Tag Archives: Leadership

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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Public Libraries must take a Stand with the Big 5 on eBooks


Library Journal “ALA, Publishers Talk Ebook Lending Terms for Libraries

I saw the headline and thought “Excellent! I hope this means ALA has made real progress toward open access to ALL content regardless of format!” and then I read the article.

“ALA highlighted the valuable role of libraries in the publishing and reading ecosystems and thus why more flexible and favorable terms for library eBook lending are in everyone’s best interest.”

Publishing ecosystems? Huh? Where’s the mention of providing equal access to information regardless of format?

“This visit represents ALA’s ninth such delegation effort over the last several years.”

Ninth delegation!? Seriously? And yet here most of us sit with abysmal title selections and outrageously priced contracts. I don’t think the strategy is working…whatever it is.

“Libraries have a prominent role in the discovery of books and authors, whether in the physical or virtual worlds.”

True. We all love our reader’s advisory and putting those new books in people’s hands.

“Indeed, the opening of a brick-and-mortar store by Amazon is a major acknowledgment that physical place is important, even for an online-based service. “

True…Library as 3rd space. We have been saying this for a decade. Wait…is the delegation saying these publisher’s should think of the libraries as their “brick-and-mortar” presence for their eBook trade? Hmm..starting to feel a little uncomfortable… where is this headed?

“In our meetings, we came away with a few possibilities for strengthened collaboration with publishers to promote discoverability as well as reading and literacy.”

OK- even less comfortable. Let’s break down this sentence. So in addition to promoting reading and literacy which we all do and love…the delegation is suggesting we promote discoverability…of the publisher’s eBooks. Why is it that this sounds a bit more like promoting for revenue than simple reader’s advisory?

“One idea that received some traction is tying discoverability with a particular subject matter, such as health or workforce issues. Library services or programming in an area would be developed and highlighted on a national scale, and publishers’ titles on these subjects would be featured. Publishers would offer print or eBooks through a favorable promotion to stimulate participation by libraries and, in turn, by the public.”

I’m sorry…what? Let’s read that part again “publishers’ titles on these subjects would be featured”. And…“Publishers would offer print or eBooks through a favorable promotion to stimulate participation by libraries and, in turn, by the public.” Now I’m officially uncomfortable and we have turned into shady ethical territory. Consider this: It is one thing when we host a children’s program with a magician and then put out a display of books on magic. It is ENTIRELY another when a book seller comes to the children’s librarian and says “If you will pay to put on a program with a magician- I will SELL you these books on magic at a discount and then you agree to ‘feature’ those books at the program”. How many of us would pull back from that offer instinctively?

But now we read an article with ALA is actually presenting this as a serious idea. ARE YOU KIDDING!?? Libraries are not peddlers of the publisher’s product! Libraries are not about free advertising for authors! Taxpayers do not give Libraries their hard-earned tax dollars to have us craft services and programming to promote a for-profit venture.

“Most fundamental, however, for these meetings is to further develop the library–publisher relationship at the executive and national levels. Publishers and libraries have similar overall goals—to promote and advance reading and literacy—and are allies in many respects.”

And why is it that each time I read about Library/Publisher talks or pilot programs I always see the same New York area libraries represented? Why are the New York area Libraries driving the national agenda and conversation on eBooks? Why are they some of the ONLY libraries to have ‘deals’ with the publishers? Proximity? Hogwash!! We all know how to get on an airplane. I have as much or more respect for NYPL and its neighbors as anyone (I’ll admit it may nearly bordering on a bit of hero worship); but I would like to see a broader spectrum of folks invited to the table for these negotiations.  Perhaps this is a banner that the new Librarian of Congress or ALA’s new Director of ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and Freedom to Read Foundation, Jamie LaRue. With his appointment, I have the first high hopes I’ve had for awhile when it comes to serious progress from ALA.

And lets not overlook the bit about similar goals.  Unless it’s a charitable tax write off or a form of promotion, do we really believe the Big 5 have any other goal at the end of the day other than to make money? What better way than to get one of the most trusted of public institutions to hawk their products?

Let’s stop kowtowing to the Big 5. Stop telling them how good we are for their product and begging for scraps. Please ALA, do not sell the soul of the Public Library – the public trust that Libraries are one of the only remaining ‘commercial-free zones’- for a better price on the latest best seller. We are not the pawn of the Publishers. We are not their salesmen. Instead stand up for EXACTLY the reason we Public Librarians are here! To ensure that all Americans, regardless of their means, have access to ALL content/information REGARDLESS of format.

THAT SHOULD BE OUR MESSAGE TO THE PUBLISHERS. We will NOT allow them to throw our ability to create open access to information back into the dark ages because the technology of this bright new century allows them to maintain a strangle hold on content. Access to information is a right of all. NOT just those who can pay. That is why the FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY was created. How DARE we let these publisher disregard this basic tenant of our democracy!

Perhaps in the 10th meeting Libraries will make a stand.

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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 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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Public Libraries Must Agree Upon a Mission If We Are to Survive


As Librarians we are repeatedly told that the average person doesn’t really know what the Library does. We worry about this. We recognize that this lack of understanding leads to reduced funding, marginalization, and potentially worse fates. We discuss at length how to address the problem. We market. We advocate. We promote. And still we hear from surveys and studies that people “love the Library” but they aren’t really sure what we do or offer. The more frighting notion is that by not understanding what we do they cannot truly understand why we exist.

I consider the folks at Forbes to be a fairly intelligent group (ok-there might be a few non-MENSAs in the group but lets not fight the hypo..); but look at this article by David Vinjamuri

” …public libraries in America: they are dynamic, versatile community centers. They welcomed more than 1.59 billion visitors in 2009 and lent books 2.4 billion times – more than 8 times for each citizen. More than half of young adults and seniors living in poverty in the United States used public libraries to access the Internet. They used this access, among other purposes to “find work, apply to college, secure government benefits, and learn about critical medical treatments” For all this, public libraries cost just $42 per citizen each year to maintain.”
“Public libraries for their part have been slow to react to the dramatic changes in publishing and reading that threaten their ability to fulfill their core mission of promoting reading. By focusing too heavily on giving patrons access to bestsellers and popular movies, libraries risk missing the significant opportunity afforded by the explosion in the number of new books published each year.”

So Mr. Vinamuri is pretty clear that we are community centers whose core Mission is reading. Really? Hmm…I thought we were about Information.

As a professional who has spent considerable time on the topic of Strategic Planning, Mission Statements are a go-to for me when I want to know why an organization exists. So I began pondering the correlation between this apparently massive disconnect between our efforts to advocate ourselves and the public lack of understanding of Libraries. I found something startling: We have created this confusion!!

If you spend 15 minutes searching every Library that pops to mind and you read their mission statements you will discover, as I did, that they are ALL over the map. In addition, so many of them are filled with the latest trending buzzwords/phrases such as: life-long learning, community gathering place, advance knowledge, community anchor, bringing people together, foster creativity and so on. What I did not see was a cohesive presentation of the mission/purpose of the Public Library. Next I turned to ALA documents and other professional sources and while I could find bits and pieces…I never found a clear, concise statement of WHY we (the Free Public LIbrary) exist. Even Wikipedia failed me! What I did repeatedly find was that the main task of a Public LIbrary is to lend books and other materials. Great! BUT WHY??!!

So, if you cannot find- you create. To that end, I submit (knowing some will inevitably disagree) that :

The Mission of the Free Public Library 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.

Because I believe this is the reason Free Public Libraries exist, I have NEVER had difficulty answering the ever-present questions of “Will Libraries become obsolete?” “Will Google replace Libraries?” “Will eBooks make Libraries irrelevant?” Of course not! As long as our political system finds its foundation in an Informed Citizenry there will always be a need for the Public LIbrary. That is- as long as WE remember why we exist. If we continue to make our Mission the latest trend then we will be our own demise.

A basic principal taught in business school comes from the 1960’s writings of Theodore Levitt, a Harvard Business School professor. Mr. Levitt forwarded the notion that, to be successful, businesses must focus on customer needs not on a specific product. He used the example of buggy whip manufacturers. If they had focused on accessory products for modes of transportation rather than JUST buggy whips- they might not have become obsolete when the automobile rolled around. Utilizing this same thinking, Public Libraries should focus on the primary customer need- information- and recognize that these trending buzzwords/phrases are great marketing tools that add to our Mission but do not replace it.

Why is it that we seem so determined to ‘jazz’ up our Mission with the latest trend? In a recent discussion I had with a group of Librarians I jotted down some of these buzz-words and phrases: Life-long learning, Community gathering place, Advance Knowledge, Community Anchor, Foster Creativity. It is my contention that these are METHODS to, RESULTS from, or REQUIREMENTS of fulfilling our mission…not the mission itself. For example: Literacy is a basic skill required to effectively seek and utilize information resources. Thus literacy is something in which Libraries have a vested interest but in and of itself it is not our Mission. A Library may become a community anchor as a result of fulfilling their Mission. Life-long learning is a method to the creation of an informed citizenry. The Mission of all Public Libraries in America is exactly the same – though the application is and should be radically different as dictated by the community the Library serves. This application is where the method, result, and requirements become unique; but we have allowed them to pervade our essential Mission.

During my search of various Library Mission Statements, I discovered that even the library’s that kept their Mission Statement fairly straight forward couldn’t quite resist the lure of including verbiage such as “Entertain”. For example:
“The Everywhere Public Library provides materials, information, technology and cultural opportunities to enrich, empower, educate and entertain people of all ages and backgrounds.”
Perhaps they felt these inclusions gave them an easy-to-point-to rational to encompass those less ‘educational’ portions of our offerings (such as DVDs and Romance novels). I would argue that we need no such rationals. Allowing all citizens access to those materials, such as film and television- from which we derive so much of our common vernacular and shared ideas, is as vital to participating in a water-cooler conversation as reading Plato will ever be (if not more). Who hasn’t referenced a popular film or television program in conversation to illustrate a point? (“I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse!”) If you cannot afford the DVD or Television- you may not have access to view the films [if you wish to] and therefore will never fully understand those references and thus the sublties of such conversations. Thus these offerings become essential to the fulfillment of our Mission.

We play a vital role in the provision of our Constitutional Republic. We should embrace and reinforce that role, not only as the privilege and honor it is, but also as the assurance of our continued relevance and essential nature. Why is this not enough? Do we feel our Mission must be ‘jazzed’ up to draw in patrons? Or are these divergent and mixed messages of our Mission a result of our own internal crisis about who we are as a profession? Did we feel that the public trust would be improved by disassociating ourselves with the image of a government entity?

Whatever the cause, this inconsistent message of the Mission of the Free Public LIbrary must stop! We should revel and stand tall in the knowledge that we are the sole entity (government or otherwise) tasked with providing equal and open access to information so that our citizens are able to become informed and thereby participate in their own governance. Fulfill that mission in whatever manner (literacy, life-long learning, entertainment, community gathering place) best suits your unique community- But let us stop mixing Mission and method. If we, the champions of this amazing service called the Public Library, can all agree on ONE Mission that is unique, essential, and timeless then perhaps our united voice would be enough to eradicate the public’s misconceptions about the Public Library. If we know who we are- so will they.

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Doing More with Less in 21st Century Libraries


… why are we still saying this?!!! It isn’t true and it isn’t possible. Its delusional and, worse, its harmful! Harmful not just to one organization; but to libraries everywhere. Libraries around the world fight every day for increased budget. Continuing to proudly promote the notion that we can do more with less if we try hard enough undermines every library budget effort.
Think of it like this:
If you have a staff member who says “I’m completely swamped! I don’t have a minute to spare!!” You give them a project anyway and they somehow find time to accomplish it without dropping anything else. Do you think that they were miraculously able to do more with less or are you more inclined to think that they were actually not using their time effectively to begin with and indeed really did have the time to take on a new project? The same theory holds true for the library and our budget decision-makers. If we say we are doing as much as possible with the money that we have and we need more, then our budgets are reduced, and we miraculously find a way to do more with less why WOULDN’T the budget makers assume that we were actually not using our money effectively in the first place!?

Where does this leave our credibility? What should anyone take us seriously the next time we approach with an outstretched hand asking for more funds? Isn’t it reasonable to assume that they will take a more critical view of what we are doing with what we currently receive every time we ‘do more with less’?!

When I hear someone say they are doing more with less I can’t help wonder if, in actuality, they were actually wasting money previously. While I’m sure this is not always true, sometimes it is and certainly there will be those around us that will think the same. The reality is the times are tight. The reality is the times have been tight before. The reality is that times will be tight again. We cannot do more with less; what we can do is less with less and we need people to understand that. We have to be honest, stop painting rosy pictures and start educating our communities on what these budget reductions truly mean to them. We are the experts on library service. Our communities don’t always know what is possible with adequate funding. It’s great to inform our patrons of our services and what we DO have to offer. However, it is also important to inform and educate about the services we COULD offer with adequate funding. People cannot lobby for or fund what they do not know exists.

We must stop being out own worst enemy and with our mantra of “we can do more with less” confirming for those who would reduce our funding that they did exactly the right thing! “Look! See. We reduced their budget and they are still fine!! We knew they had more money than they needed, this proves it!

If every time our budgets are cut we pat ourselves on the back because we took extreme measures to ensure that the public didn’t feel any reduction, where will the motivation come from for the community or politicos to EVER reinstate the monies that have been lost?? Instead of compulsively covering and self-consciously acting as if everything is fine for fear that someone might not think we are providing effective service, we need to stand up and say NO we can’t do more with less! We can’t even do the same with less and we most absolutely cannot provide the service our communities deserve and need with less!!

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21st Century Librarians Make Allies of the Press


As a 21st Century Librarian, if you are innovative and cutting edge…the day will come when the press knocks on your door. Sometimes that is positive – sometimes its negative…and sometimes, if poorly handled, it can be DIRE!

Dealing with the Press (print or television or bloggers) is a situation that may cause even the most capable librarian or director’s blood to run cold. “The newspaper is on the phone for you.” Or “The channel 6 news van just pulled up outside.” is enough to make any of us want to run for the bathroom and hide. Especially if you do not know why they are there! However by keeping a few key things in mind (and with some experience) everyone can use their relationships with the press to their greatest advantage.

  1. Never Let ‘em See You Sweat!
    Whether it is a positive story and the reporter is there at your request or a surprise visit asking for a comment about some new political/policy/budget situation, remember that you are in control of YOU. Take a deep breath-focus on the questions being asked- decide what you want to say and then say it confidently! If you need a moment, take it. YOU run the interview. Do not BE run.
    There is nothing worse than finding out news FROM the reporter! Things like “SO! How do you feel about losing that $2M from next years proposed budget allocation?” Speechless doesn’t begin to cover the possible reactions!
  2. Have a Designated Library Spokesperson.
    This is not about being controlling or hampering freedom of speech. It is about controlling the message that comes from the Library. That message should convey the spirit of your culture and ethics in every phrase.
  3. Talk in Sound Bites & Manage You Own Story.
    No matter how comfortable you are with a journalist, it is never wise to talk unreservedly. When you are on the record, give them the information they need but attempt to talk in short meaningful sentences or ‘sound bites’ that will simply be too good for them to pass up printing! As you hone this skill, you can almost be assured that the journalist will pick up on your sound bites and those will be what they use. Ready-made sound bites make their job easier and help shape the story that YOU want told.
    Manage the story yourself. Do not rely on the news journalist to present the story the way that you think that they will. Or the way that they should. Make sure that you present the information that you would like to see the story reflect by crafting your responses in a way that you give the information you want highlighted.  This will give a better chance that the story will cover the ideas that you’re wanting to highlight.
  4. Go “Off the Record”!
    In addition, just as you hold your ethics dear on patron privacy, freedom to read, etc., a true journalist holds the “off the record” statements made to them very dear. If you feel that additional context would be helpful to the journalist in writing their story but you do not want to risk being quoted on delicate back stories, ask the reporter if you can talk to them off record to provide them with greater detail and more context. Almost every time they will jump at the opportunity to gather more intel even if it’s something that they can’t directly use. In employing this tactic you garner their trust, their goodwill, and maybe even a few brownie points if you point them in the right direction to gather more information for their story. However, the greatest benefit of this tactic is that it provides the reporter with the appropriate context for the story and if, as you should, you have done nothing inappropriate that the newspaper is covering, such as unethical handling of the patron, policy, or financial issue, etc., then you have nothing to fear. In addition, giving them a deeper understanding of the situation will often lead to a more empathetic slant of the story toward the library – if appropriate.
    In addition we all know that much of what we do is a matter of public record. If the journalist is requesting information that you know exists in the public record such as board meeting minutes agendas or other documents don’t make the reporter dig for this information. Rather – offer it up! There is a good chance they will eventually find it and if you have given it to them rather than making them work for it garners a spirit of trust, collegiality and teamwork that will often times result in better press for the library.
  5. Use the Royal “We”.
    When you’re being interviewed make sure that you refer to the library administration and Board of Trustees rather than to yourself personally as making decisions. Not only is this good form and probably completely accurate, this will give your sound bites the ring of authority. In addition Board of Trustees members love to see that credit given to them in publications, and it will go a long way in garnering good will. In addition, always remember that you are not being interviewed as an individual, you ALWAYS represent the organization. Speaking ‘on behalf’ is your job as the spokesperson. In that sense, referring to the organization with the Royal “We” is completely acceptable and expected.
  6. Don’t Get Punked! At least not on camera!
    When it comes to a television interview, ask the reporter what questions they will be asking you BEFORE they begin filming. More specifically, BEFORE they even get the video camera out of the bag! Tell them you want to talk “off the record” before you begin. If there is no hidden agenda, they should have absolutely no problem in telling you their interview questions. And trust me, they do have the questions that they intend to ask long before they arrived at your location. If they say they are just going to “wing it” that should send up a red flag for you and then you need to push to find out what the questions are and exactly what the point of the story is. Never be shy about asking any reporter what is the point of the story they’re writing. It is entirely possible that the story may change for them over time as they gather information but it is totally appropriate for you to ask the angle that they’re planning for the story. Remember: It’s your organization.
  7. When Necessary, Be “Unavailable” instead of “No Comment”.
    In some instances you will be contacted for a story that you either for legal reasons cannot speak about or would simply prefer not to because it does not seem that there is any upside to giving a comment or statement to the press. These could include a story that you are unprepared to address, has legal ramifications of any statements, or is a personnel matter that should not be discussed. Always use “No comment” as an option of last resort. Remember when you are reading a newspaper article what no comment looks like to you. Inherent in the statement no comment is a statement. What does sound much better is “The library spokesperson was unavailable or could not be reached for comment”. Use this tactic wisely. And only when you feel that you have truly ruled out that there is any acceptable statement that can be made. Consider the statement “The library is greatly distressed/disappointed/concerned that this has occurred. We are hopeful that there will be a satisfactory resolution for all concerned.” This is a broad open ended and empathetic statement that can realistically be applied to almost any distressing situation. While this is a useful tactic, be aware that you also give up the opportunity to add your organization’s perspective to the piece. Only you know if silence is better.
  8. Press Response Should be Part of Every Plan!
    Plan Ahead!! Know your response or sound bite before the reporter ever knocks on your door or rings your phone. For example – Make sure that you know how you’re going to present that fabulous new $60,000 innovative service in a time of deep budget cuts. How will you answer the tough questions? How will you explain your decision making? Can you? A basic truth: If you Can’t defend it…Don’t DO it! If you follow this basic rule, you should never worry. Not everyone will always agree with your choices but at least they will understand them and have faith in the integrity of your decision making process.
  9. You will be Misquoted! 
    Most important – always remember that you WILL be misquoted. It is not a matter of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’. How to respond becomes the question. If it is a significant issue that needs a retraction or correction, address it with the reporter and if you do not get an appropriate response be sure to contact the editor. However, unless the error is so substantial that it simply MUST be corrected, shrug it off and remember that this is a part of the game of playing with the press.
  10. You need the Press and They need YOU! Play Nice!
    Remember that the newspaper or television reporter needs you as badly as you need them and often times more. Yes – you need them too when you want them to cover a big piece of news or new program or award. But your story is their bread-and-butter, especially when the story isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. When those tough political, policy, or budget stories come, all the press outlets will be knocking to get the best and first scoop. With this thought in mind it is safe to consider that it is not in their best interest nor should it be their desire to make an enemy out of the library. This means they should try not to misquote you, surprise you or position you in a way that is (unnecessarily) harmful for the library. (That does not mean that it will not show up in the press if you do something really stupid! They are in the business of the “public’s right to know”.) If it feels like you were dealing with a journalist who has no goodwill toward the library, or seeks out harmful angles to create a more “sensational” story, you have one option – Don’t deal with them again. Become dramatically unavailable to them for any of their stories. Invariably, they will either realize they have to deal more fairly with you or, if the breakdown in the relationship causes the paper or channel to miss a good story or scoop, it is likely the editor will assign another reporter to your beat.And if, dear reader, as you are reading this blog you were thinking “Well, that’s all well and good but the only time I ever have to talk to the newspaper is to get an article in about storytime or summer reading”. That way of thinking will leave you vulnerable when the unexpected and unfortunate day comes when there is a big story and you need a relationship with the press. When a branch closes, a policy is attacked, a budget is cut or you are being sued, these are the times that having a reporter that you already know and have a trusting friendly relationship with covering that story will be invaluable. Treating the journalist as a colleague can be extremely helpful to you by allowing you to state the Library’s position publicly or giving you good PR for things that are happening in the library. That said – never forget that at the end of the day they are a journalist and they are there to get the story.

Because this is a tough topic…One more tip for good measure:

Be Gracious! Take the High Road.
Libraries are like Girl Scout cookies – everyone loves us. What they do not love is when public figures or groups start slinging mud. They may enjoy reading it but they will never forget that that is the type of person that you are and ergo the type of organization the Library is.

The only thing that slinging mud does is get you dirty too. If the story they’re reporting is a Library budget slashing by the City Council, take the highroad. Give them a soundbite of: “The Library understands that the city has serious financial challenges and that tough decisions have to be made.” Then gently make your case for why and how this is going to impact the library – again, without slinging mud or throwing someone else under the bus. Never take the offensive approach, because it doesn’t read well in print, and in a television interview you simply come off looking bitter. In addition, by attacking others you give the “opposition” something to attack you with. A gracious response will allow the public to have a spirit of goodwill and empathy toward the Library that all the fist pounding in the world cannot illicit.

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