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Library strategic planning steers ahead

Washington County officials continued discussing the future of libraries at a meeting last week, where there was consensus to form a steering committee to help further the strategic planning process.

A number of representatives from library boards, schools, businesses and cities and townships will be appointed to comprise a 14-member steering committee.

June Mathiowitz, senior planner with Washington County, said the strategic planning process has begun with the pre-planning phase this summer and will continue with a discovery phase in the fall, followed by a planning phase early next year and a public comment period next summer.

All the planning is part of the county’s efforts to figure out what the public demands out of local libraries.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re getting a lot of citizen input,” County Commissioner Gary Kriesel said, as he encouraged staff to include library users in the process. “Those are the ones that not only demand but want these services.”

The steering committee will start out with those representatives, however, focus groups will be included to pinpoint various improvements.

Commissioner Lisa Weik said citizen surveys showed how much library goers seek wireless and computer access at libraries and wondered if that’s another aspect to focus on in the strategic planning process.

“We’re looking at a multitude of ways to get that input,” County Administrator Molly O’Rourke said, adding that it’ll be more beneficial to keep the steering committee at a more manageable level so that members and staff don’t get bogged down with information and future plans.

County officials began discussing a strategic plan for local libraries earlier this year, where they said they’re hoping to answer questions regarding growth demands, opportunities for partnerships with cities and schools and how technology will impact space needs in the future.

The county library system loaned 2.2 million physical and virtual copies in 2013 with 825,000 in-person visits and 132,000 digital downloads, according to county figures.

But since libraries aren’t just sources of books and downloads, numbers also show over 18,000 attended toddler story times – 14 percent more than 2012 figures.

Additionally nearly 5,000 children signed up for summer reading.

The steering committee is the first part of the strategic planning process. A discovery phase will begin in September, where a survey will be completed and community engagement will begin to take place.

By November, the county plans to share consultant data and analyses, and revisit the current mission or develop a new vision, values, goals and strategies.

June through August of 2015 will wrap up the strategic planning process as the report will be finalized and a public comment period will take place, followed by implementation and future steps to take.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.