Case Study: Arrowhead Library System Strategic Plan


Challenge: The Arrowhead Library System (ALS), a federated regional library system that includes public, academic, and special libraries across a seven-county region in northeast Minnesota, sought a new strategic plan. Its previous strategic plan had expired, and, like many organizations, it had undergone significant changes during the Covid-19 pandemic, including shifts in emphasis on certain services and several staff transitions. The organization’s director of over 30 years was also approaching retirement, and the board and outgoing director wanted to launch an intentional effort to plan for the impending transition.  

Role: Northspan guided a strategic planning process that included extensive information-gathering, including interviews with all board and staff members, the facilitation of a Wall of Wonder historical scan, two focus groups for member libraries, and surveys gathering input from the board and staff, member libraries, and the general public. It then facilitated workshops to identify an updated mission and vision for the organization, along with a practical vision, underlying contradictions, and strategic directions for the plan. The strategic directions included: 

  1. Empowering Libraries’ Staff Through Collaboration and Professional Development 
  2. Determining Staffing, Structure, and Workflow Needs 
  3. Expanding Community Outreach Services 
  4. Coordinating Marketing Efforts for Library Programs 
  5. Enhancing Library Support Through Focused Advocacy 

The ALS board and staff built out a timeline, and Northspan facilitated quarterly planning sessions to keep the plan on track. Northspan also provided process recommendations for the transition to a new director based on input from the board and staff interviews and succession planning best practices. 

Results: The ALS board approved the new strategic plan in February 2023. With the plan in place, it began laying the groundwork for the leadership transition, and ALS staff began implementing the full strategic plan. 

You can view the full strategic plan along with background details on the strategic planning process here: Arrowhead Library System Strategic Plan.

Reference: Jim Weikum, ALS Director,