Consider these initiatives:
- In 2010, the public libraries in the Twin Cities metro area created a Jobs and Small Business Task Force to better support our patrons, create public awareness of the role of libraries in workforce development, establish a baseline of library resources in the seven-county metro area, and connect with new partners.
- In 2011, Susan Nemitz, Director of the Ramey County Library, and I took active leadership roles at the state legislature to secure passage of a bill adding a library representative to the Governor’s Workforce Development Council. The Council includes elected officials and high profile leaders from business, labor, higher education, philanthropy, and community organizations. This fall, for the first time, a group of library leaders will present information to the Council on the key role played by public libraries in the statewide infrastructure supporting job seekers and new entrepreneurs.
- A month ago, the Northstar Digital Literacy Project went live, a project designed to improve digital literacy among people with very few computer skills and offer a certificate of mastery for use in job searches. The Saint Paul Public Library and the St. Paul Community Literacy Consortium led this initiative. Now, 30 libraries, community organizations, workforce centers and educational institutions are sponsoring sites in Minneapolis, Saint Paul, suburban and rural communities.
Are these initiatives the business of public libraries and their leaders? In my view, they exemplify the leadership role for public libraries.
First, they respond to what our patrons have been asking from us with even greater intensity since the recession started: help with computer skills, filing for unemployment insurance, finding a job, help writing a resume.
Second, these initiatives engage the library and library leaders with an issue that is in the top tier of importance in most cities, counties and states. We all have experience with elected officials who do not put the library in their top-ten list of critical issues, but most will put workforce development on that list. We should be actively engaged in addressing the most critical learning-related issues in our communities.
Third, these types of initiatives give us countless opportunities to engage outside the library world in telling a new library story. I am struck time and again by how few people know what goes on in public libraries these days. Every time I speak to groups about what we do on job search and computer literacy, people see us in a new light and are astonished at the reach and resources of public libraries. We should find as many opportunities as possible to demonstrate to new listeners how involved we are in addressing the community’s most pressing issues. We need more leaders from other sectors talking about the importance of public libraries.
Our effort to pass the Governor’s Workforce Development Council bill is a good example. The bill was uncontroversial and passed nearly unanimously. But it gave every library in the state an opportunity to talk with their state legislators, write a commentary, or secure an editorial in a local paper about its role helping people find jobs and strengthen workforce skills. For many legislators, business leaders, and members of the public, this was new information on a topic of key importance.
I’ve been thinking about the difference between library users and library supporters. In library circles, we spend a lot of time, as we should, talking about library users, how to identify them, serve them better, communicate more effectively. But as we know from the OCLC surveys, library use does not correlate with library support. Rather, library supporters believe that the library is transformative. Increasing support for the library depends on us being active leaders focused on those learning issues where transformation in the community is imperative.
Kit Hadley is the director of the St. Paul Public Library, MN, and will be a speaker at LJ’s Lead the Change event on August 21 at the Hennepin County Library.
|Lead the Change is a library leadership seminar that brings together library thought leaders to show participants how today's top libraries are leading change and transforming their communities. Attendees are lead through a series of exercises to help bridge key thoughts to individual leadership objectives to help them harness their ideas, their innovation and their ability to lead.|