May 24, 2017

Q&A with Gary Shaffer, New Director of USC’s MMLIS Program

gary-shaffer-officialGary Shaffer, CEO of Tulsa City-County Library (TCCL), OK, since 2011 (and a 2006 LJ Mover & Shaker), will be stepping into a new role in January as director of the Master of Management in Library and Information Science (MMLIS) program at the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business. The distance learning program is designed to prepare library professionals with practical leadership and management skills. Shaffer holds a PhD in managerial leadership in information professions from Simmons College and a master of library and information science from Pratt Institute. He will be a speaker at LJ‘s 2016 Directors’ Summit, December 1–2, in Sacramento.

This is not Shaffer’s first foray into library management education; he also worked with the University of Oklahoma School of Library and Information Studies on the IMLS-funded development of a 21st Century Public Library Leadership curriculum designed for those currently working in rural and urban public libraries in the states of Oklahoma and Arkansas.

LJ recently caught up with Shaffer, who is enjoying the October grand reopening of the TCCL Central Library after a three-year, $50 million renovation, and looks forward to his next steps.

LJ: How did you decide to make the move from library management to library management education?

I was fortunate to be involved with the PhD program at Simmons College in managerial leadership in the information professions, and finished up my dissertation a year ago. I’d heard about this position, and was actually contacted by someone at USC and encouraged to apply for it. I wasn’t actually going out looking for LIS educator positions, but part of the reason for them approaching me was they were looking for folks who actually had not just any management experience, but someone who had run a library. It was something that I was excited about, and I applied, and the rest is a bit of history.

What attracted you to the USC program?

I’ve always felt that there should be a master’s in management in library and information science, so when I heard there was one, I felt that that was something I wanted to be a part of. The beauty of the program [is] that because of the distance learning component folks, wherever they have an Internet connection, can access this top research university from anywhere in the U.S.—anywhere in the world, really. It could benefit folks in rural libraries, tribal libraries, urban libraries obviously—wherever people are. It’s fairly small. We have 47 students, and the hope is to grow that. American Library Association accreditation is going to make a huge difference.

There are a lot of folks that have put off retirement for the last five years but would like to retire, and we’ve been predicting for a very long time that we will have a huge number of retirements. Of the folks that I interviewed for my emotional intelligence study [at Simmons] in 2011, 2012, only two are still working professionally. The rest have all retired. So we need library leaders and managers. Obviously people can lead from any level in the organization, but that’s another reason why I’m excited to be working with this program—to help us to fill the coming need.

Do you have any plans for the curriculum?

At this point, building on the great work that [MMLIS program director Ken] Haycock has done. Ken was at the University of British Columbia [School of Library, Archival and Information Studies] running their program there. He later ran the San José State [LIS] program. And he’s been tasked with getting this program up and running and has done a stupendous job.

We would like to include an executive stream for people working at the upper echelons of academic and public libraries that don’t have an MLIS, so we’re looking at that. There’s a potential for offering a doctorate degree, but there are also other things, tapping into the Marshall Business School, that we can look at—co-degrees that could be offered. But right now we really have to focus on accreditation and getting that complete, and that’s moving along well.

There’s also a center for library leadership and management at the Marshall School that Ken has started. We’ve held a number of seminars, and the plan for that is to really become a center of excellence in library leadership and management.

How will having run a large urban public library inform your approach as an educator? Do you feel grounded in academic library concerns?

We all network through Urban Libraries Council, Public Libraries Association. Through my PhD program coursework we would have lots of real world discussions because everyone was working in the profession. I think taking that real world approach and calling on those contacts is going to help inform the students in very practical ways about what the challenges are that face libraries—public, academic, special, and corporate.

As far as academic libraries, most of my fellows in my PhD program came from academic libraries or were working in academic libraries, so I’m pretty well versed in the challenges that they face. You also start to see a lot of similarities [in what] academic libraries contend with that public libraries do as well. We also have part-time faculty that work in academic libraries who teach in the program, so I think they can inform students as well. But it’s up to me to get up to speed on all of that.

My goal in life is to make libraries more relevant to the people they serve, and that’s what I’ve really done throughout my career. I think this is an opportunity to hopefully make that happen from a larger platform. I’m available to do it, and so I think it’s a win-win for everyone.

What was it like to earn a PhD in management while you were actively the CEO of a library? What did you learn the most from in that program?

The program was actually designed for practitioners. It was a standard PhD program—i.e. grueling—and all of us were working full-time as well. We had comprehensive exams, we had dissertations, but we had a lot of practical coursework as well from very well known leaders in the field, and lots of [work] around fundraising. We had courses in human relations, leadership, management—very practical coursework that could be applied on the job immediately.

My first research project was looking at how library leaders—I chose public library leaders—use emotional intelligence in crises. I particularly focused on the recession, because the recession had happened recently. I [conducted] interviews and research, looking at how these participants used emotional intelligence to deal with the Great Recession. That was my first research study and I think that seeing how very seasoned leaders used emotional intelligence helped me in my day-to-day job.

My dissertation was on triple bottom line sustainability—not just the environmental aspects of sustainability but financial, economic, and social sustainability, both internally with the work force and externally in a community. For that research I interviewed five leading companies who published their triple bottom line sustainability results, and I learned from practitioners in those companies their best practices. Then I ran those past leading library directors [selected from LJ’s Library of the Year winners] to see how [the practices] resonated with them, but also to glean other practices that those library directors and their libraries used, even if they didn’t refer to it as sustainability. I put those all together into [a collection of] 12 things your public library can do to start your sustainability journey. I’m happy to report that that will come out in a book next year from ABC CLIO—that contract just got finalized the other day.

What was your involvement with the University of Oklahoma School of Library and Information Studies?

I worked with them on a project—I haven’t taught there. We received an IMLS grant to do a study to look at the needs of public urban and rural libraries. We interviewed library directors and also interviewed potential LIS students to see what they felt were the needs for success, and out of that we designed a public library track for the University of Oklahoma. It hasn’t yet been adopted but it is ready to go should they identify funding for it.

What’s next for Tulsa City-County Library?

Tulsa is very well poised for the future. I’ve built a very strong leadership team here at the library and they are fully capable of taking this library system—we have a strategic plan in place; we have visions, values, goals, all of that, and they are perfectly suited to continue on the trajectory that we have been on. I have great hope for them.

We just opened [the Central Library] on October 1, so we’re not quite a month old. We should come in at least at a LEED [Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design] silver level, and we’re hopeful for LEED gold. We have a full solar array on the roof, we’re collecting rainwater across the campus, and that goes into cisterns to be used for lawn irrigation.

We have a community impact initiative around success in education—kindergarten readiness, success on high-stakes third and eighth grade reading tests, measures to help kids at risk of dropping out, helping them graduate, helping people find jobs, helping adults that have fallen through the cracks learn to read. The latest thing we’re going to be embarking on is health measures, looking at partnerships with our local health department, programming, and other things.

From an economic standpoint we’ve got a facilities master plan so we can identify from a funding standpoint what our needs are. We’ve gone through a replacement cost study—we’ve had an outside third party look at things that tend to suffer wear and tear or just have certain life expectancies, and we’ve evaluated the status of those. We’ve then programmed those into spreadsheets to make sure that we have money set aside in order to address those needs.

Tulsa has a long history of being a very innovative library, and as an independent library district it also has the flexibility to enact a lot of innovation. It’s almost become required that you have a Maker space, but I think we’ve got probably one of the coolest ones in the business. It has everything from a 3-D printer to an audio lab to sewing machines and laser cutters. We have a STEM learning lab that’s teaching coding, we have flight simulators in it that are very cool, we have a large touch-screen map table on our research floor that people are using every day. At the Greadington Center for Learning and Creativity we have a facilitator being trained in creative problem solving or ideation, who will take educators through exercises to help solve the problems that they encounter in their work.

Will you continue to be involved with TCCL?

We’ll stay in touch, as much as they’ll allow me to. This will be the last public library I work at and so it’s very special and dear to me. I plan to recruit from their ranks for the MMLIS program. And I hope to definitely keep those ties with this library system.

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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