How do you connect the dots and facilitate positive change in a State that is fragmented?
Many people would argue that all states share similar dynamics, but I would argue that South Carolina is unique. We have progressive urban communities while parts of our State are reminiscent of third world countries. Our communities are fiercely independent as well as starved for resources. Our political climate is fragmented beyond the two-party system while our patrons, customers, users, and investors are screaming for help amidst a storm of bureaucracy. It seems no one is listening.
As librarians, we see firsthand the needs of our patrons. Librarians engage the new parent, the unemployed, the homeless, the first generation college student, the entrepreneur, the lonely, the bibliophile, the child who has transitioned to adulthood developing through the pages of books from childrens to teens to adult. We engage them, but how do we encourage change within them? Or should we?
“Lead the Change – South Carolina” is an opportunity for us to discuss and learn from one another. We are fortunate to have brilliant, creative librarians and library staff within our State who are creating positive experiences for our library users.
As the Co-Chair of the State’s Legislative Committee for twelve years, I have worked alongside some of our greatest advocates. We have connected with our General Assembly and have established relationships that have proven beneficial during these difficult financial years. In the last twelve years, none of the Governor’s vetoes to Library funding have been sustained. Millions of State dollars used to provide library services have been preserved. We are asked, “How?” Simply put – relationships.
Spartanburg County is one of 42 library systems in South Carolina. As its Director, I have made poor decisions and plenty of mistakes; however, our staff is creative and determined. As the old adage goes, “Hire good people, and get the heck out of the way.” I spend a lot of time getting out of the way!
Over the last ten years, the Board of Trustees, Staff, and Friends of the Library have worked to develop a library system that is proactive and based on relationships that venture beyond the walls of the public library. Our programs have included a partnership with ESPN and Wofford College to encourage reading among children; and a relationship with the Smithsonian to bring exhibits, speakers, and programs focused on the arts and sciences. We continue to host art, musical, and theatrical programs making our libraries cultural centers. The Children’s staff developed a literacy program for pregnant high school students working with young moms on their information literacy and the future of their unborn child’s developing literacy. Staff has created the History Center Project as a way to preserve Spartanburg County’s human record. In August of this year, we signed our first two contracts to have books published through the Library’s newly developed publishing house, Kennedy Free Press. Not only do we collect Spartanburg’s history, but we compile and present it as well. The relationships within these projects have leveraged tens of thousands of dollars in private support.
Spartanburg County is not alone. Each of South Carolina’s Public Libraries is doing the best possible work to make their part of South Carolina a little better and brighter. Our greatest challenge is taking the time to communicate our ideas, share our frustrations, and develop solutions to meet the needs of our communities. When connecting the dots we must be mindful that the dots represent people…the connection is the idea…and the strength of the connection is dependent on our passion, vision, and our willingness to advocate for strong and vibrant public libraries.
R. Todd Stephens is County Librarian for Spartanburg County Public Libraries
|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.|
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