November 24, 2017

A Great Place to Work: Where challenge and contribution converge | Editorial

RebeccaWebEdit2015Innovation Catalyst Librarian, Wikipedian in Residence, Director of Knowledge Curation and Innovation. These are just three of the job titles emerging in libraries that indicate the dynamism of the field. They point to libraries as a destination for talent seeking a great place to develop a career while making a contribution. Long misunderstood in the popular psyche as a haven of employment for those who just love to read, libraries are complex service organizations with opportunities to get paid to do good work for a lifetime. As they have evolved, so have the particular jobs available, and now is an exceptionally interesting time to think of the library as the place to dedicate the bulk of one’s waking hours. Along the way, libraries are looking more and more like the innovative employer every community should have humming at its core.

It’s true that not every library is as on the cutting edge as those cited in LJ’s careers package, but I’d argue that the creativity and potential expressed in any of these new roles are imbedded in libraries large and small, and strong leaders can bring them forward and nurture them to help make their institutions strong.

To get a sense of some of the new capabilities these roles require, LJ talked to library leaders to discover what they look for as they recruit. Some are hard skills such as project management, marketing, and, on the rise, data analysis. Other expertise is harder to pinpoint but reflects aptitudes that are essential (and not usually part of the library school curricula). These include leadership, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. Rising to the top of those competencies is something often left aside until one reaches the upper levels of administration: political savvy.

To wit, Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH, CEO Patrick Losinki notes he’s looking for “people who are very comfortable in the public sphere.” And Sacramento Public Library, CA, director Rivkah Sass calls for library education to address “public policy, budget advocacy, and building partnerships.”

This is echoed by John Chrastka, EveryLibrary’s executive director, who expresses the broad-based need for libraries to fuel the public-facing political skills of their staff members at all levels to build the public trust and investment in libraries required to spur successful initiatives at the ballot box. As he and his team work across the country, they want to address a gap that rises in election cycles by reframing the perception of the people managing the investment—who are, he argues, every librarian patrons interact with—and celebrate the power of the individuals working in libraries, not just the institutions themselves. This is an intriguing and valuable perspective in light of the desire to be more outward facing, making every interaction count.

We often consider the dynamism of libraries with regard to the strong individuals innovating within them. That’s justified but risks missing the bigger picture that talent is able to set loose because of the unique and exciting setting libraries provide. Libraries are dynamic by nature and, where leadership harnesses the organization, by design. Where their nature is embraced, great things happen and talented people want to be a part of that.

Many people from within libraries thrive because the impact aligns with their personal sense of purpose. And increasingly people come to libraries from outside the field because libraries supply a conduit for them to continue important work started elsewhere. The new strategy-focused duo of David Giles and Story Bellows, just hired at the Brooklyn Public Library, are one example to watch. This is also apparent in the affinity of the work of Brown Biggers, this year’s LJ Paralibrarian of the Year.

When library leaders ask how an individual’s passion dovetails with what the library is doing and find ways to connect those dots, it can make all the difference in moving a library from being a good employer to being a great one.

This might just be the secret sauce of libraries. The fact is, libraries are great places to work—in spite of pay that is not generally what it should be. They are great places to work because they are robust intellectual hubs, politically complex organisms, and customer service machines that do good. They are both community based and networked nationally and internationally. Most important, libraries offer innumerable opportunities to connect to the work on the most vital of levels, the desire to make a contribution.

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

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (miller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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