The library is often a hub of activity for patrons, but with the plan, hours will be limited. By MADDY VITALEThe Ocean City Free Public Library is more than just a library for people to find reading materials. It is an epicenter of learning, offering its patrons entertainment, lecturers, author book signings and an array of books in traditional and audio form.And as with everything else, the staff and board members want to ensure that the library continues to grow, providing all that the residents and visitors have come to expect at the facility, Jennifer Shirk, president of the Ocean City Library Board of Trustees, explained in an interview about the library’s strategic plan.“Basically, the board decided to move forward with a new strategic plan that will encompass the next five years for two reasons,” Shirk said. “The state requires that any library that gives money back to their municipality have a current strategic plan in place and because it’s just smart business practice to have one to make sure our library is truly meeting the needs of all in the community.”While this is the library’s third strategic plan, it is the first time that the board created a focus group for “community partners.”“The reason we decided to include that group is because we want to engage representatives from what we felt was a key stakeholder group since we share so many events and purposes,” Shirk said. “However, we will be holding nine different focus groups in total.”From left, Library Board of Trustees President Jennifer Shirk, Library Director Karen Mahar and Board of Trustees member Ron Denney stop for a photo before Mahar is honored as a “Woman of Wonder” in November.The first focus group will be Tuesday, Jan. 7. The groups will include business leaders in the community, library staff, young adults, moms or caregivers of young children and seniors. Also participating in the focus groups will be the Friends & Volunteers of the Library, Community Center partners, the Board of Trustees and young adults without children.“We feel it is a broad and inclusive sampling of the town as well as major stakeholders. Our consultants also created online and paper surveys, which have been out for the past month,” Shirk noted.The library, under Library Director Karen Mahar, has become a hub of the community, with offerings for all ages.With the growing popularity of the young adults section on the second floor over the last few years, library officials felt it should be renovated to expand and brighten the area. The project will be underway in the future, but library officials are awaiting state funding to help with the cost.The library features book sales, among many other events.Shirk said that the library is very successful, but there is room for improvement.“Strategic planning isn’t always just about what more we can bring to the library or what more we can spend in materials. As president, I’m interested to know not only what is working, but what is not working,” Shirk explained. “I know that generally speaking we have a successful library and people are coming out to our programs and events, which is fantastic.”However, she said, the goal was to also find out if those same groups of people are coming out all the time.“Is there a way to create more diversity? Also, I would love to know if there is a segment of our population which is not being serviced and how we can correct that,” Shirk added. “Even when you’re at the top of your game, there is always room for improvement, and I know our Library Director Karen Mahar would definitely agree.”After focus groups meet during the next few months, Shirk said her hope is that the library’s consultants will have a new strategic plan completed by March or April, in time for the library to file its state report.“The planning process is a lot of work and takes time and effort from everyone involved,” she noted. “However, our director, Karen Mahar, and I are very excited to help create a new vision for our library and its services for the future.” For more information visit the Ocean City Free Public Library at www.oceancitylibrary.org or call 609-399-2434.The Ocean City Free Public Library is located at 1735 Simpson Ave.