October 20, 2017

Patrick Roewe, Spokane County Library District’s New Director

While many incoming library administrators find their jobs by way of a national search, Patrick Roewe, the new director at Spokane County Library District (SCLD), WA, did it the old-fashioned way—by working his way up through the ranks. Roewe, who received his MLIS from the Information School at the University of Washington, Seattle, began his library career at SCLD as a librarian in 2007, and since 2009 has held various positions in senior management. His appointment by the district board was unanimous; board chair John Craig told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that they are “delighted,” and that Roewe is “more than ready for the position.” Roewe will replace outgoing director Nancy Ledeboer, who will retire on September 1. LJ caught up with him a few weeks before he officially steps into the role to hear his thoughts from the top of the library ladder.

LJ: So many libraries hire from outside when they’re looking for a director, but SCLD was clearly pleased with your experience within the system. How will the other positions you’ve held within the library inform your role as director?

Patrick Roewe: My very first library job was with the [Spokane County Library] district as a librarian, so I definitely have a good foundation in that boots-on-the-ground, day-to-day experience. Even when I moved up to the regional manager role and then to the deputy director role, I never lost sight of what that means, serving the public in the library. It’s really important to me that I maintain that focus because as much as we talk about engagement, and the importance of getting ourselves out there and showing that the library is an active part of the community, the majority of our touchpoints are really going to occur in the library. Being aware of that is definitely important to me as I move into the director role.

The distinction between deputy director and director is a small but important one. How will your role change?

Right now I focus primarily on the public services side of things. I see the director role as taking a step back and expanding my overall area of responsibility—not just public services but the IT side of things, and having an awareness of our financial operations, our communications, our HR side, our collection development side—being less specifically focused and having to expand my general areas of responsibility. I’ve got a great leadership team who are [strong] in all those areas, but I’m going to need to know a little bit more in each to have a full understanding of everything that’s going on in the district.

Does having served in a number of positions within the library affect what you want from that team?

I think I have a better sense of what we’re capable of, and in what directions we can go to build upon [that] and improve. The transition from being a peer leader to director will [require] some wayfinding. I appreciate the support of that leadership team and I think we’ll do a good job with it.

What makes [SCLD] a great place to work is our willingness to take risks, try new things, and adapt our services and programs to respond to the evolving needs of our customers. That flexibility is critical to the district’s ongoing success, and it’s great to have it be part of our organizational DNA. And to take it one step further, the communities we serve have responded positively to those change efforts, so it’s inspiring to know we’re on the right track.

What changes do you hope to see happen under your directorship?

I think we’ve made some great strides in our community engagement efforts, our efforts to show that the library is an active partner in the community and that it has a stake in our community’s success. We have 11 libraries, serving ten different cities or communities throughout Spokane County. So talking about both community in the overarching sense and also in the individual sense, we’re trying to invest time and effort into getting to know each of those unique communities, what their needs and aspirations are and the way that we as a library can help the communities meet those needs. I think we’ve made some great strides these last couple of years. We’ve still got some more work to do in that area. It’s really about relationship building and getting ourselves out there, and that sort of thing takes time. So a priority is furthering that community engagement work.

We’ve just opened a new 11th location. Hopefully we’ll be able to open another new library in the future if we have a bond, so I’m also focusing on making sure that our service model is stable, that we can expand some more within our current budget.

That new location, The BookEnd, is located in the Spokane Valley Mall. How is that working out, and what has the community response been like?

We’re just finishing up our second month of operations there and we’re cautiously optimistic that this is working well.

We’ve never been renters before, so from a business side it’s kind of a unique arrangement for us. The mall has been a great partner to work with. They were really receptive—the idea came together quickly, probably within six to eight months between initial discussion and opening.

We’ve tried to do something a little different with it. All staff and staff functions are happening on the floor. We’re calling it a boutique collection, based on “serendipitous discoveries.” You can’t place holds on the items there. You can certainly pick up holds, but what’s on the shelf is there to be discovered and picked up when you walk in the door. So far people have responded to it really well. There might be something on a really long hold list at one of the other libraries and it’s sitting on the shelf ready to go at the BookEnd.

So we’re trying a new service model and new approach to collection, focusing on popular materials, popular authors. We’ve only got about 2,500 square feet, so it’s a small space. Once you’ve fit in a really focused collection, a couple of computers, some soft seating, you’ve filled that space pretty quickly.

But overall we’re happy with the results so far. We getting good response from the general community who hear about it, and also people who walk through the doors seem to appreciate having a new library location. It’s in the mall, so they’re going there for other reasons, and now the library is one of their other shopping stops, so to speak.

How are you formally assessing the new model?

We’ve been doing a monthly evaluation of people coming through—if they’re signing up for new cards where do they live, does it look like they’re residents of a nearby neighborhood, does it look like they might be employees of the mall who are coming on their lunch breaks, is it just general folks doing their shopping? We’re looking at which parts of the collection are moving more quickly. So we’re trying to be pretty data driven with this experience to make sure that we can fine tune it as things go along.

It’s our busiest library in terms of the most open hours, because we follow the mall’s hours—73 hours a week. But we’re also looking at the door count trends, when are we seeing more people there, can we fine tune our staffing model to make sure more staff are available for those busier times? Now it’s summer, so school’s out—we’re really going to need a whole year to see the general ebb and flow of traffic patterns of the mall, how that’s going to impact operations.

Can you talk about the work you’ve done with the American Library Association’s Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) initiative?

One of my critical experiences professionally was leading the team for LTC. When the initial cohort grant opportunity was announced, we knew we needed to do community work—we knew we needed to turn outward, so to speak. We just didn’t have a methodology for that. And when we stumbled upon the LTC grant for the cohort, we saw it as a great opportunity to find a model we could use. LTC was a great playbook to work from, [to see] what does it look like when we’re engaged with the community, how we talk to them, how we find out what their needs are. So it came at a really perfect moment for us to put that notion of community engagement to work in a concrete and intentional way.

We’ve taken that knowledge from our community conversations and used it to inform the type of programming we’re putting on, and we’ve used it as the foundation for our strategic planning. We’ve found being able to sit down with folks and talk about their needs and aspirations for their communities can be very revealing in terms of what the library can do to help respond. If it’s potholes, we can’t help with potholes. But if there’s a lack of things for teens to do after school, for example, we can help fill that gap. That aligns with our purpose and our function.

Our strategic plan right now is a three-year cycle, so it runs through 2018. We’re already talking about how can we revamp that model and roll it out again, because we’ve found good results with it and we feel like what we discovered were some of the authentic needs and issues in the communities that we could respond to, in areas like early learning, business workforce development, lifelong learning.

What else is on your agenda?

Our bond issue unfortunately failed twice to place two new libraries in the city of Spokane Valley. But we’re working with the city to reestablish the agreement that undergirds that. So I’m hopeful that that agreement will be adopted by both the district trustees and the city council, and that we can use it for new libraries in the valley. The library currently there is our oldest—it’s been there since 1955. It’s been remodeled a couple of times, but it’s really at the point where it can’t be the library of the future because it’s having a hard enough time being the library of the present.

But the city’s been a great partner to work with. We’ve got support there, and we got really close with the last bond issue. So we’re looking at [whether we] can reduce the overall amount of the bond, can we maybe streamline some of the approaches we have for the new building to make it a little more appealing to the voters but still be able to deliver top-notch library services now and 50 years from now.

I also want to spend some time focusing on our own operations, how we’re serving folks in the libraries to make sure that our daily operations are aligned with the spirit and intent with which we’ve approached community engagement. So making sure that day-to-day experience in the library, because So many of those interactions, so many of those touchpoints, happen there, I don’t want that to fall behind as we’re looking outward at how to engage with the community. So we’re spending some time evaluating services on—the holistic approach is the best way to put it—to make sure all of those elements are best representing the needs of the people who come through our doors.

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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