A Strategic Plan For The Future Of Library Services In Massachusetts

[Graphic of State Seal of Massachusetts]

Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners

Approved July 8, 1993


Board of Library Commissioners

S. Andrew Efstathiou
Robert D. Hall, Jr.
Michael Keating
Mary J. Long
Kevin F. Moloney, Esq.
Irene Probstein
Robert D. Stueart, Ph. D.
Jurgen Thomas

Marilyn Chunglo to June 1993
B. Donald Cook to March 1993
Carol B. Dane to February 1993
Ann B. Murphy to February 1993

Strategic Planning Committee

Marianne Burke, Countway Library of Medicine
Debby Conrad, South Eastern Automated Libraries (SEAL)
Arthur Curley, Boston Public Library
Carol B. Dane, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners
Janice Dore, Frontier Regional Schools, S. Deerfield
Tamson Ely, Springfield Technical Community College Library
Keith Michael Fiels, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners
Kathy Glick-Weil, Lincoln Public Library
Elizabeth Gray, Dana Hall School, Wellesley
Donna Guerin, Palmer Public Schools
Bonnie Isman, Jones Library, Amherst
Penelope Johnson, Worcester Public Library
Ruth Kowal, Eastern Massachusetts Regional Library System
Joan Kuklinski, Minuteman Library Network
Mary J. Long, Board of Library Commissioners
Jay Lucker, MIT Libraries
Robert Maier, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners
Barbara Morse, Southwick Public Library
Ray Niro, Raytheon Corporation
Anne Parent, Central Massachusetts Regional Library System
Bruce Plummer, Worcester State College Library
Ellen Rainville, J.V. Fletcher Library, Westford
John Ramsay, Western Massachusetts Regional Library System
Robert D. Stueart, Board of Library Commissioners
Richard Talbot, University of Massachusetts-Amherst Library
Marnie Warner, Trial Court Law Libraries
Elizabeth Watson, Fitchburg Public Library
Anne Wolpert, Baker Library, Harvard Business School
Linda Wright, Bridgewater Public Library
Mickey Moskowitz Zemon, Emerson College Library
Mary Francis Zilonis, Cambridge Public Schools


In October 1992, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners approved the formation of a Strategic Planning Committee. This thirty-one-member committee, which contained representation from libraries of all types, all sizes, and from all geographic areas of the Commonwealth, was charged to:

  1. Analyze the current environment for library services and current strengths and weaknesses in library services for the people of the Commonwealth;
  2. Create a collective vision of future library services for the people of the Commonwealth in the year 2000 and beyond;
  3. Develop a strategic plan for the future of library service provided to the people of the Commonwealth by libraries of all types.

The resulting plan represents the Board of Library Commissioners' vision of the library services that must be available to all residents of the Commonwealth if they are to meet the challenges of the future.

The plan is strategic, in that it focuses on what we wish to accomplish, rather than detailing all of the specifics of how we will achieve it. Specific implementation plans, addressing statutory, regulatory, programmatic, technological, and funding issues need to be developed, implemented, evaluated and refined on an ongoing basis in order to accomplish the goals and objectives contained in the plan. These should be developed with significant participation from the library community.

To a large degree the development of the plan is the result of the work of the citizens, elected officials, library trustees and librarians who participated in the 1991 White House Conference on Library and Information Services. This group set as a top priority that the Board of Library Commissioners create a strategic plan to guide the development of future library services in a time of rapid changes in technology and user needs.


Libraries have played a key role in Massachusetts' cultural and economic development for more than three hundred years. Libraries serve as a focus for intellectual growth, research and learning for people of all ages. Through libraries, cities and towns, schools, institutions and businesses provide collective access to books and other resources which no individual could hope to afford.

Currently, nearly 2,800 academic, public, school, institutional and corporate libraries serve the people of the Commonwealth, and their combined collections of books and other materials constitute one of the richest intellectual resources in the nation.

Today, our society and these libraries are challenged by several major trends that are changing the way we work, learn and communicate. The first of these trends is globalization. Increasingly, we live and work in an environment of global interdependence and global competition where personal, educational and corporate success is determined by timely access to global information resources.

The second trend is the information explosion. During the last half century, published information has increased at an unprecedented rate, with the total amount of recorded information estimated to be doubling every ten to twenty years. Acquiring, organizing and making this information accessible presents a serious and growing challenge.

The third trend is the revolution in computer technology,which has created a new world of electronic access to information. While books and periodicals will continue to serve as the main source of information for education and communication for many generations to come, new electronic information systems are augmenting and, in many instances, replacing traditional printed information sources. This creates tremendous challenges for the individuals, businesses and institutions which must learn to use them effectively. An even more serious problem is the emerging chasm between information "haves" and "have nots." If all citizens are to meet their full economic and personal potential, they must not only be print literate, but now must be information literate as well.

The fourth trend is an acceleration in the rate of technological change which has created an increased need for lifelong learning and retraining. It is now estimated that today's eighteen-year-olds will change employment several times in their lives, with new skills required each time. For the first time in history, lifelong learning has become more than desirable -- it has become an economic necessity.

Today, the Commonwealth's businesses and workers are trying to cope with staggering growth in publication, information and human knowledge while learning how to compete in an information-driven global economy that requires access to global information resources. The Massachusetts economy has always depended heavily on the informational resources acquired, organized, and maintained by libraries. It would be extremely short-sighted to believe that Massachusetts will be able to compete in the emerging information-based economy without continued access to strong libraries and the new electronic information resources.

As we enter the 21st century, libraries must continue to serve as intellectual and cultural centers for their communities by maintaining strong collections of books and periodicals. At the same time, they must also provide access to an expanding world of information and keep pace with changes in information technology. It is clear that libraries can and will play a critical role in preparing Massachusetts residents to meet the challenges of the future, but their ability to do so effectively will be determined by the following key issues:

ISSUE 1: The End of the Stand-Alone Library

Half a century ago, a well-funded academic, public, school, institutional or corporate library could reasonably expect to meet most of the needs of its users through a collection of materials housed within a single building. Since that time, the rapid growth in publishing and the accompanying dramatic increases in the variety and specialization of user needs have far outstripped the capacity of any library. During the last decade, however, library funding has failed to keep pace with these growing needs due to the combined effect of inflation and local budget cuts.

Libraries have responded to the crisis of increasing demands and limited resources through a greater reliance on regionalization, cooperation and networking. Two major State initiatives in this area include the Regional Public Library Systems and the automated resource sharing networks, both of which provide libraries with expanded access to materials and information not available locally. However, the state supported regional library systems generally serve public libraries only, and while some of the automated resource sharing networks are multitype, they serve only one-tenth of all libraries in the Commonwealth. What is needed is a statewide structure to effectively link existing programs and extend the benefits of regionalization, cooperation, and networking to all libraries.

ISSUE 2: The Need for Closer Cooperation Among Different Types of Libraries

As individual libraries increasingly rely on cooperation and networking, it has become clear that libraries of all types need to work together much more closely if they are to meet all the information needs of users. Currently, most Massachusetts public libraries find it easier to locate information on materials in another public library across the state than in a school library across the street.

Massachusetts residents use different libraries throughout their lives. They use public libraries as preschoolers, as students, as parents, as workers, and as lifelong learners. They use school and academic libraries as students, and institutional and corporate libraries as workers. If libraries are to meet the rapidly changing needs of residents in the future, they must have cooperative structures which allow them to connect users with the widest range of possible resources, regardless of which type of library provides this connection.

ISSUE 3: The Need for a Statewide Structure for Cooperation and Access

Cooperation allows individual libraries to serve their users more effectively by offering them access to the resources of other libraries, but state support is required to make the full range of resources available to residents.

Since 1960, the Commonwealth has supported limited cooperation between public libraries on a regional level, including some support for shared automated networks, and since 1970 has provided support for the maintenance of a research collection accessible to all residents. What is needed beyond these successful programs is an overall structure to promote cooperation and improved access to information among all libraries on a statewide basis.

State-supported programs for cooperation and networking among different types of libraries are currently in place in almost every other state, and are particularly well developed in states with technology-oriented economies. Without such a program, the Commonwealth is at a severe competitive disadvantage. While Massachusetts libraries hold a wealth of resources, access to many specialized resources of statewide importance is limited or nonexistent. A statewide structure for cooperation would make more of these specialized resources accessible through libraries to businesses and individuals who do not currently have ready access to them.

Massachusetts is also fortunate to possess a unique strength: the unusually rich and varied library resources of private institutions. To take full advantage of this asset, the resources of these libraries should be made more accessible. To do this while also addressing the unequal burden which resource sharing can place on larger or stronger libraries of all types, it is critical that statewide mechanisms are created to ensure that no disproportionate burden of participation is placed on any library or group of libraries without appropriate compensation.

ISSUE 4: Inequities in Access to Information

Currently, the quality and range of services offered by individual academic, public, school, institutional and corporate libraries varies from excellent to totally inadequate. Approximately one-fourth of all public libraries do not even meet minimum standards for library service, and many school libraries in the Commonwealth rank among the most poorly supported in the nation. Further serious inequities exist in the rural sections of the Commonwealth and in urban areas. To help address these inequities, a commitment must be made by the Commonwealth, as it has already been made by most other states, to guarantee that every resident has a basic level of access to information.

A basic level of access to electronic information can be made available in every library throughout the Commonwealth at relatively low cost if provided on a statewide basis. Without this basic access, millions of residents will not have the information they need to achieve their personal and economic potential.

ISSUE 5: The Need for a Statewide Electronic Information Network

During the last two decades, advances in computer technology have stimulated dramatic growth in the number and variety of electronic information sources. As traditional printed catalogs are being replaced by computerized catalogs, many traditional reference sources and periodicals are being replaced by computerized databases. The impact of this growing world of electronic information is being felt in every library throughout the Commonwealth, along with strong growth in demand for electronic information services -- a demand libraries are at present largely unable to meet.

Statewide access to computerized information requires an "information highway" which will link libraries and library users with online electronic information sources. Initiatives at the national level (the National Research and Education Network, or NREN) and the New England regional level provide the backbone telecommunications system (known collectively as the Internet) necessary for the provision of electronic information resources to libraries. However, a statewide network linking all libraries to these regional and national networks is essential in order to provide Massachusetts residents with the full range of electronic information resources. The current program of state support for telecommunications linkages among libraries currently reaches only 250 of the nearly 2800 libraries in the Commonwealth.

ISSUE 6: The Challenge of Learning How to Use the New Information Technologies

While new computer and telecommunications technologies offer exciting possibilities for students, businesses and researchers, the people of the Commonwealth cannot fully utilize these electronic information systems unless they are print, computer and information literate.

End users of these new electronic information systems will require considerable assistance and training. These users will also need knowledgeable librarians to assist them in locating information and learning new skills. User education must begin in public libraries with preschool children(when critical learning patterns are set) and continue through elementary and secondary school libraries. User education for adults must be provided through academic, institutional, corporate and public libraries. Given the rate of technological change, this training and assistance will need to be available on an ongoing basis.


Through the Commonwealth's libraries, every Massachusetts resident has equal and convenient access to information to satisfy educational, occupational, cultural and personal growth needs. This access is available to people who live, work and study in Massachusetts regardless of geographic location, socio-economic status, age, level of physical or intellectual ability, or cultural background.

All Massachusetts libraries -- academic, public, school, institutional and corporate -- are linked electronically through a statewide computer and telecommunications network. This network carries text, images and other media and is accessible from home or office. Through this network users can search and retrieve information from Massachusetts libraries, community resource files, local, state and federal government resources, national and international sources, and licensed commercial databases.

Each library provides qualified staff and appropriate technology, collections, support programs, and services which meet the recurring needs of its primary clientele. Individual library collections and services are supported and expanded through strong programs of regional services. Statewide programs support cooperation among libraries of all types and facilitate access to unique and specialized collections and resources.

Through a coordinated public awareness effort, libraries effectively inform residents of information services available to them. Libraries offer the training that their users need to fully utilize these library and information resources. Librarians, as skilled information professionals, are available to guide both experienced and inexperienced users.


Goal 1: Every Massachusetts resident has equal access to library collections and information services.

Key Objectives

  1. Provide all residents with access to the full range of information resources of the Commonwealth through interlibrary loan services, document delivery, reference referral and access to government and commercial electronic databases.
  2. Maintain and develop critical research collections which are available to the general public for onsite use.
  3. Provide residents with the orientation, education and training needed to use library and information systems.
  4. Provide residents with qualified, service-oriented staff to assist them in securing the information and materials they need.
  5. Provide residents with direct electronic access to a statewide library information network containing library holdings, government information and reference information databases.
  6. Promote public awareness of the wide range of information services available through libraries.

Goal II: Every Massachusetts library has full access to a program of statewide and regional services.

Key Objectives

  1. Establish a representative coordinating structure for cooperation among all types of libraries at the statewide level.
  2. Support programs of cooperation among libraries of all types at the statewide level.
  3. Assure statewide access to a wide variety of specialized and unique reference, research and information resources.
  4. Provide a statewide program for delivery of materials and information among libraries.
  5. Provide for the evolution of the present Regional Public Library Systems into regional multitype systems which provide and support cooperative services for libraries of all types within a region.
  6. Develop a statement of formal roles and state-supported service responsibilities for the state, regional multitype systems and automated resource sharing networks and a statement of the role of individual libraries.
  7. Provide mechanisms to ensure that no disproportionate burden of participation in resource sharing activities is placed on any library or group of libraries without appropriate compensation.

Goal III: All Massachusetts libraries are linked through a statewide electronic information network.

Key Objectives

  1. Create an electronic library information network which provides for the transmission of text, images, and other media among libraries.
  2. Promote the conversion of library cataloging records to standardized machine readable form and their inclusion in databases which are searchable via the statewide network.
  3. Provide libraries with access to state and federal government information databases and selected general and specialized reference informational databases, licensed on a statewide basis.
  4. Provide for a gateway to other databases, including fee-based commercial reference informational databases.

Goal IV: Every Massachusetts academic, public, school, institutional and corporate library meets the basic service needs of its users.

Key Objectives

  1. Promote development of and adherence to standards and guidelines for services provided by libraries of different types.
  2. Establish basic requirements which libraries must meet in order to participate in regional and statewide cooperative programs. These would include providing a collection of materials and appropriate service hours to meet the recurring needs of their primary clientele, trained, qualified staff, and the appropriate tools and technology to offer users access to the statewide electronic information network.

Goal V: Every librarian has the training and support necessary to provide residents with adequate information services.

Key Objectives

  1. Educate and train librarians to serve as intermediaries in connecting users to local, statewide and global electronic networks and in guiding users to appropriate information resources via these networks.
  2. Educate and train all library staff throughout the Commonwealth in using new information technologies.
  3. Provide all library staff with ongoing support and technical assistance in using information technologies.

Goal VI: Massachusetts libraries are able to meet evolving information needs.

Key Objectives

  1. Create more effective structures to provide and fund improved library services in publicly supported libraries of all types.
  2. Support innovative programs for improved information access and delivery services in libraries of all types throughout the Commonwealth.
Page last updated on 07/7/2015