Strategic Planning on a Shoestring: Making Less = More (and Sharing It!)

Coming out of several years of budget cuts, the Cherokee County Public Library's determination to revamp and revitalize its resources, services, and programs provided the impetus for the development of a new strategic plan.  With no money for outside consultation, we began a process that would allow us to do what we do best:  find the best information relative to our organization, and utilize the strengths of our staff and stakeholders to form a plan that would benefit the community as a whole.

"Strategic Planning on a Shoestring" is a workshop that was developed to share our process at the 2012 annual conference of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries, and was the culmination of a year’s worth of research, surveys, and data evaluation by our library staff to help chart a path for library services in the next three years. With minimum monetary resources and maximum input from staff, Board of Trustees, Friends, and community, we successfully formulated goals and related actions that will not only provide guidance, but will, hopefully, be fluid in their application.

Creating a strategic plan can be metamorphosis in itself.  It takes time; it takes cooperation; and it requires an open mind to change. (Yes, there’s that scary word!) The organization’s mission must be identified, memorized, and shared. Communication is vital. There will be much discussion, many opinions, and more than one meeting! Surveys, forums, and one-on-one conversations form the framework, allowing for valuable input. The information gathered must then be evaluated in and around four key areas:

  • knowing your community:  what do they need, want, or expect
  • knowing your staff:  what are their talents and skills
  • knowing your policies:  do they need to be revised
  • knowing your limits:  what absolutely cannot be done

For community demographics and other data, we utilized the results from a project called "Cherokee Community Indicators." Funded by a local community foundation, workforce investment board, and the United Way of the Piedmont, this printed report listed five areas of concern in our county: education, crime and safety, economic development, public health, and family and youth at risk. As our plan was formed, we looked at each area to see how our library could connect with other organizations, reach underserved populations, and make a difference in the lives of those we serve.

What we found in doing the research, gathering the data, and laying out the plan was that there is absolutely no need to start from square one. There are some great strategic plans that are readily shared by libraries (not just public libraries), and it is completely fine to STEAL!

  • S – search for information on a topic or project
  • T – take bits and pieces that can apply to your organization
  • E – evaluate and decide if the information is useful
  • A – acknowledge the original author, if known
  • L – let others use YOUR information

In addition, we learned that a good strategic plan does not have to be lengthy! Thirty pages of content will not be fully read. Our intent was to have a viable, succinct document that could be handed out to staff and stakeholders, easily accessed on the library’s website, and shared with the community when opportunities arise.  The full version will be rolled out to the public in mid-November along with a new library logo and will be around ten pages. The condensed version is one page, front and back, and can serve as an introduction of the library to new patrons, an advocacy piece to our elected officials, and a great synopsis of our place and purpose in the community.

As stated in the Plan Outline provided in the ARSL workshop,

The investment of your time and the utilization of your staff and other stakeholders have taken the place of funds that would have been spent in the Strategic Planning process. The results represent a broader knowledge of your service area, its patrons, community assets, and other available resources that will assist in future planning endeavors."

And, perhaps, the best outcome is buy-in from those who were a part of the planning process, resulting in an intangible, yet priceless, benefit for support of the library’s mission.

Lana P. Gardner

Director, Cherokee County Public Library

Gaffney, South Carolina

For more information on “Strategic Planning on a Shoestring,”please contact Lana Gardner, Director of the Cherokee County Public Library, at lgardner(AT)spiritcom(DOT)net, or go to and select “Conference Programs and Handouts” to find the workshop documentation and related Powerpoint presentation.