School library strategic plans

Over the past two years I have been creating strategic plans that hopefully will take a Library forward, into a new era of engagement and services. As with any undertaking, I spent a significant amount of time trying to find examples of what others, who have been doing this a lot longer than me, have created and are targeting. To my surprise it seems that few strategic plans for libraries actually exist, and the ones that do exist are produced by universities and other higher education institutions. This was the first significant red flag that I encountered when looking at Libraries and their roles in our schools today.

Speaking generically, without a strategic plan for a department, you cannot implement new initiatives successfully, nor can you plan changes or institute changes in thinking. Without a strategic plan, movement forward will always feel forced, slow and lacks critical conversations that must take place with all members of staff in order to have team “buy in”. In the formation of the strategic plan, it is the one time that all staff have input and can “own” the direction of the department as a whole.

I think it important to highlight here why a strategic plan is so critical to a library. As an outsider coming into a Head of Library role, I have always ensured that a comprehensive plan was being followed so the normal ‘day to day’ operation of a department is all that is achieved year after year. I hear from many individuals working within libraries that we face unprecedented changes in our area and while I agree with this completely, I often see no direct strategic plan that they can present to those making decisions about library, therefore as a result they make decisions which libraries often disagree with.

So how do we as school libraries combat this?  I have some strong words of advice and I make no apologies for my candor.

  1. If you do not have any idea of what the school plan is then your already losing. As a library we are a strategic arm of the school, even if we are not mentioned directly, and if we are not mentioned directly, then that’s our fault for not doing enough to be important to the school plan.
  2. If you do not have a Library strategic plan based on the goals of the school strategic plan well then how do you make sure you have buy in from the executive. The best defense of the Library is making it link direct to existing plans.
  3. If you have a Library strategic plan that you wrote with your staff, but never talk to other departments about then how do you expect them to have “buy in”?
  4. If you have a Library strategic plan and have not sent it to other Libraries or your personal learning network (PLN), then how do you know what you are missing that is critical Library functions?
  5. If you have a Library strategic plan that has no corresponding operational plan then you have not thought about how you are going to archive your goals in the strategic plan (further blog posts on operational plans will come later).
  6. At the end of the year, if you do not review the plan with all your staff and see how far you have moved, then its just a bit of paper that makes you feel better and is not an item that you have action as a team.

Creating the strategic plan for Libraries

While I have completed courses at university on writing strategic plans I have found that this process works best for me.

IMPORTANT: Before you start this process and tell everyone what you are doing; be transparent and give as much information as possible; be clear that everyone commits to this; that “the sky is the limit”; no little picture thinking in the strategic plan; everything can be done; and its not about solving a day to day problem.

1. Tell your team that you are going to need them to review and read the school strategic plan.

What is troubling about point one is that many will not have even looked at this plan before you ask them to do it. Set a deadline that you want this done by and email you a reflection of some of the interesting points. Yes, it is like setting a task for students but that is what it takes. From this have a meeting, everyone talks about reflection points and the Head of Library collect these.

NOTE: No one is exempt from this process, everyone does it, everything is transparent, no excuses for time to do it etc. For support staff set them time during the week, Teacher Librarians its like marking, it’s a requirement out of hours.

As the Head of Library you need to highlight the main goals of the school strategic plan, as these are the ones you will use in your Library Strategic Plan, allowing for perfect alignment.

2. From this discussion everyone understands that the Library Strategic Plan will be directly linked to the School Strategic Plan. To ensure this, ask everyone to write one goal based on the overarching goals setout in the School Strategic Plan. These are big picture statements.

NOTE: Again set a timeline and expect everyone to write something for each. At my College, we have five pillars that we have to address. Each individual sent these through to the Head of Library who combined and sent these to everyone removing who wrote what. Comments were then asked for to see if anything was missed out.

As the Head of Library this was the main opportunity for all staff to have a chance to contribute to the strategic plan and the direction of the library for the next three years. If they didn’t give it the thought necessary then when the plan is finalized and ready for implementation then honestly, bad luck.

3. The next part of the process depends on the nature of the Library you in. As the Head of Library I undertook the role of reading each goal and combining some goals together to ensure they incorporated the essence of each team members thinking. This resulted in give overarching goals being selected from the 20 that I had originally.

NOTE: Once this is completed these were resent. I would highlight here, I set a timeline for comments back, and if no comments are received then I take that as acceptance.

4. From these I started to break out these goals into articulated statements that specifically looked at the library and what this meant day-to-day. This part takes the longest and after I completed each one I sent each section out to the team for feedback.

NOTE: In some cases I asked team members to create these based off the template I provided. This was because my strengths are different to my team and it is far better for my team whom are passionate about certain parts of the plan, to write it.

5. Once each goal is broken out, the strategic mission statement needs to be written which sums up the overarching goal of the plan. This can be a simple statement or a specific paragraph based on your Library in the future. I believe having both is important.

6. Once completed you need to send these goals out to the team for comment and any aspects that need clarification.

7. Once the fundamentals have been articulated in the goals and then corresponding support statement as Head of Library I need to present these back to the Curriculum Leadership group for comment. In addition a meeting with individual departments needs to be conducted to hear what they require from the Library going forward over the next three years.

NOTE: It is important to note that I did not do this earlier because of an observation of my own over the past two years. Teachers are not sure what the Library does, they do not know what to expect from the Library, nor do they understand the power they have to help students and staff with there day to day needs. The fact is that if I go in with a blank, “what would you like the Library to do?” then I will get a blank response.

8. The plan is then reworked and specific items for each department are highlighted in a separate document.

NOTE: These will actually be used in the operational plan. Also to accomplish this, I hosted a morning tea for the department, paid for out of library funds, to get them in a room.

9. Once this consulting is completed, I presented this to my line manager for comment. In my case this is the Director of IT, however, if the Library is attached to Teaching and Learning, then a separate meeting must be had with IT, as they are critical to all Libraries. 

NOTE: Essential to this final part I met with

–       The Headmaster

–       The Head of School (three of them)

–       Deputy Principal Curriculum

–       The Head of Academic Support

–       The Director of Marketing

Finally the plan is then presented back to the Curriculum Leadership group, as a completed document and stamped by the Headmaster with his full backing. This then leads into the next phase, which is the creation of the Operational Plan. This is where I break down the goals into yearly targets and also specifically target the staff within my department.

The following are those documents that I have worked on over the past two years. They are draft documents so forgive the spelling and grammar, as I have not had time to go through these.

If you are interested in collaborating on strategic plans for Library, feel free to send me an email, would be great to have some keen individuals to work with locally and internationally.


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