Analyzing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats---the SWOT---facing your library is an important part of strategic planning, which is vital to the continued success of libraries of all types, including academic, public and special. As the Northeast Kansas Library System noted in an internal audit, conducting a library SWOT analysis "will help you to focus your library's services and programs on areas where you are strong and where the greatest opportunities lie."
Assessing a library's strengths, areas in which it is already successful, includes looking at staff skills and competencies, programming, budget maintenance and community relations. Planning for the library's future based on its strengths should include ways to maintain and improve existing success.
Analyzing a library's weaknesses also means evaluating internal operations. G. Edward Evans and Patricia Layzell Ward, authors of "Management Basics for Information Professionals," point out that weaknesses may lie in the same areas as strengths. Careful analysis of library weaknesses suggests which areas need improvement. Weaknesses also identify areas that need attention to reduce the negative impact of their weaknesses.
Factors outside the library itself should be evaluated to see what could be acted upon to benefit the library. Library opportunities may present themselves in "economic, political/legal, technological, or sociocultural environments," says Anthony C. Danca in his analysis of SWOT. For example, awareness of a high economic status of the library's main patron base provides a population likely to participate in fund-raising activities.
Analyzing library threats also means evaluating factors outside the library that hinder its success. Like opportunities, many threats stem from the economic and political environment, says Danca. For example, economic downturns threaten to reduce the budgets of publicly funded libraries. Maintaining current awareness of threats allows the library administration to plan and act. This area requires frequent attention because the external environment often changes quickly.
Evans and Ward explain that although conducting a library SWOT analysis takes significant time, the benefits are worth it. They further explain that the analysis fosters thinking through the planning process based on the external library environment and the internal library capabilities. The analysis process provides information on the current state of internal and external factors, many of which directly impact the continued viability of the library organization.
Michele Thomas has served as a writer, proofreader, and researcher in various fields. She currently works as a law librarian. Thomas holds a Master of Arts from The Ohio State University, a J.D. from the University of Dayton School of Law, and a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh. She also worked as a nurse for six years.