Now THIS is a true 21st Century Library!

The Nieuwe Bibliotheek (New Library) in Almere, Netherlands has built a Library that embodies the ideals of the 21st Century library! 

“They redesigned their libraries based on the changing needs and desires of library users.”

What they found led them to follow a model more relatable to their patrons:

“Guided by patron surveys, administrators tossed out traditional methods of library organization, turning to retail design and merchandising for inspiration. They now group books by areas of interest, combining fiction and nonfiction; they display books face-out to catch the eye of browsers; and they train staff members in marketing and customer service techniques.”

Based on feedback from their community they included a wide variety of services, spaces and programming.

“The library is also a Seats2meet (S2M) location where patrons are empowered to help one another in exchange for free, permanent, coworking space, and they utilize the S2M Serendipity Machine to connect library users in real-time. They also have a bustling cafe, an extensive events and music program, a gaming facility, a reading garden and more. The result? The New Library surpassed all expectation about usage with over 100,000 visitors in the first two months. It is now considered one of the most innovative libraries in the world.”

And the key:


“From the beginning, you involved the community to find out what they wanted from the library. What was the importance of taking this approach?”


“We wanted to create a customer’s library. Convenience for the librarian wasn’t leading, but convenience for the customer.”


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A New Era in Libraries 

OK… I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been a little busy lately. (Thus the shortage of recent postings – my apologies dear readers). I quit a job, took a new job, moved 1300 miles and have been, in general, pretty preoccupied with my own career. That said, I still feel like I’ve been a bit tuned in to the world around me and yet this evening while I was surfing, I uncovered something shocking. Is it just me… Am I the only one who did not realize…that our Librarian of Congress is retiring after 28 years, and the process is ongoing to appoint a new Librarian of Congress?

How is this not the number one topic on every library blog, Library Journal, ALA and library website? For the first time in 28 years we have the opportunity to have a new Librarian of Congress! This is a thrilling and exciting opportunity.

Now, I’m going to take just a moment of pause because as I read the little bit of coverage that there has been about Dr. Billington’s retirement… I have been incredibly disheartened to read the snarky, unkind, and (quite frankly) mean-spirited comments that have been made about his tenure. None of us have walked in Dr. Billington’s shoes and while we can all backseat drive and Monday morning quarterback about what we think he should have done, let’s look at what he has accomplished: pushing back on the Patriot Act, advocated for Net neutrality, championed the Library of Congress’s National Digital Library program, created online a major bilingual website with Russian libraries, and launched smaller such joint projects with the national libraries of Brazil, Spain, France, the Netherlands and Egypt, established the National Book Festival with Laura Bush in 2000, acquired the only copy of the 1507 Waldseemüller world map (“America’s birth certificate”) in 2003 for permanent display in the Jefferson Building, created the Library’s first Young Readers Center in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building in 2009, launched BARD, a state-of-the-art digital talking books mobile app for Braille and Audio Reading Downloads in partnership with the Library’s National Library Service for the blind and physically handicapped in 2013, and the list goes on. While he may not have been the digital elevator that so many individuals would like to see today, let’s not malign the gentleman who served as the 13th Librarian of Congress since 1987 (long before the Internet), was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate, or refuse to acknowledge the work that he has done during his time as our Librarian of Congress. (A more complete listing of his impressive accomplishments can be read at Thank you Dr. Billington for the work that you’ve done and may you enjoy your retirement.

Now onto the future… Some of the articles that I’ve been reading have detailed lists of names of potential appointees. These range from historians, presidents of Ivy League universities, and prominent public library directors. But what I don’t see is any of that tied to the discussion of what it is that we want our Library of Congress to do and oversee during the next decade. Rather than simply appointing someone who has previously done good work, shouldn’t we first begin the discussion with what we want to see the Library of Congress accomplish in the next decade, and then find a leader who can accomplish that mission?

So what would we want the Library of Congress to accomplish in the next decade? The Library of Congress was established in 1800 by an act of Congress for the purpose of being “a reference library for Congress only, containing such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress – and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein”. That mission remains as steady today as does our very Constitution, because it is law. I’m not advocating to reinvent the Library of Congress but rather to view that mission through the lens of the 21st-century. What does that mean?

Of course there will be millions of opinions about what that means… But what it means to me

From LOC’s own website “The Library’s mission is to support the Congress in fulfilling its constitutional duties and to further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.” In my readings I am seeing it referred to as research, cultural institution, archive, repository, etc. But in truth it appears that throughout the lifespan of the Library of Congress it’s core mission has always been to maintain such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress. Thomas Jefferson is attributed as saying “I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection, since there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” Let’s contemplate what Thomas Jefferson was meaning – that in the provision of their duties as representatives of the American public there would be no topic that members of Congress might not have occasion for which they might require some references. One might justly see that this is an interpretation of the American public’s own right to access any and all information on any subject. So in truth, while not a public library in the manner that the public is walking through the doors each day and utilizing the collection to circulate, the Library of Congress is a representation of all that is sacred about the American public library.

When looked at in this manner is it not appropriate that in the next decade the Library of Congress should lead the way in legislation, policy, and best practice for not only our profession but also every public library in America? And with that said, should we not then look to find someone who has brilliant ideas and proven practice of daily role modeling of all that is good and worthy about the American public library? Should not this be the template for our next Librarian of Congress? He or she should be someone who embodies the ideals of the 21st century public library. He or she should be someone with a firmly founded and crystal clear concept of what the 21st-century library can and should be, who can articulate that vision both inside and outside our profession as both a leader and an advocate.

With that said… why isn’t every blog, journal and website focused on our profession discussing and debating this important moment?  As 21st Century Libraries we preach “Community Engagement”.  We must learn to practice it as well!

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Managing Innovative Personalities for Successful Library Innovation

I have spent the past seven years working to lead an organization into a new culture of innovation.  Saying it has, at times, been a struggle is tantamount to saying that Everest is a bit steep.  Whenever I find challenges, I always look inward as much as at the environment to find any potential challenges to success or meeting my goals.  As a result, I have spent much of those seven years learning to hone my management and leadership style into one that creates, or if not ‘creates’ then at least ‘allows for’ or ‘encourages’ an environment where Innovation will flourish.  I have come to understand that the primary component in this effort is the cultivating and managing of innovative people.  Unless you intend to be a one-person show (which I seriously discourage as it will ultimately be unsuccessful in an organization/team setting and just plain leave you exhausted) you must surround yourself with other personalities, minds and skill sets that will hopefully meld into a force that creates and drives Innovation.

During my years of honing, I have discovered that all too often it is not being able to find these innovative minds, or not being an organization culture that does not allow them to create, explore and innovate that is the difficulty.  The challenge comes in reigning these necessarily strong, independent and creative minds into a productive and strategic focus.  If not handled careful, a manager/leader can frustrate their innovative thinkers into giving up, becoming a destructive rather than productive force, or ultimately leaving your organization all together!  This management/leadership dance is a delicate and intricate one that I have never found to play out the same way twice. It is simply a dance you learn through experience that allows you, hopefully, to manage your creative people using a precarious balance of the specific elements/factors of their situation. This makes crafting a management formula or disseminating my hard-won experience into translatable models for fellow Library managers/leaders extremely difficult.

I recently discovered an excellent article that provides some fascinating insights into managing those Innovative spirits among us!!

Harvard Business Review “The Inescapable Paradox of Managing Creativity”

When facing the challenge of unleashing organizational innovation, many leaders fail. Some attempt to help their teams flourish by granting almost unlimited freedoms, only to discover that they have created chaos, not high performance. Others try to force their employees’ creativity through prescribed programs and activities, which usually yields humdrum results at best.

After studying proven masters at fostering organizational innovation for over ten years, we have identified the heart of the difficulty. At the core of leading innovation lies a fundamental tension, or paradox, inherent in the leader’s role: leaders need to unleash individuals’ talents, yet also harness all those diverse talents to yield a useful and cohesive result.

So well stated!!

It’s easy to think of many new ideas, but it’s much more difficult to convert those ideas into something new that actually solves a problem.

So true!!

As a leader, you must constantly ask yourself, “How will I:

  • Affirm each person’s need for individual recognition and identity yet also tend to the needs of the collective?
  • Encourage team members to support one another while simultaneously challenging and provoking each other through robust debate?
  • Foster experimentation, continuous learning and high performance?
  • Determine how much structure — rules, hierarchy, planning and the like — provide sufficient constraints without stifling improvisation?
  • Mix patience and a sense of urgency?
  • Balance bottom-up initiatives and top-down interventions?”

The “right” position at any moment will depend on specific current circumstances. The goal will always be to take whatever positions enable the collaboration, experimentation, and integration necessary for innovation.

And we must continue to hone our leadership and managerial skill!!

This kind of leadership is not easy, especially for leaders who hold conventional notions of top-down leadership, or who find conflict or loss of control uncomfortable. Even skilled leaders of innovation find it hard not to favor one side of the paradox scales over the other. The task of creating new and useful things requires leaders to continually recalibrate the needs of their organizations and to modify their behavior accordingly. They must develop the capacity to lead from the right place on each scale for the moment and situation.

And such a lovely conclusion…

Many leaders need to rethink what they do if they want a more innovative organization. It takes a powerful leader to unleash and harness innovation. This power resides in managing paradox rather than controlling destiny.

So may we all become Managers of Paradox!! Continue reading


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Trump Style Librarianship

This is not a post about politics! This is a post about librarianship!

Having said that, I want to make an analogy to librarianship by using Donald Trump’s bid for presidential candidate in 2016. Many commentators have criticized him as being a “joke” as a candidate, and point out what they view as many other unflattering characteristics. One said his best day would be the day he announced, but then retracted that assessment when Trump later placed second in a recent poll of registered voters.

Trump has clearly and repeatedly stated that he is not a “politician” and he knows how to “return America to greatness.” He cites his business success and experience working with politicians as evidence he is a viable candidate, but he is not a politician. He believes that is a good thing, and electing someone who is not a politician would be good for America, since politicians are the ones who have created the situation America is in today.

The comments of one commentator are the reason I decided to write this post, because I believe the mindset it demonstrates is the same mindset that exists among those who influence librarianship in this 21st Century environment. The commentator said, in essence, Trump can’t win because he’s not being “political.” I interpreted this as an assertion that only a “politician” can be elected President since politicians are, above all else, political, and that voters will only elect someone who is political.

So how does this analogy apply to librarianship? There are many in the profession and among library boards and government jurisdictions who don’t recognize that libraries can operate in nontraditional ways. The concept that libraries are the same now as they have always been is a mindset that prevents change and adaptation that provides 21st Century information and library services in this 21st Century environment.

Inability to put away the old stereotype librarianship, to think outside the box and develop new approaches to delivering library services will surely doom libraries to a status that libraries do not deserve. Libraries will suffer from lack of funding if librarians cannot develop that entrepreneurial spirit that enables libraries to deliver quality library services. Without quality library services communities are hard pressed to support their local libraries, with funding or attendance. Whether Donald Trump becomes President is irrelevant, but taking a few pages from his playbook about how to tackle the 21st Century environment and thrive is the most relevant thing librarians can do now and in the future.

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The art of saying YES!

Many years ago I was a young manager sitting in a meeting of other managers.  We were discussing various issues and one primary topic was the random and odd requests from patrons.  Those in public libraries will smile a little and perhaps chuckle…you know what I mean.  The conversation had taken a turn that was a bit…synical. “I get so tired of it.” “No you can’t hold a meeting in the silent room tomorrow night!” “Why do people keep asking for special treatment?!”  Our Director very thoughtfully said “I wish it was harder for all of you to say NO than YES.”  And she left the room.

That has never left me.  I have framed much of my management and customer service philosophy around the concept of saying Yes.  Embracing the unusual suggestion. Fostering the reality that the Library belongs to our patrons and community.  We are here to manage, improve, facilitate, guide and more.  Unfortunately, too often we translate that to a sense of ownership and control that often manifests in a proclivity to say NO to the unusual or out of the ordinary.  But we are smart folks! And we know that the unusual and new, while scary, is also where brilliant things occur!

I came across a TED Talk the other day that reminded me of this.  It is worth the 11 minutes!

Pam Sandlian Smith, Director of Anythink Libraries in Colorado presents a wonderful talk about what happens when we say YES!!


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The 21st Century Library is Now on FaceBook!

We are pleased to announce that The 21st Century Library Blog now has a ‘sister’ Facebook page!!

The 21st Century Librarian  


We will share timely news, articles and research about The 21st Century Library and Library Innovation.  And occasionally having a little fun!

Follow The 21st Century Librarian! 


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In the event of my untimely death…

Shocking title I know… but we have all suffered loss and we know how fragile life can be. Of course for some they choose not to acknowledge the potential risk; but for most of us we make serious, carefully considered, legally binding plans in the event that something were to happen to us. Parents, in particular, feel the responsibility of planning for the event. Why? So that those we love are cared for and because we realize that life carries on. The loss is hard enough. We make plans so that our untimely ‘departure’ will not leave those we care about without guidance or direction- from funeral plans to care of children to financial issues.
Many of us pour our hearts and souls into our work; but how many of us think to leave directions to our colleagues in the event of our passing?
After so many years in the workplace, I recognize that no one is irreplaceable (We miss them absolutely! And maybe we will never find another that brings the same talents to the table… but we are all replaceable to an extent in the context of work). However, a sudden ‘departure’ can, depending upon the person’s responsibilities, and will cause ripples in the work process. Depending upon the person’s responsibilities, the effects can range from minor to nearly catastrophic. Are you the only person who knows the password to the Facebook account? Are you the only person with a key to that magic closet where they keep the check stock- is it on your key ring buried deep in your purse?
If you are the keeper of certain items such as these, make sure that you have documentation that can be used to carry on your good work. Of course you want to keep passwords and keys secure… but don’t keep them SO secret that NO one can locate them in an emergency.
If you are the Supervisor of staff who are keepers of these types of projects or information, sit with each person and develop a plan ‘just in case’.
If you are the Director, have you thought of what would occur if one day you did not successfully make the journey to the office? Who would take the lead? Who would make the calls? Have you left your Board Chair with guidance of who you feel would be best suited to take a lead role in such a transition?
These issues apply to Libraries of every type and size. In large organizations you have the benefit that there are many partners on various projects. The Director will likely be working with Human Resources, Business Managers, Supervisors, Branch Operations Directors, etc. This may allow for an easier transition than in a smaller library where the Director is gatekeeper to ongoing vendor issues, budgets, labor matters, and more. Plus, in large organizations it is absolutely vital for each individual to provide some type of backup plan. By their very nature, large organizations may more easily lose sight of the fact that one individual is holding a lynch pin upon which many other factors of a project or task rely.

This is a difficult and uncomfortable subject. It raises fear and pain in the hearts of many. However, it is essential… and inevitable. And the best, most responsible approach we can all take, just as we do in our personal life, is not to obsess or deny but rather to make a realistic and fair plan that is revisited as necessary.

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