Introduction and background
RAILS was established in July 2011 through a merger of five predecessor library systems. In 2013, the RAILS Executive Director asked the board for a strategic planning committee to help develop the first RAILS strategic plan. The planning committee, consisting of four board members and RAILS leadership staff, worked with consultants to develop the plan, which was approved by the board in February 2014. We have put this plan to good use, accomplishing many of its goals and undertaking many projects to meet the needs identified by RAILS members during the planning process.
The process used to develop our first strategic plan was extensive, as was appropriate. RAILS was a brand new organization. The system merger was recent and there was a lot of mistrust and fear among libraries about the enormous and sudden changes that had occurred. We hired an outside consultant to lead an objective planning process; held several focus groups for all types of libraries (academic, public, school, and special); and conducted member surveys, an environmental scan, and a needs assessment. The member input we received was crucial to the development of the plan and a major reason why it has helped us to be so successful since that time.
Plan update process
For this 2018 update, we used a more "lightweight" process. Beginning in November 2017, we:
- Provided RAILS members, board, and staff with an overview of the 2014 plan, how it was developed, and the input we received from member libraries during the development process
- Reported on what we have accomplished to meet the needs members identified in 2013 (posted on RAILS website at www.railslibraries.info/about/strategic-plan-progress)
- Sought input from members about their current challenges and concerns. Conducted in-person and online meetings (webinars) with members throughout the RAILS area, asking the question "what keeps you up at night" to prompt discussion of issues and concerns.
- Developed a needs assessment survey and encouraged all staff at all RAILS libraries to respond
- Gathered input from RAILS staff and board members
- Analyzed all feedback received and determined how current needs line up, or do not, with the goals and objectives of the 2014 plan. Modified or created new goals and objectives accordingly.
Throughout this process, we kept uppermost in mind that our new plan should be:
- Aspirational, grounded in reality, and future-focused
- Developed through a planning process that is transparent to members
- Reflective of member input gathered throughout the planning process
The needs identified through all of the research specified above can be broken down into these broad categories:
RAILS libraries want help optimizing their resources, including varying types and levels of support to help them share resources more effectively, cooperative purchases and other programs/ services to help them optimize available tax dollars, and opportunities to share expertise and best practices with each other.
RAILS libraries want help deciphering and meeting the needs of an ever-growing diversity of patrons and potential patrons.
RAILS libraries want help articulating their value to users, potential users, funders, elected officials, and other stakeholders; assistance from RAILS in advocating for issues affecting libraries as appropriate; and help learning how to advocate for themselves.
RAILS libraries want help in becoming the best they can be through staff development, training, and other means, so they can continue to be vital and relevant players in their organizations or communities.
RAILS libraries want help in becoming more resilient and better prepared for the future. This includes assistance keeping abreast of trends and innovations in the library field, as well as changes in the overall environment that affect library service. Libraries would also like RAILS to help ensure the future of libraries and librarianship as a profession by preserving and advancing core professional values.
As a next step, we crafted these categories into a vision of success and goals and objectives delineating how to achieve the vision, keeping in mind our mission as a library system.