Library Planning

Author: Danuta A. Nitecki, Dean of Libraries, Drexel University, Association of College and Research Libraries Liaison to SCUP

The way the world seeks, finds, and consumes information is rapidly changing … and the role of the college or university library with it. Rather than make libraries obsolete, these changes make libraries more important to higher education than ever—as resources for finding and evaluating information, as places to gather and learn with peers, as stewards of important values like intellectual freedom and privacy rights.

What is library planning?

Library planning establishes how the library (or libraries) will support a higher education institution’s strategies and operations. In particular, it looks at how the library can advance a college’s or university’s learning, research, and/or service programs and initiatives.

The Standards for Libraries in Higher Education by the Association of College & Research Libraries lays out the aims of library planning:

  • Support an institution’s mission and goals
  • Protect academic values, like intellectual freedom, intellectual property rights, and user privacy
  • Teach learners to find, evaluate, and use information effectively
  • Enable users to find information in all formats
  • Create collections sufficient to support the research and teaching missions of the institution
  • Provide physical and virtual environments where users interact with ideas
  • Inform resource allocation to meet the library’s mission effectively and efficiently
  • Provide sufficient personnel to function successfully
  • Engage the campus and broader community in order to advocate, educate, and promote the library’s value1

Why do it?

Library planning helps institutions address broader changes in the way information is sought, found, and consumed so the institution can prepare students for success in an increasingly data- and knowledge-dependent society.

Library planning also helps higher education institutions find efficiencies, contain rising student costs, and comply with accreditation standards.

How to do it?

Library planning will differ depending on the type of institution. For example, although all academic libraries address expectations to support learning and teaching, emphasis on research activities varies across academic library missions.

There is no single, common approach to library planning. Plans might focus on:

  • Strategic plans for framing the direction of the library
  • Scenario plans to identify contingencies for specific possibilities
  • Benchmarking to identify library strengths, weaknesses, and funding compared to other similar institutions
  • Future search plans to engage stakeholders and build advocacy
  • User-centric service quality improvement plans
  • Space plans, both as part of a campus master plan or for renovation or building of a singular facility

Library planning can involve decisions about library-administered membership in external organizations. These memberships extend access to collections beyond campus through reciprocal agreements and negotiate reduced vendor license fees for information access and systems support. Memberships can also integrate individual library planning with that of an association or consortium that supports academic libraries, especially to ensure student success, reduce the costs of education, and steward research output.

Who does it?

Library planning is directed by library directors, institutional administrators, or appointed faculty members.

Committees offer stakeholder feedback, propose directions, align institution priorities, and shape resource allocations (e.g., for space, technologies, staffing, or budget). Sometimes advisory groups or other academic planners (including faculty, students, technology experts, institutional research data analysts, and alumni or “friends” for fundraising) can be involved.

Typically the provost, in consultation with the library director, approves the library plan, though commitment to the plan may include vice provosts for academic and student affairs, deans, faculty, students, and external stakeholders (including members of the board of trustees).

When to do it?

In order for the library plan to align with the college or university strategic plan and other institutional planning efforts, comprehensive library planning follows other planning cycles within the institution—usually every five or more years. Internal library planning typically occurs annually, linked to either performance assessments and reports or budget requests.

Why integrated?

Integrating planning for library planning ensures that decisions made during other institutional planning efforts leverage the library’s services to support student success, faculty recruitment and retention, external fundraising and research revenue, and the generation of intellectual property and dissemination of scholarship.

Library planning can have explicit links to other planning, including those conducted for:

  • Enrollment and student services
  • Institutional advancement
  • Student services
  • IT
  • Academic planning, particularly curriculum development and teaching assessment
  • Faculty recruitment and retention initiatives
  • Space planning
  • Research output management and data stewardship
  • Campus planning
1 ACRL [Association of College & Research Libraries] Standards for Libraries in Higher Education. 2018. Retrieved 03/25/2019 online: