Notes from August 19, 2008 Strategic Planning Group Meeting

Strategic Planning Committee Meeting
Dickson Board Room, Main Library
August 19, 2008
4:00 PM

Members present: Joan Martin, Harriet Smith, Reverend Dr. Greg Busby, Susan Patterson, Lynn Roberson, Bill Millett, and Dr. Magdalena Maiz-Peña.

Also present: Charles Brown, Dr. Susan Harden, David Singleton, Frank Blair, Chris Bates, Vanessa Ramseur, and Stephanie Sanders.

Major Themes that Emerged from the Focus Groups and Online Blog
Several major themes emerged in the public and staff focus groups. These include:
• Diversity is rapidly increasing in the community. How can the library reflect and celebrate this diversity?
• Libraries and resources must be increasingly accessible to everyone.. There is increasing demand for 24/7 access, in multiple formats. Facilities and services should be accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities. There is demand for expanded, renovated, and new library facilities throughout the county as the population continues to grow. Facilities should be comfortable and inviting, and we need to take the library to many people.
• Our customers value personal service and exceptional experiences. These are highly valued by our customers. PLCMC staff do an exceptional job, and this is one of the reasons that our library system has been so successful. How can we continue to provide personal service as demand increases and there are no new positions for staff?
• The library should increasingly build partnerships with community organizations and schools. These partnerships extend the library in new ways and allow the library to offer new and innovative services that are responsive to changing needs.
• Encouraging the love of reading is still a major role for the library. This includes all ages, from young children learning to read to school-aged children and teens, to adults, including those who are learning English as a second language.
• Libraries are gateways to the community and valued community resources. Library programs, meeting rooms, collections, and technology allow access for everyone.
• Libraries are now identified with both books and technology. How can both services continue to expand to meet ever-growing demands?
• The library has real impact on individuals and the community, and we need to tell our story to the community. This would help non-users understand how the library might be relevant to them, and would help everyone better understand the value of the library and its service.

Feedback was received from 7 public focus groups, 8 staff focus groups, and an online blog.

Staff Focus Groups

Senior Library Managers Chris Bates and Vanessa Ramseur summarized the findings of the staff focus groups. A summary of the staff focus groups is attached for your information.

The participation from staff was excellent, with over 150 staff attending the 8 staff focus groups. Those attending included full-time library staff, part-time staff, and temporary staff.

Staff provided thoughtful feedback throughout the focus groups.

Cherished Library Experiences

– Staff cherished their library experiences that they had growing up.
– Staff had similar experiences growing up in the library; they found it a quaint and safe place to go. It was the one place they could tell their parents they were going to and it was okay.
– Those who did not grow up or live in Charlotte would come here to visit the branches because Charlotte libraries had things their libraries did not offer.
– People remembered their first great experiences in finding books and being with children their age at the library. These experiences may be why staff chose to work in the library. The public may see staff experiences as why we do well with customer service.
– Staff discussed how being a library volunteer impacted their lives and the lives of their families and friends. They were made to feel important with the assignments they were given while volunteering; it meant a lot to them to be able to help the community.
– The accessibility of the library, i.e. bookmobiles was a good experience, as well as sidewalks that led directly to the library and bike routes. As a family, trips to library would be made. Safe access to libraries continues to be an important aspect.
– Staff said they felt valued and important when they visited the library as children; they were treated with seriousness and respect. One staff member talked about how the librarian took time to show them the library.
– The library helped encourage the completion of education and encouraged job searching. The library provides a family feeling, patrons are recognized by name.

Changes in the Community

– As a way to begin summarizing results from the staff focus groups, the PEST (Political Economic Social Technology) method was used to group information about changes in the community Changes ranged from the cutting of media specialists in the school system which causes an increase in library outreach to schools (political), more people come to the library to find jobs and use services due to the economic (economic), more people are moving to Charlotte to use services (social), to an increased need for help with PCs due to the complicated and time consuming searches and research and the library’s ability to provide free classes on computer programs (technology). The library is trying to meet the needs and challenges within the changing community. See the attached summary for more detailed summary from the staff focus groups.


The two extreme scenarios allowed staff to think about what the library does well, what we should lose and what we should add.

Technology Based Scenario

– The staff noted that this type of library still had books, but they lacked depth and were not on multiple subjects or multiple formats.
– This type of scenario is inviting to all ages. Staff said that this scenario was accurate of what students do now in metropolitan or urban areas.
– Many of the library’s larger buildings do a good job of addressing both the need for books and the need for technology access.
– This type of scenario seemed to make having a lot of books on hand unappealing when in fact it is appealing to many people. The scenario was also deemed unrealistic; it was similar to a school or university computer lab. There was a concern about the lost of the “warm feeling” in libraries.
– The youngest and oldest part of the population would be left out because they are either not old enough to learn the technology or old enough that they may not want to learn the technology.

Book Based Scenario

– This scenario is the extreme opposite of the technology based scenario. There is technology available in this scenario, but it is not exclusive. This is a setting in which reading is celebrated.
– There is a concern if there are no computers because not everyone is a traditional reader, the library now serves readers who utilize different formats.
– There is a lack of community space in this type of library. The library isn’t just a place to use the computer or read, but a place to meet, i.e. HOAs or study groups.
– It would be okay if the library was part technology, part book or if both scenarios were in the same building or different building in close proximity.

Public Focus Groups

David Singleton provided an overview of the public focus groups. Seven focus groups were held for the public. Although there were fewer participants than at the staff sessions, the input was excellent. A summary of the public focus groups is attached for your information.

The public focus groups were less structured than the staff focus groups because many of the attendees came with specific needs that they wanted to discuss, and they were invited to share their feedback.

Summary of Public Focus Groups

– Most people talked about the growth and diversity in the community. They also said that there are many challenges with crime and personal safety, but that comes with growth.
– The accessibility of buildings was discussed. How available are our locations and the resources to users of the library.
– The library doesn’t always do a good job of informing the community about the library and its events and services. People would be more supportive of budget increases for the library if they knew what we did and what we offer.
– Some of the concerns that were brought to the table are things the library can take care of now. The library now has a twin-vision book collection at ImaginOn, now visually impaired children can read or read along to a book if they use Braille.
– The library has a good collection and a good variety of programs, but we need to respond better to the diversity in the community. The library needs to go out in the communities and discuss what we do. People may not understand how the library works.
– People need to have access to library facilities. Libraries should be convenient and close by, especially with the recent increases in gas prices.
– Libraries should be community spaces; many people see the library as a community gathering place. The library should be a hub for the community, it should be comfortable and safe.
– Books and technology should be equally prevalent in our libraries.
– The role of the library is to provide open access to people, it should also serve the underserved portion of the community (poor, disadvantaged, disabled).
– The library should provide more partnerships with community organizations, such as working with CMS. Children should be enabled to have the tools to succeed in reading.
– The library should work more with faith-based organizations. The library should also work with county departments.
– The library should promote a love of reading for all ages; it should go beyond book club meetings in the library and be taken into the community.
– The libraries need better signage at locations.

Technology Based Scenario

– Most people are comfortable with this and the book based scenario.
– Access to technology such as should be at all locations.
– Computer classes should be offered at all locations, continued access from home should be offered.

Book Based Scenario

– The library should have books and materials for checkout, regardless of the format.
– Books should be accessible and in multiple formats.

What are ways to obtain feedback from those who do not use the library?

– Programs should be offered for people in which they can tell why they don’t use the library.
– Come up with examples of how people have used the library to get started on a career or needed research. Present theses examples to those who don’t use the library to try and capture their attention.
– Make people aware of what librarians do. Their job isn’t just getting a book.
– People have created their own accessibility to technology and resources; because of this, they may not come into a library and know what we have. Make these people more aware of what we have.
– Go into the community to non-English speaking people, explain how our libraries work. They may be hesitant to visit our libraries because of the cultural differences in libraries.
– Lifestyle changes have made it more acceptable to go into bookstores and obtain materials.
– Tell the library story and its impact and value on individuals.

What questions would you ask nonusers?

– Rank the importance of libraries in your life/how relevant is it to you. Does it lose relevance once you are not a child?
– Are library locations easily accessible to a person: can you get to a library easily or how many miles away is your closest branch?
– On a scale, how likely are you to refer a friend to the library?
– What would you like the library to have?
– Are nonusers not engaged because they have the means to purchase the books and technology that the library offers? Is there a socioeconomic divide between those who can and can not afford books, technology, etc. for their own personal collection?

Who is the library for?

– The library should be for everyone. We should all be able to look and see something for us. Nothing is as diverse as the materials in the library.
– Should messages be targeted to demographic groups within the community? It is important that the new strategic plan allows people of all ages and diversity to see themselves reflected.
– The library should be for a community hub for those who want to use meeting spaces, etc.
What is the goal for the library? To have more people in the library or to provide all the services that people would need?

– The goal is to make sure the library is relevant to the user; whoever you are, and wherever you are, a library can be found or it can come to you.
– Although it would be ideal for the library to be a “total resource,” it can never be everything for everybody. The strategic plan will help us prioritize how we use limited resources.
– Relevancy of the library can be related to the 4 main ideas of balanced scorecard (used by Mecklenburg County).
– The library is the one place in the community that dignity is given to homeless because they can come in and use the computers and other resources.
– What is the libraries penetration to demographic/geographic areas? Give us an idea of what the library needs to provide in an area.
– What accessibility areas do we need to focus on, where is the library in location to you?
– Shortage of meeting space in the community, the library should be a place where people can come in and use rooms.
– What is out there that we can sell people on? The strategic plan should be something more than just a response to the public.

Next Steps:
The notes from the meeting will be sent to all committee members as soon as possible. Based on feedback on the notes, staff will draft goals from the major themes (see beginning of this document) and send to members before the next meeting.

The next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, October 9th, 4 PM, in the Dickson Board Room of the Main Library.


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