King County Library System: looking toward the future | Stephen A. Smith

Stephen A. Smith

Over the past year and a half, the King County Library System has been immersed in a strategic planning process to bring into focus all the elements that will guide our work in the years ahead. For KCLS, the initiative was unprecedented in its scope and public outreach.

KCLS’ last strategic plan was forged more than 10 years ago, and it was time to re-evaluate whether our efforts were still properly aligned with the needs and priorities of the communities we serve in the most meaningful ways possible.

Why did the process take a year?

Because we wanted to hear from you. It was an intentionally broad, community-centric effort, including more library users, citizens, community leaders, staff and stakeholders than ever before. Through a series of surveys, interviews and focus groups, more than 4,000 people weighed in on a number of questions, such as: What are your hopes and aspirations – as individuals and as citizens? What are your concerns? What hurdles do you face in trying to navigate your lives? And how can KCLS help?

We received feedback from all sectors of the community, such as education, arts and culture, faith, business, science and technology. The process also tapped important data pertaining to cultural relevance, library usage and county-wide growth and demographics.

Five particular areas of concern emerged: population density; transportation; socio-economic disparities; affordable housing, and diversification. At the same time, it was clear that communities desire opportunities for interaction, where shared values of kindness, respect, learning, equity, and inclusion thrive.

Respondents were thoughtful in their comments and insights, providing us with a deeper understanding of personal and community challenges – and revealing enormous potential for civic engagement.

KCLS took the time to listen, and a year later, a major milestone has been reached. Our new strategic focus – to create opportunities through meaningful connections – means we will work hard to link individuals, families, communities and organizations with the information and services they need to navigate life’s complexities, and to provide equitable avenues for people from all walks of life to build the skills and knowledge they need for success. It shows our commitment to bridging differences and creating communities of inclusion and belonging. In short, our strategic focus reflects the overarching themes we heard from our 49 library communities as most valuable and important in their lives, both present and future.

The guiding principles that have always framed KCLS’ work – our mission, vision and values – also have been refreshed:

Our mission: to inspire the people of King County to succeed through ideas, interaction and information.

Our vision: a world where knowledge allows diverse communities to prosper and grow.

Our values: knowledge; diversity, equity and inclusion; intellectual freedom.

You, KCLS and the road ahead: Paved with Knowledge is our just released report that will guide us as we continue to create programs, services, activities and partnerships that provide opportunities for the entire KCLS community to learn, grow, prosper and engage not only with library staff, but with friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. The document is available online at kcls.org/theroadahead.

Stephen A. Smith is interim director of the King County Library System.