Tag Archives: Innovation

Youth Violence Prevention and the Public Library’s Role


Many of our communities are dealing with the issues of youth violence and establishing robust youth violence prevention programs. As librarians who spend our days serving our community, we know that many of these youth come through our doors.  It is no longer enough for Public Libraries to say “Well, I offer programs or we have video games to bring them in or I partner with a group that offers tutoring…” as our contribution.  We know the immense power of libraries to change lives and we know the impact they can have on the problems of youth violence. To not act proactively is to be negligent.

It is imperative that we find where these conversations are happening within our community and get a seat at the table so that we are in the best position to offer our services, skills and facilities to aid the effort.  I won’t dwell on “finding the conversation” as we are all librarians and therefore good at our research and knowing our community partners.  The trickiest part here is “getting a seat at the table”.  Why is it that others are invited to the table and we are not? We regularly offer “We want to help.” Or “Let us know if there is anything we can do or that you need”.  Well guess what? EVERYONE is doing that.  You would be hard pressed to find any caring individual who does not believe that youth violence is a serious problem that must be addressed.  When you simply make your blanket offer of ‘help’, you join a cacophony of other voices.
In addition, we have learned that much of the general public simply does not know what a 21st Century library has to offer (a topic for many more posts).  Those individuals serving in the effort to reduce youth violence are no different! So in addition to their effort to address one of the most complex social issues of our time, the last thing they want to add to their plate is to try to figure out how the library can assist them.  YOU have to bring that to the conversation.  When the library’s value to finding a solution is clearly presented, you will be offered a seat at the table.

So how do you make the library’s value apparent?  By presenting your own cohesively planned Youth Violence Prevention Program at your library.  When you can say to potential partners such as local law enforcement, community organizations and other social services: “The Library recognizes the serious issue of Youth Violence in our community and this is what we are doing.  How can we work together with your efforts?” NOW that potential partner has something to consider. NOW they understand the potential you bring to the table because they can clearly see what you are doing.

I can almost hear your next question.  “Okay. That sounds great! But how do I develop a comprehensive program to address such an overwhelming issue that so many are trying to solve?”  First you must understand it to the best of your ability.

From the Center for Disease Control (CDC) 2015 Fact sheet on Youth Violence :

What is Youth Violence?

Youth violence refers to harmful behaviors that can start early and continue into young adulthood. The young person can be a victim, an offender, or a witness to the violence.
Youth violence includes various behaviors. Some violent acts—such as bullying, slapping, or hitting—can cause more emotional harm than physical harm. Others, such as robbery and assault (with or without weapons), can lead to serious injury or even death.

As Librarians we know the importance of data:

Youth violence is widespread in the United States (U.S.). It is the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
•In 2012, 4,787 young people aged 10 to 24 years were victims of homicide—an average of 13   each day.
•Over 599,000 young people aged 10 to 24 years had physical assault injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments—an average of 1642 each day.
•In a 2013 nationwide survey, about 24.7% of high school students reported being in a physical fight in the 12 months before the survey.
•About 17.9% of high school students in 2013 reported taking a weapon to school in the 30 days before the survey.
•In 2013, 19.6% of high school students reported being bullied on school property and 14.8% reported being bullied electronically.
•Each year, youth homicides and assault-related injuries result in an estimated $16 billion in combined medical and work loss costs.

Who is Most at Risk? What are the most common risk factors?

• Prior history of violence
• Drug, alcohol, or tobacco use
• Association with delinquent peers
• Poor family functioning
• Poor grades in school
• Poverty in the community

Prevention is the ultimate goal  and the following prevention strategies have been identified:

• Parent- and family-based programs improve family relations. Parents receive training on child development. They also learn skills for talking with their kids and solving problems in nonviolent ways.
• Social-development strategies teach children how to handle tough social situations. They learn how to resolve problems without using violence.
• Mentoring programs pair an adult with a young person. The adult serves as a positive role model and helps guide the young person’s behavior.
• Changes can be made to the physical and social environment. These changes address the social and economic causes of violence.

Obviously a problem like youth violence is far more complex than can be summed up in the previous paragraphs, and I would encourage everyone to do much more extensive research on the topic as it relates to your community.  However, this overview does provide us with a solid foundation to discuss the process for creating your library’s Youth Violence Prevention Program.

You are likely already doing wonderful things in your library to support teens.  By their very nature, those initiatives form the foundation of your fully realized Youth Violence Prevention Program.  The goal now is to build upon these loose ideas to create a cohesive plan that will guide future decisions to ensure a strategic programming direction and that you will be able to present to other individuals and organizations.

Start by making a list of all the programs and initiatives you have currently.  Look back at the previous CDC information. Where do your efforts fit within their identified prevention strategies? Where are the holes or unmet needs?  Your plan could include initiatives such as:

  • Host and partner with high-risk youth mentor/apprentice programs
  • Provide support for outreach workers serving in neighborhoods with high incidents of violence
  • Work with locally established programs on school truancy review, discuss and dissect your library’s policy on youth truancy.
  • Host gang intervention programs provided by local law enforcement and Juvenile Justice partners
  • Provide and host job readiness/life skills/employment programs
  • Provide and host financial literacy programs
  • Support and provide services specifically to the underserved, at-risk populations such as LGBTQ youth, immigrant or undocumented youth, and homeless or unaccompanied youth
  • Host peer education initiatives
  • Offer programs which develop self-esteem and self-worth
  • Create programs that build leadership and teamwork

IMPORTANT ASIDE: Remember that when we talk about Youth Violence we are generally discussing a population between the ages of 10-24.  This is a much different range than we typical target in any of our children or teen programming.  Keep that in mind as you look at your planned approach.

Then, look back at the risk factors listed in the CDC Fact Sheet.  Identify those areas of the community you feel share these challenges.  Next, detail your outreach and marketing plan to targeted each of the areas of your community you have identified. Finally, just as you would with any strategic plan, set goals and milestones for your work. Keep in mind that goals must be reasonable.  Yes “Eradicate all youth violence” may be the ultimate goal; but realistically that is an overreach for any single plan.  Perhaps your  goals could include the number of programs you hope to offer this year, number of participants, number of partners, etc.

Now that you have a solid plan…implement it. Straight away! No delays! In this effort, there is not a moment to lose. And as soon as you get that ball rolling, start those conversations with your community partners including local law enforcement, various social services, the schools, and community organizations.  You are now beginning those conversations with a clear position and a cohesive plan that demonstrates the value your library brings to the effort to prevent and ultimately end Youth Violence; and your library will be able to sit down at the table as a true and equal partner.

Youth Violence is a problem that will only be solved when we all work together. We know public libraries can and must play a vital role in saving our youth.

Take your seat at the table …its time to get to work.

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Replacing School Libraries with Makers Spaces – a worrisome tale


I want to preface this post with a disclaimer: Though I spent 2 years in charge of a school library in the early days of my career, I make no claim to any special expertise in children’s services or school media centers beyond the general knowledge I have gleaned during my time in the library profession.  In addition I do like to ‘stay in my lane’ and, as a result, have rarely if ever weighed in on issues specific to school libraries. When I began reading about the Makers Movement in school libraries, I left the issue alone as it was outside my wheelhouse. However, as this picks up momentum nation-wide it will come to affect us all in time, not just as public libraries but also as a society looking to an educational system to develop our next generation.

I have previously mentioned that I was slow to embrace the Makers Movement shift in public libraries.  It simply didn’t speak to me right away; so I was a bit of a hard sell. I believe libraries, while we continue to innovate, must make decisions based on the ‘long-haul’ from a position that respects public trust and our over-arching missions that withstand the tests of time.  It is human nature to jump on the new exciting thing. However, I have been completely convinced that these programmatic spaces and innovative offerings in public libraries are an exciting component of lifelong learning and essential to bridging the digital divide just as books were in the early 20th century.

So as much as I am a proponent of Makers Spaces in public libraries, this same movement in school libraries is worrisome.  Is the school library really the appropriate home for a ‘makers space’ (3D Printer, sound studios, sewing machines, etc)?  I may be working from an old model- let’s admit- it’s been awhile since I was in elementary or high school.  But wouldn’t the 3D printer be more logical placed in the computer science department or the Technology/Computer Lab?  And the sound studio in the Music Department? And the sewing machine….what happened to Home Economics?

If you do agree that the school library should embrace the ‘movement’, then comes the question of “To what degree?”.  Where is balance in a school library setting between reader advisory, digital literacy, bibliographic instruction, etc and the cutting edge technology we are seeing in Makers Spaces in public libraries?  In at least one school district in Kansas it appears the scales are far from balanced and it has many worried:

School libraries shift toward innovation areas, but librarians fear for what’s lost,

by Rick Montgomery of the Kansas City Star June 24, 2016

(Edited for brevity- follow link for complete article)

Librarians in the Shawnee Mission School District are making way for “the maker movement,” and some worry where that story is going… at least four Shawnee Mission grade schools have hired “innovation specialists” to run their libraries when fall classes open.

That’s the language of the maker movement, which seeks to convert once-quiet school spaces — usually in the libraries — into hands-on laboratories of creation and computer-assisted innovation….In fact, the word “librarian” didn’t come up in the job description for an innovation specialist at Merriam Park Elementary. “Stories” wasn’t there, either. No mention of “books,” “literature” nor “shelves.”

[Jan] Bombeck [of Ray Marsh Elementary] said. “It’s like they’re avoiding people with library certification.”

District administrators say that’s not the case. They do acknowledge, however, that grade schools haven’t much need any more for the libraries of 20 years ago — when they stocked books, gave research help, suggested age-appropriate literature and provided a cozy corner in which kids could turn pages.

Wow…Really? That is quite a statement “haven’t much need any more for the libraries of 20 years ago”…so no middle ground? School libraries must either be an arcane model  or makers space?

 Today all Shawnee Mission pupils are issued an electronic tablet or MacBook, providing them many times the information once squeezed on library shelves.“Now that they have those digital resources in hand, no longer do I have to get up and walk my class to the library,” said Michelle Hubbard, assistant superintendent of leadership and learning.

It is excellent to hear that these technologies are being made available to students on this scale.  It is equally distressing to hear a school administrator diminish decades of school library efforts to this degree of irrelevance.

 This past weekend at Union Station, hundreds of area kids demonstrated what it’s about at the sixth annual Maker Faire: They programmed 3-D printers to craft sculptures. They used laptops to help Lego robots complete assigned tasks. They showed off sewing, gardening, electrical wizardry and consumer products of their own making.

In this worrisome movement I see a computer lab, tech center, science innovation, music education enhancements and home ec (with even a little bit of ‘shop class’ thrown in).  What I don’t see is a library.  If we need these innovations in our schools- and I would ABSOLUTELY argue that we do- let’s place them in the appropriate department.  If we need sewing machines and we wish to teach this skill, bring back those amazing Home Ec & Shop teachers who taught us how to make great pillows, bird houses, balance a check book and even cook! But don’t use them to replace Librarians. These are two different things and both are necessary!

 …Leslie Preddy, president of the American Association of School Librarians….“To call yourself a librarian, you need to have that training and to be certified,” said Preddy, who works in a school district near Indianapolis. “If you replace a certified librarian with someone who’s just an expert in technology, you’re losing half of the role that school libraries are supposed to be serving.

“You still need someone who is a champion of reading.” She cited the research of Keith Curry Lance (much of it funded by librarian groups) that shows higher student scores in reading, and in some cases even math, at schools where certified librarians are present.

The shift has many worried and they are speaking out.  Hoping to encourage the school district to seek a balance between library and makers space.

…Bombeck…took a stand. At the May 23 meeting of the Shawnee Mission school board, the librarian stepped up to an open mic …“Several elementary principals have expressed a desire to turn the library into only a makers space without any library curriculum,” Bombeck said. “I have never ‘just read stories’ and checked out books. I have taught digital citizenship, copyright law and internet safety. I have taught research skills and database use.”

Ellie Seemann, who just finished her final year as the Merriam Park librarian, said that offering maker spaces and traditional library services shouldn’t be viewed as an either-or proposition. “I hate to hear it talked about as one or the other,” she said. ….

But, unfortunately there may be more at stake than the library-advocates can rail against…

District officials say part of a $233 million bond referendum that voters passed in 2015 directed funds toward remaking school libraries. They say the innovation goals were well-communicated at the time.

As for staffing, assistant superintendent Hubbard said: “It’s really more about the skills that an individual brings to lift kids to that level than it is about certification.”

Whether or not educators have completed a master’s program in library science, which is one route to certification, Hubbard said that “all great teachers can teach kids to read and teach them research skills.” She said she would expect those skills to be highly considered whenever maker-minded teachers are hired to replace retiring librarians….

$233 MILLION! Towards ‘remaking’ libraries.  As I lay in bed in the dark of night and ponder these shifts perhaps I am becoming more cynical with age, but I do wonder: In an educational system that has spent the past decade downsizing and marginalizing school media centers and the role of Librarians, is this shift to makers spaces simply another step to further that agenda but with a more palatable flavor? From the success of the bond referendum and the resulting organizational changes to district libraries and hiring practices, one could certainly draw that conclusion.

They say “you can’t fight city hall” and I think the same sentiment could be applied to school districts.  But I do hope that the professionals, the public, the parents, and groups like ALA and AASL will continue to fight the good fight and raise issues with the worrisome path school districts are choosing.  I certainly believe a balance between library and makers space can and should be found that will provide the most educational   opportunities for students.

If not, in 20 years when our “libraries” are full of sewing machines and 3D printers, we may find ourselves reading articles about a revival movement to add “Reading Spaces” to schools…where will those go…the band room?

 

 

 

 

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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:

Question:

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

Answer:

“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 http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2015/15-105.html) 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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Trenton Free Public Library adds Outposts to its 21st Century Library Service Model.


Over 4 years ago, having faced two and a half years of budget reductions totaling almost 50%, my Library was forced to close four of our five locations.
It was devastating to the Library and our Community.  While the Main Library is well situated in the center of our City, these four branches had provided a network of coverage throughout the community for nearly 80 years.  Now we were losing that…
Questions, fears, anger, hurt, and more swirled within our organization and as a barrage from the community.
How had we let this happen?
How  would we provide service now?
Would the Library Survive?
What about people who couldn’t get to the Main Library?
This was no subtle shift- no gradual scaling down of the operation- this was a massive closure of facilities all on one day- August 16, 2010.  Everyone felt the void in the fabric of the community.  And frankly it was necessary to take a period of time to lick wounds, heal the hurt and grieve before anyone (staff or patron) was ready to move forward.  But the beauty of all things is that the sun always rises and tomorrow is a new day.  So eventually the time came when everyone was open to the discussion of “What next?” and together we walked into the 21st Century Chapter of the Trenton Free Public Library.
We did not want to half-heartedly replace what we had lost or ‘make due’.  We wanted something innovative that met the particular needs of our City!  Our new service model needed to be economic, low impact on resources, satiate the desire of the community for services close to home, and attempt to repair the damage to the image of the library caused by the shattering of four of our five locations. To this end the library began to search for a new service model.
We knew that continuing to look back at the branches we had lost was a waste of our resources and energy best spent crafting an innovated 21st-century Service Model and began instead to at the loss of our branches as a an opportunity to begin the planning process with an open canvas. This fresh perspective allowed us to build a five-year strategic plan that addresses specifically the service to the entire community on site without physical locations.
Our new Service Model, stripped to its most simplistic version, include the implementation of the following components over a five-year period:
  • Outposts spread throughout the community (four at least)
  • A CyberMobile
  • A small physical location in a high traffic commercial area dedicated to On-The-Go Technology and Service
  • An emphasis upon Outreach and Embedded Librarianship
  • Become the Hub for all community information.

With this service model and idea in place, approved by the Library Board, and our City partners, we began to move forward.  First up Outposts!

What is an outpost you may ask yourself?

You may have heard them referred to as a satellite location, an unmanned branch, a vending machine, etc. None of these names resonated within our organization or our community; therefore, we termed them “Outposts”. An Outpost consists of three pieces of equipment and a commitment of partnership and out reach in that particular location. The equipment includes a lending machine (think vending machine but with books instead of potato chips and Snickers bars), a locker system for hold pickup, and a book drop.

After the appropriate RFP process, we purchased 2 Outposts from a lovely company called PIK,Inc using CDBG funds graciously given to the project by the City of Trenton.   We partnered with respected Community organizations (such as the YMCA) to place the Outposts in  high-use facilities within the community to maximize their potential and exposure.

These new Outposts, the first 2 of 4, provide our Library Card holders with instant access to between 250-500 books in the lending machine and the ENTIRE collection for pick up at the lockers within 24-48 hours.  Along with the book drop, these Outposts provide patrons with the ability to access the Libraries materials in their own neighborhoods!

This Outpost is not only the first of its kind in New Jersey but also the FIRST on the entire mid-Atlantic Seaboard. We are very proud!!

DSC_0089-s

YMCA Ribbon

DSC_0094-s Crystal speaking

DSC_0100-s-Yvonne scans her Library Card2 DSC_0102-s-2-Yvonne removes her Book from the Lending Library

Up Next…………

CYBERMOBILE!!!!!!!!!!

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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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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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