Strategic Plan

Reading Public Library
Scenario & Foresight Planning to Strategic Plan 2021-2025

As we look to the future of the Reading Public Library, the Board of Trustees reaffirms the mission of RPL: The Reading Public Library will generate a library for the future by meeting the informational, educational, and recreational needs of library consumers today. In carrying out this mission, this Strategic Plan envisions possible scenarios for the world we live in over the coming years and highlights priority actions to be the focus for the next three to five years as we prepare for whatever the future may hold.


A committee of library staff and board members began by thoroughly mapping the library’s relationships in the community, county, and commonwealth. This map grounded our future scenarios in a clear understanding of the present and helped us understand the extensive web of collaboration, service, and transaction, which shapes our work at every level from individual patrons to state and national mandates.

Our scenarios envisioned Berks County in the year 2040 – far enough out to stretch our imaginations and see beyond the typical 3 to 5 year plan. We arrived at three scenarios characterized by varying degrees of political fragmentation and appetite for face-to-face contact post Covid-19. Are we seeing a shift to a fully digital world? Can our politically riven society find common ground in the years ahead?

• Life in the Cloud imagined a future in which social and economic life migrated almost entirely online in the next 20 years. Privacy gave way to Big Data but there were also new forms of digital democracy and recognition that American society could not survive without cooperation. Reading Public Library evolves into a “Public Informatics Commission” regulating digital equity and helping residents participate fully in life online.

• Wild Frontier saw a dramatic fragmentation of civic life, in which the basis for trust and dialog all but disintegrated. Residents retreated both online and offline into “bunkers” defined by shared common values and the exclusion of outsiders. This scenario presents grave challenges to the notion of library neutrality and our dependence on local, county, and state tax income.

• Paris on the Schuylkill imagined a new flowering of civil society. In this world, people pulled together for the sake of their children’s futures. Universal Basic Income and growth in higher education turned Reading into a city of artists and scholars, a sought-after destination for arts and culture. Reading Public Library becomes an integral partner with local universities and serves as an incubator of the arts and innovation.

Our committee used these 2040 scenarios to examine our situation in 2021. What signs were there that any of these futures might emerge? What other possibilities had this work exposed? How would people in any of these scenarios look back at the choices we make today? Each person on the committee took our work to some of the community partners we identified on the original map for their perspectives on Berks County’s future. The process forced us to look up from the day-to-day and question our own strategic assumptions.

From the scenarios, the committee developed “railroad tracks” defining our plans for the future. How appropriate for the birthplace of the Reading Railroad! The 4 tracks are:

• Co-designed Programs
• Intentional Partnerships
• Library Staff Reflects the Community
• Create Digital Opportunities

These railroad tracks reflect our insight that Reading Public Library must adapt to community needs, engaging with our residents rather than talking to them. The tracks can flex in case we need to adjust our strategy. Moving to a more proactive and engaged approach will ensure resilient library services that provide value in a dynamic world.

Co-Designed Programs

Instead of library staff deciding what our patrons want or need, we invite patrons to share in the design and implementation of library programming.

RPL gives up some creative control
How do we respond if we think an idea may be offensive?
How do we consider the opinions of donors and funders with respect to content?
We may need to accept some “fails” in terms of programs that do not work

What steps do we take?

Define Co-Design
Does the program, design, display align with and enhance the library’s mission?
The Library as a platform but support and structure needed.
Pre-program/display survey plan: a template for all departments with a particular learning goal Use queries from library users as opportunities to gather information
Help co-designers create products and programs that meet library standards
Include community leaders and volunteers into decision making

How do we measure progress?

Interactive training opportunities for staff at monthly staff meetings and Staff Development Day
Identify needs and address those needs with focus and purpose
Annual Performance Review should include an opportunity for staff to identify focus areas
“In this program or display, we enhance the quality of life for X individuals who learned X skill; it took X staff time; and this is why we need your support”
A living documentation process which includes before and after measurement
Department supervisors and branch managers meet quarterly to share outcomes of the co-design process

Intentional Partnerships

Quality rather than quantity. We do not fall into the trap of becoming the Swiss Army Knife for community organizations.

What is a partnership? What is a successful partnership? Individuals as well as organizations
Define ongoing commitments vs. sporadic relationships
Sustained relationships with clear benefits for all parties
Staff time and availability
We may have the same number of partnerships but we will have defining criteria, and use metrics to keep both the library and the partner accountable.

What steps do we take?

Does this partnership benefit the strategic plan?
Does this partnership enhance the city or county?
Focus; be mindful of resource limit
Create an Outreach Team to coordinate outreach activities One hour talking to a partner is better than six hours in the office

How do we measure progress?

See Partnership Self-Assessment tool
Ask how people heard about RPL
Increased coordination, increased engagement with partners and community
How are the city and county measuring quality of life?
Use Memorandum of Understanding to define and enrich partnerships. The MOU would help with tracking time spent on outreach vs. in-library services
Track goals specific to each partner as estimated by that partner’s staff. Use and revise anticipated numbers
Outreach Team provides a report during quarterly meetings with department supervisors and branch managers
May tie in with measuring Co-Designed Programs

Library Staff Reflects the Community

Reflecting the community is different than being accessible – which is often about language and communication. This is more visual; residents “see themselves” in our staffing.

Provide a pathway for training and employment
Scholarships, apprenticeships, etc., will create a pipeline for library staff from within our community

What steps do we take?

Flexibility in requirements for each position
Reduce barriers to new positions at entry level
As staff move into new roles, begin training pipeline
Board creates a scholarship/training reimbursement program

How do we measure progress?

Count the number of qualified candidates
Capture demographic data of our current staff at all locations. Compare with city and county demographics. Track annually.
Create a staff and career lattice. Track who is currently employed and where they are in their training/ education journey.
Include an opportunity in the Annual Performance Review for staff to identify their own barriers and focus area for additional training
Dollars spent on training.
Number of staff applying/using the Board’s education reimbursement program. Dollars spent on it.

Create Digital Opportunities

Digital content, devices, and training should be available to all residents. Ideally, all staff should be familiar with digital tools.

Determine additional budget expenses for digital materials and access
Hire staff with a focus on helping patrons not just access digital content, but create it.
RPL becomes an internet and digital content provider

What steps do we take?

Create a Digital Access and Content position
Hire a Digital Literacy Instructor
Make the library’s devices available for use in meeting rooms. Try a pilot program.
Coordinate with local schools and community partners
Monitor trends and anticipate future demands
Where are people looking online for RPL content?
Lending hardware/devices for people to use in their homes. Try a pilot program.
Invest in tech training for staff. Add more tech skills to our current job descriptions beyond MSOffice Suite

How do we measure progress?   Analytics is vital. We need to demonstrate the benefit

Survey what people want to learn
Number of requests for Digital Literacy Instructor
Number of devices borrowed
Targeted households needing access and/or devices
Compare digital portion of our budget with portion of digital circulation
Cost and resilience of hardware