The City of Cedar Rapids is on the move, actively promoting the arts, education, and advanced technology enterprises. Cedar Rapids Public Library (CRPL), named by IMLS as one of the nation's finest, has stepped up with innovative programming, partnerships, and outreach supported by the 2019-2022 strategic plan.
An award-winning library facing service challenges
After a devastating flood forced a move to a "higher and drier" location, the City constructed a library that personified the dynamism of a community in transition.
Another challenge: despite record usage, the Library lost a critical levy vote in 2016 which would have kept the budget stable after the previous four cent levy ended. This loss forced the Library to reduce hours and services in both of its two locations. With more than 108,000 people using library meeting rooms in 2018, CRPL is one of the busiest library systems in Iowa.
Nevertheless, given the rapidity of technological change and changing social conditions, the Library needed to explore critical questions: How could it better serve current customers? How could it better reach out to nonusers? What programs would best serve the community over the course of the next three to five years?
The Library is responsive and innovative; the community just doesn't know it (yet)
The research—which included community interviews, surveys, and a market segmentation study, among other methodologies—indicated that the Library can be justifiably proud of its customer service and innovative culture. Civic and Library leaders are enthusiastic, responsive, and committed to providing necessary resources. The public, however, has limited understanding of the scope of Library services or its contribution to Cedar Rapids's quality of life. We presented these and other key findings at a Planning Summit during which the Library board and senior management team arrived at a consensus regarding institutional priorities.
Three major areas of focus emerged and became the key organizing tenets of the new strategic plan: literacy, access, and inclusion.
Strategic initiative: literacy
When asked about the community roles that CPRL fulfills, residents deemed Educational Support Center, Source for Reliable Information, and Technology Center among those most important.
With a significant percentage of the population under financial stress, individuals aspiring to raise their prospects in the job market look to the Library as a place they can address educational and skill deficits. For example, nearly a quarter of survey respondents expressed significant interest in the Library offering adult literacy classes. Over half of residents surveyed believe it is extremely important for the Library to expand its computer training programs, with 42% indicating that expanding adult education offerings should be a priority.
And the community's passion for educating its youngest is even higher: well over 50% of residents surveyed emphasized the importance of expanding programs and services to elementary, preschool, and middle school students.
Strategic initiative: access
Both quantitative and qualitative research data revealed that current use of the Library lags expectations and organizational capacity. While the community's neediest citizens have little to no access to informational or technological resources other than those offered by the Library—for example, 28% of Cedar Rapidians do not have their own means of connecting to the Internet—trustees affirmed the Library as "The Great Equalizer," uniquely equipped to address community inequities.
And yet nearly one-third of telephone survey respondents indicated that they have not utilized the Cedar Rapids Public Library at all within the last year. To amplify its service to the community and expand access to its rich array of programs and resources, the Library knows it must examine and address barriers to use, target the underserved, and emphasize creativity and convenience.
Strategic initiative: inclusion
Demographic indicators point to a Cedar Rapids that is growing increasingly diverse, economically as well as ethnically. Library staff acknowledged that more efforts were needed to more closely align the composition of its workforce with the broader spectrum of the community and to expand Library services and programs to meet the needs of a multicultural city.
Residents agreed. 60% of Library users who were surveyed stressed the importance of expanding offerings for people learning English, many expressing interest in greater cultural diversity across the collection. Targeted marketing and outreach could educate the community about all that the Library does and offers, emphasizing that there really is something for everyone and that all are welcome. In the words of one trustee, "the Library is a place of true community, full of care for the people of this city."
“Boots on the ground” library staff plan the road ahead
Staff were organized into three work groups whose purpose was to build an actionable plan in support of one objective. The teams identified resources required to fulfill the action items and determined appropriate measures of success and a process for ongoing progress evaluation. The Ivy Group consulting team integrated material from the work groups into the final strategic plan.
During its 122 years of service, Cedar Rapids Public Library has established itself as an institution that anchors an ever-changing community. As the Library looks to the road ahead, the 2019-2022 strategic plan is the first important stride toward the road ahead.
Cedar Rapids is a city focused on the future, and the Library will continue to be a beacon of possibility for all who call it home.