Leaders of the Timberland Regional Library system are seeking the input of locals in the library’s five-county region as they craft the strategic plan that will shape Timberland’s direction for the next three years.
“That’s the purpose of it, to make sure we’re on the right track with our strategic plan,” said Sarah Ogden, district manager of innovation and user experience. “Our strategic planning process is geared up to plan for us for the next three years. That plan will help guide our work and focus our budget on projects outside of core services.”
Ogden will be conducting five Community Check-Ins in August — one in each county — to go over the draft concepts that have been written for the strategic plan. That follows a series of five Check-Ins earlier this summer that helped shape those concepts. To her, the question for the August events is simple.
“After those community conversations, the feedback we pulled from those and using that feedback to craft those draft concepts, did we get it right?” Ogden said.
The final document, which Ogden said TRL’s board could vote to approve as soon as October, will be Timberland’s Strategic Plan for 2020-2022. A committee — made up of three board members, three administrative team members and 13 frontline staff — is holding meetings to craft the plan, while including the priorities outlined by community members.
“The thing that stuck out to me the most was how interested the community is in having a voice,” Ogden said. “It’s not a surprise but a reinforcement that we’re heading in the right direction. ... Our communities are amazing resources and they have great ideas.”
The planning comes following an ill-fated proposal late last year from the library’s administrative team, which would have closed a third of the system’s branches amid budget concerns and a shift to a “reimagined” library of the future. Following strong local backlash — and the revelation that Timberland leaders had tried to orchestrate a premeditated closure of the library in Randle and silenced staff who tried to warn the public — the board voted to nix the proposal and chastised library director Cheryl Heywood for the manner in which it was created.
Ogden acknowledged the ongoing tension following that episode, but said it’s made concerned users more willing to be part of the process.
“I definitely think it has made people more aware, and they do understand that they need to be more involved,” she said. “That’s wonderful. If one good thing can come out of that, it’s that communities are more aware. Let us have a voice and collaborate on the library of the future.”
Timberland has learned from the controversy of last year as well, she said.
“In libraries, we want to serve our communities, but we forget sometimes that we don’t need to be the experts that come up with all the ideas and then say, ‘Here you go, here’s your services,’” she said. “It helps us understand that we can’t start making plans in advance of getting that input. It has helped us look at our process a little bit better. … When we start talking about programs, when we talk about how we use our budget, that’s where we can bring the community in.”
The Community Check-Ins will be held between Aug. 20 and Aug. 29. In Lewis County, the Chehalis library will be hosting one on Aug. 28, from 6 to 7 p.m.
The overall themes drafted so far in the strategic plan have been well-received by the public, Ogden said. They outline the library’s vision as “our communities connected,” with a mission of “connecting people, places and things.” TRL’s values are listed as “welcoming, accessible, sustainable, diverse and collaborative.” Its directions are “cultivating diversity and inclusion, investing in local communities and supporting youth engagement.”
“There’s probably not going to be much change in the directions,” she said. “Those seem to be pretty well supported by the community in the first round of check-ins.”
While the Strategic Plan represents a big-picture vision for the library, Ogden said leaders will also be tasked with an implementation plan that goes into specifics, including more details about the library’s budget. Timberland has been reducing staff through attrition to attempt to reckon with a projected budget deficit this year.