Saying “Yes” to the Community

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When we began our work with Durham County Library (NC) on their strategic planning project the Library was going through a major transformation with unprecedented growth, changing demographics, and the creation of new Regional libraries. This transformation and the resulting strategic plan were built around the following keystone philosophy:

Saying “Yes” to the Community: Durham Builds a Customer-Centered Library
Honoring the Past – Acknowledging the Present – Building the Future

When developing a strategic plan with any client our process is intensely collaborative and inclusive, with a high value placed on staff and community input. The Durham project was no different. We worked very closely with a staff committee responsible for planning, facilitating and coordinating all project activities as well as a larger group comprised of members of the first committee plus key community stakeholders. This group included representatives of local government agencies, the school system, local businesses, etc. Drawing from their own professional and personal experiences, this committee shared information about community needs and served as a sounding board for planning process activities and findings. Both groups were involved throughout the entire strategic planning process.

To maximize staff input, we facilitated a half-day input session for all library staff that included education on strategic planning as well as a visioning exercise to encourage staff to identify how they see the Library in the future. The output was innovative and creative and led to incredible staff support that proved invaluable during implementation. A staff and community wiki was also created to allow additional sharing of ideas and information. The wiki remained active well after the planning process was complete and served as an information resource about plan implementation.

In order to find out more about what other libraries were doing and to see some best practices firsthand, the library organized three tours for library staff and stakeholders. These groups visited branches in North Carolina and Virginia, with each host library preparing a presentation and a structured tour of their best practices. Question and discussion sessions were also built in, allowing for more in-depth conversation about processes, implementation and challenges. Staff and stakeholders were debriefed after each tour, discussing what they had seen, what could be transferred back to their library and what would be needed to make it all possible. Comments, pictures and learnings from the trips were posted on the wiki so that those who had not attended were able to share in the experience. Library Directors and staff from the toured libraries were also invited to Durham to participate in panels on Staff Day. This further ensured that all Durham staff, whether present at the tours or not, got to hear firsthand about best practices and had the opportunity to ask questions.

Community involvement continued to be a critical component in the development of the strategic plan as we facilitated a two-day future search conference with over 90 attendees. Participants included community leaders, university students and teens, among others. The conference was designed to build community and common ground and to inform the strategic priorities for the Durham County Library for the next four years. This group also worked on the vision and mission of the library and on reinforcing the vision of a customer-centered library that honored the past, acknowledged the present and built the future.

The resulting plan document ultimately included four primary goals and three supporting goals, each with clear objectives and metrics to measure their success. A “goal champion” was appointed for each goal to ensure the objectives of each would be carried out. These steps helped the Library stay on track, meet all of its goals, and succeed in its four-year strategic plan.

Throughout the process, Skip Auld, then Library Director, emphasized that library leadership take a “two-pronged approach to valuing both staff and the public.” He strongly believed that the success of the plan lay in establishing and developing partnerships within the community that would work to support the library going forward as well as with ensuring that staff had the resources they needed to implement the plan. With systemic, focused outreach to the community and attention to staff, Durham County Library was able to drive their strategic planning process and resulting plan to success.


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