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.

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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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The Public Library as the 21st Century Agora


Last week I spent an amazing eight days in the birthplace of democracy – Athens, Greece.
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Along with the wonderful people, the amazing food (Thanks for the extra 8 pounds moussaka and tzatziki!), to be surrounded by that much history was inspiring. I had the opportunity to see so many ancient wonders including the Parthenon, Hadrian’s library (the emperors gift to one of his favorite cities), and magnificent Temple of Zeus. I was particularly taken with the ancient Agora.

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This was the place of Socrates and Plato. Where conversations birthed new ideas and new worlds.

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Socrates in the Agora Harry Bates

From Heather Whipps in LiveScience

http://www.livescience.com/4861-greek-agora-changed-world.html

What went on at the agora went beyond the simple daily transactions of the market. The conversations that happened there and the ideas that they bore continue to affect us to this day, from the way scientists carry out their work to how we pass our laws.
Nearly every city of ancient Greece had an agora – meaning meeting place – by about 600 B.C., when the classical period of Greek civilization began to flourish. Usually located near the center of town, the agora was easily accessible to every citizen…
The agora of Athens – the hub of ancient Greek civilization – was the size of several football fields and saw heavy traffic every single day of the week. Women didn’t often frequent the agora, but every other character in ancient Greece passed through its columns: politicians, criminals, philosophers and traders, aristocrats, scientists, officials and slaves….
Some of the world’s most important ideas were born and perfected within the confines of the Athenian agora including, famously, the concept of democracy….
The Athenian democratic process, whereby issues were discussed in a forum and then voted on, is the basis for most modern systems of governance.
Scientific theory also got its start in the agora, where the city’s greatest minds regularly met informally to socialize. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle all frequented the Athenian agora, discussed philosophy and instructed pupils there.
Aristotle, in particular, is known for his contributions to science, and may have developed his important theories on the empirical method, zoology and physics, among others, while chatting in the agora’s food stalls or sitting by its fountains.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine and its Hippocratic Oath, and Pythagoras, a mathematician who developed the geometric theory of a triangle’s sides, were both highly public figures who taught and shared ideas in their own hometown agoras.

So this set me to pondering…where is our Agora today? Some might say it can be found on our university campuses and certainly there is great thought and conversation happening in those spaces. However, when looked at critically, we can agree that these are not common areas where any and all citizens are welcome to freely wander and participate in discussions as they please. So where do these conversations on any and all topics between random citizens occur?
I know we can all see how vital these spaces and conversations were in ancient times to advance society and human knowledge among ALL citizens and not simply a select few – thus the basis for a democratic process and society. But are these conversations still necessary today?

In my time in Athens I noticed many heavily armed police. I have traveled extensively and this is not an unusual sight in my experience.  That said – this still felt like more than normal.
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My hotel was perfectly situated on Syntagma Square just catty-corner to the Greek parliament building, and during my stay I witnessed several small non-violent demonstrations.

My companion and I asked our hotel concierge what the signs said and what the protests were about, and they simply shrugged it off as “students being students” and “unhappy with various issues in the government”. Again nothing that was surprising! Certainly we are used to seeing signs and demonstrations in front of our own capital building in Washington DC. In fact, I thought to myself it was fascinating to see democracy in action in the “birthplace of democracy”.
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Unfortunately, what we witnessed was not the end and mere hours after leaving our hotel those simple demonstrations took a much more drastic turn:
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nite riot
fire
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Shocking to say the least and certainly grateful that I had booked my return flight for that day, the entire episode left me thinking. How a city known as the birthplace of democracy home of the ancient Agora can turn so dramatically to a place where individuals feel their only option for change is that type of demonstration. Where have the days of the ancient Agora and the conversations that shaped civilization gone?

This is not a political blog nor would I ever dream of tackling the immensely difficult and complex issues that brought about the images in those photos- my world is Libraries- specifically Public Libraries. The culmination of a week spent walking among these ancient places steeped in the ideals of what a democratic society should and can be left me pondering the role of the public library. As I have repeatedly asserted that mission of the Public Library should be 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, Part and Parcel with that information comes the conversations that it generates, and that in turn generate new information. The very same type of conversations that the Ancient Agora enabled. We talk about the public library as a community gathering place or living room. We talk often about the public library as a space for open conversation. In truth, there are not many of those such places left in our society. If that is the case, then it becomes even more important for the public library to actively promote the use of our spaces for such conversations. Bearing in mind that I am not suggesting the library and staff as facilitators or creators of content, simply creators of a space that is open to all, free of judgment or restriction, where the access to information we provide can be utilized as an inspiration and jumping off point for conversations about the very serious issues we face as a society.

We talked about how our programming, maker spaces, gathering spaces, books, digital content, and community conversations fit together and define the library of tomorrow. Perhaps it can be summed up most perfectly in the simple notion that all those offerings combine to make the 21st Century Public Library the 21st Century Agora.

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21st Century Libraries Abound in Denmark!


Now fully recuperated from the jet lag, I have had time to reflect on my amazing experiences during my time in Denmark as a guest of the Danish Union of Librarians. I was invited as a closing keynote for their Annual Conference to discuss the Challenges Facing 21st Century Librarians. It was fascinating a I will be blogging about the variety of experiences I had and the issues we explored together during my time with these amazing Librarians.

But today I simply would like to thank all of the amazing people I met. They were proud, professional, generous, open and knowledgeable. I can honestly say that this sign as I left the Copenhagen Airport was true!

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Thank you to all those who attended my keynote. Thank you for your interest, your frank and open questions about the future of libraries in Denmark and the USA, and your warm response.

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Thank you to the Administration and Staff of the Copenhagen Business School for the tour of your stunning facility, for the fabulous lunch, and the inspiring conversation about the future of academic libraries, the Death of the book and the library as a physical space! Much food for thought!!

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Thank you to the Librarians of Global Information & Analysis, Novo Nordisk. It goes without saying that your facility is simply spectacular. However, more importantly, your thoughts on our profession in the context of corporate services and information analysis were thought provoking. I had never considered the application of our professional skill to the many services you have created for your clientele. It opened new windows of ideas for me! Thank you!

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During my time in the lovely country of Denmark I had the honor of visiting so many libraries. However, for all their grandeur and beauty, none touched my heart quite as much as the Tårnby Kommunebiblioteker (Public Library at Taarnby) outside of Copenhagen. To the Director and his staff, thank you so much for allowing me to visit, for taking the time to share you daily experiences with me, and for a truly enlightening conversation that changed forever the way I think of MakerSpaces.

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In addition to the Keynote speech, I was also invited to present at the Royal School of Information Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. It was a wonderful experience. Thank you to the many faculty and students who attended. We had such a fabulous time that the event went hours longer than intended! Thank you all for the stimulating discussions and questions.

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And finally, I would not be complete without thanking again the Danish Union of Librarians for hosting me. You gave me a unique professional experience that has left me with fresh ideas and new perspectives.

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And last but not least, I must thank by name my contact, host and tour guide– Niels Bergmann. Niels- a thank you simply is not enough. You were generous of spirit, thoughtful in your preparation of my agenda, and professional. You have represented your country, your profession, and your fellow Danes in a way that will forever leave me with fond memories of Denmark, its libraries, and its people. Thank you. Truly.

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The 21st Century Library Paradigm Shift?


Someone recently viewed an old post of mine (Dr. Steve) from June, 2010, Are We in a 21st Century Library Paradigm Shift?, and that made me realize that I should revise my assertions about a paradigm shift in librarianship, based on my current understanding of the state of American libraries and ‘paradigm shift.’

I wrote;

In my opinion we are. However, it is different from the paradigm shift we all discussed 15 years ago [beginning in the mid-1990s] that was a result of the introduction of the Internet and WWW into the average American office, university, school and home. That shift was essentially about delivery of library services. There wasn’t much change in philosophy of library science, but it changed delivery of library information from on-site to online. The concern that the WWW would replace librarians was exaggerated and didn’t materialize, because we retained our “information specialists” role who knew the How and What of information retrieval and evaluation. Everything evolves, from card catalogs to OPAC, but it was about delivery.

Today there are different factors influencing the library profession that make a paradigm shift inevitable and essential, based on my assessment of the literature. The most profound factor is the change evolving among youth toward information literacy that will challenge librarian’s “information specialists” role. Within the next 10 years librarians will not be THE only “information specialists” who are able to retrieve and assess information.

I went on to write other posts about the nature of paradigm shifts, its manifestation in the librarian profession, and how the profession needed to recognize and embrace that shift. If you’re interested in those discussions, just type paradigm shift in the Search window.

In those earlier posts I described the shift as;

Evidence has convinced me that the 21st Century Library Paradigm is that libraries will be defined by those librarians running them and their local community more than by the profession, or SLIS, or any librarian associations’ standards.

My current thinking is that we are in a shift, but the nature of that shift is now clearly (to me) from a librarian-centric philosophy to a user-centric philosophy, NOT simply that local librarians will define the local library. Since library users are local, obviously the user-centric philosophy will be implemented locally.

When Kimberly posted Public Libraries Must Agree Upon a Mission If We Are to Survive last month, our subsequent conversations made me realize that a true “paradigm shift” should accompany a significant shift in mission. That was not the case in my assessment of future librarianship. The fundamental mission of libraries 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., and I believe that will never change – significantly.

I also realized that I was one of those who got caught up in the hype of changing the image and re-inventing ourselves, when all we were experiencing in the profession was clearly a lack of confidence in our mission, our reason for being, which lead to a scramble for a new mission – a new reason for being librarians. All we really needed was a new vision for achieving our fundamental mission in an evolving environment that demanded a shift from a librarian-centric to a user-centric philosophy. Even though we may no longer be the only “information specialists”, that doesn’t mean the core mission and values of the library have actually shifted to something else.

All that has shifted, and should shift, is the focus of librarianship, thus libraries, from the long held librarian-centric philosophy to a 21st Century user-centric philosophy. That in itself is significant.

[For those of you interested, read my post 21st Century Librarianship vs. The 1876 Special Report that reviews the state of librarianship in early America, and the roots of that old librarian-centric philosophy.]

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21st Century Libraries- Innovation, Information and High School Diplomas!


[Dear Reader-While I have made the decision that I will only include details about my own library very sparingly on this blog- I prefer to rely on my experiences in broad strokes rather than specifics about my current library- I felt that yesterday marked a milestone I would be remiss if I did not share. I certainly would have blogged about it if I had seen it in the news at any other Library.  So here you have it:]

Beginning October 9, 2014, Trenton Free Public Library will offer Trenton residents the opportunity to earn an accredited high school diploma at the Library at no cost.

This program, an initiative brought to public libraries by Cengage Learning/Gale, is the world’s first accredited, private online school district. Career Online High School and is specifically designed to reengage adults into the education system and prepare them for entry into post-secondary career education or the workforce. This is NOT a GED program. Successful graduates will earn a high school diploma and a career certification through an accredited high school. Learning and literacy will be accessible to students in a non-traditional, online environment, allowing them to take classes remotely or at their local public library. Adult students will have the ability to select a career pathway and gain career skills in high-demand job disciplines. Upon completion of the program, these students will be able to combine literacy skills with occupational skills.

With Library budgets stretched as they are, you may be wondering, “How on Earth did they afford such a program?” As with so many wonderful things that come to libraries, it came in the form of an award (grant).

Select New Jersey Libraries will begin offering Online Certified High School Programs to their Patrons from the University Herald Oct 8, 2014:

New Jersey residents will have the opportunity to earn accredited high school diplomas and credentialed career certificates through six public libraries.

“Libraries are evolving beyond books into true educational institutions and Gale is delighted to be the partner to make that happen,” Frank Menchaca, senior vice president for global product management at Gale, said in a statement. “This is the first statewide implementation of Career Online High School and we can’t wait to see the impact it will have on communities and the students themselves.”

“This innovative project is the latest step in the transformation of public libraries in the digital age into full-fledged community resources,” said Mary Chute, New Jersey State Librarian. “New Jersey’s libraries are committed to supporting the development of a well-educated and well-trained workforce, which will enable New Jersey’s employers to compete in the global market.”

New Jersey residents interested in the Career Online High School program should visit www.njstatelib.org/yourdiploma.

 

Now, if you are like me, you are probably thinking “Wow. I always read these stories but how do libraries actually GET these awards/grants?!” Well this is how it happened for us:

In January of this year I read an article that literally made me pick up the phone and call Gale Cengage- not the next day but that very moment! This was that article:

LA Public Library to Offer High School Diplomas! CBS News Jan 9, 2014.

and this was the quote that really made me sit up and think:

“The exciting thing about public libraries is they are places people trust,” he [Howard A. Liebman of Gale] said. “So people, who may have felt ashamed about not having a high school diploma, will feel safe going there to get one.”

Public Libraries ARE a place of trust, acceptance, support, and openness that can create the perfect “judgement free” zone for this type of program. In addition, as a stong proponent of the Public LIbrary’s mission to support the existance of an ‘Informed Citizenry’ this was a no brainer! I HAD to have this program at my Library!!

So, like a crazed shop-a-holic watching the HSN at 2am, I picked up the phone and called Gale’s sales department. They politely informed me that they had no information on the product but someone would return my call. SIGH! Thwarted!! But wait- they said they would call and so they did! In the form of Brian Risse, Vice President – National Sales Manager, Public Libraries Cengage Learning- Gale. And by February I had him live and in person in my office making the sales pitch. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, despite my deepest desires, we were unable to acquire the program as the cost was simply outside our grasp.

But wait! Luckily for us, the NJ State Library had the same vision and was able to secure funding for the initiative from the NJ Department of Labor and this summer it was announced that they would begin accepting applications for Libraries wishing to participate.

So, after months of writing, meetings with community partners and the installation of a computer classroom funded by Community Development Block Grant monies, our application to be selected for the New Jersey pilot program to offer the Career Online High School was accepted and we rejoiced! From the first article on Jan 9th to the launch on October 6th- nearly 9 months elapsed and it does feel a bit like we have ‘given birth’ to something truly special.

As with many urban communities the educational situation in Trenton is a near constant topic of concern and conversation. This year the State “report card” lists us dead last in NJ- again- with a drop out rate of 48%.  The situation is dire!  But while there are many committed, smart people working on solutions for today and tomorrow’s students…what about yesterday’s?  There are an estimated 13,000 Trentonians in their 20s&30s without a High School diploma.  ANY educational solutions for our Schools will be too late for them.  THIS program is a real solution with the potential to start having a REAL impact with real High School graduates as soon this Spring! 

Earning a high school diploma is a life-changing achievement. By offering this opportunity through public libraries rather than ONLY in a ‘for-profit’ model by institutions of higher learning (as it has been previously) , we are empowering our library patrons to seek new opportunities and transform their lives. We are helping to solidify our core mission “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.” in a fundamental way. A High School Diploma!

Is it ideal that anyone does or must leave school before graduation? Of course NOT! Do we want our young people to stay in school and graduate in the natural course? Of Course!! And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in a world where no one ever stumbled, life was easy, and we all chose wisely the first time around? It would! But how many decisions in life do you regret? How many times do you wish you could call a do-over? Unfortunately that opportunity is rare. But imagine if that regretted decision concerned something as fundamental to your existence and participation in our society as your high school diploma? Now imagine if you were offered a second chance? This program is that concept in practice and goes directly to the heart of our Mission.

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