The 21st Century Library Director is a CEO


I have to play solitaire to go to sleep.

I didn’t use to. I would watch tv, read, dozing and drifting to quiet my mind. And eventually I would drift off.

But that doesn’t work anymore. My mind races. To-Do lists fill my head. Conversations rehashed or practiced. Strategies and plans. Budgets and contracts. They barrage my mind until I’m making notes into the wee hours. Sending emails. Making lists.

Why? What has changed?

 

My job.

 

I started as a librarian. Moved on to management. And then into administration. I always thought that jump from management to administration would simply be a natural progression of steadily increasing responsibility and challenges. But I simply had no idea. Being the Director (if you are in an autonomous agency and doing the job correctly) is to be the CEO of your library.

But they don’t teach you to be a CEO in library school. I also have an MBA. And surprise. They teach you a whole lot about money, marketing and business. But they don’t teach you to be a CEO in Business School either

So when you find yourself in the job and realize that none of your formal education has given you the tools necessary to do the job, what do you do? As any good librarian, I started researching.  I found hundreds of books, articles, and online resources on the subjects; because IN FACT they don’t teach you to be a CEO anywhere.

 

So how do you learn to be a CEO?

 

After asking a great many professionals and doing a great deal of research I have come to the conclusion that the majority all learn the same way.  They get dropped in the deep end of the pool and either drown or swim.

And what does it mean to be the CEO of a Library? What does the job look like? How is it similar or different than being the CEO of other types of organizations?

 

So what do my days as the CEO of an urban public library look like…?

Many of my days take on a life of their own and a trajectory that on great days I shape, on good days I wrangle, and on bad days I just hang on and pray a little.

I simplify life. I tell people when they have done well or when they have failed. I refocus energies on the goal. I remind people of the path. I listen and summarize in the hopes that my synopsis might provide the clarity for others to reach a decision

Other times I complicate life. I explain what is missing and request more to be done. I explain why a project is not complete though it is presented as such. I add necessary details or new information that reshapes a project. I add new requirements I only now realize are necessary because of the progress made thus far.

In some people’s story I am the champion. In others the villain. And none, if any, know the whole story even when they believe it is their own. I take blame and give credit. I have broad shoulders and thick skin to withstand the barrage when it will shield the innocent and ensure the goals are accomplished.

I make sure that everyday I am exactly the kind of employee I want to have. I work harder, longer and better than I expect anyone else to do. I don’t ask anyone to do anything that I would refuse to do or have not done in the past. I model every attitude and every behavior I ask my staff to have. I hold myself to a higher standard than I would anyone else. I create the culture of my organization. I build my team. With that team, I define the vision and set the direction of my organization.

I never raise my voice.    I admit when I’m wrong. I ask for, listen to, and implement better ideas than my own. I try to surround myself with people who are smarter and better than me. This makes some staff love me.

I am decisive. I know my own mind and my vision for my organization. I believe we can be better. So I do not accept the present as good enough. I tell people when they are wrong and demand they do better. This makes some staff dislike me.

And at the end of the day if the organization is better I have succeeded. If it is worse I have failed.

And at the end of the day- I am responsible for everyone and everything.

Because that’s what being a CEO is. And that’s why they don’t teach it in any school or classroom. Because they can’t. It’s not a job or a profession. It’s not even a career.

It’s a way of life.

My job is to hop and juggle and prioritize. Like a circus performer, keeping all my plates spinning on their sticks. And just when they start to fall, give them a good spin in the right direction with all my focus and attention for a split second before I move to another set of plates and do the same. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

When does it stop? When does it get easier?

Never.

 

Why does it matter you may ask? Why do we need to understand that a Library Director is a CEO? Defining the position helps us identify the skills, education, and measures of success for the job.

How do we gauge the success of a Library Director?  How their staff feels, patron feedback, increased material circulation?  We know the CEO of a corporation is successful based on the companies bottom line and growth.  How do we determine the success of a Public Library and therefore its Director? In a Library there is no fiscal bottom line, instead we use numbers that are more fluid, testimonials of patrons, budget ups and downs, etc.  So how do Boards and Citizens evaluate the work of their Director? Do they? Shouldn’t they?

And if we are going to start using clear criteria to determine the success of our Library CEOs, are we providing them with the skills necessary to BE good at the job?  Or are we simply taking good Librarians and promoting them hoping they will also be good administrators?  We are overflowing with leadership programs in LibraryLand – but is growing leaders the same as training skilled CEO’s to lead our Libraries?

This year the 21st Century blog is going to spend time exploring the issue of Library Director as CEO.  This incudes:  training, tools, skills, challenges, measures, outcomes, and more.  I hope you’ll contribute to this important conversation.

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Support for Innovative Public Library Projects


This blog has spent considerable time forwarding the belief in the necessity of a common mission for Public Libraries:

“To provide the open and equal access to information that is necessary for the existence of an informed citizenry able to participate in their government.”

It is wonderful to see news of efforts supporting the development and enhancement of this fundamental mission in Public Libraries!

The Knight Foundation Awards $3Million to Libraries for Innovation!!

Winners of the Knight News Challenge on Libraries were announced Friday, awarding projects from across the country that create new and innovative ways to improve city libraries and communities.

Launched by the The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the challenge will award 22 projects that “leverage libraries as a platform to build more knowledgeable communities.” Eight projects will receive investments of $130,000 to $600,000, and 14 early-stage ideas will receive $35,000 each through the Knight Prototype Fund.

“There is a growing demand for libraries to evolve their role and become more dynamic, living platforms, responsive to community needs,” said John S. Bracken, Knight Foundation vice president for media innovation. “The winners are working to reinvent the ways in which people experience the library, and providing citizens with the tools and information they require to contribute and strengthen our democracy.”

This is solid affirmation of the idea that Public Libraries must continue to focus on providing access to information and the tools that allow citizens to become “informed” and able to participate in society and the democratic process!

Some of the winners:

The Community Resource Lab by District of Columbia Public Library (Washington, D.C.): Advancing the library as the primary anchor of an open information system that connects residents to essential health, human and social services.

BklynShare by Brooklyn Public Library (New York): Enabling people to learn new skills through a service that connects knowledge seekers with experts in their own neighborhood

Book a Nook by Harvard University metaLAB (Boston): Activating library public spaces for diverse community uses by testing a software toolkit that streamlines the exploration and reservation of physical library spaces.

GITenberg by Project GITenberg (Montclair, N.J., and Somerville, Mass.): Exploring collaborative cataloging for Project Gutenberg public-domain ebooks using the Web-based repository hosting service GitHub.

Journalism Digital News Archive by University of Missouri Libraries and the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (Columbia, Mo.): Ensuring access to digital news content through development of a model for archiving and preserving digital content that can be used across the country.

Your Next Skill by Seattle Public Library (Seattle): Helping people acquire new skills or expand their knowledge by creating a librarian-led, referral service that connects users with materials, classes and instructors that will help them meet their goals.

Space/Time Directory from the New York Public Library: Working with local communities and technologists to turn historical maps and other library collections into an interactive directory for the exploration of New York across time periods.

Open Data to Open Knowledge from City of Boston: Turning Boston’s open data collection of everything from building permits to potholes into an accessible resource by working with Boston Public Library to catalog it and make it easier for residents, researchers and public employees to navigate.

The Internet Archive: Helping people create and share global collections of cultural treasures on the Internet Archive, one of the world’s largest public libraries.

The list is lengthy and you can see it in its entirety here.  It is amazing to see so many worthy Public Library projects (or projects that will impact Public Libraries access to information) getting the money they need to make headway on this important mission.  (Its equally unfortunate to see that a few of the ‘big money projects’ seem to stray a bit from the clearly stated mission of the Challenge…)

Congratulations to the Knight Foundation and the winning Libraries!

 

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21st Century Library and Open Government


With a degree in English Literature and advanced education my parents have so generously funded…along with decades as a librarian and an Administrator…I like to think of myself as “well-spoken”.  I occasionally even relish the notion that I might sometimes rise to the level of “eloquent”:  However, I read an article today on the “IMLS Blog” that purported a notion that was so obvious- but presented as NEW- that it left me with none of these attributes.  My only response was… “Duh?!”

Be that as it may, I still felt it was worth sharing.  The ideas presented (clearly new to the researchers and participants of the work) are, in my opinion, simply reaffirmations of what many of us in Public Libraries already know and work toward every day.  Their findings also reaffirm my belief in the necessity of a common mission of Public Libraries:

“To provide the open and equal access to information that is necessary for the existence of an informed citizenry able to participate in their government.”

“A Demand-side Open Government Planning Model for Public Libraries”

 

The question of the project detailed in the article:

What role can public libraries play in the highly visible and expanding domain of Open Government?
The project answer:
Public libraries are the best-positioned community anchors to address the demand-side of open government. In addition, with a bit more strategic vision and planning, they can play a key role in helping ensure that open government activities align with community aspirations and that citizens have the capabilities to contribute to the opening of government in useful and meaningful ways.
The author goes on to write:
One of the most revealing things I learned was that public libraries have a long history of supporting the opening of government through many of the services and resources they provide. However, this role was hidden in plain sight due to the lack of common language and understanding both within the public library community and between public libraries and open government experts.
Adopting a focus on the demand side of open government will provide public libraries with a much needed common language and a strategic planning platform to help match their programs and activities to their communities’ needs and capabilities. Focusing on the demand side of open government will assist public libraries in developing key partnerships with government and other entities, helping government officials, government agencies, nonprofits, and private organizations have a direct resource to the community and its needs. It will also allow them to play a significant role in and benefit from the open government trend.

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21st Century Library 2014 in Review


Thank you to all of our readers and followers! It has been a fantastic year.  We are looking forward to next year and all the coming innovations in Libraries! As I told someone the other day, “Libraries are a fascinating place to work! There is always something new, something happening, new ideas, new challenges, and the constant sense of fulfillment you receive from serving others.  Not to mention….the endless source of amusement from those crazy moments that you just can’t make up!!”

So here is wishing you all a Happy New Year! See you next year!!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 54,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 20 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Libraries need to decide their future before someone else does…!


I was forwarded a very interesting article the other day.

“Clash in the Stacks”

by Carl Straumshein on Inside Higher Ed.

Several library directors at liberal arts institutions have lost their jobs as they clash with faculty and administrators over how much — and how fast — the academic library should change.

None of the dismissals, resignations or retirements are identical. Some have resulted from arguments over funding; others from debates about decision-making processes or ongoing personal strife. One common trend, however, is that several of the library directors who have left their jobs in recent years have done so after long-term disputes with other groups on campus about how the academic library should change to better serve students and faculty.

This is nothing new or revolutionary on its own. We have seen administrators and constituents disagree on vision, direction, or organizational mission and have a parting of the ways before…so why is it of note this time?

Because this time it is tied more to the overall quandary we are having in our profession than about any one individual and their employment. What we are seeing, as outlined in the article, are library leaders leaving positions due to a fundamental philosophical difference with their constituency over what a library should be. But we have spent years on this issue…so why now? Perhaps that is EXACTLY why! We as library professionals have spent YEARS talking about “finding our way” in this new world of information and “redefining our profession” and pondering what “the library of the future” will look like. Well guess what…the future is now…and people around us are tired of waiting for us to figure it out. If we continue on this path we will see more examples of having those decisions made for us.

Picture yourself in line at the Theatre concession stand– Eager to see your movie- the smell of movie popcorn- the laughing happy people all around. There is a parent and child in front of you in line. The parent says to the child “What do you want?” The child stares at all the possibilities-you remember those days fondly when the promise of candy could make your week! And… seconds tick by…. Finally the parent says “Ok, there are people waiting…do you want M&Ms or Twizzlers?” The child ponders this narrowed pool and then asks to see the potential candy options. Your foot starts to tap. The theatre employee pulls out the two bags of candy. The child holds both in his hands and thinks…weighing his options. You sense the couple behind you shifting as the woman whispers “What time does our movie start?” to her companion. You check your watch. The parent is clearly frustrated and says “Pick!”. The child continues to ponder and then just as it appears he has decided he says “Do they have SweetTarts?” The parent snatches up the M&Ms and slaps them on the counter “We will take these”. The clerk looks relieved. You sigh with relief. The parent is annoyed and the child’s bottom lip is now jutting out and quivering. What was a beautiful moment just minutes before has turned into a point of contention. Much like our “redefining of our profession and the future of libraries”, it can be beautiful and monumental and profound…until everyone else gets tired of our journey and is ready for us to “JUST PICK”.

Sensitivity to all the factors and variables in any situation is key to success and satisfaction for everyone. We do not exist in a vacuum. People, communities and organizations fund us and they expect and deserve a clear purpose for that funding. How many years (decades) can we spend “reimagining, redefining, and reinventing” ourselves before they stop taking us seriously?

“For the entire history of libraries as we know them — 2,000 or 3,000 years — we have lived in a world of information scarcity,” said Terrence J. Metz, university librarian at Hamline University. “What’s happened in the last two decades is that’s been turned completely on its head. Now we’re living in a world of superabundance.”

No one is disagreeing that this has been an unprecedented time of change for our world and the way we create, disseminate, store, and use information. But if WE are the information professionals…shouldn’t we be on the forefront guiding everyone along the path rather than in the back office debating ourselves into a second decade of discussion?

“To my mind, all of this hubbub is probably exacerbated by the fact that libraries are trying to figure out what they are and what their future is and what their role is,” said Bryn I. Geffert, college librarian at Amherst College. “Every time you have a body of people going through this kind of existential crisis, conflict is inherent. As you’re trying to redefine an institution, you know there are going to be different opinions on how that redefinition should happen.”

And what happens when we as a profession cannot agree on a course? Someone will start making those decisions for us.

The most recent case, Barnard College, presents a symbolic example of the shift from print to digital. There, the Lehman Hall library is about to be demolished to make way for an estimated $150 million Teaching and Learning Center. The new building means the library’s physical collection will shrink by tens of thousands of books.
As recently as this September, Patricia A. Tully, the Caleb T. Winchester university librarian at Wesleyan University, was fired after less than five years on the job. Tully and Ruth S. Weissman, Wesleyan’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, had for more than a year argued about how the library could work with administrators, faculty members and IT staffers.

“We just seemed to have different ideas about the role of the libraries,” Tully said then.

We must stop pounding our fists and debating options and get ourselves together on one page. Nuances of difference are expected – many libraries embraced coffee shops while others still cringe at the notion. Some libraries carried paperbacks far before others. But for the majority of our history as a profession there was a basic common ground on which we all stood. A united front of who and what libraries are and do. We have to get that back! That will require a common ground. A common vision. A united message.
We have a vehicle for that…The American Library Association. So where is their steadying hand, their leadership, their guiding presence? Nowhere useful. They are right there in the weeds with everyone else. We can find them putting together committees and task forces on emerging trends, library innovation, and library future. AKA- More discussion, more debate, more option, more ideas…no action.
We need ALA to step forward and take the leadership role and be the advocate and public spokesman for this issue. They need to rally the profession and move us all forward. As individuals we can only have so much effect. We blog, we advocate, we transform our corner of library land and try to shine a light for others. And in being that light in the dark we see good people losing jobs. Why? Because there isn’t a firm enough professional support system backing the most innovative efforts!

Other library directors have made less publicized moves, stepping down in silent protest as their roles are shifted farther down the university chain of command. Others yet have experienced the opposite, receiving support from their administrations to rethink the role of the library only to be met with opposition from faculty and other librarians. In addition to those named in this story, Inside Higher Ed interviewed three other former library directors.
“These are top-quality, innovative, forward-thinking people,” Metz said of Norberg, Tully and colleagues at other liberal arts institutions who have left or been asked to leave. “There must be other visions that they’re running up against that have a different definition of success.”

And, while this article is only focused on Academic libraries, the same situation can be found in public and school libraries across the country. ALA must make a stand. Lead. Guide. Provide the support these innovators need to ‘back their play’ while they stand on the front lines of this fight for the future of our profession and libraries. Warranted or not at this point, ALA is the Libraryland equivalent to the American Medical Association. Other professional and our constituents assume (right or wrong) that ALA plays a similar guiding and regulating role within the Library profession. Therefore, until ALA assumes a position on the future of Libraries and Librarians and advocates for that future publically, these cutting-edge innovators will continue to find themselves standing alone.

“There will be some institutions that decide that they don’t need libraries — that they don’t need librarians,” Tully said. “However, all the functions that now occur in libraries are going to continue to need to occur somewhere. The IT department or whoever is going to take those on, and then slowly they’re going to be hiring people who have library expertise, library backgrounds in order to do those things…. I think it’s a matter of breaking free of the library being some irrelevant, old-fashioned thing that used to be important but isn’t anymore. The way we get information has changed, but our need for information and our need for guides to that information continues.”

I’ve made my position abundantly clear.  I believe the mission of Public Libraries (sorry academics and schools- you have your own champions)  “is to provide the open and equal access to information that is necessary for the existence of an informed citizenry able to participate in their government.” But regardless of the path we choose, we must decide who we are and where we are going…or someone else will make our choice for us. Hopefully, at some point, ALA will lead the charge.

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21st Century Strategic Management – Revisited


In the fall of 2010, in a series of posts about Strategic Planning, I stated that the Strategic Plan was essential to the survival of a 21st Century Library. In my original 21st Century Strategic Management posts I noted that while leaders provide the vision and inspiration, managers provide the means and capability.

All organizations consist of leadership and management positions. Leaders are always directly responsible for the success or failure of the organization, but generally managers are not, even though their role is critical to the implementation of the vision and strategy of the organization. Implementation is essential, because as Morris Chang stated:

Leadership and management are the two sides of the same coin in terms of accomplishing the 21st Century Library’s Goals and Objectives. Libraries are organized with leaders, managers and staff positions. And while every library is different in terms of the number of staff and types of positions in its organization, every library is the same in terms of those who establish the mission, goals and objectives, and those who support them by providing the means and capability to accomplish the mission.

What is leadership?
A definition of leader that I have used for many years is; A person, who by force of example, talents, and/or qualities of character plays a directing role, wields commanding influence or has followers in any sphere of activity or thought.

In contrast, a definition of a manager is; A person who conducts, directs or supervises activities, especially the executive functions of planning, organizing, coordinating, directing, controlling and supervising of any business type project or activity with responsibility for results.

“Managers are people who do things right, and leaders are people who do the right things.”
Warren Bennis & Burt Nanus, Leaders

——

“So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”
Peter Drucker

Leadership and management are not mutually exclusive. A person can be both, and managers, like directors, should use leadership to accomplish their managerial mission. Effective managers are ones who do not make the work environment “difficult for people to work.” Highly effective managers are ones who understand the principles of management and strive to develop work teams, as opposed to work groups, in order to accomplish the organization’s mission.

WorkGrpvsWorkTeam

This is where “strategic management” comes in.

Strategic management is a field that deals with the major intended and emergent initiatives taken by general managers [library managers] on behalf of owners [directors, boards and jurisdictions], involving utilization of resources, to enhance the performance of firms [libraries] in their external environments. It entails specifying the organization’s mission, vision and objectives, developing policies and plans, often in terms of projects and programs, which are designed to achieve these objectives, and then allocating resources to implement the policies and plans, projects and programs.

Strategic management is a level of managerial activity under setting goals and over Tactics. … In the field of business administration it is useful to talk about “strategic alignment” between the organization and its environment or “strategic consistency.” According to Arieu (2007), “there is strategic consistency when the actions of an organization are consistent with the expectations of management, and these in turn are with the market and the context.” [Wikipedia]

Where many libraries are lagging behind other types of organizations that are thriving is in understanding the “strategic alignment” between the organization and this 21st Century environment, therefore they have no “strategic consistency.” Many library jurisdictions, boards, directors, and staff are still in the “library on as usual” mindset, even though they may have established a 21st Century mission and vision. They have missed the fact that both the external and internal environment have changed – dramatically! Their missions, goals and objectives may have changed on paper, but their practices and performance are NOT consistent “with the market and the context.”

There are few things more difficult to accomplish than communicating the vision of the library to every employee, and having them change their practices to align with the vision.  If they understand and embrace the vision, they may not know how to translate that into practice, until they receive guidance from managers who understand “strategic management” and implement it by “developing policies and plans…, which are designed to achieve these objectives, and then allocating resources to implement the policies and plans, projects and programs.”

The renown management theorist Peter Drucker stated; “There is nothing more wasteful than becoming highly efficient at doing the wrong thing.” This concept is fundamental to the principals that drive a strategic plan, a strategic vision, and strategic management of a 21st Century Library. While libraries are extremely skilled at being “libraries”, they have yet to understand that what they “do” is what they are. So, unless they more effectively provide information to a 21st Century citizenry through their daily practices, they are failing to align their practices with their vision.

A 21st Century Library is successful at doing the right thing – providing the information needs of its 21st Century users. It accomplishes this through strategic management of its goals and objectives and practices that provide the means and capability to succeed.

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A time of Thanksgiving…


During the lovely Thanksgiving week, I find myself reflecting on what I am Thankful for this year. As always I am deeply thankful for my family and my life. I am also thankful for this amazing profession that I love so much. This year has been especially fulfilling and inspirational.

I, like many librarians, found my way into the profession through a deep and abiding love for the books of my childhood. My parents, especially my Mother, made sure that I was always surrounded by books of every shape, size, and subject. And she instilled in me an understanding that reading and access to books was my right!

When I was in 5th grade she took me to see Gone with the Wind on the big screen and then took me right to the bookstore and bought me the paperback (all 1037 pages of it!). When I took it to school for personal reading time, my 5th grade teacher snatched it up and stated it was TOO far above my reading level (not true!). I will never forget my Mother (no shrinking violet on ANY day) marching into that school and informing the teacher that I was the ONLY one who determined what was and was NOT in my reading level and that I would read whatever I choose to read! That moment has never left me and I will always be thankful to her.

So, at this time of Thanksgiving I thought it would be lovely to share the books from our past that we are all Thankful for that have shaped our love of books! Here are mine, Please share yours in the comments!

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
bull

The “A Wrinkle in Time” trilogy by Madeline L’Engle
wrinkle

Peppermints in the Parlor by Peter Ferguson and Barbara Brooks Wallace
peppermints

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
wild

Wingfin and Topple by Evans G. Valens
wing

How Fletcher was Hatched by Wende & Harry Devlin
fletch

Every Clifford the Big Red Dog, Berenstain Bears, and Nancy Drew book!!
cliff bears nancy

And Last but not least…… Thanks for ensuring that I can include this as one of the books of my ‘Childhood’ Mom!
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
gone

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