How We Operate: Lightbulb Edition


Library Strategies is a consulting group of The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library. We are the only consulting group in the country based inside of a library organization. As such, we often have big picture conversations with our local library leadership. We offer a unique set of services designed specifically to strengthen libraries and their communities. Recently, Saint Paul Public Library Director Catherine Penkert and Deputy Director for Operations Barb Sporlein visited a Friends staff meeting to give a brief presentation on the ways in which they were hoping to “enter a world of possibility after a crisis-reorientation period.” This presentation was focused, in part, around the ways the library’s existing strategic plan would facilitate the path toward a capital campaign in the coming years. This presentation and discussion that followed allowed us to see, in real time, how a library creates and lives a strategic plan.

The leaders began their presentation by reminding everyone, first, of the Mission, Vision, and Values of the library The Friends exists to serve:

We believe that learning is a human right.
We believe in curiosity.
We believe in connection.
We believe in the power of belonging.

In the full strategic plan, each of these values is broken out further, but in this context, they served as grounding for a new idea – the hope that The Library will be an agent of change. The presentation broke out ways that the library promotes mutual support and collaboration, as well as social cohesion. That the library is “resilient” in its ability to react to the community needs and evolve to truly help people reconnect.

The Library Director and Deputy Director, and the whole strategic team at the Saint Paul Public Library, are deeply invested in the library as key to social infrastructure. For example, facilities improvement requests being submitted in conjunction with a capital campaign would be made within the context of the Library’s Mission and Values. Residents should be able to count on their library as play-based learning centers, resource-rich community-oriented spaces, and locations that are appropriate for both active and private uses. These are just a few examples, but each case is a solid reflection of The Library’s core values.

Listening to this presentation, I experienced the pieces coming together after a year and a half of doing this work. That is, most of what I do day-to-day is the organization of events that connect readers and writers at libraries, or online through their libraries. In our weekly meetings, The Friends’ Programs and Services crew have a lot of conversations about how to make our programming responsive and on-mission. I don’t think it occurred to me, completely, that these conversations are the life of a strategic plan. They make up our “strategic direction,” the motion of the plan.

I have mentioned in this newsletter, perhaps ad nauseum, the way in which strategic planning is not a one-and-done activity, but I was, in all honesty, repeating the wisdoms of my colleagues. It hadn’t yet sunk in for me. The way all this fits together might seem obvious to you, reader, so steeped in libraries, but it wasn’t to me. I have always been the kind of student that needed to read a thing, take notes, then hear a lecture that focused my reading take-aways in a slightly different way before I felt it really absorb into the coils of my brain.

But now I get it. A strategic plan is only as good as an organization’s ability to draw guidance from it, to continually reference it, and even adapt it as needed. The way Library Strategies facilitates the planning process is by aiding libraries in “getting to the answer that is right for them,” as director Alayne Hopkins says. We are, to be a little lofty, “seeking the inner truth and mission” of each library we work with. Seeing that “inner truth” in action in my hometown Saint Paul Public Library was delightful and inspiring, and it really helped me merge the mission of The Friends with the mission of the library itself.

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