Mission Matters: Backtalk Library Journal

Last January I published this short piece on mission for libraries over at Library Journal.  The embargo period has ended so here is the entire piece:

Do you know your library’s mission statement?  Did you write it, but can’t remember it?  Maybe that says something about your library’s mission statement and the danger of statements that lack passion.

While mission statements may have fallen out of vogue, they are still the single most important statement guiding your library.  A mission statement spells out the library’s most fundamental goals, and it explains how and why you spend money.

But many statements are not memorable:

The mission of the public library is to provide materials and services for community residents of all ages for personal enrichment, enjoyment and educational needs.  The library is dedicated to providing practical access to all forms of media.  The educational needs of elementary and secondary students will be supported and programs developed to stimulate children’s interests and appreciation for reading and learning.


The library district provides a wide variety of materials and services to patrons of all ages. To fulfill this mission, the library district has two roles: that of provider and that of partner.

Do the above statements evoke the passion the library has for its community? Do they declare what that library really does? Are they memorable? Are they meaningful? Not really.

One of the best mission statements ever written is found in the preamble of the United States Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Does this move you?  It should!

The world we live in today requires passionate mission statements, because we need to provide passionate services.  Not only are we facing tough economic climates, but also we have more competitors.  It is our mission statement which differentiates us as well as guides us and holds us accountable.

Conventional bottom line approaches only work in organizations that make a profit, and I don’t know many libraries that pull that off.  The best way to measure positive social impact, which is our bottom line, is to benchmark performance to your own mission statement.

Here is my library’ mission statement. While it may not suit your organization, or your community, it is very meaningful to us:

 The Mission of the Prairie State College Library is to be the library of choice for students, faculty, staff and the community.  We will achieve this by creating innovative policies, services, and a physical and digital environment where members can explore and discover their world, relate and connect to their community, develop and foster their identity, grow and expand their mind, and find and inspire their creativity.

Ask yourself, does your mission statement capture all that your library does?  If not, perhaps it’s time to revisit it.  As librarians, we love to borrow from each other, but this is not the best place to do that.  Your library’s mission statement should be unique.  If your mission statement is the same as the library down the road, then why should people choose your library over that one? Or over Amazon?

The mission of the Prairie State College Library demonstrates our passion to our library users.  It expresses our commitment to the fundamental reasons that people read in the first place.  The mission inspires the staff to work harder to accomplish that mission, create an organization that patrons want to be a part of, and it allows us to tell the real story of the library to those who threaten it with reduced funding.

So, go out and write an inspiring and passionate mission statement for your library.  May that mission statement help transform your library into a library your community adores and regards as indispensable.  And may that mission statement provide you with a purpose to wake up to every morning.


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