Interview with the authors: Mathuews and Spellman on Staff-led Strategic Plans

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

March 28, 2023

I had the pleasure of interviewing the authors of a book important for all librarians who are thinking about updating their library’s strategic plan. 

Katy B. Mathuews and Ryan A. Spellman wrote Creating a Staff-Led Strategic Plan. My interview with them is below.

Please introduce yourselves to our readers.

Katy: I am the senior director of administration at the Ohio University Libraries. I have served in a variety of roles in academic libraries and higher education. I have served on the board of trustees of the Scioto County Public Library (formerly the Portsmouth Public Library) and have served on the executive board of the Academic Library Association of Ohio as membership chair, vice president/president-elect, president, and past president. Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to participate in strategic planning work in many capacities.

Ryan: I am a library support specialist for the Ohio University Libraries. Informally, my title is Service Desk Coordinator for the Alden Library. Prior to this, I worked at a lovely public library for around fourteen years, where I spent much of my time working at service desks in various capacities. Needless to say, this has all given me diverse insights into user-focused library services.  

Will you briefly summarize Creating a Staff-Led Strategic Plan?

Katy: The book is a practical guide to staff-led strategic planning for any type of library. Staff-led strategic planning is an inclusive approach that engages and empowers staff to develop a strategic plan for their library collaboratively. This book helps library staff navigate the process of developing a strategic plan including creating buy-in, developing a collaborative team structure to complete the work, and tips for implementation, assessment, and communication.

Ryan: I particularly like to emphasize Katy’s point that this is a practical guide. This aspect of the book is something we put a lot of energy into maintaining as we worked on it. The book is intended as an easy-to-follow guide for the whole process, from beginning to end and beyond.   

What led you to write this book?

Ryan: Katy and I were asked to co-chair a strategic planning effort for our library. Katy’s prior strategic planning experience helped us get our bearings, but we both still needed to carve out a chunk of time to focus on reading literature about the process. Coordinating a completely staff-led effort seemed quite challenging at the start of it all! There is a lot of fantastic literature about strategic planning out there—much of which we reference in our book’s additional readings at the end of each chapter. However, we quickly found that when it comes to an entirely staff-led approach to strategic planning, there was a significant gap. I like to think of this as a book we wish we’d had, and hope it will help others in a similar situation.  

Katy: I definitely agree. The staff-led approach is very empowering, and we appreciate the opportunity to have exercised that approach at our library. However, for staff unused to leading large projects, navigating the logistics of project management, and guiding interpersonal communications, it can feel overwhelming. We hope this book helps support library staff in this way.

How did you learn to create a strategic plan?

Katy: I was fortunate to have a background in business administration and the opportunity to participate in strategic planning efforts in the past. However, in order to learn how to design and lead a process, we turned to the current literature. As Ryan mentioned, there are many helpful resources available to help library staff create a strategic plan, but we wished there was a resource that helped inform a staff-led approach with logistic and practical information for guiding the process. We hope that this book is a meaningful contribution to existing literature.

Ryan: When I teamed up with Katy as co-chair for our strategic planning work, it was my first time being involved in such a large process. Katy was able to give me a good background, but beyond this, I took time to study up as soon as I knew I was on board for the role. This involved lots of reading, note taking, and working through some relevant online self-paced courses. That said, there is only so much you can get from reading and studying. Going through the process itself fueled many of my contributions to the book.

Why do you feel a staff-led strategic plan is important for the future of libraries?

Katy: Equity, diversity, inclusion, access, and social justice are crucial as we reflect on the past and evolve into the future. A staff-led approach sets the stage for incorporating diverse voices into the guiding framework of a library’s work. A staff-led approach includes everyone and creates a culture of engagement that not only supports successful implementation, but also begins the important work of shifting our systems, frameworks, cultures, and approaches toward inclusion and equity.

The staff-led approach also fosters engagement and an investment in seeing the plan brought to fruition. Including staff in all phases of the process creates buy-in and creates an incentive to bring our ideals to life in our day-to-day work.

Ryan: Exactly. A staff-led strategic planning effort makes a much more informed map for the library to follow—a map drawn by those implementing it. There is a lot of power in that.

The description of the book mentions collaboration. Will you expand on why collaboration is an important part of the strategic planning process?

Ryan: Great question. Collaboration is a key ingredient in maximizing the diversity of ideas in strategic planning, as well as a key benefit of a well-executed staff-led effort. They really do go hand-in-hand. If you want to craft a strategic plan that is truly representational of the needs of your library and its users, you mustemphasize collaboration.

For many libraries, it is rare for all staff to provide the same services. You need staff from all aspects of your organization working together if you want to shape a proper perspective on user needs. Also, as internal stakeholders, the strategic planning process needs to be informed by what staff themselves need in order to continue or improve upon services for their users. Really, no one person is ever going to see the whole picture on their own.

On that note, it is important to highlight that this spirit of collaboration should go beyond the library’s walls. Collaborating with your communities is invaluable. In fact, this can be another benefit to a staff-led process. Library staff often bring unique external stakeholder connections to the table.

Katy: It also comes down to building good relationships with colleagues and stakeholders. The collaborative approach allows library staff to build trust and empathy for one another and provides a platform to strengthen relationships with library users and community partners.

What are some features/sections of this book that will be particularly useful for special librarians?

Ryan: So much of this book could be beneficial to special librarians. Just one example is our section on data analysis. Data analysis during strategic planning can greatly benefit from leveraging existing data. If special librarians are diligent about keeping meaningful data polished and on hand, it will bring a lot of value when strategic planning arises for their organization—while speaking volumes about the importance of their work. Even if strategic planning is on the distant horizon, it is important to be thinking about the data you are collecting now. This is just one example, but in this way, we hope the book is applicable to librarians in all walks of life.

Katy: The book really is for any type of library worker. Special librarians, and many others I think, will particularly benefit from the nuanced information on communication, project management, and other logistical issues. Especially if one has not led a broad library initiative before, or is not sure where to start with one’s own home-grown strategic planning process, this book can help anyone.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Katy: Our strategic planning initiative coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Practically, participating in a staff-led planning process helped all of us develop a variety of skills and resulted in a strategic plan that we believe in. However, the opportunity to strengthen our relationships through this work provided meaningful connection through trying times—and continues to imbue a sense of trust and empathy as we navigate our daily work.

Ryan: That is certainly one of the major takeaways that comes to mind when I think back on our strategic planning together, Katy. I saw the relationships among our colleagues grow so much!

It was a pleasure answering your questions. If anyone would like to chat about strategic planning, we would love to hear from you. You can reach Katy at and Ryan at

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter and interviewer on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her expertise includes information literacy, educational technology, and library and information science education.  Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.

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