Identifying Community Priorities

Library directors don’t create their budgets in a vacuum.  Even in today’s challenging economic times when libraries are lucky to keep their doors open and basic services covered, library directors and staff need to be continually attuned to what their community needs.

Most “formal” community needs assessments are done during a library’s strategic planning process – but it should be an ongoing task to pay attention to community needs and priorities.

  • What is happening in your community that your library can address with its programs or services?  How can the library be a partner in solving local problems or addressing challenging issues?  For example,
    • Helping schools deal with dropout prevention?
    • Assisting residents in finding jobs?
    • Helping New Americans master essential skills and get access to critical programs and services?

  • Look to community partners to help share the library’s burden of meeting community needs.
    • Can local social services provide funding for early childhood development or literacy programs?
    • Are there federal programs or grants to support the library in assisting New Americans who are integrating into the community and acquiring essential skills?
    • Are there small businesses or corporations who are willing to fund library programs or services such as a Summer Reading Program or a homework help center?
    • Showing that you’ve formed strategic partnerships to meet the community’s needs illustrates that your library is nimble, creative and willing to stretch beyond the limitations of a prescribed budget.

  • The strategic plan comes from your community's priorities; the budget comes from your plan.   Show how you’ve listened to what the community and your decision-makers want from the library and planned accordingly:
    • If a community’s priority is to have a library presence in every neighborhood, you may need to recommend that all branches should be open but with limited hours.
    • If the priority is efficiency and budgeting cuts, closing branches and extending hours at fewer branches may be the way to go.
    • If helping individuals find jobs is a critical issue, access to computers and a mix of daytime and evening hours is essential.
    • If low elementary and high school academic scores in your community is a problem, funding homework help centers should be part of your budget.
    • If small businesses in your community are closing, creating a small business resources center shows how your library is supporting the local economy.

  • Start with the premise that a library is providing local services that are important locally.   Unlike many other units of government (e.g. schools or transportation), budgetary decisions pertaining to libraries are almost always made at the local level.   Stay current with what’s happening in the community from a local political perspective and reflect this perspective in your library budget.

  • Provide opportunities (a bulletin board, comment cards, Library Appreciation Week, etc. ) for library customers to share their stories about how your library is meeting their needs.  Anecdotes from “real (voting) citizens” are powerful statements to include as part of your budget presentation.


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