Integrated Library Planning: A New Model for Strategic and Dynamic Planning, Management, and Assessment

ACRL announces the publication of Integrated Library Planning: A New Model for Strategic and Dynamic Planning, Management, and Assessment by Myka Kennedy Stephens. This new book offers illustrations, charts, sample outlines, and many tools and resources to help you implement responsive planning practices and effectively navigate change.

Learn more about Integrated Library Planning in this excerpt from the introduction by the author, © Myka Kennedy Stephens.  

Overview and Outcomes

This book is an introduction to Integrated Library Planning. This model utilizes a rolling planning horizon and integrates cyclical evaluation and assessment, financial reconciliation, and strategic planning. The result is a responsive and dynamic approach to library leadership in which emerging needs and new trends are identified and proactively addressed. It is a model of planning designed for the current age of libraries, a time when constant ripples of change are accompanied by shockwaves of uncertainty. What has become especially clear in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is that libraries need to know as much as possible about their environments and communities so that informed decisions can be made in a timely and efficient manner, even quickly when necessary. Putting energy into three-year and five-year plans when the current year’s budget is subject to sudden and unanticipated change is no longer a good use of our time and energy. This is especially the case as resources such as staff time are dwindling and becoming increasingly scarce in an over-stressed labor market. It is past time to shift to a new approach to planning, one that helps library leaders gain perspective on what their libraries do, discover what their patrons need most, and respond to crises and emerging needs flexibly, strategically, and smartly. I believe Integrated Library Planning is what libraries need to thrive in our ever-changing world.

The seven chapters in this book are a trail guide to implementing Integrated Library Planning and developing an integrated plan. Although I write from a location in a theological library—which I experience as a hybrid between an academic library and a special library with some public library sensibilities sprinkled in—this book is written to be accessible to a range of librarians and library leaders in a variety of contexts. Integrated Library Planning can be adapted to fit any size library, with any type of organizational structure, in any kind of context. It can complement existing strategic plans imposed on libraries by their parent organizations, and it can also incorporate external review and assessment cycles to reduce duplication of work. I hope that whatever your library’s history, context, or present planning needs are, you will find a resonance with what this book has to offer.

Chapter 1 explores the philosophical and theoretical ideas that form the foundation of Integrated Library Planning. It explores the realities of change, the different ways it can be defined, and how we might respond to it and live with it. This chapter defines Integrated Library Planning and the five core components that keep a plan moving forward: the rolling planning horizon, engagement with the library’s identity, intentional organizational structure, ongoing observation, and cyclical assessments. It also provides a brief overview of the four stages of the Integrated Library Planning process.

Chapter 2 sits with the reader at the point of decision-making. Deciding to depart from previous planning practices and engage in a new model of planning is a big step for any library. This chapter looks at three areas a library leader may want to examine before starting the Integrated Library Planning process. First, it is important to determine how well a library might pivot toward an integrated plan. Second, library leaders will want to share the concept of Integrated Library Planning carefully and intentionally with stakeholders, assembling feedback and answering any questions that arise, before starting the process. Third, it is helpful to thoroughly research the model and the various tools and methods it employs and think ahead to who will be involved in the planning process, so that everyone is well prepared once the development timeline begins.

The first stage of Integrated Library Planning, foundation and groundwork, is introduced in chapter 3. This is the initial research phase for the plan and can last six to twelve months. The planning team gathers background information about the library, its parent organization, and the surrounding community. Mission and vision statements are also drafted and vetted during this stage. The planning team conducts a comprehensive needs assessment, which includes statistical (quantitative) research, collecting surveys and feedback (mixed methods), and hosting conversations (qualitative). The final research tool is a SWOT matrix, which synthesizes the findings from all the various research activities. These research activities are not intended to be strictly linear. As the planning team learns from its research, it may find new questions to ask, additional background information to locate, and revisions to make to the mission and vision statements.

The second stage of Integrated Library Planning, building the planning structure, is described fully in chapter 4. The planning structure has four levels. The base level is the library’s organizational structure, described as operational areas. These operational areas may also be organized into divisions or departments if the planning team finds it helpful. Stemming from each operational area are the goals. Goals are written specifically for each operational area and relate to the library’s mission and vision statements. Stemming from the goals are strategic outcomes. While a goal is usually an ideal state of being for the operational area, a strategic outcome is realistically achievable and may even have a timeframe assigned to it. Each strategic outcome has individual action plans. This is the level that gets mapped onto the rolling planning horizon and tracked for completion.

Chapter 5 covers the third stage of Integrated Library Planning, which begins to shift from development into implementation. In the third stage, the monthly review cycle is created and implemented. The monthly review cycle has three functions: to facilitate communication about what is going on in and around the library, to provide an opportunity for assessment, and to support planning that incorporates what is learned through communication and assessment. The product of the monthly review cycle is a monthly review report, which includes progress assessments, a current financial summary, an analysis of observed information needs and behavior, and a summary of updates to the integrated plan. It is important to develop a monthly review cycle that is sustainable for the library. This chapter offers several suggestions on how it may be customized for a variety of libraries based on size, staffing models, and institutional relationships.

Once a monthly review cycle is implemented, an integrated plan matures into the fourth stage: long-term assessment and adjustment. Chapter 6 covers how a library staff begins to live and work with an integrated plan, opening to revision and adjustment throughout its implementation. As library staff observe information behavior, strategic responses may be woven into the plan. Regular financial review and reconciliation can inform decision making as new needs and opportunities emerge. Planning on a rolling horizon and adding action plans to it as they are developed encourages the practices of setting and resetting priorities and creating space for new initiatives. Integrated Library Planning and the monthly review cycle are designed to prompt regular reflection on the foundations of the plan: the mission and vision statements, goals, and strategic outcomes. Therefore, a mature integrated plan allows library leaders to revise goals and strategic outcomes, perhaps even revisiting some of the exercises and processes that went into the development of the plan, so that the plan remains relevant, current, and forward-facing. This chapter also explores how a mature integrated plan might incorporate external review cycles.

Chapter 7 closes the book with some reflections on what leading a library through Integrated Library Planning brings to the library, the library’s staff, and the communities it serves. It explores the importance of balancing the work of assessment with observation and analysis. A library will encounter inevitable challenges with an integrated plan, as with any plan. These challenges can be overcome, and they are also learning experiences that help make the integrated plan stronger. The perpetual movement of the rolling planning horizon carries a lot of forward momentum that can sweep up a library and its staff. When this happens, it is important to pause, take stock of what has been achieved, and celebrate the accomplishments.

My hope is that readers will finish this book with an understanding of Integrated Library Planning and confidence to try it in their library. Readers will find their libraries represented in the many examples and case studies and see the possibilities and opportunities that an integrated plan can awaken for a library. For readers who are burned-out on strategic plans that seem more decorative than functional, this book may offer renewal and a fresh approach to planning that can be dynamic, responsive, and relevant. Above all, I aim to equip and empower readers to lead their libraries responsively instead of reactively, with healthy curiosity, shrewd rationality, and effervescent creativity, and with sensibilities that are grounded in the present while looking toward the future.