We Must Think Strategically

Susan J. Beck, President

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.—Bill Gates, The Road Ahead, 1996

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Bill Gates could probably have used even more extreme adverbs. That is, we vastly underestimate the change that will occur in ten years. Think of 1999 and compare it to today.

Think of webinars, going digital, investment bubbles, e-readers, chat reference, handheld computers, cloud computing, Twitter, Facebook, Google Books, Flickr, social networking, and Library 2.0.

This is the second column examining the statements of concerns from 105 candidates who have run for an elected position in RUSA in the past three years (2007–9). The method is described in the following note.1 In the Winter 2009 RUSQ, I examined issues related to association participation. In this column I analyze the candidates’ statements to determine implications for our strategic planning process.

I know, strategic planning is not always interesting, but it is necessary and should act as a roadmap for our future. Sometimes it’s nice to see where we are headed, and I hope to make it fun, or at the very least educational! I hope you will find this discussion interesting because it is from the membership’s perspective (RUSA candidates who have run for office). I must again remind you that when the candidates created their statements for election, they did not write them for the purpose of this analysis. The idea to use them in RUSA’s strategic planning process came later.

In September 2009, leaders from ALA’s executive board, divisions, round tables, and senior staff met for a strategic planning retreat in Itasca, Illinois. This meeting was the first step in the process of developing ALA’s next strategic plan to guide the association over the next five years. To help inform our members, ALA created an environmental scan containing documents on major issues and trends affecting libraries, posting it on ALA Connect (http://connect.ala. org/2015scan). The environmental scan includes documents on these topics:

  • academic libraries
  • cultural environment
  • economic environment
  • educational environment
  • media environment
  • nonprofits and associations
  • political environment
  • public libraries
  • school libraries
  • societal environment
  • special and government libraries
  • technological environment
  • the American Library Association

The document that came out of the Itasca planning retreat identified five goal areas to guide the planning process:

  • advocacy and public policy
  • building the profession
  • transforming libraries
  • member engagement
  • organizational excellence

The planning document was reviewed and refined at the 2009 ALA Executive Board Fall Meeting in Chicago. The revised plan was disseminated before the 2010 ALA Midwinter Meeting for further member review. The intent is for the plan to go into effect after ALA Council approval at the Annual Conference in Washington, DC, in June 2010.

Each October, all of ALA’s division leadership and the ALA executive board gather in Chicago to discuss both division- and ALA–wide issues. RUSA’s executive committee includes the “Three P’s” (RUSA’s current, past and future presidents), our ALA councilor, and the RUSA board secretary. The 2009 committee was Susan J. Beck, Neal Wyatt, Barry Trott, Kathleen Kern, and Theresa Mudrock. The RUSA committee meets in the morning to discuss RUSA issues, and then all the ALA leaders come together in the afternoon to discuss a common issue. This year we contributed to the development of ALA’s next strategic plan.

The following morning, the RUSA executive committee met again to review our current strategic plan and establish new strategies for this year. In preparation for the Fall Leadership Meeting, I analyzed the candidate statements to see if they could help inform our discussions (as well as develop it for this column).

What Are Our Challenges?

What do the candidates believe to be the most important issues facing our profession today? What are our concerns? How can we transform our challenges into opportunities and frame them into strategic goals and objectives? One candidate defined his expectations and hopes for RUSA this way:

We depend upon the support of ALA and RUSA to find solutions and make involvement in the profession both essential and possible.

Although there were many issues identified by the candidates, these following were mentioned most often:

  • membership
  • user services
  • professional development
  • technology
  • networking
  • relevancy
  • economy

As in the previous article, I will briefly introduce the issue, but the candidates’ own language will be used to express each topic via a mixture of direct quotes and synthesized thoughts.


The most important question for any professional society is how to best serve the needs of its members. Officer candidates expressed a clear desire that RUSA be more responsive to member needs by gathering more user data about how members use RUSA. According to one candidate, “recruiting and inspiring a new generation of enthusiastic technically savvy yet service oriented librarians is also a top priority.” Another candidate said the following:

It is time that our professional organization uses new technologies to communicate more broadly and effectively to members; reach out and appeal to new librarians and those we wish to recruit; and give members effective means to voice their concerns, share their ideas, and give feedback to the RUSA board.

Candidates also asked how RUSA should do the following:

  • ngrow a membership that is representative of all stakeholders
  • build our membership
  • appeal to new librarians
  • invite new participation
  • get more public librarians involved
  • provide value to our members
  • increase the visibility of RUSA in the profession and society at large
  • help recruit new members to specialize in history librarianship
  • explore whether RUSA should have other subject sections

One candidate said that RUSA must “develop an agenda that actively promotes communication of information highlighting innovative practices of our professionals.”

Virtual participation is an important topic to both ALA and RUSA members. Our candidates asked how RUSA should do the following:

  • Allow for all members to participate in the division? n Involve and connect virtually with members that often cannot attend conferences?
  • Create online opportunities and venues that can be used to highlight successful library programs and avenues for discussion and idea sharing, which is necessary for members that are unable to attend conferences? Perhaps we should even share information about failures and mistakes so that others can avoid making the same ones.

Organizational Communication

Improving communication with and to our members is imperative to the future of RUSA. Just as important is how we seek and facilitate communication from our members. Here are some candidates’ thoughts on this issue:

  • Identify the best means to communicate and promote our division’s activities to reach existing, new, and potential members.
  • How can we give members effective means to voice their concerns, share their ideas, and give feedback to the RUSA board?
  • What new technologies can we use to communicate more broadly and effectively to members?
  • Enhance our efforts to communicate with and beyond our membership.


How do we librarians use technology? How can technology make our work easier? How do our users adapt to new technologies? How can we help our users adapt? How can we best use technology to facilitate RUSA’s work? One candidate said, “We need to continue to find innovative ways to meet the needs of our patrons and potential users. We need to seek out the trends and technologies that advance our profession.” Another said “A key issue of professional concern to me is meeting the challenge of technological change while maintaining our traditional core values of library service, including equity of access to information.”

Other candidates expressed these opinions:

  • Take advantage of new technologies and strategies that allow us to deliver our services and share our resources more effectively.
  • Educating public services staff in changes in information technology.
  • We in reference and user services know the power of technology to assist us in meeting users’ information needs.

User Services

We need more data about our library users. What kinds of services do they need? What kinds of collections? How much instruction and what kind? Are our services and tools too complex? Have we adapted effectively to our users’ apparent desire for self-service?

Once we understand our users’ needs we, in turn, have to evaluate our services, collections, and programs to determine what changes we need to make to provide the best quality services and collections we can offer.

These were some of the most pressing concerns expressed by the candidates about responding to user’s needs.

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