Monthly Archives: September 2012

21st Century Library Strategic Plan – Survey


In the summer of 2010 I began a series of Posts on various elements of 21st Century Library Strategic Planning. I published posts on Mission, Vision, Values, Goals and Objectives, etc.
As I have noted on more than one occasion, this series of Posts has been by far the most viewed. I have developed a brief survey of three questions to help me understand why. Please share your answers to these questions, then keep an eye on the results.
Thank you!

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How Casual is Too Casual?


During Apple’s recent announcement of its new iPhone 5, this picture of the Senior VP of Worldwide Product Marketing Phil Schiller was snapped. His shirt tail outside of his pants is obvious, but it also appears he is wearing bluejeans.

OK, is it just me, or does anyone else think there is something not quite right with this picture? The Senior VP of Worldwide Product Marketing for one of the biggest businesses in the world, WANTS to project the image of ULTRA CASUAL – I’m a 20-something Dude ready to go clubing? Neck-tie? No way! Maybe the fact that his sleeves are rolled down and buttoned is a statement that his ultra casual appearance only goes so far? And, the fact that his button-down collar shirt is nicely pressed is also a statement that ultra casual has standards?

So what? So what does the staff attire at your library communicate to your customers about your library?

My good friend library director recently adopted uniforms for her urban library staff. It was the result of frequent issues with staff concerning their appearance, and her desire to communicate a more professional image of her library to her community.

It was somewhat of an ordeal to adopt the appropriate “look” by selecting the specific style of clothing – tops and bottoms – to create that “look.” The expense was acceptable considering the goal. How much is too much expense for library advertising? It also takes a talent for clothing style that not just everybody has, so I suggest that you don’t try this if you’ve never been complimented on your own appearance. What is totally critical in this decision to adopt “uniforms” – if one must call it that – is knowing your staff and your organization’s culture. Some organizations and leaders can make the change successfully and beneficially, while others will fail miserably.

I searched for comments regarding uniforms in libraries and found very few ‘constructive’ opinions on the topic.

*I think that if we are moving to roving reference, there needs to be an easy way for patrons to identify staff. I know we can go and ask people if they need assistance, but how often does that bug you about retail shopping?

*One of the reasons that the issue of uniforms were raised was for easy identification of staff. As we settle into our implementation of RFID and move away from the circulation/information desks where our location is our identification, this could be a good reason to reconsider.

*Uniforms can be a symbol of authority, but it’s more about presenting a distinguishing appearance for my library. Our uniforms are really nice looking and everyone feels they look nice as well as all looking alike. It’s not a bad thing for our staff.

It’s not for every library, but just how casual is your library environment, and is that the message you want to communicate to your community?

Here’s a video of some really sharp uniforms.

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Librarian Leaders Delegate!


My recent focus has been on various aspects of leadership, and one of the more important is learning to delegate authority. This is an important function, especially since most librarians are not comfortable delegating. Notice I wrote “authority” not “responsibility.” I’ll explain the distinction later on.

In my January 6, 2012 Leaders!? post, I defined leadership as;

A person, who by force of example, talents, and/or qualities of character plays a directing role, wields commanding influence or has a following in any sphere of activity or thought.

By contrast, to put leader in better perspective, 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.

Warren Bennis & Burt Nanus stated it best – “Managers are people who do things right, and leaders are people who do the right things.” (Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge, 1997) That is not to say the two roles are mutually exclusive, because they are very much compatible, and each role generally requires some elements of the other, which is why so many people have a hard time distinguishing real leaders from good managers.

Delegation of authority is a leadership multiplier through the division of duties. In this ever more complex environment, no one person can do it all. Within an organization it takes subject matter experts to be knowledgeable about the important things in your community and library, and be able to make connections between what they observe, what the library’s capabilities are, and what the library can do to serve the community in new and important ways. (Multidisciplinary – A New 21st Century Librarianship Skill) In order to actually help accomplish all that your library wants to accomplish for your community, the leader MUST delegate tasks and areas of work to subordinates – AND – share their authority to make decisions and accomplish the assigned goals, objectives and tasks.

Unfortunately, the main personal characteristic that stifles delegation in bosses is the need for control. People who must be in control over everything, will seldom give up authority to subordinates to accomplish those essential tasks that require more time and attention than they have in order to be done effectively and efficiently.

Delegation of authority is also paramount in developing leadership skills in subordinates. Every subordinate must begin to learn management (and leadership) skills by being able to exercise some amount of authority, in order to influence others to also perform.

I mentioned above that authority – but not responsibility – can be delegated. Here’s why. The boss is responsible for everything that his/her organization does or fails to do. PERIOD. No IF’s, AND’s or BUT’s. The boss will be held accountable for his/her organization’s failures, which is why it is so difficult for bosses to delegate. If my performance evaluation is based on the performance of other people, then I’m going to be in control.

Seems reasonable, but it is highly impractical, and certainly not the best approach to creating a high performing organization, in which the boss’s performance evaluation is guaranteed to be high. (The High Performing Library) Bosses also get paid to LEAD their organization, not just maintain them. Regardless of whether you’re in charge of a small group of two subordinates, or a library of 200 staff, leading is more than simply managing and – as I’ve already stated – no one person can do it all without help – help of all kinds at all levels. Delegation of authority is a major means for a library to accomplish everything that it can become.

This is also where training, mentoring, judgment and trust come into application. It’s all part of developing subordinates, treating them with respect and trust and making your library organization all that it can be through inspired, more capable people who share your authority, your vision and your leadership. (Pygmalion in Library Leadership)

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Pygmalion in Library Leadership


George Bernard Shaw wrote Pygmalion – a play in five acts – in 1913. It is the origin of the better known 1964 Oscar winning film “My Fair Lady.” [There were many other earlier adaptations on stage and screen.] Eliza Doolittle states;

You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up, the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on, the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you [Colonel Pickering], because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.

Pygmalion was a sculptor in Greek mythology who sculpted a statue of a woman that he then fell in love with, and as a result the statue came to life. [Yes, that’s where the Pinocchio story came from too.] Shaw took the story line and created his play about a linguistics professor who created a British society lady from a Cockney flower girl, at first on a bet, but then eventually fell in love with her. Eliza didn’t think Higgins could ever see her as anything more than a low-class flower girl, and he almost didn’t. But, the story had a happy ending, and everybody lived happily ever after.

So what? Expectations! Management experiments over many decades in many fields have shown that whatever the expectations of the leadership, subordinates are likely to perform at that level. Where leaders are perceived as being highly effective leaders and their subordinates are expected to be high-performing employees, the resulting outcomes are indeed higher. Where leaders are perceived as being ineffective and employees are not expected to be high-performers, performance tends to support those expectations. However, there are anomalies in some cases where subordinates don’t see themselves as marginal or low performers, and leaders/managers don’t see themselves as marginal or low performers.

THAT is when the Pygmalion Affect [not a recognized management term] takes over and people accomplish things that others did not think they were capable of accomplishing. THAT is what is needed in librarianship in the 21st Century.

People who have low expectations of themselves, their subordinates and others around them are likely to achieve just that – low performance. It becomes extremely difficult for employees to break out of that low self-image which results in a low self-esteem, professionally. But, librarians who believe they can accomplish great things, and expect excellent performance from their employees and their entire team, CAN accomplish exceptional things. It essentially becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You will accomplish whatever you think you are capable of – low or high – it’s up to you!

Performance is largely dependent on how people are treated. Like Eliza, the Colonel treated her like a lady and she felt like one and acted like one. Professor Higgins treated her like a flower girl, and he made her feel like one, which to her – compared to feeling like a lady – was a terrible feeling. Do you treat your employees like they are more than just librarians, or do you treat them like something less?

In my last Post about the PLA president advocating leadership in the profession, I cited her quote that;

I fear that many key staff members in public libraries are reluctant to interact and work with local government administrators and other community leaders, at a time when it is absolutely crucial to relate how the library finds solutions to meet the needs and priorities of the communities we serve.

I would go further and assert that the reason “key staff members are reluctant to interact and work with local government administrators and other community leaders” is because they perceive themselves as – JUST LIBRARIANS.

Being JUST A LIBRARIAN is fine if that’s what a person wants to be. But the times and circumstances require library leaders in this uncertain 21st Century to be more. That is how JUST LIBRARIANS change the profession, and change the perception of their library within their community.

In almost every situation, the library director is considered an executive and on the same level as department heads and other “directors” within the community governmental agency. The library director should never be intimidated by other heads or leaders. Your job responsibility is every bit as large and important as any other branch of government, and you have a legitimate role to play within the community – more directly so than some other agencies. Lack of pot-holes is nice, but a great community library is so much better.

When ALL librarians recognize their rightful importance in their community – whether it is a town, city, county, school, collage, university, military installation, private industry, or library of any type – others will begin to recognize it as well. You deserve a voice in the community! You deserve a seat at the table! Do not be reluctant to take your rightful place in your community! Others will treat you the way you perceive yourself – as more than just a librarian.

[Adapted from “Pygmalian in management” by J. Sterling Livingston, Harvard Business Review, July-August 1969.]

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PLA President Advocates Leadership


I contend that the greatest impediment to the future of public libraries is the growing number of library practitioners who lack community leadership skills. I fear that many key staff members in public libraries are reluctant to interact and work with local government administrators and other community leaders, at a time when it is absolutely crucial to relate how the library finds solutions to meet the needs and priorities of the communities we serve.

So wrote 2012–2013 PLA President Eva Poole in her first message as president – Leadership Skills More Crucial Than Ever – in the July/August 2012 issue of “Public Libraries”

…., we must remember that we share the same challenges and issues as those faced by our local government administrators. In a Public Management (PM) magazine article titled “Picturing It: The Year 2020,” local government administrators were asked to predict what their professional challenges would be in the year 2020. Their predictions were summarized as follows:
• Quality of life and a sense of place will be important to residents.
• IT developments will allow for greater productivity.
• Service delivery will be streamlined.
• Resident engagement will become the norm.
• Performance measurement and benchmarking will be emphasized.
• Teamwork and consensus building will be essential skills.
• Working effectively with diverse and aging populations will be a major skill.
• A commitment to sustainability will be standard.

Isn’t it ironic that what our local government administrators see for their future is the current reality for us as public library leaders? We can make a difference in the way public libraries are perceived by our local government administrators by becoming not only effective library leaders, but community leaders.

What seems ironic to me is that it has taken this long for our professional leaders to recognize what we in the field have been asserting for years. Local libraries don’t have time to wait for the slowly turning wheels of bureaucracy and committees and associations to turn around to recognizing the issues and addressing the solutions. We’ve begun to find our own solutions that those other “leaders” can look to as examples.

In 2006, PLA established a Leadership Development Task Force, chaired by past-PLA president Luis Herrera, to develop leaders for the profession and the association in response to the changing environment in which public libraries operate. We need leaders who embrace change and can implement a vision that will transform public libraries. The work of the task force, now chaired by Carolyn Anthony, continues. The task force has identified key elements of successful leadership for public libraries. A key observation is that to be an effective library leader, a person must be a community leader, engaged with the community and relating the library’s offerings to the needs and priorities of the community. Effective library leadership also involves partnerships with other agencies in the community. We continue to develop this leadership model and plan to launch it nationally.

SIX years for a “task force” to come up with a plan is not something to brag about, but I sincerely applaud President Poole for making leadership her number one priority.

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