Although I have previously explained the genesis of the title of my blog, I neglected to mention one thing: I first used the title in one of our System’s office strategic planning sessions, envisioning its use as a tagline or slogan in a marketing/awareness campaign for public libraries. I can still see it, and I still like the concept. (Maybe it’s already been used in that capacity–who knows?)

“Bring your noise” is one of dozens of ideas, thoughts, revelations, and the like that have been tossed about in these strategic planning sessions. We have been engaged in this process for months, and the final report is due very soon. We have been working with an outside consultant at the direction of our governing bodies. It is not my intention to discuss the details of our strategic plan; however, I think it’s important to discuss the process and what I’ve personally gleaned from it.

Strategic planning is sometimes maligned as time wasted that could have been spent putting words into action–an expensive “to-do” list, with a focus on making the list rather than doing the work that needs to be done. I may have thought that myself a few months ago. Maybe it takes the right person to put the process on the right path, keep it there, and elevate it to a whole new level that goes beyond simply creating a wish list that does not take into consideration the constraints of reality. And boy, do we seem to have the right person.

The woman who heads up the consulting firm and acts as our facilitator is a dynamo. She is direct and astute, does not sugarcoat anything, and has proven to be a great listener, honest to a fault, intuitive…I could say more, but you get the picture. And above all else, the coolest thing about this person is that she is an outsider. She is not one of us. She is not a “library person” whatever that means, exactly. Those of us who are “library people” use that phrase a lot. But what does it really mean? Someone with a library card? Someone who’s been to the library? Someone who works in a library? Someone who appreciates libraries? Don’t know. But our consultant readily admitted at the outset of this process that while she has always appreciated libraries, she did not then (does now) have a library card and had not frequented or used libraries in recent years (!) She had never even heard of libraryland, which is not surprising since no one has ever heard of libraryland except those working in it, which begs the question, “Is this a useful term that we should continue to use?” As my kids would say, probs not.

Having this “outsider” facilitate our strategic planning process has accomplished two very important things. First, it has forced us to listen to someone with no library cred, which is something all of  us working to advance libraries could benefit from. There has been much ado about nothing in recent months when other “outsiders” talk about libraries. The most recent example is the hoopla over Seth Godin’s blog post  about the future of libraries. Not all the reaction from “library people” was negative (PC Sweeney; Andy Woodworth among others). Many of us do recognize the need to listen to voices outside of the choir. But too often I hear librarians scoff at the suggestions and input coming from anyone “outside of the stacks.” I’m sure you’ve heard it, too.

Which brings me to the other important thing that happened. As a result of listening to someone who is not part of our world, she has listened to us, too. And she has become our champion–a champion of libraries. She has been educated about what we do and why we do it and why we need funds in order to keep doing it. Although she claims to have entered this process with no preconceived ideas about libraries, I’m certain she had some. Her perception has been altered. Imagine that. We listened to her, valued her input, and as a result, she has been enlightened as to the reality of what the 21st century library represents and its value in our communities. Although she worries about the continued relevancy of libraries as many of us do, she now understands that the concern comes not from libraries failing to meet needs or expectations, but rather from the failure of libraries to educate “outsiders” about what we do, and more importantly, what we could do given the proper resources.

So, I conclude that strategic planning is both real and imagined. The process is very real. The imagined outcomes could become very real with continued hard work and dedication and a bit of luck. It is the combination of reality and imagination that will effect change for our own system and in the broader scheme of the future of libraries. But we cannot effect change without input from outsiders. And if we listen to them, heed (some of) their advice, and pay attention to what others think about us, perhaps we can be seen and heard, too. And then there will be no outsiders because we’ll all be on the same page.