A strategic-planning process will begin in June to determine how the Auburn Public Library can meet the needs of a rapidly growing community in coming years.
The Auburn City Council recently approved a $54,410 contract with Virginia-based consulting company Ivy Group LTD. to conduct the planning process, which will focus on the APL’s fiscal years 2021-2024.
“I see this as an opportunity to come up with a plan that is a living, breathing and meaningful document that we will revisit constantly to make sure that we are staying on track with what our community needs from its public library,” said Chris Warren, library director.
Warren said he hopes this plan will solidify the library and its standing in the community.
“We want to position ourselves as a vital civic resource,” he said. “We want people to see the library as not just nice to have — but essential.”
The planning process will include research into how libraries in communities of similar size operate. This will allow the library to pinpoint areas of improvement, Warren said. They will also look locally to determine ways the library can better serve the community.
“Another part is what’s called a market segmentation study,” Warren said. “That’s an effort to learn more about the demographics of Auburn as a community and learn more about the preferences, interests and needs of the community.”
He said it is critical for the community to be involved throughout this process so decisions are not one-sided.
“A public library can’t operate in a vacuum. We can guess what we think our community might want or need, but that’s not necessarily the best course of action,” he said.
To accomplish this, the library will hold open forums for members of the community to voice their opinions and concerns.
“There will be public meetings,” Warren said. “There will be ways that we can get more qualitative feedback from the community about what they like about the library, what they think we could be doing better at and, more to the point, just about what is important to the community.”
In his six years as director, Warren said he has seen a shift in how patrons utilize the library.
“We’re seeing some shifts in terms of technology. We do see more folks than we would have six years ago reading e-books and downloading digital content to their mobile device,” he said.
The consultants will analyze data collected through the planning process before making recommendations to the library.
“It really depends on what we learn from the community about what the community needs,” Warren said. “One of the things we have really tried to keep at the forefront is that this is as much about advancing the library as an institution as it is about helping our community realize its vision for itself.”
The plan is similar to the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Master Plan (PRCMP), although it is narrowly-tailored with a shorter time line. The PRCMP was adopted by the City Council in 2017 and includes recommendations to expand the library’s materials, staff and facilities over the next 20 years.
“(The strategic plan) is something that will be very actionable over the next four years. Both patrons and staff will be able to see those recommendations rolling out over that four-year period,” Warren said.
The library has seen a steady increase in usage over the past few years, although many people are now taking advantage of the library’s online services.
“Visitor counts are down slightly, but program attendance has doubled in the past few years and circulation has almost doubled in the past few years,” Warren said. “So many of our resources are online now.”
The library will begin the strategic-planning process in June, with the hope of finalizing and adopting initiatives in February 2020.