assumption that an “expanding population will increase demand on library facilities” was a challenging one for the committee to assess. While the area’s population grew by 24 percent between 2000 and 2007, the number of library cardholders only increased by 12 percent. The committee attributes this pattern to the availability of information on the Internet, changes in cardholder privileges, and more frequent purges of inactive cards. However, we also believe it demonstrates the need for the library to continually work on its external relations and publicize its collections, programs, and services.
The committee consulted with staff members throughout the organization to assess how well the library embraces its core values. Several areas emerged as great strengths. “Free and confidential access,” for example, continues to be a priority as evidenced by Internet filtering options and staff training. Staff members also believe that “courteous service” and acting on user input are priorities for the library. Literacy is an ongoing theme in all aspects of library operations; staff members take their roles as stewards of public trust very seriously; and cooperative work with groups in our community is an area where WRL excels.
Staff members note a potential conflict between the statement “we value all residents in our community” and cardholder privileges. Future strategic plans should address the role that jurisdictions’ financial contributions play in defining residents and the library services they receive. Expanded Outreach Services will also make more sense if future plans specify the value the library places on serving vulnerable populations who are the least able to visit buildings and vans.
The diversity statement is a broad and somewhat puzzling one. The next strategic plan should restate this value to reflect a commitment not only to diverse collections, but also to diverse programming, staffing, and user groups. Staff members are clearly “talented, well-trained, and knowledgeable.” While they generally agree that WRL offers a “positive work environment,” many expressed a need for greater inclusion in decision-making processes. The committee encourages the library administration to address this need.
Statistical estimates from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service and the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that the trends outlined in the plan have not changed. Rapid population growth has continued; the proportion of the population age 65 and over is expanding; and the proportion age 0-19 is holding steady. The school-age population, in fact, has fallen below projections. This trend has allowed for a one-year delay in the construction of a ninth elementary and a fourth middle school.
The community’s Hispanic population is estimated at 2.6 percent, a 30 percent increase from 2000. The proportion of the African-American population has continued to decrease, dropping from 15 to 13 percent of residents. The committee believes future plans will benefit from an examination of additional racial and ethnic groups in our community. Median household incomes in James City County continue to be higher than average; incomes in the City of Williamsburg continue to be below average. While housing prices are moderating, home ownership is still out of reach for many individuals who live and work in our community. Despite the improvements offered by Williamsburg Area Transport, limited public transportation is still an issue.
In the midst of overall affluence, poverty persists in our community. It is less than the statewide average of 10 percent in James City County (where 6.1 percent of residents live in poverty) and higher in the City of Williamsburg (where 22.7 percent of residents live in poverty). Children are particularly likely to be poor in Williamsburg where 32.3 percent of residents age 5-17 live in families in poverty. We recommend that future strategic plans be clear about the role demographic information will play in the library’s plans and priorities.
The committee examined each division and department’s monthly reports to assess progress in these areas. It also consulted with appropriate directors and managers. The library has clearly embraced the directions statements. A 2007 citizen survey ranks the library as the top “community aspect” in James City County. This placement reflects the way staff members treat “all users with courtesy and respect” at public desks and van stops. The ranking is also a result of staff members’ hard work behind the scenes in Finance and General Services as well as Automated, Circulation, and Technical Services. A commitment to “putting users’ needs and expectations first” is evident in the library’s ability to fill over 90 percent of user requests.
WRL provides excellent collections, programs, meeting space, and outreach services. A “focus on books and reading” is evident throughout Youth Services, and Adult Services has a national reputation for its Readers’ Advisory work. Statistically, each item in the collection circulates 3.6 times per year, and the library offers materials in a variety of formats. The library uses “technology appropriately,” treating it as a means of achieving institutional goals rather than a goal unto itself. Given technology’s importance and the pace of technological change, however, future strategic plans should address this topic more completely. Programming is another area of strength. Youth and Mobile Library Services have outstanding traditions of literacy-based programs. Program Services has offered the Dewey Decibel Concert Series for more than twenty-five years and has a long history of hosting exhibits, film series, and book discussion programs. The library has demonstrated a commitment to meeting space by renovating rooms, installing hearing assist loops, and expanding meeting room assistance at the James City County Library. Outreach Services has been a top priority. The library made major changes in its organizational structure to expand that division and purchased new vehicles to further “extend services beyond the walls of library buildings.”
Organizational changes in the Facilities Department have significantly improved building cleanliness and maintenance, and the department has completed many projects throughout library facilities. The library now devotes a specific Staff Excellence Award to “day-to-day operations,” and its “culture of excellence and innovation” is reflected in staff members’ involvement in professional activities and their receipt of awards at the state and national levels.
Between now and 2010, the committee believes there are two areas where the library should refine its focus. First, it should specify the scope of its Adult programming. The Adult Services Division’s involvement in programming has expanded in recent years. That programming has proven the most effective for topics (like classic films and some author visits) specifically related to the library’s collections. Focusing programming on these areas will free Adult Services staff members to participate in expanded outreach services.
Second, the library should develop a more comprehensive, systematic approach to its external relations. The library’s public website, for example, needs attention from both technological standpoints (such as the incorporation of RSS feeds) and organizational ones. The current model, one in which many divisions are responsible for the site, contributes to the website’s uneven look, feel, and content. Future models will require continued adaptation of the library’s organizational structures. As both adult programming and outreach services have expanded, a need for additional publicity capacity and uniformity of the library’s “brand” has also emerged. While the launch of a graphics standards manual and archive has addressed this issue to some degree, divisions continue to need more publicity than current structures offer. Again, this area is one where the redistribution of existing resources will be required.
This review has occurred during a particularly uncertain time for the Williamsburg Regional Library. The committee’s discussions often focused on change, transition, priorities, and difficult choices. We believe the library has entered this period of uncertainty with a strong foundation of success and support from staff members, the Board of Trustees, the Friends, the Foundation, the City of Williamsburg, James City County, and the users we serve. With a renewed commitment to inclusive decision-making and a willingness to tackle remaining challenges, we believe the library is well positioned to manage its future.
Genevieve S. Owens, Assistant Director and Chair
Reba Friedrich, Youth Services Librarian
Sarah Houghland, Board of Trustees
Mary H. Norment, Board of Trustees
Melissa Simpson, Mobile Library Services Manager
Approved by the Williamsburg Regional Library Board of Trustees June 25, 2008.
As you can see this is a thorough and thoughtful review of the Library’s progress in developing the four primary areas of the 2006-2010 plan. As I indicated to the Board of Trustees at their June 26, 2008 meeting, my goals for the coming fiscal year will include acting upon the recommendations found in this report.
So long for now!
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