On July 25, RAILS officially launched its strategic planning process with a staff meeting at Starved Rock Lodge in Utica. On July 26, the RAILS board met at the LaSalle Public Library for a special session devoted entirely to strategic planning.
Facilitators Nancy Bolt and Liz Bishoff led the staff and board in discussions of RAILS mission and purpose. We will post the transcriptions of these sessions and future planning documents on our website.
Next up – nine in-person focus groups across the RAILS service area and three webinar sessions. Click here to see the latest E-news article about the focus groups schedule. We’re getting lots of interest from members in attending these sessions. Be assured that if you can’t attend one there will be other opportunities for input; a survey is forthcoming; the next Member Update session on September 5 will focus on the plan; and you can always contact RAILS staff via phone or email to give your opinions.
I have done a lot of strategic plans over the years. My first was in 1992; we did a very intensive planning process and came up with a five year plan for my then library, the Reading Public Library in Massachusetts. We had a lot of great goals and objectives and did a comprehensive community analysis and an environmental scan. Unfortunately, we didn’t predict the effect of the (then unknown) Internet on libraries – and the world - over the years 1993 to 1998 (and beyond, of course). I learned an important lesson; a truly STRATEGIC plan enables an organization to be flexible in response to unexpected developments and, even more importantly, positions it to seize the opportunities that change often presents.
Some RAILS members have expressed doubts about the value of planning, which I completely understand. I have seen plans that are laundry lists, check lists, and dusty tomes on office shelves that are never used and do not inspire. Plans have to be taken seriously as road maps and as guiding principles in order to be truly effective in inspiring staff and moving organizations forward in a substantive way. With your help, we will create a plan that will make RAILS the responsive, agile and innovative system that members need.
I hope you will get involved!
RAILS has embarked on a strategic planning process designed to guide the development of future system services. There will be many opportunities for members to provide input throughout the process, including nine in-person focus groups planned for September. The focus groups will be conducted by Nancy Bolt and Liz Bishoff, the consultants helping RAILS with the strategic planning process. RAILS staff will not be present at any of the focus groups. RAILS is currently looking for member volunteers to participate in the focus groups.
There will be 12 – 15 participants in each group. Some participants will be appointed, others will be chosen from member volunteers. The goal is to include RAILS members from all types of libraries, heavy users of RAILS services, and members who are not as familiar with RAILS programs and services.
The focus groups are scheduled for:
- Freeport Public Library, Monday, September 9, 10 a.m. – noon
- Princeton Public Library, Tuesday, September 10, 10 a.m. – noon
- Western Illinois University (Macomb), Wednesday, September 11, 10 a.m. – noon
- Kankakee Public Library, Thursday, September 12, 10 a.m. – noon
- Ela Area Public Library District (Lake Zurich), Friday, September 13, 10 a.m. – noon
- Quincy Public Library, Monday, September 16, 1:30 – 3:30 p.m.
- Moline Public Library, Tuesday, September 17, 10 a.m. – noon
- Peoria Public Library, Wednesday, September 18, 10 a.m. – noon and
- RAILS Burr Ridge service center, Thursday, September 19, 10 a.m. – noon
If you are interested in participating in a focus group, please contact Mary Witt, RAILS Communications Director, at mary [dot] witt [at] railslibraries [dot] info, by Friday, August 16.
Other opportunities for member input during the strategic planning process will include a consulting needs assessment to help RAILS prioritize the addition of some consulting services in FY2014, focus groups for academic, school, and special library members via webinar, an opportunity for members to provide input at the September 5 RAILS Member Update session, and a member-wide survey. There will also be a number of opportunities for members to provide informal feedback as well. Stay tuned to RAILS E-News for further details.
Last Thursday, I attended a meeting of the Future of Resource Sharing Committee, a subcommittee of the Illinois State Library Advisory Committee, along with other representatives from RAILS, Heartland, and member libraries. (You can see the charges for these committees here).
We heard a presentation from Marshall Breeding, an independent technology consultant, about the current state of resource sharing technology and some future possibilities. He provided a lot of information about the state of the ILS marketplace, vendors with growing and shrinking customer bases, development work force supported by the various vendors, and other information all of which was very informative in understanding how the market place and the technology might be trending.
Marshall offered opinions and suggestions on how best for libraries to move forward and improve resource sharing. He shared his concerns about open source, based mostly on whether it is ready for large scale implementation and scalability; how well it works in the consortial environment; what are the development resources that libraries really need to invest in to get the most out of open source; and other questions like these.
He also strongly expressed the opinion that a single consortium is greatly preferred to multiple consortia and/or standalone libraries joining together through a discovery platform or direct consortial borrowing. He described the difficulty of getting the various platforms to work together and deemed the technology “fragile.”
There is no doubt in my mind that participation in a consortium is the best way for libraries to share resources; best for library finances and workflow and, most importantly, best for library users. However, I do think that there are issues of scalability with ILS software, which is an area where I disagree with Marshall. Is it really feasible for a thousand libraries, of different types, to share a single platform that provides a great user experience?
Catalog overlay products or discovery tools enhance resource sharing between existing consortia and standalone libraries. Are they a panacea? No. But if we can get one off the ground in RAILS, it will certainly improve resource sharing and may lead to more cooperation in general among the various consortia and stand alone libraries.
The RAILS Consortia Committee is going to be exploring the possibilities of a discovery overlay tool this year; we had our first meeting last week and a working group was formed to assist RAILS staff with the hiring of a consultant expert who will evaluate existing overlay projects and products that are currently working and available. Examples of these “virtual catalogs” exist currently in Massachusetts as the Massachusetts Virtual Catalog and in Michigan as MeLCat.
The main purpose of our library systems is to enhance resource sharing in Illinois. That is clearly stated in the Library System Act and it is certainly a personal passion of mine, as a lot of you know. I look forward to any enhancements that we can bring to resource sharing and the ability of Illinois residents and taxpayers to access the resources in Illinois libraries. We will continue to seek ways of bringing greater cooperation to and among Illinois library consortia so that we can make progress to an ideal future – whatever that may hold for us.
On July 1, RAILS received a Live & Learn payment of $1,072,500. RAILS has received FY2013 Area Per Capita Grant payments totaling $6,661,609.95, or 67.4% of our FY2013 award. Thank you to Secretary of State Jesse White, Illinois State Library (ISL) Director Anne Craig, and colleagues at ISL for helping to make this happen.