From Forward Plan to Business Plan: Strategic Planning in Public Libraries

By Mackenzie, Christine | Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, December 1997 | Go to article overview

From Forward Plan to Business Plan: Strategic Planning in Public Libraries


Mackenzie, Christine, Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services


Abstract Planning in public libraries has been an evolutionary process. This case study follows the planning process in two Victorian regional library services, and the changes that have occurred over the past ten years. Forward plans are giving way to business plans, and public libraries are having to adapt to being business units that operate in an increasingly competitive environment. Edited version of a paper given at the 1997 PubRaiss Conference

Back in 1987, planning was not high on the agenda of most public libraries. In Victoria things were looking grim, with a $2 million cut to public libraries and what appeared to be a lack of commitment from the state government. Colin Watson, Regional Librarian at Dandenong Valley Regional Library Service (DVRLS), presented a report to the regional committee's(*) forward plan committee, articulating the need for a document which defined corporate aims and objectives. He said

The events of the last six months at the state

level point to a need to develop an

authoritative document from the regional

committee setting out the aims and objectives

of DVRLS, and the means to effect these

objectives.

Both future development, and considerations of

scarce resource allocation for a wide range of

competing needs, indicate the desirability of a

document setting out the framework for

decision making.(1)

(*) Regional libraries in Victoria are governed by committees comprising councillors from member municipalities. The regional committee acts as a board of directors, and is the governing body for the regional library

In 1988 Watson appointed a corporate planning committee following discussion with the regional committee on the need to draw together planning decisions and issues and to produce a planning document which would set a future plan for regional library development. The terms of reference for the corporate planning committee were to formulate an official statement which would outline a three year plan for DVRLS, including reviewing the past, assessing the present and anticipating the future, with particular reference to the accountability requirements set out by the Ministry for the Arts. The library funding review working party's report in 1988 required libraries among other things

To undertake a regular planning process incorporating identification of priorities arid objective setting. The planning document should also indicate the library's plans to address the needs of disadvantaged community groups.(2)

The forward plan 1988/89 comprised a review of the achievements of 1987 and 1988 described in terms of output measures; a profile of the characteristics of the region's population in graph format; and a statistical summary of the library service. A mission and roles statement included goals and objectives for the coming year, and there was a timetable of future development of library services.

Four staff were involved in developing the plan. A lot of time and effort was put into something that was new for all of us. One of the members of the group was doing postgraduate study, and it was mainly due to her enthusiasm and knowledge that were able to produce something that at the time looked pretty good but now seems rather unsophisticated and simplistic. It was one of the first forward plans produced by a public library in Victoria, and we drew heavily on the work published by the American Library Association, Planning and role setting for public libraries: a manual of options and procedures. The purpose of the manual was to

... provide public librarians with a tool to improve library management, increase overall library effectiveness, and assess the quality of library services. It is based on the assumption that planning provides a powerful means to better allocate existing resources, identify service priorities, demonstrate accountability, and accomplish stated objectives -- regardless of library size, local community conditions, and funding levels. …

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