Thinking strategically

Like most library leaders across the state, I participated this week in the Texas Library Association’s Annual Assembly, a meeting of library and information professionals who gather each summer in Austin for business meetings, collaborations, and conversations to advance library services across the state.

As part of that meeting, I attended a strategic planning session in which TLA leaders led the groups through a discussion of how the Association itself can be of maximum assistance in leading libraries forward. TLA, under the leadership of Pat Smith and her team, has long been a huge force for positive growth and change in library service in Texas. That they are asking how they can be even more effective in service to libraries and library users is indicative of the quality of their organization.

But the task was not easy. We were asked to choose which of the following is the single most important strategic initiative to us personally:
1. Demonstrating the value of libraries.
2. Developing an online dashboard highlighting critical library-related issues.
3. Ensuring greater diversity in membership and leadership.
4. Forging new relationships and promoting collaboration and partnership to benefit libraries.
5. Providing online tools for members to participate in association business.

Talk about tough choices! We had a very spirited discussion at my table, especially between number 1 and 3. Diversity is incredibly important. The demographics of our state are changing rapidly. We are already a so-called minority majority state, that is, non-white population is the majority. By 2020, the Hispanic population of Texas will outnumber whites and that condition is expected to prevail in most counties in the state. The African-American and Asian populations of the state are also growing and many regions are experiencing greater and greater diversity as they welcome new residents from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. If we are going to be relevant, we have to ensure that the staffs of our libraries mirror the communities they serve.

At the same time, demonstrating the value that we provide to our communities is an ever-increasing pressure. In many meetings, we are often called upon to state the Return on Investment, or ROI, of our services. We seem to be largely winning the argument of whether libraries will survive in the online era as we shift our services from being largely about maintaining collections to community hubs for technology and civic engagement. But we continue to search for ways to show the impact of our services on peoples lives, so-called outcome measures.

Another key strategy is number 4, forming relationships and strategic partnerships. This is critically important. The aspirations of the library community overlap with those of many other groups. Finding common ground with those groups creates a strength that we will not have alone. Making the library a key player in finding solutions to issues such as broadband deployment, early childhood education, workforce development will depend on partnerships, relationships, and collaboration with groups outside the library community.

I personally voted for number 1, demonstrating value, but I could have easily selected 3 or 4 or any of the others. But the TLA planning process forces us to think about the programs we pursue at the state library and of course we will be working closely with TLA as a strategic partner to accomplish our mutual goals as well. And as we get into the latter part of this year, TSLAC will be conducting our own strategic planning process and look forward to gathering input from all our key stakeholders as to how we can help all our communities achieve their aspirations.

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