Exploring the Kent District Library 2021-2023 Strategic Plan

As part of its vision to be an indispensable community resource, The Kent District Library (KDL) has released its 2021-2023 Strategic Plan. With the purpose to further all people, the plan details a vision for upcoming years including business goals and operational initiatives internally and externally. 

Preparation for the 2021-2023 Strategic Plan began in January 2020 and the first thing the library did was look at the budget and adjust accordingly, says Jaci Cooper, director of projects and planning of the KDL.

“We began by identifying community needs, trends in libraries, and trends outside of the library,” Cooper says. In February, she attended a Public Library Association conference “and then COVID happened.”

Typically, the Library gathers patron and community feedback in-person, but due to safety precautions and closings this year, they were unable to do so. Just as their programming went from in-library to online, so too did their outreach to learn about what the community needs were.

“Crowdsourcing or focus groups and community feedback is extremely important for any strategic planning endeavor,” Cooper says. “We put together a comprehensive survey which we used social media to get responses for, and we posted links to the survey in different neighborhood groups and different Facebook groups — all different avenues where people who might not be library users could see it and participate in it. It helped us prioritize some of the needs we identified and kind of opened our eyes to different needs.”

Combining the community feedback with manager remarks, KDL landed on three pillars for its 2021-2023 Strategic Plan: equity, diversity and inclusion; engagement and service; and sustainability. These outlined pillars are the focus for the next three years, but the plan also includes annual initiatives/goals for each individual year.

The Plan’s first pillar (equity, diversity, inclusion) aims to align all library services, staffing makeup and partnerships to be reflective and inclusive of the diverse communities served. The second pillar's (engagement and service) goal is to increase the value delivered to the community by focusing on needs demonstrated. The goal of the third pillar (sustainability) is to evaluate and streamline operational, environmental and fundraising processes to ensure a sustainable Library.

Despite planning for the initiatives beginning pre-COVID, Cooper says the goals are still relevant and extremely pertinent. “It’s interesting because even after, in the face of COVID, and a post-COVID world, these are all still really important things especially engagement and service — where the way we engage with patrons and the way we serve patrons has completely changed in the last year.”

KDL has had a three-month rollout of the plan, implementing this year’s initiatives with library staff, starting with new equity, diversity and inclusion employee training. With the goal to increase staff cultural intelligence, KDL began manager training in April, which will be done system-wide next month. “We want to make sure that we are aware of our implicit biases, and that awareness will then help us to better serve people who are different from us, or who have different experiences and perspectives,” Cooper says. These discussions will include the topics of microagressions, allyship, inclusive culture, transgender inclusion, inclusive performance hiring and management.

In regards to the second pillar (service and engagement), in developing a systematic process for identifying patron’s unmet and emerging needs, KDL is sending out surveys to community members, not just library patrons.

“We are being intentional about making sure the questions that we’re going to ask are not leading people to answers,” Cooper says. “We’re making sure the questions we are asking are going to truly help us identify unmet needs. We really want to focus on non-library users, so people who don’t traditionally use the Library and figure out what the barriers are for library use.”

For the third pillar (sustainability), Cooper says the goal isn’t simply to "be green" in eco-friendly practices, but rather, to create a plan of longevity. 

“We wanted to make sure that not only were we being fiscally responsible as far as our funding and responsible in environmental things, but we also wanted to have a sustainable process,” Cooper says. “We want to be able to internally have processes that can survive different external factors like a pandemic or internal factors like staff changes where processes aren’t super disrupted. The more solid and sustainable our processes are, the more we can focus our energy and our efforts on serving patrons, and innovating and meeting community needs.”

Meeting those community needs is ultimately the ‘big picture’ of the strategic plan, according to Cooper. Hearing from people who use the Library's services, as well as those who do not to gather comments/suggestions of possible services they’d like included is vital to KDL’s cultural core values — to be inclusive, authentic, positive, courageous, and helpful. Adapting to the ever-changing needs of patrons and community members is also important to Cooper and KDL staff. 

“It’s always kind of a joke in libraries like ‘Oh, does anybody ever go to the library anymore?’ or [the notion that] libraries are going to cease to exist. It’s such a miss,” Cooper says. “We have so many people who are huge library advocates and supporters. But we can’t deny that the library user is changing for the most part, or [that] how we engage with libraries is changing.”

“We want to meet community needs, but we also don’t want to make assumptions about what people want to or need to use the Library for.”

Within the past year, KDL has seen an increase in streaming, especially due to the pandemic’s transfer of face-to-face programming to virtual services. With patrons and community members utilizing outside services like Amazon and Audible, Cooper wants to encourage community knowledge of the many similar services KDL offers at no cost. 

“I love to see digital circulation go up, because people are reading differently,” she says. “They’re waiting in line at the grocery store and they can pull up a Hoopla app or an Overdrive app and read on their phone. It’s cool we can literally be at people’s fingertips.”

Since KDL offers a multitude of services to patrons, Cooper says honing in on these strategic initiatives helps structure focus for growth and future development. “Libraries are often in a position where they want to be everything to everybody because we truly do want every person in our service area and every taxpayer to feel like they get value from the library,” Cooper says. “That often makes us susceptible to a lack of focus, so the strategic plan helps us [with] what we want to focus on.”

Photos courtesy of Kent District Library

Literacy Matters is a series focused on the importance of knowledge, community resources seeking to remove barriers to access, and the value of our library systems to society. Literacy Matters is supported by Kent District Library.

Sarah briefly lived in Grand Rapids years ago, before moving back to Lansing, but that West Michigan love never really left her heart. Through her coverage on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, and anything mitten-made, she’s committed to convincing any and everyone -- just how great the Great Lakes state is. Sarah received her degrees in Journalism and Professional Communications. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at [email protected]
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