Community Conversations Summary
Staff acted as facilitators for over two dozen Community Conversations conducted in May, June, July and August 2018. Using methodology developed by The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, we asked participants to talk about their concerns, hopes and aspirations about their communities. These were not library focus groups; rather we used these conversations as a way to learn more about ways SCLSNJ can make a difference in the community that may not already be reflected in our core services.
This report summarizes the broad themes and ideas that emerged from the conversations as a whole. Some of the individual conversations, especially those held in specific member municipalities, included more specific concerns, aspirations and actions. As we finish one-page overviews of these individual conversations, we’ll share them here.
Community Survey Results
Thank you to the nearly 900 people who responded to our Community Survey!
The Community Survey Report, which is one of the sets of data we’ve used to craft our draft strategic plan framework, includes summaries of the data we collected from June 1 through August 16, 2018.
Among the things we learned are:
- People use our materials more than any of our other services, and providing materials is the most important thing we do.
- Over 90% of respondents had visited an SCLSNJ branch location in the last month.
- People want to live in communities that are safe, friendly, helpful, diverse and kind.
See how we used this information in creating our draft Strategic Plan Framework (coming Thursday, August 30).
NOTE: You can still tell us how you feel about your community and your library. The Community Survey will remain open indefinitely, and we will pull data sets from it periodically to help us assess our strategic plan activities and results.
Our Community Survey is still open for your input. Tell us about the kind of community you want to live in and what library services are important to you. We’ll be using that data to craft the framework for our new Strategic Plan. We plan to release the framework in the first week of September, so provide us with your feedback now!
With a lot of help from Library patrons and residents, the Library has been gathering meaningful data about our communities’ needs and priorities. Much of the information so far has come from our Community Conversations, a series of focus groups that allow people to share their feelings about the kind of communities in which they want to live. We’re still sorting through the data and we will share our findings with the public once we’ve finished pulling them together, most likely by the end of August 2018.
As just one example, in several of the conversations we’ve had people have shared that they are looking for places in their communities where they can encounter and interact with their neighbors. This has been especially true in our member townships where there isn’t a defined downtown or town center. The public library is already that place for a lot of our patrons, but if we make this a strategic priority, we can look for ways to create spaces and events that help even more people feel like they are part of their community.
Look for data reports to be posted here over the next 4-6 weeks as we summarize and synthesize what we’ve learned.
Setting Strategic Priorities
Our new strategic plan will be made up of two areas: core services and strategic priorities.
- Our core services will be the things that are the library’s “bread and butter. ” Examples include circulating popular materials, providing public computers and wifi, early literacy activities, etc.
- Strategic priorities will be determined based on the feedback we get from the community.
We aren’t focused on feedback about the library!
Our community conversations will help us learn what people hope for and are concerned about for their communities, and how they want their communities to move forward. So instead of asking people what they want from the library, we’ll review feedback about what they want for their communities and look for ways that SCLSNJ can make an impact in the areas they care about.
So what does that actually look like?
If, for example, we hear a lot from our community conversations and other feedback about making sure that all children are meeting grade level reading targets, we might make Reading Competency a strategic priority. We might define some outcomes around improvement in kids’ level of comfort with reading, our plan actions could have to do with focusing our summer reading program activities on improving reading confidence, and we could measure kids’ attitudes toward reading at the beginning and the end of the summer to see whether or not we’ve having an impact.
One of the most important ways we’ll be gathering information for our strategic planning is through a series of Community Conversations. We’ll be pulling together small groups of people to talk about what their hopes and aspirations are for their communities, and then we’ll look for the ways the Library can help make a difference in creating the kind of place in which our residents want to live.
To conduct our Community Conversations, we’ll be using a proven framework and discussion guide from The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation that they have developed as part of their work with public libraries and other public institutions and nonprofits over the last 25 years. Our conversations will have 10-15 participants each, and will be guided by staff facilitators using the discussion guide.
We’re planning a series of more than 25 conversations and we’ll be inviting a wide array of people to participate, from elected officials and other community stakeholders, to current patrons and friends, to non-patrons and members of underserved communities. We want to get a picture of the hopes and dreams for all of the communities we serve so that we can find the best ways for SCLSNJ to help everyone move forward.
If you’re interested in participating in a Community Conversation, please let us know.
Also, knowing that the format of Community Conversations means opportunities to participate will be somewhat limited, your input is still welcome via our community survey.
SCLSNJ Strategic Planning
The Somerset County Library System of New Jersey is working on a new strategic plan!
We’re using the Dynamic Planning Model from the Public Library Association. This process starts from the idea that our services should be based on the community’s needs. We’ll gather demographic and survey data about our communities, but we’ll also conduct a series of community conversations to help us understand people’s concerns and aspirations about the place in which they live. By focusing on community needs, rather than on the Library, we will be able to identify our core services — the materials, services and programs we will continue to provide to our patrons, no matter what — as well as the areas of strategic priority where the Library can help create the kind of community people want to be a part of.
The model has four phases:
- Assess (through July 2018) – gather community data, conduct community conversations, perform community needs assessment
- Strategize (July-August 2018) – analyze data, identify core services and strategic priorities
- Engage (September 2018) – develop goals and actions that meet service needs
- Impact (October 2018-June 2020) – execute plan actions, establish outcomes and methods for assessment, evaluate success
This model is cyclical, so we will evaluate the progress of plan activities in June 2019 and again in December 2019 so that we can make any necessary adjustments.
We use the Dynamic Planning Model, developed by the Public Library Association. It has four phases:
- Assess (through November 2022) – gather community data, conduct community conversations, perform community needs assessment
- Strategize (November-December 2022) – analyze data, identify core services and strategic priorities
- Engage (January-March 2023) – develop goals and actions that meet service needs
- Impact (January 2023-December 2024) – execute plan actions, establish outcomes and methods for assessment, evaluate success
Strategic Plan Update: January-March 2022
Strategic Plan Update: April-June 2022
Strategic Plan Update: January – March 2021
Strategic Plan Update: April – June 2021
Strategic Plan Update: July – September 2021
Strategic Plan Update: October-December 2021
S.A.F.E. (Supportive Assistance for Education) Families November 2020
ALCE Virtual Programming November 2020
Ask a Librarian and Expert November 2020
YMFR Virtual Programming November 2020