BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The Somerset County Library System is ready to embark on a process to improve experiences for its patrons.

With the most recent strategic plan having been completed in 2017, the system is preparing to create a new one.

“It’s time for us to look again at what our communities need, and how the library can respond in a way that has an impact,” said Lynn Hoffman, director of operations at the library system and the person running the new strategic plan process. “I’ve had experience with strategic planning at public library systems where I worked before coming to Somerset County, and it’s an area of expertise for me.”

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Hoffman said that, in addition to her role as director of operations, she is responsible for managing back-of-the-house operations in areas like technology and library collections.

“I’m also responsible for managing large-scale system projects, like strategic planning,” she said.

Hoffman said they are using a model that starts with gathering community data, some of it involving information about demographics of Somerset County as a whole, while also digging deeper into the individual communities.

“We will be looking at the U.S. census, as well as community surveys performed by other local government and non-profit agencies who have done recent strategic planning themselves,” she said. “Other data will be gathered from a series of community conversations.”

Hoffman said they are planning to put together small groups of people to talk about their hopes and aspirations for the communities, and then look at how the libraries can create the kinds of places patrons want.

“We won’t know for sure what our strategic priorities should be until we hear from community members about what their priorities are,” she said. “Whatever priorities we end up with, our initiatives and tasks will be driven by the outcomes we’re hoping to achieve based on what we’ve heard from residents.”

“For some outcomes, it might make sense to roll out an initiative system-wide,” she added. “For others, it might make sense to target specific library branches. Making these decisions will be part of the planning process.”

As for the process of strategic planning, Hoffman said the planning model is cyclical, so they will run through the first cycle and then loop back around to the assessment stage again to see what the impact of the work has been, to find out if community needs have changed and to reset strategic priorities.

“We expect to gather community information and analyze the results this spring and summer, and, based on that data, we’ll present a plan for the Library Commission to approve by early fall 2018,” she said. “After that, we’ll come up with actions to support our strategic priorities, and we’ll start implementation, with evaluation slated to take place every six months.”

Hoffman said the plan overall does not have an end date, but there will be goals and timelines for each strategic priority that emerges from community conversations.

“Community residents and officials will be kept abreast of the plan’s development through routine email, social media and press releases,” she said.

The library system has 10 branches in Somerset County – Bound Brook, Bridgewater, Hillsborough, Manville, Mary Jacobs in Rocky Hill, North Plainfield, Peapack & Gladstone, Somerville, Warren and Watchung. There are also two reading stations in Martinsville and Neshanic Station.

Brian Auger, executive director of the county library system, said that while the strategic planning process is taking place, they are in the process of implementing some new programs, including new database services and a passport service later this year.

In addition, Auger said, the system has received a $12,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for a digital memory project, which was expected to begin in April.

Auger said they are also reaching out to the Franklin and Raritan libraries, which are not part of the county system, to help with digitizing their materials.

“We are doing a number of programs countywide, including at libraries outside our service areas,” he said. “People use libraries that are close to their work and commute.”