Washington County Library at Light Speed

October 29th, 2017

WCL rocks at light speed. Washington County is located between St. Paul and Wisconsin. The population is just over 250,000. It’s a big, suburban, and growing county.

In October 2016, I went to Woodbury, MN for our first meeting and market segmentation workshop.

By January 2017, just three months later, the Library had a new strategic plan, totally refocused its priorities, and completely reorganized its administration. This was the most aggressive, exciting, and bold set of moves we’ve ever seen in our decade plus of working with public libraries.

These guys are a model that library’s across the nation should be emulating.

There were three key people factors that enabled these bold moves.

  • First, the county administrator displayed exemplary leadership. She wanted to see change after years of stasis. No change was the prevalent attitude.
  • Upon the retirement of a long-time library director, the CAO hired Keith Ryskoski, the former superintendent of the Stillwater School District, as the new library director. Keith was a breath of fresh air, not bound by conventional, status quo “we’ve always done it this way” thinking. Keith challenged and engaged staff by asking for and incorporating their best thinking.
  • The third person was the “Amy factor.” Amy Stenftenagel, a librarian, had a former life in Hollywood closely advising the head of one the world’s biggest and most successful producers (but we’re not saying who). Amy was the change catalyst, taking a creative problem solving approach to whatever challenge arose.

What we so truly value about our role in all of this was the close working relationship with Keith and Amy, and later Tina Kapale and Suzanne Peterson who subsequently joined the executive team. Not that we always agreed but that we’re one team. It’s been a blessing to work with them, and all of their other great staff who show initiative and demonstrate tremendous professional growth including Jessi, Karen, Natalie, Margaret, Alaina, Liz, Megan, Mindy, Sarah, Martha, Christian, Tracey, Dave, and others!

One of the things we realized as soon as we started working with the Library was that their strategic plan, prepared just a few months before we started, had very little content and could not be implemented. Staff wasted hours and hours and finally gave up. It left a bad taste in the mouth for just about everyone and there was a decided lack of trust and gobs of doubt.

And, I was undaunted, seeing all the right conditions for success.

Using our market segmentation data and our engaging workshop process, we empowered staff and rewrote the strategic plan in two months before the end of 2016. We ended up with new market strategies and public service investments and initiatives, along with an organizational development concept to implement it all.

By the end of January 2017, the County unless the CAO’s leadership approved the new organizational structure to implement the revised strategic plan including new assistant director positions and re-budgeted monies for new staff positions. Since then we’ve been working with the library on a number of things to move it all forward.

We’ve prepared three case studies for your review on the Projects page:


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