Teton County Library Strategic Plan Provides Powerful Decision-Making Tool



By Rebecca Huntington, Communications Manager
Teton County Library

No doubt about it. Change is occurring at a fast and furious pace in public libraries, especially in Wyoming.  Pressure to change comes from a mash-up of directions: the economy (local and national), population ebbs and flows, space needs, community needs, budgets, staffing challenges, and technology. How do public libraries effectively, efficiently, and transparently embrace change?

Teton County Library tackled change by developing a community-driven and action-oriented strategic plan. The 2017-2021 Teton County Library Strategic Plan provides a blueprint for the future.

Shortly after the Teton County Library Board welcomed new Library Director Valerie Maginnis at the end of 2015, the Board set an ambitious schedule to complete a strategic plan. The Board set the critical requirement of having a new plan in place by the end of 2016 so that it would inform annual budget planning, which begins in January.

The Teton County Library Foundation Board provided critical financial support, allowing planning to begin, in earnest, in May 2016. Foundation funding allowed the library to hire consultant Susan Eriksen-Meier, who is adept in strategic planning and has in-depth knowledge of the community and stakeholders.

The Library Board set a goal that planning be: community driven, transparent, inclusive, and data driven. To fulfill this charge, a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) formed to provide oversight and act as a conduit for input from the community, staff, stakeholders, and county elected officials. TAG members included the library staff, Library Board, Library Foundation and Library Friends.

Community & Data Driven
Not your average process, the TAG, library staff, the Library Board, the consultant, and community partners worked diligently through the summer to glean information and insights through:

  • Community Survey with 1,088 Responses, 228 in Spanish
  • Internal Staff Housing Survey with 44 Responses
  • Youth Services Survey with 70 Responses
  • 3 Community Engagement Events
  • 2 Community Partner Meetings
  • 2 All-Staff Planning Sessions
  • 30 Responses to Internal Poll, Providing Feedback on Draft Statements
  • 20+ Hours of TAG Meetings
  • Three Assessments: Library Industry Trends, Local Demographics and Teton County Library Data

Transparent & Inclusive
Community partners emphasized that the library provides essential services to struggling community members, who rely on the library in a variety of ways. County residents asked for more access to the main and Alta Branch libraries. The community expressed a deep love of books and other non-digital materials, running counter to a downward trend nationally in circulation of these materials.

To keep the process transparent, survey results and assessments were made available to the public via the library’s strategic planning website. Community-wide input, combined with local and national data, provided the basis for developing strategic plan goals and objectives and staff-driven action items. Teton County’s approach placed staff in the driver’s seat to develop and design essential projects, initiatives, and activities to move forward as a proactive and responsive 21st-century library.  

The process allowed library staff to:

  • Define and affirm the importance and relevance of the library’s core/essential services
  • Assign library-wide action item priorities
  • Develop a marketing plan
  • Develop a tool to evaluate the library’s progress

As a 21st-century library, Teton County Library affirms its role as a community center; its responsibility to provide expanded support for all types of literacy so that citizens are able to fully participate in their community; its responsibility to provide equal access to content in all formats; and a commitment to serve as an open forum for all points of view.

Becoming a 21st-Century Library
The profound level of change occurring in Teton County, combined with the library’s unique ability to serve its residents, drove the planning process. Through strategic planning, library staff and leadership chose to support community members’ ability to thrive, rather than define exactly what “thriving” looks like.

Library staff found that writing new vision and mission statements is hard work and the statements must be short. During one interactive, all-staff session, library staff discovered how lists and complicated language can compromise the effectiveness of mission and vision statements. Ultimately, the Library Board approved these new statements:

  • Vision: Your essential place to thrive in a changing world.
  • Mission: We connect you with resources, people and learning.

What the library’s new vision and mission convey to the community:

  • The library is here for you.
  • We know we are much more than a building filled with books and spaces to meet. We embrace this.
  • The library will track and respond to our community’s evolving needs.
  • Our space is a critical aspect of who we are and what we do.
  • We are an essential member of the Teton County team.

Working with an experienced and committed consultant and a supportive Library Board, Foundation and Friends made it possible to complete strategic planning on a tightly scheduled deadline. In December 2016, the Library Board approved the new plan and then immediately began implementation by voting on a strategic action item to expand operating hours at the Alta Branch Library by 25 percent. Talk about responsive!

“We are thrilled to continue to concentrate our efforts and passion in providing the best possible 21st-century library service to the residents of Teton County,” said Library Director Valerie Maginnis.

Find the Strategic Plan website and plan here.

Contact Valerie Maginnis, director@tclib.org, for more information and to see planning and evaluation documents.

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