November 24, 2017

When the President Visits Your Library

Obama2015_LibraryJournal

When ImaginOn manager Jason Hyatt got the word on a Friday that his building had been selected as the site of a White House event with President Barack Obama with just four days to plan, he had confidence that he and his colleagues would somehow make it happen.

“I got the call on Friday at 9:15 p.m. from my Library Director. He said, ‘Jason, this is David Singleton and I need your help with something. The president is coming to Charlotte on Wednesday and he’s coming to ImaginOn,’” Hyatt recounted. Hyatt said he must have asked Singleton to repeat himself a few times because surely he misunderstood. It was true, Singleton confirmed. The President was coming to ImaginOn. As a collaborative venture of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and the Children’s Theater of Charlotte, ImaginOn was no stranger to hosting unusual events, but this was a first.

Behind the scenes

From that moment, it was full speed ahead for Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, its staff and partners starting with an 8:30 a.m. meeting the next day that found Hyatt, Library CEO Lenoir C. “Lee” Keesler, Jr., the Executive Director of the Children’s Theater that shared the building, and representatives from library security, marketing and communications, technology, and operations and facilities on hand for a walk-through of the building with White House staff.

Four hours and another walk-through later, White House staff put together a proposal for how they would use the venue for the presidential event. At that time, the only thing staff knew was that the event would highlight mothers and families and that a library as a setting would be a perfect fit for that. Staff members weren’t sure if having the event on Tax Day was a coincidence or part of the strategy.

Said Hyatt, “We toured the theaters in the facility, and even discussed Main Library. They ultimately settled on Spangler (Children’s) Library and even though there were some logistical challenges for the set-up in that space, I distinctly remember one of the president’s aides saying no, we want to do it in the library. We chose ImaginOn because it’s a library here and it celebrates children and families.”

Hyatt said White House staff seemed especially interested in making sure there were plenty of books in the bookshelf that would serve as the backdrop for the event. “It was funny because we started out with just a few books on the shelves and they kept coming back saying give us more books, give us more books, the president wants more books. Of course we thought that was fantastic because everybody says books are going away, but to have the president recognize the importance of books in such a visible way was perfect.”

At that point, the staff had been told only that it was to be a Town Hall Meeting with a specific audience that wasn’t open to the public, and that all communications about the event had to be approved by the White House. This made the library’s public relations task daunting. In comparison, when the Library was chosen to host The Daily Show at ImaginOn to coincide with the Democratic National Convention in 2012, staff had almost a year to plan the communications. For this one, they had less than 48 hours. Making sure that that library staff would have a heads up before the public message went out meant staying up late finalizing messages for approval and getting up early to send the messages, to coincide with when the White House message went out.

Said Hyatt, “Having the chance to meet the president was of course, my most memorable moment. As the event came to an end one of the White House staff said, ‘It isn’t quite yet over for you.’ I was then escorted back to the meet and greet area where I was introduced as the library manager and I shook the president’s hand and had an official photo made. He also signed an ImaginOn brochure for me.”

Lessons Learned

Hyatt took away several lessons from the experience:

  • Flexibility is important. Staff had to move service desks, alter schedules, move programming to alternate locations, and be very thoughtful about how to communicate these changes to our library patrons and the community.
  • Take time to check in. Said Hyatt, “Because of the speed with which these events unfolded, and the level of detail that was required from a variety of departments, there wasn’t often time to stop and make sure we were all on the same page. I would recommend that libraries in similar situations try to make that time, in order to achieve the smoothest sailing possible.”
  • Take time to enjoy. “Between when the doors opened and the event started, I had the chance to watch the audience members enter the building. The smiles on their faces gave me more joy than I [could have] imagined.”

Angela Haigler has served as marketing and communications specialist at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library since August 2006.

Share

Comments

  1. Stephanie Dempsey says:

    “Hyatt said White House staff seemed especially interested in making sure there were plenty of books in the bookshelf that would serve as the backdrop for the event. “It was funny because we started out with just a few books on the shelves and they kept coming back saying give us more books, give us more books, the president wants more books. Of course we thought that was fantastic because everybody says books are going away, but to have the president recognize the importance of books in such a visible way was perfect.”

    Hey, CML, you know what would ALSO be great to ensure there are plenty of books in the system? STOP WEEDING ALL OF THEM. And stop pretending it’s sufficient to “replace” weeded physical books with eBooks, BECAUSE IT’S NOT.

    • anonymous coward says:

      Really? Against weeding? REALLY? wow.

    • Stephanie Dempsey says:

      Against weeding 40,000K perfectly good books without discretion– many of them valuable and out-of-print– to make space for 200 new James Patterson bestsellers and a bunch of eBooks that the vast majority of patrons don’t want or can’t access? Youbetcha!

    • anonymous coward says:

      It’s good to know that stephanie is the arbiter of what’s worth reading. Without someone like her to keep us on the straight and narrow we might actually provide people with things they want us too!

      That was close.

  2. Stephanie you’ve been misinformed. Copies that are falling apart and out dated nonfiction titles are not perfectly good books.

    Great article Angela and Jason. What an exciting time this must have been for Imaginon and CML as a whole.

  3. I thought the books looked a bit “staged” when I watched the video. I am sure only a librarian would notice…

    Other than that hats off to planning the event on such short notice. I am sure it was an amazing experience. Well done!