Public Library Association Strategic Plan

To print this document, we recommend you download the PDF version of PLA's Strategic Plan (14 pgs).

Approved by the PLA Board of Directors June 2010


In May 2010, the PLA Board of Directors, staff, and other volunteer leaders met to assess progress toward achievement of PLA's current strategic plan and to create a revised strategic plan for the future. The group reviewed external data and member research to form a basis for their thinking and discussion. The resulting strategic plan builds on PLA’s successes to date and stretches the association into the future. The desired outcome of the planning process is to create clarity and focus on how the PLA should invest its valuable and limited resources in meeting the future needs of its members and other stakeholders it serves.

The strategic plan includes the following:

  • A set of "Assumptions About the Future" of the profession the association represents and the professionals that work within it (Appendix A);
  • A list of relevant factors in the long-range horizon (10+ years into the future) including a core purpose, core values, Big Audacious Goal (BHAG) and a vivid description of future success;
  • Focused goal areas that identify where the association will direct its energy in the next five years. The goal areas focus on outcomes beneficial to the association and its members.
  • A set of strategic objectives in each goal area setting measurable direction for the association to head in to achieve its goals.
  • A set of possible strategies that identify the actions the association could undertake in the next 1-2 years in order to achieve each goal area.

PLA's leadership views strategic thinking and planning as ongoing process within the organization. This is not a strategic planning "project." Adoption of a plan is an affirmation of the general intent and direction articulated by the vision, goals, and objectives. Progress toward achieving the plan's objectives will be assessed annually and the plan will be updated based on achievement and changes in the needs of the stakeholders served.

10+ Year Planning Horizon
Core Ideology & Envisioned Future

Core ideology describes an organization's consistent identity that transcends all changes related to its relevant environment. It consists of two elements – core purpose — the organization's reason for being — and core values — essential and enduring principles that guide the organization. Envisioned future conveys a concrete yet unrealized vision. It consists of a Big (hairy) Audacious Goal (BHAG) — a clear and compelling catalyst that serves as a focal point for effort — and a vivid description — vibrant and engaging descriptions of what it will be like to achieve the BHAG.

Core Ideology

Core Purpose: To strengthen public libraries and their contribution to the communities they serve.

Core Organizational Values:

PLA is dedicated to:

  • Visionary Leadership.
  • Member Focus.
  • Integrity and Transparency.
  • Openness, Inclusiveness, and Collaboration.
  • Excellence and Innovation.

Envisioned Future

Big Audacious Goal (BHAG): The public library is the most valued asset in every community.

Vivid Description of a Desired Future:

We envision a future where public libraries are acknowledged as the key to building vibrant communities and sustaining a strong democracy. Here, the library provides a pathway to a better future for all community members by serving as the principal destination for individual enrichment and economic opportunity. The value of libraries is so deeply ingrained in the community that they are readily and appropriately funded. By providing critical literacy services, enriching formal education, and supporting lifelong learning, public libraries make America a literate nation and are recognized as an integral component of a successful educational system.

The public seeks out the library for myriad reasons. Not only are they attracted by the library's ability to provide expert assistance, relevant collections, and cultural enrichment, but they also view the library as a vital place to foster community. Yet the library's virtual presence and physical space are equally important; community members make ample use of the library's cutting-edge technology to harness its resources from home and on the go.

The library serves as a beacon, a fundamental reason for living in a particular community. The library acts as liaison between community and government and is the partner of choice for community service agencies. By providing free and permanent access to government information and e-government services, the library plays an invaluable role in community members' lives. Public libraries are change agents, responding and anticipating the needs of their communities. Community members recognize the library’s vital role and routinely volunteer as Friends and in other ways at the library.

Finally, the Public Library Association (PLA) is an essential partner in transforming libraries and empowering librarians, with membership viewed as a necessity for a successful library career. The Association is instrumental in assisting libraries respond to the needs of the communities they serve. Moreover, PLA leads the profession, intuiting trends in an ever-changing environment and matching member needs with superior services. Every public library worker and trustee looks to PLA as his or her primary educational and training resource. PLA membership represents 100% of North America's librarians and library workers. Members are actively engaged with the association and benefit from the various educational and networking opportunities.

3-5 Year Planning Horizon
Outcome-Oriented Goals and Objectives

The following are the PLA's goal areas for the next three to five years. These outcome statements define "what will constitute future success." The achievement of each goal will move the association toward realization of its BHAG. The goals listed below are considered of equal importance and are not necessarily in priority order. Objectives and Strategies provide direction and actions on how the organization will accomplish its articulated goals. Objectives are considered in the 3-5 year planning horizon while Strategies are considered within the 1-3 year planning horizon. Success toward achieving the goals and accomplishing strategies are reviewed annually by the PLA's leadership. The strategies for each objective will be further developed by volunteers and staff and will be incorporated into the plan.

Priority Key:
H = Must begin objective in next fiscal year
M = May begin objective, if resources permit, in next fiscal year
L = Begin objective in subsequent fiscal year

Goal: Advocacy & Awareness

Goal Statement: PLA is an essential partner in public library advocacy.

Objective (1):
Enhance and improve relations with ALA Advocacy and Washington offices to better represent the needs of public libraries.

Objective (2):
Enhance the effectiveness and awareness of PLA’s advocacy resources.

Objective (3):
Drive participation in all levels (federal, state, local) of public library advocacy.

Objective (4):
Enhance public awareness of public libraries.

Goal: Leadership & Transformation

Goal Statement: PLA is the leading source for learning opportunities to advance transformation of public libraries.

Objective (1):
Increase leadership development and training opportunities designed to support the ongoing transformation of public libraries.

Objective (2):
Increase opportunities to share best practices and next practices in public libraries.

Objective (3):
Advance the use of new and emerging technologies in public libraries.

Goal: Literate Nation

Goal Statement: PLA will be a leader and valued partner of public libraries' initiatives to create a literate nation.

Objective (1):
Increase awareness of the many types of literacy necessary for success.

Objective (2):
Enhance public libraries' abilities to provide literacy services in their communities.

Objective (3):
Expand PLA toolbox(es) for local literacy efforts.

Goal: Organizational Excellence

Goal Statement: PLA is positioned to sustain and grow its resources to advance the work of the association.

Objective (1):
Achieve a financially stable operating model.

Objective (2):
Increase the number of income generating products and programs.

Objective (3):
Improve opportunities for member engagement.

Objective (4):
Enhance relationships with PLA Partners.

Appendix A
Assumptions about the Relevant Future

In order to make progress toward the Envisioned Future, an association must constantly anticipate the strategic factors likely to affect its ability to succeed and to assess the implications of those factors. This process of building foresight will help the PLA to constantly recalibrate its view of the relevant future and provides a basis upon which to update the strategic plan. The outcome-oriented goals of the strategic plan are based on this foresight; therefore; annual review of these "Assumptions" is an appropriate method of determining and ensuring the ongoing relevance of the strategic plan.


(Updated May 2010)

Economic Factors and Global Business Environment

  1. Given the current economic conditions and environment, library budgets will continue to be constrained and there is more competition for either the same or shrinking pot of funds.
  2. Private fundraising, as well as other forms of alternative funding streams, will become more and more necessary.
  3. Libraries must be able to demonstrate return on investment (ROI) to the public and to decision-makers.
  4. State, local, and/or federal funding may go away.
  5. Increasing skepticism toward public funding of libraries as a public service, reflective of increasing skepticism of all public services.
  6. Libraries will continue to be viewed as discretionary as opposed to education, which is viewed as mandatory.
  7. We will continue to see library mergers, more state library closures, and elimination of regional systems.
  8. There will be an increase in pooled and/or shared resources in response to smaller overall budget.
  9. The economics around the publishing industry will continue to change, impacting the delivery of services at the library.
  10. There will be limits to amount of private funding available and more competition for those dollars.

Legislation and Regulation

  1. The legal environment will require more time, energy, and expertise.
  2. Copyright and digital licensing will continue to evolve and be volatile.
  3. Confidentiality/privacy will become more complex and will affect patron use, records, maintenance, and requirements for registration and perhaps marketing.
  4. Employment law will become more complex and require greater management and increased overhead costs.
  5. Funding laws and regulations on tax limitations will threaten funding.
  6. Changes in immigration laws could impact our current and future immigrant population.

Social Values and Politics

  1. Stratification of social values will increase creating more tension between conservative and liberal views.
  2. National, state, and local political agendas will change and the public's support for those political agendas will continue to fluctuate.
  3. Public libraries will remain a symbol of democracy providing a strategic opportunity for growth and financial support.
  4. Libraries will continue to focus on having a seat at the decision-making table.
  5. The library as a place for the community to congregate will continue to grow.
  6. Definitions of family will continue to change.
  7. Libraries are viewed as "in loco parentis."
  8. The growing national volunteerism movement could translate to potential value for libraries.
  9. Increased expectation that libraries will incorporate sustainable practices into their operations.
  10. The library will have a greater role in civic discourse.
  11. Reading will continue to be a critical skill to succeed in life.


  1. The need for a more diverse library staff will increase in order to reflect changing communities.
  2. Library staff is working longer and, therefore, there is less opportunity for new library staff.
  3. The value of interacting with others will continue, but the tools and approaches will continue to change (i.e. face-to-face versus online social networking tools, etc.).
  4. Trends in the way education is delivered will continue to affect the role of and the services provided by public libraries.
  5. New immigrants from countries without a public library tradition will need assistance in understanding the role and services of the American public library.
  6. There is a growing gap in socioeconomic conditions and the income level defining poverty continues to rise.
  7. General population is living longer and is more active.
  8. The expectation is that the next generation will not be better off than their parents.
  9. More and more people will be using the library for their technology needs.
  10. Through changes in demographics, there are changes in the ways people interact and behave in public space, including public libraries.

Technology and Science

  1. Technology will allow libraries the opportunity to attract and serve new client groups.
  2. Technology will affect everything libraries do.
  3. Technology training will continue to be a challenge.
  4. Online social networking will continue to evolve.
  5. There will be a greater interest and demand for user-generated content.
  6. Patrons expect multiple access modes to the library, different for each person.
  7. Libraries will continue to be a technology safety net for a large percentage of the population.
  8. There will a greater need for assistive technology.
  9. Technology gives libraries the opportunity to provide services on a one-to-many basis.
  10. As technology expands there will be changes in the way people access personal health and government records.
  11. As state and local governments downsize there will be more requirements for libraries to provide access to eServices.
  12. There will be a greater reliance on technology for everyday life.

Professional Competition and Structure

  1. There are major competitors that have a huge penetration in our market and they continue to grow.
  2. There is a greater threat to our status as information providers and less understanding by the public of the difference between libraries and their competitors.
  3. The traditional structure of libraries makes it harder for them to change.
  4. The nature of our work with the public is changing and the traditional staffing structure will have to be adjusted.
  5. In order to remain competitive libraries may need to have a more customer-focused orientation.
  6. Library competitors have better resources and larger budgets.
  7. Our funders know library competitors, like Google, better than they know libraries.
  8. There may be a tension between our need to market and the expectation that we should not use public funds for marketing.
  9. There is less enthusiasm for the public library as a public good.
  10. Due to local funding structures, it is more difficult to get economies of scale in financing of libraries, in comparison to our national and international competition.
  11. Due to libraries' financial structure, it is difficult for libraries to invest in research and development.
  12. Libraries will continue to be conflicted between maintaining a nonprofit business model and providing services.
  13. Libraries will continue to be constrained by the ability and interest of the vendors in delivering solutions.

Appendix B
5-10 Year Planning Horizon
Mega Issues

Mega issues are issues of strategic importance, which represent choices the organization will need to make in defining the ultimate direction of its long-range plan. These issues represent potential impediments to achievement of the Envisioned Future and form a basis for dialogue about the choices facing the organization. These questions can serve as an ongoing "menu" of strategic issues that, using a knowledge-based approach in gathering insights relative to PLA's strategic position and directional choices for each of the issues, can be used by the Board to create regular opportunities for strategic dialogue about the issues facing the association and the profession going forward.

2010 Mega Issue Questions

  1. How should PLA respond to the changing roles of librarians and library staff?
  2. How should PLA respond to the increasing role of the library as service provider to homeless and low-income users and less for the middle and upper class?
  3. How should PLA respond to the continued market penetration of e-books and other digital services?
  4. How does PLA help library staff envision the future of libraries?
  5. How does PLA lead the change in library funding?
  6. What can PLA do to help libraries demonstrate and measure relevance (ROI)?
  7. How can PLA change the perception of public librarianship in order to attract young people to the profession?
  8. How will PLA respond to the needs of different libraries — urban, suburban, and rural?
  9. How should the PLA address the future of the MLS? Will it continue to be necessary?
  10. How will PLA lead in assisting libraries in remaining viable?
  11. How will PLA bridge the cultural divide between new library staff coming into PLA and the over 50 staff?
  12. Public libraries depend more and more on vendors for all of our services. How do we form coalitions to get better pricing and quality in these services?
  13. How do we begin to rebuild library systems that have been devastated by budget cuts?
  14. How will PLA compete with major "for-profits" penetrating their market?
  15. How will PLA establish itself as a leader in CE beyond the national conference?
  16. How will PLA pay for the research and development needed to support the future role of libraries?
  17. How should PLA effectively engage members in the association going forward?
  18. How can PLA effectively manage and promote growth and development of library leaders?
  19. How will PLA address anticipated income decline due to economic conditions?
  20. How can PLA help libraries consolidate services regionally?
  21. How can PLA support the training and professional development needs of members when budgets for these activities have significantly declined?
  22. How can the PLA effectively develop future leaders for the profession?
  23. How could PLA assist libraries in developing and retaining a dynamic workforce that reflects the communities they serve?
  24. How should PLA assist libraries in redefining their physical space?
  25. How can PLA maintain visibility in non-conference years?

2002/2005 Mega Issue Questions

  1. How should PLA assist in educating the public on all the aspects of what public librarians and public libraries do for them?
  2. How does PLA change the image of librarians and public libraries?
  3. How can PLA transfer best practices into a knowledge base that all librarians can use?
  4. How can PLA provide services to non-MLS library staff?
  5. How can PLA assist libraries in using public support for libraries in obtaining additional funding?
  6. How does PLA assist library staff to become more proactive in their communities?
  7. How can PLA assist libraries in continuing to provide value in an increasingly rich information world?
  8. How can PLA assist in bringing more people into the profession especially in high-level positions within the library?
  9. How does PLA change the perception of the profession in order to attract young people to the profession?
  10. Where do we go from here, what is the future of the library profession?
  11. How will libraries distribute information in the future? Will it be centralized or decentralized?
  12. What will libraries look like in the future? How will they be set-up?
  13. How should libraries measure success in the future?
  14. How will libraries train and satisfy multi-generational staffs?
  15. Is it more important to support public libraries or public librarians?
  16. How will libraries provide resources to growing diverse populations?
  17. What is the best organizational structure to serve the public library community?
  18. How do we determine the appropriate "comfort level" with technology for staff and library patrons?
  19. How will the association respond to the unique needs of large metropolitan libraries versus small and medium size libraries?
  20. How can the association assist libraries in measuring their success?
  21. How should the association take advantage of electronic technologies to reach more librarians?
  22. How does the association speed-up the decision making process in order to respond more quickly to member's needs?
  23. How can PLA assist librarians in mapping their career path and making the transition from practitioner to manager?
  24. How can PLA work with librarians/libraries to improve their advocacy skills to support the mission of public libraries?
  25. How can PLA sunset ineffective roles and operations that are no longer relevant?
  26. How can PLA effectively manage and promote growth and development of leaders in the organization and in public libraries?
  27. What research needs to be conducted to assist public libraries in demonstrating their value to funders?