KDL Strategic Plan uses system-wide teamwork to bolster culture

Planning a strategy for an entity as large as Kent District Library (KDL) involves many considerations and a strong, cohesive goal. With over 20 communities served, it’s important to remain consistent with an overarching mission and streamlined implementation. Jaci Cooper, director of projects and planning of the KDL, provided us with an update on their 2021-2023 Strategic Plan.

As previously reported in April 2021, KDL typically gathers library patron and community feedback to help guide the plan, but due to COVID-19 precautions, its outreach went virtual. Social media surveys were utilized to crowdsource and find focus groups — all in an effort to prioritize needs that would have otherwise been overlooked. 

Combining community feedback with manager input, KDL came up with three pillars for its 2021-2023 Strategic Plan — equity, diversity and inclusion; engagement and service; and sustainability. These pillars provide the focus for three years, with additional annual goals for each individual year. 

Cooper says KDL had a total of five 2021 initiatives and accomplished all of them. “The overarching goal was to align all of our library services, our staffing makeup and our partnerships to be reflective and inclusive of the diverse communities we serve,” she says. “Every goal we set for each year of this strategic plan, we wanted it to answer to that goal.”

Cooper says the first goal was to increase all staff cultural intelligence, determining how to measure it and setting a target. “We had our equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) work group find and kind of vet about 10 different platforms for how to utilize EDI principles within our organization, so that we were better educated on how to interact with all kinds of people.”

KDL chose Paradigm Reach, a set of micro-learnings and courses, scheduled for all 350 staff members on a quarterly basis, including post-lesson discussions. Topics including allyship and microaggressions are discussed in order to better equip staff to work closely with both a diverse employee and patron population. “We did set a goal of having a 100% completion rate for that. We factor in turnover, so that leaves us at about 88%," Cooper says. "We’ve had a lot of growth here. We’ve had all of our managers conducting these in their huddles each quarter [and] we’ve had a really great turnout for them.”

In line with its EDI pillar, the second goal was to develop a diversity plan by December 2021, to evaluate library materials to ensure materials are reflective of the community. KDL partnered with a vendor that created a set of tags to help patrons better navigate the titles within its collection.

"I know we have a refugee community here in West Michigan right now,” Cooper says. “Let’s say you just moved here from Afghanistan and want to find books either about the refugee or immigration experience, or people who look like you. These tags will help people find those materials in our catalog better. It’s just to make sure we have books that represent everybody who lives in our community, so that way they can see themselves reflected in our collection.”

KDL is actively tagging its entire collection with keywords and subcategories such as LGBTQIA+, immigration experience, Asian interest, Black interest, Jewish interest, Latinx interest, Muslim interest, mental health, neuro and physical diversity, and religion.

The second pillar is engagement and service and the goal was to develop a systematic process for identifying the community’s unmet and emerging needs by March 2021, with surveys completed by September 2021.

“Our Director of Engagement, Randy Goble, led a team to conduct a survey,” Cooper says. “The survey asked people in the community, whether they were library patrons or not, about what their barriers are to not using the Library, and what they generally use the Library for. We had a really nice picture of some opportunities for improvement, for us to show value in communities we may not be in yet.”

Cooper says the phone and email surveys were completed in August 2021 and the data was used to create the 2022 strategic initiatives.

The last pillar is sustainability. “The main overarching goal for that was to evaluate and streamline operational, environmental and fundraising processes to ensure a sustainable library,” Cooper says. “That was really important in the face of COVID, because everything changed with that, and we wanted to make sure our Library was going to sustain any change, whether that’s funding or with high turnover. We wanted to make sure internal processes were really strong and well-communicated to weather any big changes.”

The first goal was to complete a feasibility study by the end of March 2021 to establish a 501(c)3 foundation to increase private donations to supplement tax support. “We did the study and quickly determined we had a different strategy we wanted to use. We determined that we would be better off growing our existing endowment fund,” Cooper says.

The next goal was to map, improve and refine two large operational processes by December 2021. Cooper says they focused on overhauling merchandising and displays. “One of those projects is to kind of adopt more of a bookstore model,” she says. “When people walk into somewhere like Barnes & Noble, they see these tables with stacks of books that are really visually appealing. A lot of people, myself included, are attracted to a book for its cover sometimes. When we have displays that only have spines facing out to people, they are not as likely to be enticed by them. We started at our Cascade branch, doing these tables where we have our books stacked on the tables, and we got a lot of really great, anecdotal feedback right away.”

Cooper says the goal was to really examine how people interact with the space when they come in and to create engaging and accessible displays. The second goal was to review standards and sustainable partnerships. “We can’t infinitely add to the collection without taking some things out, so we are creating really clear processes to help staff identify what things do need to be weeded, and then striving to create a great second life for those materials.”

Reducing waste and enabling community partners to benefit from library materials they’re no longer using is important to KDL moving forward into the next year. This year, there are nine initiatives that circle back to these three pillars. “The engagement and service goal of last year will continue to inform our planning for the upcoming years of this strategic plan, in addition to asking our communities what they would like to see out of the ever-evolving Library,” Cooper says.

Cooper says the Library’s system is that of a very innovative, idea-oriented culture, which helps propel their uniting mission across 20 different communities — all with their own varying values, socioeconomic status, demographics and individual needs. 

“A good strategic plan will bolster culture … and have us work together towards the same goals,” Cooper says. 

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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