Five steps toward planning today for tomorrow’s needs
Strategic planning in libraries today must always, because of the rapid advances in technologies, define the business of the organization in which the library is situated. Most libraries are in the business of education—educating the public, the employees, or the faculty and the students. In public libraries this means satisfying the community’s need for entertainment and access to research needs; in a corporate library it means supporting industry and computer analysis; and in a college or university library it means supporting both the education of the students and the teaching and research needs of the faculty.
Strategic planning for technologies in a college or university must be a cooperative effort with input from the administration, the computing center personnel, and the faculty, taking into account the mission statement of the academy, the financial restrictions of the budget, and the mandated programs utilizing these technologies. Faculty input is essential and critical, both in terms of how faculty actually uses technology and how faculty may be encouraged to redevelop syllabi that reflect that use. Faculty leadership is critical to the collection, development, and management of that input.
The role of the librarian is increasingly important during strategic planning, as educator and leader within the process, whether that process occurs within the library or in the larger institution, as these are intimately connected. What happens in the academic library is a microcosm of what is happening in libraries nationally.
The strategic plan developed should offer a pattern that integrates major goals, policies, and action sequences of the organization into a cohesive whole. It should help allocate resources, capitalize on relative strengths, mitigate against weaknesses, exploit projected shifts in the environment, and counter possible actions of competitors. Thus a well-articulated strategic plan should set a clear direction, allow for the strengths and weaknesses within the competitive environment, devote resources to projects that utilize the set of core competencies and primary skills within the organization, identify areas within the social and political environment that require careful monitoring, and recognize the competitive areas that need careful attention.
Why should we plan?
One problem in strategic planning is actually envisioning what is “needed”. At a recent meeting here at Adelphi University, where I am coordinator of library instruction and chair of the faculty senate, when committee members were asked to list what was needed, they replied: “pull more wires, purchase more computers,” and “we need upgrades.” These are facile and unimaginative answers. When the technologies we probably need do not yet exist, we have trouble knowing what we really want or need.
What I really need is instant delivery of full-text data across a wide time-span whenever I complete a search, and the ability to download the relevant papers, complete with diagrams and graphs. I should be able to download a full book into my electronic reading machine and use it at will. We don’t quite have the technologies for this yet, and the older texts of journals and books haven’t been digitized. But I do know what I need to ease and enhance my research. We have to ask the question: “What do you need?” and build on that before we start planning, lest we spin our wheels endlessly talking about what is now possible rather than what is needed. Our strategic plans must allow for future developments and for our wish lists, and must not be a mere enhancement of what we now have.
So, how do we plan for this future when the technologies do not yet support it, when the publishing industry is producing money-making rather than educationally needed products? How shall librarians plan for future librarians when we haven’t yet begun to organize the Web, and when we squabble about what our profession might become rather than taking the lead in fashioning it?
The five-step strategic planning process
Developing a strategic plan may be necessary for many reasons. Perhaps it has been years since the last plan was formulated, and a new one is needed. Or, growth within a public library’s community may indicate the need for a branch library or for a building extension. The company may be expanding or downsizing, requiring a new adaptive plan. The academy must be re-accredited every decade, and must have a dynamic plan demonstrating its mission and the goals to be reached. In all of these cases, planning is necessary and tends to follow a usual path:
1. Situational and environmental analysis
2. Development of organizational direction
3. Formulation of strategic plan
4. Implementation of the plan
5. Strategic control, feedback, evaluation
In this article, I’ll look at each of these steps in more detail and offer some insight gained from what has happened at my own institution.
1. Situational and environmental analysis
Once a project is well begun, it is half done. So this initial analysis is absolutely critical to the eventual writing of the planning document. Many people from various elements must participate in the following tasks: Look at the environment in which the library and academy are operating; evaluate the competition and its offerings; seek full knowledge of the needs of the constituency; investigate mandates from the community, accrediting agency, or government; discover market niches that are unmet; and seek opportunities consistent with external realities.
Questions that are useful include: Where is this library/institution today in terms of existing technologies to support its work? Where do the faculty/students/ community need to support their teaching/study/research? How might a curriculum be altered in terms of existing resources, what competitive academies offer, and what students need to learn? What value-added education (in terms of technologies) do we want to address this issue? Who is our competition, and why, and do we want to continue competing at that level?
At this point many of us might say, “Whoa! This is too complex!” But it isn’t. As librarians we do much of the thinking required automatically as we improve the services we offer: arguing for new methods, reading our literature, evaluating what we do, and making those changes as needed. When I called to serve on the committee developing the library’s strategic plan for technologies, I realized that as an instruction librarian I was, every semester, teaching students in a management course how to do situational analysis for an industry. I applied the precepts of what I was teaching to my own study for the library.
Your analysis should also examine the core values of your institution. You must reflect on the traditional values in a dynamic and complex environment; assess current programs; adapt to the emerging trends with the appropriate plans consistent with your vision, your mission, and your strengths as an institution—or, decide not to adapt. And you must develop the tools to provide our graduating students with an education well-informed by technologies.
Librarians bring many useful qualities to this analysis. We work with people at all levels, adapting to their modes of learning. We develop the ability to see the overall picture more clearly than do subject-oriented teaching faculty or bottom-line-oriented administrators. Our contributions as team members are highly undervalued.
At Adelphi, one forum for analysis is our Faculty Senate, which meets biweekly to discuss academic and curricular affairs and approve curricular initiatives forwarded by its committees. When an issue is raised by a professor or dean, their discussion can illuminate analysis or enhance vision or facilitate implementation. As senate chair, I should know where data can be found and who the knowledgeable players are.
One of the senate subcommittees decided to query users of academic computing, via e-mail, and ask what problems were arising. Questions poured in from users, and were answered after much discussion. There were some easy answers, and some hard ones, but we found answers and made changes. Then we posted the answers on e-mail, along with committee minutes. This is an ongoing project.
2. Development of organizational direction
There are generally three main indicators of direction—values, mission, and objectives. Vision includes aspirations, core values, and philosophies at very general levels. Our mission statements translate these into more doable statements of institutional purpose. Objectives are those items—call them targets perhaps—that allow us to succeed in our mission. Our direction may be established, informed, reaffirmed, or modified through environmental/situational analysis.
Decisions about organizational direction are made after full consultation with administrative leadership, and are informed by discussions at all levels. A major problem may occur when the vision of our leadership is at odds with that of our traditional values and bases. Here at Adelphi, we had an earlier leadership that wanted us to become an elitist college, while our student base had always been people training in professional schools. Delicate negotiations at several levels, fully informed by situational analysis, led to a “new” direction in which an improved general undergraduate education will lead seamlessly into our professional schools, or into the workforce. Adelphi is situated on Long Island, where there are 32 degree-granting institutions within 40 miles. Competition for students is fierce.
In my experience, once the vision is discussed, and the mission statement formulated, the objectives become clearer.
3. Formulation of strategic plan
Once the analysis is completed and the direction is established, you can proceed with the actual formulation of the plan. Planning can be done at various levels, but in universities it is usually driven by accrediting agencies that demand dynamic planning as the cost of re-accreditation. Teams, usually dominated by faculty, gather data, analyze it, and report out on the knowledge gleaned. The in-house accreditation leaders sift through all this, and develop a coherent planning document. When planning is needed between site visits, then it’s done in a similar fashion, but not driven by the agency’s requirements.
Formulation is difficult and doesn’t always take place as planned. In fact, this is often the case. We had appointed two Task Forces to study the environmental issues affecting growth in two of our graduate schools. One team developed a definitive plan that stated strengths and weaknesses, and laid out an exact plan for putting the school on track for today’s market needs. The second team developed an reasonable philosophy for improving the school, but provided no implementable planning document.
A solid plan should include the following information:
4. Implementation of the plan
- Statement of mission for the whole, or for the unit within the whole, and relating to the overall mission
- How the unit will respond to and flesh out that mission statement
- What resources are needed, and a timeline for these: faculty, staff, resources, technologies
- Where those resources will be found, how they fit into the existing and future budgetary considerations, and which grants should be sought
- What governance issues are involved
- A full timeline for implementation of changes
- Allowance for feedback, evaluation, and adjustment procedures (see also step 5 below)
An implementation plan must be well formulated and flexible, allowing procedures for many kinds of unplanned but needed changes. With this in mind, we then develop an implementation schedule that states the order of implementation and what steps should be taken at what time. It must also allow for changes when necessary, and outline the resource budget. Steps might include: change the focus and curriculum of school/department X to meet market needs; develop curriculum for Y course; hire Z faculty to teach Y course when developed; increase library resources to provide materials and staff to support X; convert library databases to Web-based when proxy server is installed in December 1998, etc.
In the fall of 1998, our Faculty Senate approved a 5-year calendar, with the following built-in provision: “This calendar shall be in force, unless a future Senate decides to make a change before October 15 of the preceding year.” It is difficult to determine implementation exactly in an environment where technological changes are frequent, rapid, and comprehensive. Even calendar plans, which appear straightforward at first glance, may require future changes.
Curricular changes occurring on campus may suddenly upset the carefully developed plan. Last year our faculty passed a new General Education requirement, for which the library would provide two sessions of instruction during the fall semester. Library faculty agreed to this. Then the GenEd committee decided there would be a maximum of 20 students in each class. Suddenly the library faculty, eight of whom now provide instruction sessions, must plan for 50 or more additional sessions. We are seeking to add an instruction faculty member—while some library faculty see alternative positions as more important.
The university Web page is under construction once again. Someone hired a commercial outfit to produce it, and many problems resulted. The hired firm had no concept of the importance of library access—so library faculty had to scream loud and clear. We now have a button on the home page, and control over what is seen on the following library pages. These seem like simple things, but require constant vigilance.
5. Strategic control, feedback, and evaluation
Now that we have completed the earlier steps, we must ensure good feedback, evaluation, and review of the rollout of the strategic plan. In academia, faculty are intimately involved with all steps involving curricula and other academic affairs. Faculty Senate representatives meet biweekly with the Provost and Presidents Cabinet to ensure that faculty needs are being met during the implementation. Everyone watches the rollout carefully. Minor corrections are made as needed. Some of the changes chronicled above demonstrate this ongoing process.
The library’s place in strategic planning
And you may well say: “Where does the library fit into all of this?” Our library contributed to every step of the process, being fully represented on all committees. The mission statement of the library is fully compatible with the overall mission statement of the university. The library supports strategic planning for technologies with its own variations, including those for instruction. We know that the library is well-represented, because a librarian chairs the Faculty Senate and ensures this.
When many viewpoints are needed to ensure the success of strategic planning, we librarians can guarantee some measure of success by becoming involved, by getting into the game, and preferably by taking a position of power!By Valerie Jackson Feinman
Valerie Jackson Feinman has been coordinator of library instruction at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, since 1985. She has an M.S.(L.S.) from Syracuse and an M.B.A. from Adelphi. She has served in academic libraries since 1965, and writes and speaks frequently about instruction issues. She was recently re-elected as chairperson of the Faculty Senate at Adelphi. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org