Library turns a new page in planning its future

The Greenwich Library has started a new chapter in its mission and methods of operation as a result of a five-year strategic plan unanimously adopted by the library’s Board of Trustees last week.

The new plan is the product of a nearly two-year process in which the library planned for revisions to its functions, both in order to better serve the community and to stay relevant in the age of technology.

According to Nancy Better, president of the Board of Trustees, strategic planning began with surveying the community, a common practice in libraries throughout the country. Working together with Maureen Sullivan, now the president of the American Library Association, and Berk Associates, a Seattle-based consulting firm, library staff and trustees developed a comprehensive community survey to identify the town’s needs and requests.

A diverse group of more than 5,000 town residents participated in the survey, giving the library “a body of data that was authentic” and a good idea of how the community uses the facility and its resources, Ms. Better said.

Following the administration of the community survey was a staff survey, trustee survey and a number of focus groups, she said. Library staff and trustees had an “If we’re in, let’s go all in” mentality.

“There’s a sweet spot” where community needs are met and responded to, while the library maintains a conservative use of its resources and “I think we got there,” Ms. Better explained.

As data from surveys was collected, there were certain changes the library was able to implement right away, according to Carol Mahoney, Greenwich Library director.

A self-service area was one such initiative employed almost immediately, after the community survey revealed that 70% of residents had requested one, Ms. Mahoney said. Library members are now able to reserve books online, then pick them up in the library’s self service area using self check-out machines.

“Patrons like to be self-directed in many ways,” she said, so the library catered to that.

By the end of the strategic planning process, “We wound up with 10 strategic initiatives that we feel that within five years are achievable,” Ms. Mahoney said. The five key areas of focus within the plan include the library’s collections, technology, lifelong learning and enrichment, service and community space and community connections.

Space planning is one of the first initiatives to be addressed. The way the public uses the library is changing, but luckily the facility has the flexibility to be moved around, Ms. Mahoney explained. There are patrons who want to do focused research in a quiet environment but there are also many student and organizational groups that would like to use the space for group studying and discussion, she said. As part of the new strategic plan, the library is prepared to maximize its spacing resources to adapt to both types of patrons.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the strategic plan will be using technology to connect community members, according to Ms. Better.

The library’s website will be upgraded, allowing for “wonderful new technological innovations that are going to advance the interface between the community and the website,” she explained.

Additionally, she said, they will implement “BiblioCommons,” a library software program that “will be a leap forward” in connecting library members.

The program overlays the library catalogue but functions like Google or Amazon, making it more user friendly, Ms. Mahoney explained. Local library members are able to connect by sharing comments about books they’ve read, not only with each other but with libraries all over the country who use the BiblioCommons program.

“We want to promote readers and social networking is a big part of that,” she said, adding that it’s also important to provide technology to patrons who don’t have access to it.

“Greenwich has a very diverse community so making technological resources available is a big part of the library’s strategic plan, which is flexible enough to change alongside technology,” Ms. Mahoney said.

As far as finances are concerned, the library has been very fiscally responsible in planning out its initiatives, Ms. Better said, “ But fund raising is absolutely critical. The town provides a very good library, but private funds take it from very good to five star.”

And while many people today are asking if libraries are dying out, Ms. Better is confident that Greenwich’s strategic plan will prove the opposite. Circulation, the number of visitors and online hits grow each year, she said. With the new plan, “We can say with absolute authority that libraries aren’t dead. The Greenwich Library is very much alive and excited about its future.”

The key to the plan’s success, Ms. Better said, will be maintaining a continuous dialogue with the community and creating connections between patrons.

In the future, she said, “If we surveyed the community again and we heard that community bonds had been strengthened as a result of the planning we undertook,” the plan will have been a success.

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