Your mission, if you choose to accept it...write your library’s mission statement. And luckily, this is far from Mission: Impossible. It is something that every library can and should do. A mission statement is a great way to quickly introduce people to the library’s role in the community and serve as a dynamic way to start discussion about library services.
What should the mission statement include?
The mission statement should reflect the library’s current situation and answer the following questions:
- What do you do?
- Who do you serve?
- How do you do it?
How detailed should the mission statement be?
This will vary depending on the size and nature of your library, as well as the scope of programs or services offered. As with any organizational writing, be clear, concise and direct, but give enough of a description of your mission and services to provide an accurate sense of your library's fundamental purpose. Look carefully at these and find logical groupings to make the mission statement more succinct.
Tips for writing a mission statement
In her book, "Libraries, Mission, & Marketing: Writing Mission Statements That Work", Linda Wallace provides the following tips for writing a mission statement.
- Aim for one – no more than three- short sentences. Saying more with less should be your goal.
- Avoid jargon that members of the public may not understand and buzzwords that quickly date.
- Ban bullet points. Bulleted points generally read better than they talk. If you must use them, limit them to three, which is all most people can remember.
- Use active voice. Writing in the active voice can make the difference between a statement that is pleasing and one that is powerful.
- Personalize the statement. Try using "our" rather than "the library’s".
- Don’t feel you have to start with the words "Our mission is…." Go directly to the point.
- Choose words that are meaningful to your audiences – all of them.
- Be specific about what you aim to accomplish. Again, limit yourself to three key points.
- Describe the most important thing your library does as through you were telling a friend.
- Write in a tone that is appropriate for your library, your parent institution or community.
- Say the statement out loud to see whether it flows off the tongue. Try saying it the next day to see if you can remember it.
- Edit ruthlessly. Fewer adjectives and adverbs generally make for stronger sentences.
- Remember, it’s only words – but words are powerful.
The above list was reproduced with the permission of the American Library Association from Libraries, Mission & Marketing: Writing Mission Statements That Work by Linda K. Wallace © 2004.
Use it! Putting the mission statement to work
Don’t let the work of creating the library’s mission statement go to waste. Staff, board members and other stakeholders should be aware of the mission statement and what role they can play in supporting that mission. Many libraries display their mission statement on their letterhead, bookmobiles, websites and promotional items. It can serve as a public statement about what people can expect from their library. Use it as a tool for promoting the library and all of the great work that you do!
In addition to being a useful tool on its own, mission statements help libraries as they develop a variety of planning documents, such as technology plans, long-range plans, marketing plans, and service plans. A mission statement can guide and drive the decisions for purchasing materials, selecting technology, or developing programming. If the product or service doesn’t support the library’s mission, it might not be a good investment or approach.