Tag Archives: strategic planning

Trenton Free Public Library adds Outposts to its 21st Century Library Service Model.


Over 4 years ago, having faced two and a half years of budget reductions totaling almost 50%, my Library was forced to close four of our five locations.
It was devastating to the Library and our Community.  While the Main Library is well situated in the center of our City, these four branches had provided a network of coverage throughout the community for nearly 80 years.  Now we were losing that…
Questions, fears, anger, hurt, and more swirled within our organization and as a barrage from the community.
How had we let this happen?
How  would we provide service now?
Would the Library Survive?
What about people who couldn’t get to the Main Library?
This was no subtle shift- no gradual scaling down of the operation- this was a massive closure of facilities all on one day- August 16, 2010.  Everyone felt the void in the fabric of the community.  And frankly it was necessary to take a period of time to lick wounds, heal the hurt and grieve before anyone (staff or patron) was ready to move forward.  But the beauty of all things is that the sun always rises and tomorrow is a new day.  So eventually the time came when everyone was open to the discussion of “What next?” and together we walked into the 21st Century Chapter of the Trenton Free Public Library.
We did not want to half-heartedly replace what we had lost or ‘make due’.  We wanted something innovative that met the particular needs of our City!  Our new service model needed to be economic, low impact on resources, satiate the desire of the community for services close to home, and attempt to repair the damage to the image of the library caused by the shattering of four of our five locations. To this end the library began to search for a new service model.
We knew that continuing to look back at the branches we had lost was a waste of our resources and energy best spent crafting an innovated 21st-century Service Model and began instead to at the loss of our branches as a an opportunity to begin the planning process with an open canvas. This fresh perspective allowed us to build a five-year strategic plan that addresses specifically the service to the entire community on site without physical locations.
Our new Service Model, stripped to its most simplistic version, include the implementation of the following components over a five-year period:
  • Outposts spread throughout the community (four at least)
  • A CyberMobile
  • A small physical location in a high traffic commercial area dedicated to On-The-Go Technology and Service
  • An emphasis upon Outreach and Embedded Librarianship
  • Become the Hub for all community information.

With this service model and idea in place, approved by the Library Board, and our City partners, we began to move forward.  First up Outposts!

What is an outpost you may ask yourself?

You may have heard them referred to as a satellite location, an unmanned branch, a vending machine, etc. None of these names resonated within our organization or our community; therefore, we termed them “Outposts”. An Outpost consists of three pieces of equipment and a commitment of partnership and out reach in that particular location. The equipment includes a lending machine (think vending machine but with books instead of potato chips and Snickers bars), a locker system for hold pickup, and a book drop.

After the appropriate RFP process, we purchased 2 Outposts from a lovely company called PIK,Inc using CDBG funds graciously given to the project by the City of Trenton.   We partnered with respected Community organizations (such as the YMCA) to place the Outposts in  high-use facilities within the community to maximize their potential and exposure.

These new Outposts, the first 2 of 4, provide our Library Card holders with instant access to between 250-500 books in the lending machine and the ENTIRE collection for pick up at the lockers within 24-48 hours.  Along with the book drop, these Outposts provide patrons with the ability to access the Libraries materials in their own neighborhoods!

This Outpost is not only the first of its kind in New Jersey but also the FIRST on the entire mid-Atlantic Seaboard. We are very proud!!

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YMCA Ribbon

DSC_0094-s Crystal speaking

DSC_0100-s-Yvonne scans her Library Card2 DSC_0102-s-2-Yvonne removes her Book from the Lending Library

Up Next…………

CYBERMOBILE!!!!!!!!!!

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Libraries need to decide their future before someone else does…!


I was forwarded a very interesting article the other day.

“Clash in the Stacks”

by Carl Straumshein on Inside Higher Ed.

Several library directors at liberal arts institutions have lost their jobs as they clash with faculty and administrators over how much — and how fast — the academic library should change.

None of the dismissals, resignations or retirements are identical. Some have resulted from arguments over funding; others from debates about decision-making processes or ongoing personal strife. One common trend, however, is that several of the library directors who have left their jobs in recent years have done so after long-term disputes with other groups on campus about how the academic library should change to better serve students and faculty.

This is nothing new or revolutionary on its own. We have seen administrators and constituents disagree on vision, direction, or organizational mission and have a parting of the ways before…so why is it of note this time?

Because this time it is tied more to the overall quandary we are having in our profession than about any one individual and their employment. What we are seeing, as outlined in the article, are library leaders leaving positions due to a fundamental philosophical difference with their constituency over what a library should be. But we have spent years on this issue…so why now? Perhaps that is EXACTLY why! We as library professionals have spent YEARS talking about “finding our way” in this new world of information and “redefining our profession” and pondering what “the library of the future” will look like. Well guess what…the future is now…and people around us are tired of waiting for us to figure it out. If we continue on this path we will see more examples of having those decisions made for us.

Picture yourself in line at the Theatre concession stand– Eager to see your movie- the smell of movie popcorn- the laughing happy people all around. There is a parent and child in front of you in line. The parent says to the child “What do you want?” The child stares at all the possibilities-you remember those days fondly when the promise of candy could make your week! And… seconds tick by…. Finally the parent says “Ok, there are people waiting…do you want M&Ms or Twizzlers?” The child ponders this narrowed pool and then asks to see the potential candy options. Your foot starts to tap. The theatre employee pulls out the two bags of candy. The child holds both in his hands and thinks…weighing his options. You sense the couple behind you shifting as the woman whispers “What time does our movie start?” to her companion. You check your watch. The parent is clearly frustrated and says “Pick!”. The child continues to ponder and then just as it appears he has decided he says “Do they have SweetTarts?” The parent snatches up the M&Ms and slaps them on the counter “We will take these”. The clerk looks relieved. You sigh with relief. The parent is annoyed and the child’s bottom lip is now jutting out and quivering. What was a beautiful moment just minutes before has turned into a point of contention. Much like our “redefining of our profession and the future of libraries”, it can be beautiful and monumental and profound…until everyone else gets tired of our journey and is ready for us to “JUST PICK”.

Sensitivity to all the factors and variables in any situation is key to success and satisfaction for everyone. We do not exist in a vacuum. People, communities and organizations fund us and they expect and deserve a clear purpose for that funding. How many years (decades) can we spend “reimagining, redefining, and reinventing” ourselves before they stop taking us seriously?

“For the entire history of libraries as we know them — 2,000 or 3,000 years — we have lived in a world of information scarcity,” said Terrence J. Metz, university librarian at Hamline University. “What’s happened in the last two decades is that’s been turned completely on its head. Now we’re living in a world of superabundance.”

No one is disagreeing that this has been an unprecedented time of change for our world and the way we create, disseminate, store, and use information. But if WE are the information professionals…shouldn’t we be on the forefront guiding everyone along the path rather than in the back office debating ourselves into a second decade of discussion?

“To my mind, all of this hubbub is probably exacerbated by the fact that libraries are trying to figure out what they are and what their future is and what their role is,” said Bryn I. Geffert, college librarian at Amherst College. “Every time you have a body of people going through this kind of existential crisis, conflict is inherent. As you’re trying to redefine an institution, you know there are going to be different opinions on how that redefinition should happen.”

And what happens when we as a profession cannot agree on a course? Someone will start making those decisions for us.

The most recent case, Barnard College, presents a symbolic example of the shift from print to digital. There, the Lehman Hall library is about to be demolished to make way for an estimated $150 million Teaching and Learning Center. The new building means the library’s physical collection will shrink by tens of thousands of books.
As recently as this September, Patricia A. Tully, the Caleb T. Winchester university librarian at Wesleyan University, was fired after less than five years on the job. Tully and Ruth S. Weissman, Wesleyan’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, had for more than a year argued about how the library could work with administrators, faculty members and IT staffers.

“We just seemed to have different ideas about the role of the libraries,” Tully said then.

We must stop pounding our fists and debating options and get ourselves together on one page. Nuances of difference are expected – many libraries embraced coffee shops while others still cringe at the notion. Some libraries carried paperbacks far before others. But for the majority of our history as a profession there was a basic common ground on which we all stood. A united front of who and what libraries are and do. We have to get that back! That will require a common ground. A common vision. A united message.
We have a vehicle for that…The American Library Association. So where is their steadying hand, their leadership, their guiding presence? Nowhere useful. They are right there in the weeds with everyone else. We can find them putting together committees and task forces on emerging trends, library innovation, and library future. AKA- More discussion, more debate, more option, more ideas…no action.
We need ALA to step forward and take the leadership role and be the advocate and public spokesman for this issue. They need to rally the profession and move us all forward. As individuals we can only have so much effect. We blog, we advocate, we transform our corner of library land and try to shine a light for others. And in being that light in the dark we see good people losing jobs. Why? Because there isn’t a firm enough professional support system backing the most innovative efforts!

Other library directors have made less publicized moves, stepping down in silent protest as their roles are shifted farther down the university chain of command. Others yet have experienced the opposite, receiving support from their administrations to rethink the role of the library only to be met with opposition from faculty and other librarians. In addition to those named in this story, Inside Higher Ed interviewed three other former library directors.
“These are top-quality, innovative, forward-thinking people,” Metz said of Norberg, Tully and colleagues at other liberal arts institutions who have left or been asked to leave. “There must be other visions that they’re running up against that have a different definition of success.”

And, while this article is only focused on Academic libraries, the same situation can be found in public and school libraries across the country. ALA must make a stand. Lead. Guide. Provide the support these innovators need to ‘back their play’ while they stand on the front lines of this fight for the future of our profession and libraries. Warranted or not at this point, ALA is the Libraryland equivalent to the American Medical Association. Other professional and our constituents assume (right or wrong) that ALA plays a similar guiding and regulating role within the Library profession. Therefore, until ALA assumes a position on the future of Libraries and Librarians and advocates for that future publically, these cutting-edge innovators will continue to find themselves standing alone.

“There will be some institutions that decide that they don’t need libraries — that they don’t need librarians,” Tully said. “However, all the functions that now occur in libraries are going to continue to need to occur somewhere. The IT department or whoever is going to take those on, and then slowly they’re going to be hiring people who have library expertise, library backgrounds in order to do those things…. I think it’s a matter of breaking free of the library being some irrelevant, old-fashioned thing that used to be important but isn’t anymore. The way we get information has changed, but our need for information and our need for guides to that information continues.”

I’ve made my position abundantly clear.  I believe the mission of Public Libraries (sorry academics and schools- you have your own champions)  “is to provide the open and equal access to information that is necessary for the existence of an informed citizenry able to participate in their government.” But regardless of the path we choose, we must decide who we are and where we are going…or someone else will make our choice for us. Hopefully, at some point, ALA will lead the charge.

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