Libraries Make Strategic Moves to Thrive in Down Economy

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Public Libraries employ new technology and good old-fashioned community discussions in order to increase their relevance during a slowed economy.

Our libraries, after taking stock of their current strategic position, have begun scanning their external environment and gathering information through community discussions.

In the age of instant information via Google, and amidst economic uncertainty and nation-wide budget cuts, how can public libraries remain relevant sources of information? According to strategy expert Erica Olsen, there's hope for these struggling beacons of knowledge, and by embracing new technology, as well as informing the public of major changes that libraries have already adopted, they have a promising future especially during tough economic times.

Like parks and other public benefits, Libraries are feeling the effects of the economic downturn. As the current economic crisis continues to squeeze budgets, libraries across the country are starting to shorten hours, close locations and, fortunately, begin taking steps to reclaim their communities. Where they begin, according to Erica Olsen of M3 Planning and, is by employing the same strategic business planning that is currently at use in the private sector.

According to Olsen, whose company M3 Planning is working with the Washoe County Library System in Northern Nevada, libraries already have a wealth to offer, and the first step is engaging their communities in discussion. "Our libraries, after taking stock of their current strategic position, have begun scanning their external environment and gathering information through community discussions." Olsen says that the library will be using the feedback they receive in order to choose which opportunities to pursue as part of their current business strategy.

Informing the public is also a major part of the current strategy the library system is pursuing. "We all love our library," says Olsen, "but even some of our team was surprised to learn about all that they already provide for us." One underused area that surprised her team was the library's vast collection of DVDs. In Washoe, as in many libraries across the country, members can check out movies and television series' for weeks at a time, at no cost. "For us, it's like using Netflix for free, and you get to check out three or four times as many selections at a time." Employees at M3 have been seen with stacks of movies, and can be heard frequently amazed at how fantastic the service is from the library. "We don't even have to go to different locations," says Olsen, "We just choose what we want and the library ships it to the closest one to wait for us."

Technologically-focused services like that, says Olsen, are going to be key to relating to the current generation of members. "Most people don't even know that the library provides things like that," she continues, "they even offer free downloads of music and audio books over the internet." M3 Planning's team believes that if more people within the 20-40 year old age group learn that libraries offer so many more things that support their lifestyle, that people will begin flocking there again. "Especially during tough economic times like these," says Olsen, "we all want to save money, and right now the library is the perfect place for it."

Not only are libraries getting the word out about their tech services, but they're also embracing new ways to communicate with the public online. The Washoe County Library System has developed a page on to link up with locals, and also plans on utilizing the popular messaging client to keep users informed of events and promotions, as well as field questions. Gone, they say, are the days of the "stuffy librarian." In addition, many libraries around the country are weaving in text messaging and email to alert members when books are available for pickup, or are approaching the dreaded "overdue" status.

Along with the feedback they receive from upcoming community discussions, as well as from their online presence, Erica Olsen and her team believe that the Washoe County Library System and others who are following suit will thrive during these tough economic times.

About M3 Planning

M3 Planning is a strategic planning firm that works with growth-oriented organizations to develop and execute their strategic plans. In addition to their online strategic planning system, MyStrategicPlan, the company is also a resource for other strategic planning tools, books, articles, workshops and facilitations. MyStrategicPlan is an easy-to-use software application that enables any organization, regardless of size and budget, to build a comprehensive plan, effectively and easily track goals, create professional reports for every stakeholder and monitor implementation all year long.

About Erica Olsen

Through M3 Planning's online client base and onsite strategic planning facilitation work, Erica Olsen has developed and reviewed hundreds of strategic plans for organizations across the country. She has also authored several strategic planning books including Strategic Planning for Dummies and was named Entrepreneur of the Year by The Business Report of Northern Nevada in 2007.

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