September 21, 2017

Nicolle Ingui Davies: LJ’s 2016 Librarian of the Year

Executive Director, Arapahoe Library District, Centennial, Colorado

ljx160101webLOY3bThere is more than enough evidence to confirm the choice of Nicolle Ingui Davies as the 2016 LJ Librarian of the Year, our award sponsored by Baker & Taylor. Take her special skills at communicating with community members in and outside of the library. Then there is her leadership in building and developing a committed and passionate staff dedicated to patron service. That is complemented by her unequivocal belief that libraries are essential services, not just “nice” assets, and the best medium to achieve an informed citizenry. The results of Davies’s leadership convinced voters in 2015 that they ought to tax themselves to the tune of $30 million a year, increasing the Arapahoe Library District (ALD) budget by $6 million.

ALD runs eight libraries, in addition to outreach and mobile services, in the exurbs and suburbs of Denver. ALD officially serves the 250,000 people who live within the district boundaries, but many more use its services and facilities. “We serve anybody who comes in, whether they live in our service area or not,” says Davies.

Davies reports to a board of seven members appointed by the Arapahoe County Commissioners and Deer Trail School Board. There are five school districts in ALD’s service area.

ALD is a library district, one of 55 in Colorado, about half of the state’s 114 library jurisdictions. Such a district levies its own dedicated tax based on property values, which is paid directly to systems such as ALD. Davies points out that this means ALD does not have to compete annually with the police and fire departments or other public services for funding.

Still, each district must pass its levies. The recent tax referendum was a vote of confidence, Davies tells LJ. “It was meaningful because our operating budget had been about $24 million to $25 million, and now we’ll be operating with $30 million. It was a mil levy increase, and it doesn’t go away. It should last us for ten to 12 years if the economy holds.”

Most ALD revenue comes from that tax, plus a sliver from vehicle registration. An increase in state money has helped ALD pay for its Family Literacy program and its centers to encourage early childhood preliteracy skills, sometimes in multiple languages.

ljx160101webLOY1The essential library

Soon after she became executive director (ED) at ALD, Davies and her team established four pillars in the system’s rebranding platform:

  1. Deliver very important patron experiences
  2. Surprise and delight
  3. Make every experience matter
  4. Strive for simplicity.

Together, they form the foundation for the ALD ­Strategic Plan and “the way we do business.”

“It is all focused on the patron and making sure that ALD delivers a memorable experience when [users] come through the doors or interact with ALD out in the community. We want them to remember the experience, indeed be bowled over by it because it is more than they expected from the public library,” says Davies.

Davies and the ALD board decided they needed to “shake up” ALD and move it from “nice to essential” in terms of the way members of the community use the library.

“I think all of us are aware of the kind of antiquated perception of libraries that we have to battle. Over the past five to seven years this has become ever more challenging. As e-content became so pervasive, we had to carve out our niche, our relevance…. It was also about reworking the way that we tell our story to turn the perception of libraries people have on its head,” Davies says.

“I am most impressed with Nicolle’s ability to develop and articulate an inspiring vision of the library and to use that focus, relentlessly, to ensure that the organization meets its strategic objectives,” wrote Dorothy Hargrove, director of library services at the neighboring Englewood Public Library, in her letter of nomination. “Few library leaders are able to meet both of these challenges with equal skill. When [Davies] stepped into the role as executive director, she quickly put together a top-notch leadership team, and together they created an exciting, forward-thinking strategic plan.”

Davies is clear that taking this strong lead doesn’t preclude being open to others’ input. “I’d love to say that all our success comes from our strategic planning, but in fact sometimes the ideas come organically, from the staff, and then we incorporate them…. Sometimes we come across things, in interactions in the library or out in the community, that are so good that we need to get them into the plan. We have to make sure we are mirroring what is of interest to our community,” says Davies, revealing an exceptional manager’s approach to supporting innovation.

TEAMING UP Director Davies and a few of her key leadership staff (l.–r.): Linda Speas, director of library services;  Oliver Sanidas, director of digital and material services (a 2015 LJ Mover & Shaker); Davies; Jessica Sidener,  director of communications, programming, and partnerships; and Ted Fleagle, director of administrative services.  Photo by Paul Wedlake Photography, wedlakephoto.com

TEAMING UP Director Davies and a few of her key leadership staff (l.–r.): Linda Speas, director of library services;
Oliver Sanidas, director of digital and material services (a 2015 LJ Mover & Shaker); Davies; Jessica Sidener,
director of communications, programming, and partnerships; and Ted Fleagle, director of administrative services.
Photo by Paul Wedlake Photography, wedlakephoto.com

A great communicator

Davies was first hired by then-ED Eloise May, who had been ALD’s chief for 20 of her 40 years there and to whom Davies says she is indebted as a mentor and role model, along with her parents, Len and Eileen Ingui.

Davies was previously a television news producer, which fed into her communications career. She believed journalism was a public service and chose broadcast news because she thought people would be more apt to turn on a TV than open a newspaper. After three years, she was devastated to discover that her view was wrong.

“Now I see the library as a more effective medium. What inspires me is that the public library is one of the few places of equality left in our country. When you enter a public library, in theory at least, everybody is treated equally…. I don’t think you can find that in many places in 2015,” says Davies.

Davies began as director of communications, managing that department and serving as a liaison to community organizations, patrons, and the media and editing and directing the design of external and internal information such as the annual report, promotional materials, publicity campaigns, the staff intranet, and the employee newsletter.

After several promotions, in 2012 Davies was named ED. Her background in broadcast news and public relations meant building effective communications came naturally for Davies in her role as director. “Nicolle has transformed ALD by bringing staff together for one-on-one and all-facility meetings…. She appreciates and carefully considers her staff’s valuable feedback about her vision and direction,” writes Jessica Sidener, the current ALD director of communications, programming, and partnerships, who nominated Davies for this award.

Not only do staff members meet frequently with one another on Davies’s watch, they also attend conferences to interact with the wider world—and not just other librarians: the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and emerging technology event is a particular favorite. About six ALD staff are sent to SXSW every year. Davies feels that it is important for them to get a fix on communication and social trends that may not show up as soon in other places. Davies feels that it is important for staff to be alert to trends outside of libraries that could change the way libraries should do business.

Leading the tech way

In her previous role as ALD’s deputy director, Davies began the evolution of ALD libraries into community centers with a focus on easy access to resources and technology. ALD is the local leader in providing access to cutting-edge technology. The libraries feature products in their early development, the beta phase out of reach to a typical household. ALD takes on the costs and risks of early adoption, providing such new technologies as 3-D printers, Go Pro cameras, Oculus Rift Virtual Reality headsets, and many more. ALD was one of the first libraries in the country to get Google Glass. Staff members had to fly out to California to pick it up at Google headquarters. “The whole thing was very cloak and dagger,” Davies says.

To acquaint constituents with these services, ALD introduced Tech Road Shows throughout the Denver area. Staff specialists bring the newest technology to local businesses, professional and social associations, museums, and business groups.

ljx160101webLOY5bDavies gives ALD’s IT staff credit for making it possible to provide access to the newest developments.

“They look at everything coming out and started the Beta Tech Initiative a few years ago. It was a staff member who said, ‘Why don’t we start getting things in the beta phase that the average patron won’t buy but about which they are very curious? Let’s buy that and let the public play with it.’ We took the idea to the board, and they thought it was great, so we ran with it. It has been incredibly popular,” says Davies with pride.

The IT department includes people who with their skills could be making a lot more money working in other places, according to Davies, but they choose to work at ALD because they believe in the library’s mission. The same thing is true of the communications department. Davies calls them “agency-worthy” staff, but, again, they believe in the mission.

Davies depends heavily on honest feedback from the whole staff she has built and admits she is inspired by them every day.

“They are some of the smartest, most passionate people I know. When you are surrounded by so much talent, of course you leverage that. It is everywhere in this organization. For example, when you talk to buildings and grounds staff, you ­realize their deep commitment. They do a great job making sure patrons are safe and comfortable. The staff working the library floor with the public are [just] as committed. There are days when that work is very challenging…. You often have to deal with very demanding people…. The ALD staff are professional and are the greatest asset of our brand,” Davies says.

We compete with everyone

According to Davies, ALD is “competing with bookstores, with Starbucks, with the grocery store, with the recreation center, the soccer game, the theater,” she says. “We’re competing for people’s time so we have to provide an exceptional customer experience. The number one thing we focus on is customer service—we train on that, we talk about it ad nauseam…. I’m beating that drum all the time…. We are public servants, and my staff are really, really good at it!”

Davies admits that there have been a few trying moments with staff. She has realigned the group a few times, with the patron in mind, even though that is nearly always difficult. “If the end goal is to provide better service for the patron, staff changes can be helpful,” Davies says.

“We used to have two positions, one called ‘material handler,’ like a page or shelver, and the other was called a ‘patron specialist.’ The material handlers would only handle materials, so when a material handler was on the floor and a patron asked for help finding something, the material handler would say, ‘I can’t, but let me help you find someone who can.’ Then they would go to find a patron specialist, with the patron following along,” recalls Davies. “Ultimately, I blended those two jobs, which meant each had to learn how to do what the other had been doing. Many had to learn how to love the public, but now the patron can ask anyone for help and anyone can help them at that very moment. It meant a better patron experience, but it did create some pain. Some people were so uncomfortable working with the public that they left [the library]. Most rose to the [occasion], and now they are doing both jobs beautifully,” says Davies. “It hasn’t always been perfect, but it has worked.”

In addition to Davies’s work on the legislation committees of the American Library Association and Colorado Association of Libraries, one of the most ambitious programs she is part of is Outside the Lines (OTL), a coalition of Colorado library directors and marketers. An initiative of R-Squared (for “Risk & ­Reward,” from the Colorado conference of the same name), OTL lives up to its motto “Libraries Reintroduced,” convening a weeklong celebration to reconnect people with the library mission (creativity, tech, discovery, etc.). Each participating library holds its own events, such as ALD’s free outdoor concert with more than 2,500 attendees. OTL began in 2014 with over 175 libraries—in 2015, there were more than 270 from 42 states and territories, six Canadian provinces, and Australia.

The MLIS and the MPA

Davies completed her Master in Public Administration (MPA) degree while working at a public relations consulting firm. When the ALD director of communications position opened, she decided that she had found her place.

She soon went on to earn a Master in Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Davies says the degrees complement each other, especially in leadership roles. “The MPA served me more on a daily operational basis” in navigating budgets, policy, and governance, “while the MLIS gives me the core values in which I believe so strongly,” she says. “I think the MLIS programs could probably benefit from some elements of the MPA programs,” says Davies, adding, “the MPA/MLIS is the best possible combination for this work.”

Of course, degrees are far from the only support Davies taps into in pursuit of that goal. “My awesome family allows me to do my work and excel at it,” says Davies of husband Josh and kids Ryder, Izzy, and Ainsley.

That excellence is paying off for her community and all of librarianship.

“The Arapahoe Library District under Nicolle’s leadership has become a model for innovation, responsible stewardship, and community engagement…. With leaders of this caliber, the future of libraries is bright indeed,” says Hargrove.

This article was published in Library Journal's January 1, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III (jberry@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.

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Comments

  1. anonymous coward says:

    “When you enter a public library, in theory at least, everybody is treated equally”

    This is something that is often forgotten- especially amongst certain librarians who make an awful lot of noise in the online echo chamber. EQUALLY does not mean treating a class of people above another for any reason whatsoever. Brilliant.

    • That is all fine and dandy if the funding levels were all equal. They aren’t in CO. We have 115 library entities with 115 different funding levels from $5000 to over 24 million dollars. 51 of those have their own taxing authority; 1 or 2 more have their own tax base but have oversight on how they use it and the rest rely on appropriations.

      When you have a very well funded library district of 253500 people with over 20 million to spend next to 2 large cities who total 600000 an 335000 respectively who bearly fund their libraries yet who want services; you have a problem. When about 10000 people are poor in this district who are part of the 253500; but they live right by poor Denver / Aurora; these people are being pushed ad shoved aside to accommodate Denver and Aurora. There is a lot more of them then us too. The appointed board along with Ms Davies and others feel there should be no or very generous limits on check out; the unlimited computers; no charge for meeting rooms; etc and no priority for anyone except one local meeting. Its all first come first serve. Do you really think that’s fair to the taxpayers? many of which are poor? NO but we have to put up with it as the board is appointed and the state library and the librarians around our state do not want libraries used for political purposes / stepping stones to higher offices so they do not want elected boards. We keep pushing though and talking and bugging a lot of people as this is a huge problem! Our legislature starts their session next week and we are back to bugging lawmakers to get a bill run so we can have elected boards for most of the 51 districts state wide. There are over 3 million people who live in library districts in CO with a total population of 5 million based on the last census. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch though.

    • anonymous coward says:

      JM,

      I was speaking to the fact that you treat wealthy people the same as you treat people in need of public assistance. You don’t lift up the poor as your core mission/REAL patrons just like you don’t cater to the wealthy as your citizens you care about more. I was not speaking to serving residents vs. nonresidents.

      I think it’s clear you have issues with the way your library is being run- but I don’t think this is the venue to voice those concerns. Personally? It sounds like your concerns are all the concerns of someone who doesn’t have the full picture of what’s going on. There is often more to these stories than you might understand- and many of these other sides cannot be shared. But, again, this doesn’t seem to be an appropriate venue to find answers to your questions.

  2. This is the same rotten director who along with our appointed board has denied access to their own library to a lot of low income / disabled and elderly taxpayers of this district so that we can provide services to everyone else. Everyone else who does not pay the steep taxes and fees of this library district.

    253500 residents; budget is over 20 million dollars. The new budget due to the passing of the massive tax increase is over 26 million dollars. We had one of the highest mills in CO for our residents; now we probably have one of the highest and that includes Aspen and Vail who have the highest property values in CO.

    Meanwhile those of us who live in unincorporated; Glendale and Sheridan get denied full access to our library so we can provide services to Denver and Aurora who bearly fund their own libraries though they total almost 20 % of the entire state (nearly 1 million people) 28 years 22000 people in one section of unincorporated plus 2500 in another and 5000 in Glendale waited for a brand new library to finally get it in February of 2009 to never get to use it as we have 75 % non resident users! Our appointed board with the help of Ms Davies and others are the ones who wont change this policy. You really think this is right and due to this and more nonsense besides she should be rewarded by this honour? NO Just in those 28000 + people there are 6000 + who are low income but are treated like we don’t belong in our own library!

    You know how they passed the mill? They lie to their own residents and deny them access to open records that the state requires them to provide when its requested. We personally have asked for them and we have lived in this district since 1988 and we have not seen any and this was June / July that we asked for them. These records would have proven their lies too.

    A cup of coffee is how they sold this when we have millions of dollars in commercial real estate which is why our mill levy is so low. That is taxed at 29 % as opposed to the under 8 % of residential. They said to have a real person answering the phone when who are they providing services to? That would be every one else.

    Whats even sadder is the local newspapers don’t even bother to dig deeper when it comes to tax increases as large as this one. They give the library district a pass when they should be asking why Ms Davies and this board feels they need another 6 million on top of the 20 + million they already get to serve 253500 residents. That is so they can help serve the 1 million people of Denver and Aurora; all but about 15000 in Aurora do not live in this district but who come in and demand services and if they don’t get it they whine.

    Ms Davies and this board also took away the very modest fee that non mill levy Aurora was paying for unlimited checkouts. 320000 or so could have paid $100 pro rated for a year so they don’t get the 3 item per card limit. (They had very few who actually paid it but it ensured our shelves where not emptied of items due to Aurora.) This never effected the computers; the meeting rooms or anything else. That lasted for 4 years and though Aurora is still not fully funding their libraries and they still only have 4 left after they closed 4 and then reopened 1 part time but it was removed in 2015. “they didn’t feel that the library should restrict anyone per one of the board.” This is at the time our own residents were paying on average $251.09 plus fees on our car registration per year and none of these are pro rated. It actually helped too at one of the 2 heavily effected libraries but this one was much bigger then ours. Ours still had 75 % out of district users; Denver just took out more items. Now we have even more things to check out like I pads; Kindle readers; etc and there are no limits for anyone! (very generous on checkouts).

    We can go on and on about the nonsense going on in the Arapahoe Library District. We want this honour removed as she does not deserve it one iota! She needs to be fired from ALD and never ever work for another library again!

    • By the way; the leadership team is also part and parcel of the problems going on in ALD (Arapahoe Library District). They will lie or mislead people to deny people the use of their own library.

      A formerly homeless vet; lives right across the street from the library in low income housing. Its not officially section 8 but it looks like it. This man borrowed a DVD from his library; forgot to return all of the discs. Came back the next day to return it and the library would not take it. This man though was sent a letter to pay $10 and until he does his library priviledges would be suspended. This man lives on a small cheque from the VA and pan handles on a regular basis at the corner directly across from this library to make sure he has enough money to feed himself for the month. The library would not forgo this $10 and we even asked them personally on their facebook page. This man now refused to go back into that library due to this so this is yet another taxpayer that they have ticked off so they don’t return. This money was paid by him by the way. They allow non taxpayers to also have this $10 limit which is not right as they are not taxpayers.

      We had neighbours for years who are Apache and who live in section 8 housing. 5 kids plus the parents and the aunt; all in the same unit. She felt she was discriminated against by these same people because of the way she was treated. She would walk the 1.5 or so miles to the library each way as she loves movies and music. Sometime we would see her as we walked to the same library with her nephews so they would have books to read too.

      These are just some of the people that Ms Davies and her leadership team have discriminated against over the years. We cant begin to tell you our story as it would take a book to tell it; seriously!

    • We have no problem with other people coming in and using our library. The problem is the numbers. We have 800 to 1000 people per day with only 200 to 250 people paying for it. This library is 14000 square feet of library space. They are open 68 hours per week unlike the other libraries in the area (That would be Denver as Auroras by us closed in 2010). The other libraries are open under 50 hours and they limit computer usage unlike ours; they charge for meeting rooms; unlike ours; etc.

      When the library is open on Sunday; its only 4 hours. Figure 800 people over 4 hours is 200 per hour; presuming no one leaves. That’s 200 people per 14000 square feet minus the staff ; the fixures; etc and its not much space per person. This is how popular we are and the real reason we are so popular is all the free stuff we hand out to everyone who comes in and most don’t live here so they aren’t paying for it. This giving away so much free stuff; means Denver and Aurora have no incentives to fund their own libraries.

      We have talked to many area librarians on this. They say limits mean everyone has access but this is not the mindset of Ms Davies and her team.

      If you needed wifi and could get to Denver or the main Aurora library; you could sit outside the library and use the wifi. A lot of people do this as unlimited wifi is a lot of money and most people cant afford it. You cant do this at ALD though; they don’t allow it. You aren’t even bothered by the police either as they see what you are doing too and they get it. ALD doesn’t however and this is despite having over 10000 who are poor in this district. Again part and parcel of the nasty policies in place by Ms Davies and the rest of her team. (even our school district has this policy as they get it too)

  3. Anonymous says:

    “Some people were so uncomfortable working with the public that they left [the library]. Most rose to the [occasion], and now they are doing both jobs beautifully,” says Davies. “It hasn’t always been perfect, but it has worked.”

    Because the extremely introverted really don’t deserve jobs anyway

    • anonymous coward says:

      Well,

      Nobody deserves a job who can’t fulfill the functions of that job. People who can’t work with the public shouldn’t find quarter in PUBLIC libraries… right?

      Should we just warehouse those who can’t stand working with the public and accept a staff that isn’t fully up to the job?

    • “Nobody deserves a job who can’t fulfill the functions of that job. People who can’t work with the public shouldn’t find quarter in PUBLIC libraries… right?”

      Well, there are two issues here. The first is that the job duties were substantially changed post-hiring. The cavalier dismissal of the social anxiety of the employees that “were so uncomfortable working with the public that they left” is the point here “It hasn’t always been perfect, but it has worked” – well, except for those made so uncomfortable that they left their employment, but those sort of people don’t seem to count.

      Secondly. the “public” in public libraries means that they are open to the general public, not that every employee needs to serve in a public customer-service role. If you believe that every library employee interacts with the public daily then you obviously have no idea of the structure of libraries.There are large numbers of employees that never interact with the general public in the course of their duties.

  4. @anonymous coward

    We are not hiding behind a name to post on here. This journal needs to know how she and her staff treats the taxpayers who pay her and the rest of the staff’s salary.

    We moved to CO in 1987 when there was 3 million people. Now we have over 5. This is a small state population wise as we have over 100000 square miles of land but most of the people live in a few areas.

    We live in unincorporated. We don’t have a city to turn to for help. Denver and Aurora are home rule which means in most cases; only they get to decide things and that includes their budget for the library. These 2 cities rely on sales taxes and have low property values so when there is a down turn; they bring in less money so they have less to spend. This is unlike our library which relies on property taxes.

    We make it our business to know whats going on and we are a public radio junky so we get a lot of the local news so please don’t tell us we don’t know whats going on behind the scenes. We have also been following this issue for a long time; made a lot of calls; researched this info; etc to know what was really going on.

    People also have a right to dissent / make polite comments of disagreements / etc and this library does not even want to know. They even put in place a very nasty code of conduct to stop all questioning and dissent. Do you think this Journal doesn’t have to know this? This is still in place as far as we know. Says if you question them repeatily you can be banned. If you are asked to do something you may not be able to do due to a disability; you can be banned.

    Like we said; we have plenty of stories on Ms Davies and her staff. Its not nice to tick off your own taxpayers.

  5. I work in a university library where half of the students come in and start talking, and some can be quite loud as well. We try to observe policies 1 and 2 above. Like Jean Paul Sartre once said,
    “hell is other people”. We tell them to be quiet but doesn’t work half the time. There are signs in the library to be quiet and no beverages allowed. No cellphones allowed. Many students could care less.
    Any ideas to keep it quiet year round? Thanks, Jim Paxman

  6. As a resident of the Arapahoe Library District for over 25 years, I could not be prouder of the outstanding resources offered to our community by our library district. I raised children taking full advantage of many of the libraries in the district, and now, along with my husband, take full advantage of what both residents and non-residents have available to us thanks to the dedicated leadership of ALD. The above (harsh and meandering) comments suggesting limited access, poor leadership, etc. are beyond my understanding as a citizen of this community. As a Colorado resident I could not be prouder that the executive team, especially Ms. Davies, is being recognized for her vision, expertise and proven leadership.

    • Alice Kober says:

      Hi, Debra,
      Thanks for your kind comments. I have been a patron of the Arapahoe Library District for over 30 years, and an employee for the past 12 years. It’s a wonderful district to work for, and Nicolle Davies is a terrific director. I buy adult fiction for the district and receive great support from our management, and all employees receive hours of training on providing the best possible customer service. It’s the best place I’ve ever worked, and I’m glad that you, too, are proud of our district.
      Sincerely,
      Alice Kober

  7. John Barrett says:

    A MPA/MLIS combination is what a librarian interested in becoming a competent and effective library director must have in these times.

  8. BethennyLee says:

    Don’t go there looking for a book or a librarian, because they have neither.