Library board gets down to the nuts & bolts of strategic planning

By DAVID DUPONT

BG Independent News

When the Wood County District Public Library approves Director Michael Penrod’s next three-year “to-do” list, going to the hardware store probably won’t be one of the chores included.

But the board may embrace a notion that Penrod shared from a recent library conference: “If our city is the best in the world then the library is its hardware store.”

Penrod offered assurances though that he didn’t want to compete with Floyd Craft owner of ACE Hardware.

The library will have plenty else on its agenda, which will be set by a new Strategic Plan for the years 2018-2020. Penrod and the board will have that plan ready by the beginning of next year.

The plan is important because it brings the library through November, 2020, when it will have to be on the ballot to renew its levy. That levy generated almost $1 million in 2016, about 40 percent of the library’s revenue.

When the strategic plan is done, Penrod said, its message should be simple enough to explain to an 11-year-old. Little will be simple about the process of getting to that point.

The library is planning for an uncertain future, operating within an environment of constantly changing technology.

Board Chairman Brian Paskavan posed the question: “Is the organization flexible enough to move when we need to move?” He admitted that “that’s a tall order.”

Penrod presented the board with demographic data and library statistics that will guide the process. Those statistics show a shift toward greater use of digital materials, and less circulation for physical books, except from the bookmobile and at the correctional center library.

The shift to eBooks is so great, libraries are typically reducing the space devoted for shelving books by 40 percent when they do construction projects, he said. That was not the case, he noted, for the renovation of the Walbridge branch.

Those eBooks, Penrod said, are expensive. A book that costs $17 for a hard cover can cost $85 as an eBook, and after 50 or so uses, the license has to be repurchased.

Though digital borrowers need not visit to get their material, foot traffic at the library is up. Penrod said programs continue to be popular. Regardless of how they are reading, he said, people still like to get together to discuss what they are reading.

Paskavan said he’d like the library to have the funds to support more visits by nationally known authors. Last week’s talk by Community Reads author Sherman Alexie was a huge success, he said, drawing a full house at the Bowling Green Performing Arts Center.

“When people want information on something, they still default to the library,” said Board Member Nathan Eikost said.

“We hope,” said Penrod.

Looking into the future is a matter of hope. Quoting Apple founder Steve Jobs, the library director said: “We trust the dots will connect.”

From now through the end of the year the library board will be meeting to discuss the plan. The library will also host focus groups. Shannon Orr, who teaches in Bowling Green State University’s Master of Public Administration program, will have a class of students writing and distributing a survey. The results of that should be in by December, Penrod said.

Also at the meeting, the board approved a policy determining a mileage rate for library employees using their own vehicles for business.

The board set the rate at 30 cents. Paskavan said that the board wanted to be fair to employees, but the federal allowable rate of 54 cents was too generous.

The library “rarely” needed to compensate employees, Penrod said They try to use the library’s van for business travel. But he wanted a policy on the books.

Also, the board approved a policy on use of the community room at the newly renovated Walbridge branch.

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