Transforming the Library: Connecting to Community
The Linda Hall Library is a distinctive Kansas City cultural asset that opened to the public in 1946. Today, it is recognized globally for its unique collection, consisting of rare books, and an unsurpassable assemblage of scientific journals and other serial publications. There is nothing like it in Kansas City, and it is difficult to identify comparable institutions elsewhere.
Despite its national and international acclaim as a leading venue for research in the history of science and technology, the Library is generally not well-known in Kansas City, where it is sometimes referred to as a “hidden jewel.” The Library seeks to change this perception by strengthening community connections, intensifying and enhancing existing efforts to increase its impact in the Kansas City area, and helping to propel the region to the front rank of scientifically literate places in the United States. Doing so requires significant and systemic institutional transformation. The Library’s new strategic plan pursues this transformation by building on historic strengths while advancing its contemporary relevance.
The deep change that the Library seeks will take time; transformed institutions do not spring fully-formed overnight. The plan consequently posits goals and strategies for a first phase that will take three years. During this time, the Library will surface, test, implement and revise several intertwined strategies in related areas, including public programming, outreach and communications, collaboration, development, governance and organization and staffing. The plan emphasizes experimentation, which is at the core of the scientific method, to determine the most effective strategies, and the Library will focus on learning and adaptation as it embraces change. As it seeks broader recognition in and support from the community, the Library will elevate the principles on which it was founded: a commitment to learning, excellence and public benefit.
A summary of Year One of the first phase’s critical elements follows.
Expand public-facing activities by developing and implementing a wide range of programs that draws on the Library’s collection and has contemporary relevance, attracts audiences that encompasses advanced high school students through educated, curious adults, utilizes multiple formats and venues, and leverages the distinctive strengths of the Library’s building and grounds.
In Year One, the Library will deploy several strategies to meet this goal, including:
- Sponsor a greatly expanded and wide range of expert presentations on scientific topics of public interest, including lectures, conferences, panel discussions, debates and interviews
- Promote hands-on activities such as hackathons, nerd nites, trivia nights, demonstrations and workshops, and related programs that connect science to contemporary life
- Encourage public interest in science by connecting scientific achievement to the constant need for problem-solving
- Establish a new Scholar-in-Residence program for researchers affiliated with area universities who are investigating scientific issues of community interest and connecting the existing Fellows program to matters of civic interest and concern whenever possible
- Expand program venues to collaborate with other leading Kansas City cultural organizations
- Make public programs more accessible to broader audiences through greater use of technology
- Developing new metrics to measure success in attracting new and expanded audiences and using these metrics for planning
Develop and maintain vigorous strategic relationships with other leading civic, cultural, scientific, and educational organizations in the Kansas City area that will encourage more understanding of science and its salience, promote public interest in and curiosity about science and technology, and provide greater visibility for the Library.
In Year One, the Library will augment its work by developing ongoing collaborations and partnerships with other Kansas City area institutions. Strategies will involve:
- A series of interrelated and continuing efforts to provide leadership and add value to STEM activities by serving as a venue for STEM activities, recognizing and rewarding STEM achievement, sponsoring learning opportunities for teachers in STEM areas, and working with other organizations to provide experiences for high-achieving STEM high school students
- Pursue ongoing collaborations with the University of Missouri Kansas City by offering joint programming for students, faculty and the community
- Establish new ties to area universities that will lead to use of the Library by their students and faculty, presentations on university campuses, and developing joint materials
- Explore the creation of a Sciences Institutes Consortium that, over time, will seek synergies and promote activities among nearby scientific, engineering, technology, and health related institutions
- Partner with other leading Kansas City cultural organizations to co-sponsor several events each year
- Reach out to engineering and other firms to explore programming and other collaborative opportunities
Build on the recognized strengths of the Library’s Trustees in finance, stewardship, and management by expanding the board to include individuals with reputations and expertise that will enhance the Library’s capacity to engage the public, boost its standing as a leading intellectual resource, and increase awareness of its work within and beyond Kansas City.
In Year One, the Linda Hall Library will:
- Add three new Trustees to its board
- Establish standing committees of the board (Long-Range Planning; Finance, Development; Human Resources) that meet regularly
- Conduct an annual meeting of the board, where the Trustees adopt plans for the upcoming year and make any required midcourse corrections in the strategic plan
- Explore the creation of an advisory committee to promote outreach and engagement
Continue to review staffing to add capacity for enhanced focus on community outreach and engagement, greater collaboration among staff from all departments, and more integrated activities, while monitoring results and planning for the future.
In Year One, the Linda Hall Library will:
- Adopt a divisional structure consisting of three units: library collections and services; communications, development and public engagement; and finance and administration, and ensure ongoing interaction among the three units
- Recruit and hire a Chief Financial Officer
- Recruit and hire a Senior Vice President for Public Engagement
- Add new staff in development, communications and administration
Create and begin to implement a comprehensive development plan with specific fundraising goals and supporting strategies that will increase giving by current donors, identify and attract new supporters and sources of funds, promote deeper affiliation with the Library, and ensure sufficient resources to finance the transformation.
The Library will augment its fundraising efforts. In Year One it will:
- Create a comprehensive development plan with measurable goals and monitor plan activity and first year results
- Promote comprehensive Trustee involvement in fundraising
- Explore new strategies for targeted solicitations, individual tiered giving, donor recognition, and corporate and foundation funding
- Establish a “venture fund” to encourage targeted giving for the transformation
Communications, Outreach and Public Engagement
Create and begin to implement a comprehensive communications, outreach and public engagement plan that positions the Library as a leading Kansas City cultural organization by emphasizing the connection between the Library’s legacy and its emerging activities, by surfacing and promoting its brand and its story, by using multiple platforms and consistent messaging to expand its audiences, and by systematically supporting the institution’s development and public programming efforts.
In Year One, the Library will adopt the following communications, outreach and public engagement strategies:
- Promulgate a comprehensive communications plan that aligns with the strategic plan and the new development plan
- Develop a new narrative for the Library that connects its history and distinctive cultural position with its new comprehensive efforts to engage a broader public
- Define and disseminate a new brand for the Library that stresses its role in fostering public interest in scientific issues
- Expand the means the Library uses to tell its story and promote its programs
- Ensure that Library leadership is active and recognized in the community