Ending a chapter

12 05 2008

I can’t believe the whole semester has flown by already. I had my last class on May 2, and I’ll graduate on May 17th. I had an amazing capstone experience at the Austin Public Library that has really shaped how I view library programming and strategic planning.Photo of Kathleen Houlihan, presenting her poster on the Strategic Initiative Toolbox, at the UT School of Information Poster Session, May 2008

The project ultimately was a guidebook for strategic program planning, with three strategic initiatives created to demonstrate how the guidebook operated. The three initiatives we chose were

  • Greener Austin, an environmental awareness and education campaign
  • Latino American Cultural Awareness, an educational and cultural celebration campaign
  • Financial Health & Wellness campaign.

The guidebook/toolbox discussed the different components of strategic initiative planning, and how to work through the planning process in such a way that the library could ensure that these programs not only helped accomplish a set goal or mission, but also demonstrated value within the community, and ensured the library’s place at the table with local government.

For those of you interested in the details, there’s more behind the cut…

Essentially, the Strategic Initiative Toolbox combines tools familiar in strategic planning, marketing and communication, and applies them to the program planning process. Initially, the library should identify the key target audiences and stakeholders for the library and it’s programming. Then, the library identifies needs within the community, via a survey of the local environment (via media, internet, and city planning documents).

Once the library has identified areas of need, the next step is to determine where library resources are best used; that is, where library program planning will be most effective. Once the library has fleshed out the type of initiative they want to undertake, the rest of the process shifts into program planning on a large scale.

First, of course, the library must determine what types of programming will be offered as part of the initiative. My recommendation was for each initiative to play out over the course of a year, with planning for the upcoming year beginning several months before the end of the current initiative. Each initiative had multiple programs. For the Greener Austin initiative, we had community forums, local speakers on environmental and green living topics, and even an environmental science fair project workshops.

Next, program goals for the short term and the long term should be set, with specific measurable outcomes for all possible audiences. This means the library must set goals for the internal audience (increased door count, increased circ numbers, high attendance, etc), and the external audience (how the library is helping the city meet its own goals – increased participation in city programming, etc).

Once the goals have been set, the library can begin identifying possible community partners, and what types of resources will be needed, whether from partners or through grants. The strategic initiative program has a strong evaluative component, which makes it very attractive to funders.

Finally, the toolbox provides information on program implementation, oversight, and evaluation.

Now that my capstone is finished, I can look back and see all the things I would have done differently. But this was a professional experience project — we do one because we need practical experience in all the theory we’ve picked up over the last two years. But it’s a learning experience, and we’re not experts… we just do the best we can in the time we have available. I learned so much throughout the whole process, and I am so thankful for having the opportunity to test out some of my ideas.

Shortly after I finished the first draft, an article ran in our local weekly about how the City of Austin was falling short on educating citizens about their role in environmental conservation… I had to go back and add this to the information for the Greener Austin campaign, because it showed how timely this program initiative was, and how it would really cement the library’s role at the table, and demonstrate their partnership potential with the city.

I turned in the Toolbox and the three initiative plans at the end of April. I have since heard back that my contact at APL is going to present the toolbox and the initiative guides to the Directors at APL. That made all the work worthwhile!

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