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Library Planning: Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning "is the process of documenting and establishing a direction of your [library]—by assessing both where you are and where you’re going. The strategic plan gives you a place to record your mission, vision, and values, as well as your long-term goals and the action plans you’ll use to reach them. A well-written strategic plan can play a pivotal role in your [library's] growth and success because it tells you and your employees how best to respond to opportunities and challenges." ["What is Strategic Planning?" - The Hartford]

This formal, board-approved document puts into writing what the library's goals will be over the next 3–5 years and how the library plans to meet these goals. There is no prescription for how long your strategic plan should be. Typically, a plan has three to five goals, with measurable, S.M.A.R.T objectives for each.

The North Dakota State Library staff is happy to assist with planning for your library's future and will provide consultation and guidance as requested by the library board. Don't hesitate to reach out at or 701-328-4622.


Getting Started

Many libraries are intimidated by the idea of writing a strategic plan, assuming the process to be complicated and difficult to undertake. While certainly, some processes are more complex than others, the process can be simple depending on the needs of the organization. Don't overthink the process.

Writing, Implementing, and Promoting Your Plan

While you are creating your strategic plan, it is the perfect time to examine your vision and mission statements to determine if they still work or if they need to be updated. A mission statement should be short enough that everyone associated with the organization, including trustees, can remember it. The goal of a mission statement is to help guide the organization in the use of resources while conveying the message of what the organization is about. The vision statement is what you do, while the mission statement is how you will do it.

Community Assessment

A community assessment is a time to gather all of the information and demographics about the library community. This includes ages, language, ethnicities, education level, employment, and more.

Conducting Research to Analyze Needs

Facilitators & Surveys

Hiring a facilitator is one method that can be used to develop a strategic plan. Larger organizations often find it useful to work with an outside facilitator. Libraries that work with a facilitator may opt to utilize surveys, focus groups or a combination of both to help inform the development of the plan.

Smaller libraries may not find the use of a facilitator to be necessary or an option they can afford. Libraries can still conduct surveys on their own. Libraries can develop the survey using free versions of Survey Monkey, Google Forms, or another method. The survey can be shared with patrons that come into the library and on the library’s website. Focus groups are also a very useful way to gather information about the community’s needs and wants from the library.

SWOT Analysis

A very common place to start the strategic planning process is to conduct a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). Strengths and weaknesses are often internal to the organization while opportunities and threats are usually external.

When identifying your library’s strengths, questions to ask include:

  • What do you do better than anyone else?
  • What can you offer that no one else can?
  • What do others see as your strengths?

When identifying your weaknesses, ask:

  • What can you improve?
  • What should you avoid?
  • What do others see as your weaknesses?

To identify opportunities, look at trends in both the library world and in your community, region and state.

When looking for threats, identify what obstacles the organization faces, who your competitors are and what they are doing better than you; again, remember to look at the local, regional and state communities.

These are samples of questions you can look at; they are by no means exhaustive. Once you’ve completed the SWOT analysis, you can identify the weaknesses you want to work on and the opportunities you want to take advantage of.

Sample Surveys

Creating a Survey

Survey Sample Size Calculators

Space Needs Assessment

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Many of these resources and programs are funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.