What is Looking-Around?
"Looking-Around" is the process of collecting information about the library and its community and analyzing that information for guidance in making decisions about planning. Looking-Around has four steps: (1) planning to plan for Looking-Around; (2) gathering the information; (3) organizing and interpreting the information; and (4) reporting the results.
Why is Looking-Around important in planning?
Public libraries are not all the same and their plans for the future cannot be developed using a cookie cutter that makes each plan look the same. The plans for each public library's future are unique with regard to the people they serve, the resources available to support library service, and their current service offerings.
Looking-Around is the step in the planning process that allows planners to learn more about the community and the library. That information will guide decision-making during the planning process.
Planning for Looking-Around
Successful information gathering begins with careful thought and planning. Failure to think through a range of questions and issues can result in wasted time and money--not to mention frustration--for all those involved with the library's planning effort. During the Planning to Plan phase, the library director, staff, and board members should consider several issues before making decisions about the library's readiness to carry out the process, whom to involve in the Looking-Around phase, the appropriate level of effort, the resources to commit, and the amount of data to collect.
This section outlines a series of steps to take in developing detailed plans for Looking- Around during the Planning to Plan stage. The price for not being thorough here is higher than the price to be paid for not carefully developing plans at any other stage of planning.
Step 1: Determine readiness and level of effort
The first thing a planner should do is ask a series of questions about the library, its readiness to plan, the resources available to support Looking-Around, and the complexity of information needed. Answers to those questions help the library determine the level of effort for Looking-Around that is most appropriate.
Question 1: How prepared are the key players to undertake the planning effort, and especially the Looking-Around phase?
The library director and library board should begin by assessing their commitment, experience, and skill to determine their readiness to undertake the process of analyzing the community and evaluating the library's performance.
The following list is adapted from Ruth Warncke's "Readiness Checklist" (Warncke 1975, 74-75). If a library passes this "readiness test" with flying colors, then it is prepared to take on an extensive planning effort. If the library's "readiness quotient" is fairly low, it should consider a lower level of effort or plan to devote more resources to preparing for Looking- Around and educating participants.
is convinced that Looking-Around is needed,
believes in the purpose of the planning effort,
is willing to examine present practices as part of the planning effort,
is willing to ask for the help and advice of others, and
is able to convey conviction of the need to others.
have been involved in planning before,
regularly consider policy decisions in relation to this plan,
regularly give as much attention to the library's services as they do to the building, finance, and personnel, and
regard their role as including the interpretation of the library to the community and the community to the library staff.
have frequently worked together on common problems,
are active in community affairs, and
want to extend the services of the library into the community.
show interest in improving the community,
support the library in its activities and in its efforts to secure funds,
participate in library programs and public relations activities, and
like being asked for advice by the library staff and board members.
Question 2: How much time is available?
Time is a critical resource, and Looking-Around can be a lengthy and time-consuming process. In Planning to Plan, the library's leadership must decide how much time is available for Looking-Around. There are two related questions to ask to help answer the overall question:
Question 2A: How quickly must we complete this process?
If the library has the luxury of spending three to six months on the Looking-Around phase, then a moderate to extensive level of effort is appropriate. If the planning must be completed quickly, then a basic level of effort is more suitable.
Question 2B: How much time can we devote to this process?
This question deals with time as a resource. How much staff time is available to devote to Looking-Around? Do the members of the library's board have adequate time to devote to the project? What about citizen volunteers and Friends? If there is a core group with ample time available, then a more extensive Looking-Around process may be appropriate; however, if time is limited for everybody involved, a simple approach is better.
Question 3: How much money is available?
The amount of cold, hard cash available is important. Some tools for Looking-Around, such as surveys and consulting assistance, are expensive. The more complex the approach you take to Looking-Around, the more costly the effort.
Question 4: How complex is the community?
Libraries serving diverse or rapidly-changing communities may need to spend more time Looking-Around. In a fairly homogeneous community that is not undergoing rapid change, Looking-Around can be more straightforward.
Question 5: How much information is already available?
If the library has already conducted an extensive process of information gathering in the recent past, then another in-depth process may not be needed. If the library has established systems for ongoing evaluation of the library's performance, the Looking-Around process may be streamlined because information is already available.
Step 2: Determine who will be involved
The next step is deciding who will be involved in Looking-Around. The more people, the higher the level of effort; the higher the level of effort, the more people needed to carry out a more ambitious effort.
Step 3: Prepare the planning
The Planning Committee should be educated to understand the overall planning process and the specific issues to consider in Looking-Around. Planning and Role Setting for Public Libraries and this handbook will help with that task.
The next step is a review of the full range of information that is available about the library (Looking-Around-Inside) and about the community (Looking-Around-Outside).
Step 4: Decide what information to use
Planning and Role Setting for Public Libraries suggests two approaches to determine what information is needed and a third comes from Greer and Hale.
There are at least two ways to identify the information to include on the Information Needs List. The first is to go through a brainstorming process with the Planning Committee in response to the question "What do we need to know about the library and the community it serves in order to make planning decisions?" followed by review and discussion of the options identified and a narrowing of the options. The second is to use the role-setting process to identify possible service priorities and information needed to validate or test the Planning Committee's original assumptions about role priorities.
By the end of Step 4, the Planning Committee should have a list of the types of information it needs and the tools it will use to gather that information.
Step 5: Reality check
Once the Planning Committee members have worked out their preliminary plan for information gathering, they pause to make certain that their appetite for data matches their earlier decisions: Do their preliminary plans match the level of effort they selected for Looking-Around? Does the cost of collecting the data match the benefit they will receive? Do they have the time, people, and money to gather the information they have identified as important? How will they use the information that is collected? Is there overlap in the information that will be gathered?
Step 6: Make final plans
Based on the reality check, decide on the essential data that you will collect during Looking-Around. Then develop a schedule, make final assignments, and train the people who will be involved so that they understand the overall planning process, their role in the process, and how to carry out their assignments. Then get to work!
Issues, pitfalls, and words of wisdom
Looking-Around is the most dangerous phase of planning. From the Planning to Plan stage to the final steps of evaluating the data and making planning decisions, there are pitfalls that can result in a loss of time, money, or credibility for the planning process. This section has a few tips to consider for the planning and execution of the Looking-Around process.
DO: Consider both factual data and subjective impressions about the library, its services, and its community.
DO: Take advantage of information already collected by others both within and outside the library.
DO: Know in advance what use will be made of each piece of information collected.
DO: Allow ample time to think about and interpret the information gathered.
DO: Set a clear time schedule for Looking-Around activities.
DO: Refer to Output Measures for Public Libraries, second edition, for measures and data collection methods suitable to the library.
DON'T: Allow Looking-Around to become an end unto itself--all steps in the process are important.
DON'T: Collect more information than the Planning Committee can use.
DON'T: Conduct surveys unless the library can commit an extensive level of effort for Looking-Around and has (or acquires) the necessary expertise. (McClure 1987, 16 fig. 6)
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