Vision quest, Part I

“Engaging. Evolving. Indispensable.”

That description sounded pretty good. Very good in fact. It took us an hour or so to get there but as a vision statement for the future of the Alamance County Public Libraries it seemed like a nice beginning.

library-visionThat was one of the primary jobs given to the Alamance County Public Library Strategic Planning Steering Committee during the month of February. I wrote about this group in January after several months of one-hour meetings. Our goal is to create the next strategic plan for the county’s library system — a plan that takes the rapidly changing role of libraries into account. Yes, the digital world has turned libraries upside down. It’s still a place about books and information but modern libraries are about a whole lot more.

Which is where the idea of “Engaging. Evolving. Indispensable.” fits in.

Our group, which includes several library staff members from the main branch at May Memorial and Graham along with representatives from Impact Alamance, United Way, the Friends of the Library, a county commissioner, a former state senator, someone from Alamance Community College and one escaped journalist who is now working in higher education, was tasked with helping to craft this plan. Dr. Anthony Chow, an associate professor in library studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro is acting as a consultant. He keeps us from veering into a ditch.

February was to be a big work month, Dr. Chow told us. Two three-hour meetings were scheduled. The first was to craft a vision statement and a  mission statement then turn our attention to core values and core competencies.  The second meeting would be about organizational goals — the final countdown to the strategic plan itself.

Not as easy as it sounds.

In the first meeting we were divided into three groups. Each was told to create a vision statement on flip charts. I was in a group with Commissioner Bob Byrd and April Durr of the United Way. Because I was the “writer” in the group I took over providing words to our ideas. Like most people in my profession, I provided more words than necessary. Our group statement went something like this:

Alamance County Public Libraries strives to be an indispensable part of the fabric of our community and provide a comfortable gathering place to learn, interact and connect to the world around us.

Pretty overblown on my part, but everyone in the room liked the word indispensable. We want people to need the library — we want it to be something they can’t live without. The overall group also liked “fabric of the community” because it hearkened to the county’s textile past. We just couldn’t find a way to make it work.

Two other groups also revealed their vision statements. Both were shorter than ours and had elements all thought important. They did a great job. We began discussing how to make ideas from all three groups work together. That led to an excellent discussion about what we wanted our library system to be. Finally, someone in the room put together three words in one burst as the statement. We immediately liked the idea. We altered one word and in less than 10 minutes we had: “Engaging. Evolving. Indispensable.”

That was fun.

We tackled the mission statement next and discussed it at length. Then we decided to stay with a mission statement the library staff had written only a couple of months ago. We couldn’t do any better. Here’s the mission statement.

To provide learning opportunities for all members of our community to be successful in living a larger life by nurturing the heart and the mind.

All three groups came up with a list of core values, many of them taken directly from the recently compiled list of core values created by Alamance County. The feeling was that the libraries’ goals should align with those expressed by the county. Then we tweaked it, of course to make elements of it our own. Customer service was obviously on our minds.  Here are the core values we came up with:

Be respectful
Be approachable and welcoming
Embrace diversity
Innovation: Look for reasons to say yes instead of quickly saying no (that one was mine, by the way. “We haven’t done” that before is not a good reason to avoid trying something new if possible.)
Positive communication

And after coming up with the core values, we put together core competencies for the library system. Those are the things we want the libraries to emphasize in order to better serve the needs of the public. They are:

World class children’s services
World class adult services
Bridge the digital divide
Serve as a community center
Be accessible

I have to admit the term “world class” always makes me flinch a little because I have no idea what it actually means. At a bottom line, though, it translates into making that service the best it can be, a valuable idea in and of itself. By accessible we mean everything from parking and hours of operation to serving rural areas of the county where no physical structure exists. The digital divide means not only more digital service but education on how that technology can be used. The community center goal should speak for itself. We want the library to be a destination for lots of things.

A week later our committee looked at organizational goals. I’ll write about that session next week.

But we’re definitely getting closer to a strategic plan. And now we have a vision.












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