February 17, 2020
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Acton Public Library Asks Community to Help Create a Plan for the Future

Published Jan. 22, 2020

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Saybrook residents as well as members of community organizations and local businesses are being asked for their input on the future goals and plans of their public library.

Acton Public Library (APL) is gathering information about ways members of the community now use, hope to use, and need the library in order to create a strategic plan for the next three to five years.

Residents are encouraged to contribute via an online survey that will be active through Saturday, Feb. 1. Consisting of 23 questions, the survey takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete, according to the introduction to it on the APL’s website.

“It’s been about 10 years” since APL’s last strategic plan, said Director Amanda Brouwer. She and the Strategic Planning Advisory Council are “looking for goals and a path to the future. You see all these good ideas in all these different libraries and you want to make sure they fit the community you’re serving.”

While the ACL’s Board of Trustees has a Strategic Planning Subcommittee, the Strategic Planning Advisory Council consists of community members, explained Brouwer.

It’s “a broad mix of members of the community,” she said. “They range in demographics and those that might not be currently using the library. They will help form the community vision after they receive answers from the community survey.”

In addition to reaching out to individual members of the community through the survey, focus groups are being conducted by Maxine Bleiweis & Associates, which describes itself as a library innovation consulting company.

“Staff is involved, too,” Brouwer said, “We have a huge staff component. Maxine [Bleiweis] sat the whole staff down and said, ‘This is for you, too.’ People are excited. Everyone has a part in it.”

Staff members will be involved the process of reviewing recommendations of the Strategic Planning Advisory Council, for instance.

Bleiweis, who explained that she served as a library director “all over the state” before starting her consulting business, has done her homework.

“[W]e...speak to people individually and read board and commission minutes and [Harbor News] and everything that we can to get a sense of the needs of the community,” she said.

“You don’t start with the library,” she continued. “You start with community. That’s what’s critical. You look outward rather than inward first. The process includes determining a vision for the community and then from that the library comes up with a vision of what their role is to help the community to reach its aspirations.”

In one day in mid-January, Bleiweis conducted four focus groups, starting with around a dozen members of the business community.

“Then we went over to the middle school and we talked to 7th graders,” she said. “They have great powers of observation and are really thoughtful in responses that they give. We always find 7th graders a great age to ask. There were probably 20 of them.”

Parents of schoolchildren made up another focus group. A fourth consisted of members of non-profit and civic organizations together with religious leaders.

“[T]he surveys are more for the individual,” Bleiweis explained, “but when you have people who regularly serve groups of have a broad view and you’re able to give very good answers [and] have robust thinking going on.

“It’s a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle,” she continued. “There isn’t any one piece that stands on its own. You put it all together and you hear that this person has concerns about that and this person is concerned about the same thing but from a different perspective. It’s a fascinating process.

“Libraries have the potential [to] hit every single demographic, every single need, every stage of life,” she said. “The potential of the library is infinite and having a strategic plan is even more important. Otherwise you can bounce from one idea to another.”

The endeavor in itself is beneficial to the community, Bleiweis pointed out, as members of different organizations meet for the first time and establish connections.

“Through the process you discover people to collaborate with and also people discover each other,” she said. “I just left the room that we [conducted a focus group in] because the people were all meeting with each other for the first time.”

The process of creating a “roadmap,” Beiweis said, will likely begin at the end of February.

The decisions and choices that are made as a result, however, won’t be “static,” however, said Blouwer.

“If things aren’t working, then we’ll adjust,” she said.

The APL’S online survey can be accessed at through Saturday, Feb. 1.

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