Planning with Community Insight
Berthoud Community Library District serves a population of approximately 10,000 individuals. When I arrived in March 2016, we needed a new strategic plan, but we knew that we didn’t want a plan that focused on what the community wanted for the library, we wanted to know what the community wanted for itself. We turned to the Aspen Institute’s Action Guide for Re-Envisioning Your Public Library for guidance, inspiration and support.
Library: Single branch Location: Berthoud, CO | Population: 10,000 - White: 88%, Hispanic: 8%, Black: 1%| Funded: separate mill levy | Annual Operating Budget: $370,000 | Staff: 3 full-time; 4 part-time |
I didn’t use a prescribed process for working through the Guide. We worked through every section. There were times that it was just me sitting in my office pondering a question. Other times, we had formal staff meetings where we went through big items like the SOAR assessment. We also had some very impromptu staff meetings where I stood at the front desk, and we talked through some questions while someone took notes. Our board also got involved doing both the SOAR assessment and the Action Steps for Library Leaders.
We knew we wanted to align our services with community priorities, but we needed to know what those priorities were. We decided to host three community conversations on three separate days in one week. Since I was new to the library and to the state, this proved to be a huge learning opportunity, not just for our library, but for me personally and professionally.
We used the appendices in the back of the Action Guide to help us with our planning, and we used the section on Convening Your Public Dialogue to help guide the discussion. We opened the discussions up to the public, and we also sent specific invitations. Attendees included current board members, a representative from the sheriff’s squad, three of the four school principals, our local chamber of commerce – board members and ambassadors, and members of the community. It was a good mix of people who have authority to get things done as well as people who care about what’s going to happen.
We asked attendees what they want for the community, what their goals are, what they see as assets and what they see as potential obstacles to reaching their goals. We used large flip charts to track responses and others could see them as well. Our focus was on the community with the goal of subsequently having library services and programs adapted to align with community goals.
What We Learned
The biggest thing that we learned was not what we are not doing, but that our community isn’t aware of the things we are doing. That told us we need to work on our marketing and communication.
Part of our library mission statement says that we share resources for connecting the world. Seeing connections being made at our community conversations was great. Several town initiatives either got started or gained momentum because of discussions that attendees had with one another. For example, the House of Neighborly Service runs a food bank in town, and we discovered through our conversations that there are people in town who are willing to donate food but don’t know where to go. In response, the library hosts food barrels, and now people can drop off food donations multiple times a year. Another initiative that’s underway is a Coats for Kids program. The library will be a pick-up point since our building is open to the public 57 hours a week. Those details are in the process of being finalized.
Following our community conversations, we produced a report summarizing the outcomes that was shared with everyone who attended and provided an email address. Copies were sent to the town board, and we made the report available to the public as well.
Our board is currently developing our new strategic plan. We know it will be far more community-focused than it would have been had we not gone through the Action Guide and hosted the community conversations. It was so valuable to hear the community’s priorities. We may have to work a little bit to figure how the library plays into them, but I’m confident that there are ways.
Berthoud Community Library District