Strategic Planning: Is Your Library Future-Ready?

Michelle Eberle

Technology disruption has made it critical for libraries to develop strategies to be future-ready.  We’ve seen a rapid adoption of smart voice assistant devices such as Alexa this past year.  I’m sure you continue to hear from family and friends that they can find any information they need on Google. And the Pew Research Center recently reported that a quarter of American adults said they haven’t read a book in whole or part in the last year.  On top of that, our country is in-crisis faced with an increase in racism, income inequality, stress, gun violence, and political division.  What do these issues mean for the future of our libraries and our communities?  How can libraries respond to not just remain relevant and essential, but to become positive change agents for social justice? What do we need to do to prepare our libraries for a successful future?

Strategic planning!  Strategic planning is a key process to prepare for a successful future.  It’s common knowledge that the MBLC requires a strategic plan in order for a library to qualify for LSTA funding or construction grants.  Maybe your library is not interested in these two opportunities?  Then, why should you still use strategic planning? For three important reasons:

  • Planning empowers your library to make the greatest impact possible by developing a mission, vision, goals, and objectives to guide your activities.
  • Planning helps you tailor services to meet the specific needs of you community.
  • Planning cultivates devoted and enthusiastic champions for your library.

Strategic planning will guide your library’s future through creation of a livable, breathable document created in collaboration with your community.  A strategic plan serves as a map for your journey, not a rigid policy.  When you create or update your library’s mission and vision, it helps you identify where to invest your resources for new initiatives, services, and programs to make the maximum impact and community benefit. By specifying goals, measurable objectives, and activities, you chart a course to guide your decisions, identify the most critical services and programs to support and implement, and improve staff performance.  Strategic planning is essential for change management.

By getting to know the specific needs of your community during the strategic planning process, your library will be able to create tailored services and programs that best serve your local needs.  You can assess your community’s needs in a variety of ways including research, surveys, forums, and conversations.  Strategic planning will help you identify your library’s strengths and untapped opportunities, and create a community-centered plan of action.

Strategic planning develops champions, allies, and friends!  People love to share their opinions and be a part of the process. The process helps you further connect with devoted patrons, identify opportunities to build your patron-base, and cultivate new library users.  Developing a strategic planning task force with diverse representation from your community and/or hosting forums will help you create the most effective and beneficial plan, while generating good will and enthusiastic champions.

Are you ready to get started with a plan or is it time for you to update your plan?  Did you know that Massachusetts Library System provides consultation for strategic planning for all types of libraries?  You can reach out to Kristi Chadwick, April Mazza, and me.  To get started, take a look at the MBLC’s Planning site and especially the parts of a strategic plan.  Also, check out the MLS Strategic Planning for Libraries resource guide with tips, tools, and even sample plans.

The Massachusetts Library System is offering two workshops this spring to help you prepare to start your strategic planning process or brush up on your skills. Interested?  Register now to attend the Eating the Elephant:  Strategic Planning for Your Library and the Facilitation Techniques for the Strategic Planning Process workshops offered at various locations throughout the Commonwealth. Hope you can attend!

Strategic planning guides your library on a clear path to a successful future!

By Michelle Eberle, MSLIS, AHIP

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WPL Responds to Patron-Driven Needs

In the fall, MLS held a series of Social Services Forums to bring members together to talk about issues facing our communities and to explore potential partnerships.  At our first forum, Christina Connolly from the Worcester Public Library (WPL) shared the WPL’s experience with responding to the social services needs of their patrons.  Thank you to Christina for her interview, the first in a series featuring library/social service partnerships.

Christina Connolly

Christina Connolly

What moved you to connect your patrons with community services?

Christina Connolly: As in all public libraries across the country, there is a population of “regulars” that visit the Main Library in downtown Worcester; people who come in nearly every day to spend time in a spacious, peaceful, and safe environment staffed with friendly faces. Sometimes these patrons read, sometimes they watch movies on the computer, sometimes they quietly socialize with their peers, and sometimes they do nothing but pass through and the librarian who greets them with a smile is the one person to acknowledge them that day.

Many of our regulars do not have permanent homes and have been couch surfing or shelter hopping for years, but somehow, they survive.  As a certified resume writer, I’ve enjoyed the unique opportunity to regularly sit down with many of these patrons in a one-on-one capacity and discuss their pasts, presents and futures while strategizing job searches and building resumes.  Listening to their histories and plans against the context of their day-to-day living is what inspired me to learn more about available community resources and services to aid them in gaining basic things like sustainable housing and job stability. After all, there’s nothing sweeter than a success story!

Please tell us about the WPL’s Social Services Workgroup.

The Public Services reference team at WPL consistently works to provide for the needs of the people in our community, reaching beyond traditional library services to support a diverse patron base. Therefore, it only made sense to create a team of librarians whose goal was to become familiar with social service resources in the area, and in turn, educate the rest of the staff. We began as a group of four and visited over a dozen local agencies, including but not limited to, Workforce Central, City of Worcester’s Department of Health and Human Services, Salvation Army, Genesis Club, and Community HealthLink’s Homeless Advocacy Outreach Program.

We have participated in several local events, such as Worcester Cares About Recovery Day and Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance’s annual meeting. We are currently participating in an National Library of Medicine grant with AIDS Project Worcester and the UMass Medical Library to augment area print and e-resources for those affected by HIV/AIDS. Through efforts like these, we have created working partnerships with outside agencies that have allowed us to make smarter referrals and also to promote our own services–a win-win.

Worcester Public Library

What resources, services, or programs does the WPL offer to help patrons in need?

Adding services and connecting patrons to external community resources has been a major focus in recent years. First and foremost, as a free and open public space, the library has become an information hub for the homeless and other underserved groups, connecting them to food pantries, shelter, medical care, and other support services. We offer take-away brochures listing resources, as well as an online guide that directs users to resources in the following topics: Addiction and Recovery, Clothing, Domestic/Sexual Violence Support, Emergency Shelters, Employment and Career Development, Food Pantries, Housing Resources, Legal Services, Medical and Mental Health Services, Reintegration Programs, and Veterans’ Assistance.

On a monthly basis, EPOCA (Ex-Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement) holds CORI sealing classes, and an attorney from Community Legal Aid’s CORI and Re-Entry Project holds a monthly drop-in session.  Approximately half of WPL’s workforce is trained in administering the opioid-reversal drug Narcan, as was highlighted just last week  At WPL, it is the combination of a supportive administration and a concerned frontline that has resulted in a very engaged staff, always willing to learn more about pertinent resources and share that knowledge with patrons in need.

What other reflections would you like to share?

Our primary goal as librarians has always been to provide relevant information to improve people’s lives; as a profession, we pride ourselves on being responsive to patron-driven needs. Although many people outside the library field may be shocked that librarians are dealing so closely with issues such as homelessness and drug addiction, becoming more educated and offering social services resources is really no different from what we have always done. We are simply striving to fill an information need as perceived from behind the service desk and, of course, among the patrons.

Interview with Christina Connolly, Public Services Supervisor Programming, Worcester Public Library

Interviewed by Michelle Eberle, MLS Consultant


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Building Public Library/Social Work Partnerships: Three Success Stories

Date:  Thursday, January 18, 2018
Time:  2 – 3 PM
Webinar – Register now to attend    

Join us for this unique opportunity to learn about three public library/social work partnerships. Anna Fahey-Flynn will discuss the Boston Public Library’s experience with hiring a social worker from the Pine Street Inn.  Glenn Ferdman and Cathy Piantigini will share how the Somerville Public Library connected with the Cambridge Health Alliance to hire a Health Services Coordinator.   Lisa Downing from the Forbes Library in Northampton will fill you in on her library’s successful partnership with a homeless outreach social worker.  If your library is exploring partnering with a social worker or if you just want to learn more about this trend, this webinar is for you!

After this webinar, you will be able to:

  • Describe community benefits of public library/social work partnerships
  • Share three library/social work success stories with your colleagues
  • Use the stories to advocate for hiring a social worker for your library or partnering with a social worker from a local organization


  • Anna Fahey-Flynn, Central Library Manager, Boston Public Library
  • Glenn Ferdman, Director, Somerville Public Library
  • Cathy Piantigini, Deputy Director of Libraries, Somerville Public Library
  • Afsaneh Moradi, MD, Health Services Coordinator, Somerville Public Library
  • Lisa Downing, Director, Forbes Library

We hope you can attend!

Hosted by Michelle Eberle, MLS Consultant


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Public Library/Social Services Forums Update

In October and November, the Massachusetts Library System hosted four Public Library/Social Service Forums.  The idea for the forums was initially generated by my interest to explore whether our members might be interested in hosting social work field placements at public libraries.  To explore this idea, in August of 2017, we conducted a survey of public library directors and discovered that our membership is very interested to partner with social workers.

Social Service Forum

Public library directors were primarily interested to have a social worker onsite to:

  • Provide social services referrals
  • Lead staff development on topics like poverty, diversity, and social justice
  • Coordinate community awareness events on topics such as homelessness, diversity, and suicide prevention
  • Offer support for immigrants and citizenship.

The results of the survey revealed that this project should take a much broader scope and explore ways to foster not just social work partnerships, but social services partnerships.

What happened at the forums?  The library/social services forums included a brief update of the results of the survey followed by plenty of time for members to discuss issues facing their library’s community, to share how they are responding, and identify ways to co-create solutions.  Our members expressed concern about serving patrons who are experiencing homelessness, substance use disorders, and mental illness.  Attendees also shared about wanting to better serve immigrants with literacy and citizenship services.  Some members were concerned about hosting a social work field placement and were more interested in connecting with local agencies to get an experienced social worker on-site part-time.  At the end of the forums, we had an ideation activity to brainstorm and co-create creative and innovative library/social services partnerships.

Would you like to see all the ideas generated by the forums as well as the slides from the presentation?  Check out our Social Services Forums Resource Guide.

So, what’s next?  Stay tuned for:

Please feel free to reach out to me at to learn more about the forums and upcoming plans to further support public library/social services partnerships in Massachusetts.

-Michelle Eberle, Consultant

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