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Long-Range Planning for Libraries

Planning During a Pandemic

Planning is a difficult enough task to take on during normal times. Now that the unknown seems to be an ever-looming presence it feels close to impossible. Because of this, we are recommending that libraries who need an updated plan prior to the new Minimum Standards taking effect on January 1, 2021, take on one of the following options:


Option One: A Plan Refresh

Appoint a Planning Committee and tasks them with evaluating and refreshing your existing plans. The goal is not to create a new plan, rather to prepare what you have now to extend beyond the original expiration date. The committee should ask questions like:
  1. What did you accomplish?
  2. What still needs to be done?
  3. Are there items that need another phase?
  4. Are there things that are no longer relevant?
  5. What is one or two projects that the library could take on that would support the community during this crisis?
After asking similar questions, redraft your plan and approve it as a board for the next one to two years. Be sure your updated goals and objectives can be reasonably accomplished over the given time frame. This will allow the library to have a manageable planning document that will keep you in compliance with Minimum Standards as well as add some guidance for the foreseeable future.

Option Two: Drafting a Short-Term Plan

If your plan is significantly out of date or if you have accomplished all of your goals, drafting a short-term plan with new initiatives may be the way to go. This option will also require a Planning Committee appointed by the board as well as decisions on the types of data collection practices you would like to take on. Some options include:
  1. Virtual one-on-one interviews with community members
  2. Virtual one-on-one interviews with staff
  3. Electronic community questionnaires
  4. Discussions with the board (virtual or hybrid meetings)
These activities should be simple with information focused on how the library can help the community. After settling on three to five priorities and supporting projects, libraries can use the planning templates linked below to draft their plan. PLS is happy to review these documents before they are approved by your board.

Keeping Minimum Standards in Mind

The updated Minimum Standards go into effect on January 1, 2021. To have a plan that is compliant you will need to include items related to the following:
  1. Facility
  2. Programs
  3. Partnerships
Plans need to be posted on the library websites and relate back to the library's budget. Visit the Owwl Docs Page on Minimum Standards for more information.

This section will continue to be updated as we investigate more efficient ways to plan during this time.

Long-Range Planning Overview

Long-Range (or Strategic) Planning is a cyclical process and involves a dynamic examination of a library's programs and services. Led by the Board of Trustees, Long-Range Planning should involve the Director, library staff, and community stakeholders. It should evaluate both the library's strengths and areas of opportunity compared to the needs of the library's service area. Most of all, Long-Range Planning should recognize that change is vital for growth and sustainability.

A library's Long-Range Plan is a formal document that:
  • Provides information about the community and library to use in decision-making
  • Clarifies for board, staff, and community the role of the library
  • Evaluates the usefulness and quality of specific services and activities
  • Assists in preparing for change
  • Establishes priorities for the allocation of resources
  • Documents the need for sustainable funding
  • While planning is cyclical, the lifecycle of a plan is typically 3 to 5 years in scope.
In order to be in compliance with the Minimum Standards for New York Public Libraries, every library is required to have a written Long-Range Plan of Service. The Board of Regents sets the Minimum Standards for public and association libraries under Education Law, Section 254. Minimum Standards also require library plans to be posted to their website.


Every plan has the same general components:
  • Vision: Imagine library services in a perfect world. What does that look like to the Trustees? To the Director and staff? To the community?
  • Mission: The library's mission is a short, carefully crafted statement that tells the community why the library exists. The mission should guide all the library's policies, procedures, and especially the Long-Range Plan.
  • Strategic Initiatives: Initiatives are broad and state the intended outcomes of the library's programs and services. When formulating a goal, identify the target audience and the purpose of the program/service. Goals should always support the library's mission.
  • Objectives: Objectives are specific, measurable, and time-bound tasks or steps that support a goal. Typically, 3-6 objectives are identified for each goal. Objectives should be meaningful and actionable.
  • Evaluation: Plan for ongoing reviewing and assessing. This will ensure that the goals of the Long-Range Plan are being met. Identify the tools and processes that will help the Board and Director with evaluation.

Planning Process


  • Appoint a Long-Range Planning Committee of 3-5 members including the Director
  • Set a timeline including start and end dates
  • Schedule regular Committee meetings

Step 1: Develop a Board Vision

  • Hold a special meeting/retreat to discuss the Trustees' hopes, dreams, and concerns for the future of the library
  • Start with the library's mission as the core
  • Reflect on the library's major successes and significant events that impacted the library
  • Forecast 3, 5, and 7 years out

Step 2: Assessment

  • Inventory the library's existing collections, programs, and services
  • Determine how and when the library is being used with hard metrics including:
    • Physical item circulation
    • Electronic circulation and downloads
    • Door counts
    • Library card registration
    • Program attendance
    • Computer use and WiFi sessions
    • Reference questions
    • Outreach visits
    • Meeting Room reservations
  • Compare the library to others with similar budgets and service areas
  • Perform an Environmental Scan looking at:
    • Census data including population and demographics
    • Local taxes including recent successes or failures of tax-based initiatives
    • Competition including book stores and youth groups that offer the same/similar programs and services

Step 3: Gather Input from The Community

  • Gather input from the community including:
    • Library Staff
    • Library users
    • Non-library users
    • Local business owners
    • Local educators/school district employees
    • Local government representatives
    • Members of other key community groups
  • Use a variety of data gathering methods including:
    • Surveys/Questionnaires
      • Paper-based
      • Electronic
    • Community Focus Groups reach beyond regular library users to gather information from a diverse cross-section of the community your library serves. This will ensure new ideas and perspectives are introduced to the planning process. Good focus groups will reveal to both the library's strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to know what people think about the library even if it isn’t true.
      • What kind of community do you want to live in?
      • Why is that important to you in a community?
      • What changes would you like to see in your community?
    • Staff Focus Group
      • What is one thing your library did well in the past 12 months?
      • What is one thing your library did poorly in the past 12 months?
      • If tomorrow was your first day as the new director, what would be your first priority for the library?
    • One-on-One Interviews allow conversations with stakeholders about the future of the community and where they see the library.
      • What challenges will your organization face in the next 2-3 years?
      • What major decisions will you need to make in the next 2-3 years?
      • What goals or aspirations would you like to see come to fruition over the next 2-3 years?

Step 4: Analyze What You Have Learned

  • What are the library's strengths?
  • What are the library's weaknesses?
  • What are the library's opportunities?
  • What are the library's threats?

Step 5: Assess Your Library's Capacity

How can the library move forward in these areas:
  • Personnel
  • Finance
  • Facility
  • Policy
  • Partnerships
  • Governance
  • Marketing & Public Relations
  • Measurement & Evaluation

Pulling It All Together

  • Select 3-5 priorities to include as the Goals in your Long-Range Plan
  • Utilize the PLS Planning Template to begin to map out your plan
  • Present a draft of the Long-Range Plan to the entire Board for discussion
  • Approve the revised Long-Range Plan at a regular meeting of the Board of Trustees

Planning Template

  • Planning Template (The Pioneer Library System Planning Template, mentioned above in this document, is a simple outline that can be used for your planning project. This is a traditional planning template that would span 3-5 years. Libraries are welcome to structure their plan however they would like, however, feel free to customize this template in any way that you would like.)
  • Project Template (For each of the projects you carry out with your plan, it may be helpful to have a template project management template. You can feel free to adapt, edit, or use this template as a guideline.)
  • Two Year Plan - Template 1
  • Two Year Plan - Template 2

Sample Long-Range Plans

Additional Resources

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