Spend enough time as a leader and you’ll be exposed to an endless series of new models for leading, managing, and organizational change. How do you tell the difference between the fly-by-night fads and the ideas worth your time investment? That’s a skill leaders need to develop.
South Carolina’s public library directors, confident they have the necessary votes in the state legislature locked up, plan to press ahead with efforts to see a library trespass bill adopted into law, even after a recent veto by Gov. Nikki Haley scuttled their hopes, at least temporarily.
Although it is often perceived as interference, or “meddling,” the presumption of ownership by people who live in the jurisdiction of a local public library and their resulting strong opinions about how the place should operate are assets to be nurtured and treasured. Yes, the phenomenon regularly causes disputes about library policies and purposes and makes for controversial community debate. Indeed, library professionals and managers are frequently forced by public opinion, bolstered by media coverage, to operate libraries in ways quite different from their preferred practices.
In the past few months, LJ has looked at how libraries of all kinds can improve the way they serve their patrons by gathering better data on what their communities want and need. Of course, a good idea in theory can often seem out of the question for cash- and time-strapped libraries, with few having resources to spare for specialized staff or software. The good news is that much of the data librarians need to start making informed decisions that are right for their particular user base is free and already available to the public.
At Lead the Change workshops, local library leaders help facilitate the presentation, adding their own perspectives on the concepts presented by program developer David Bendekovic. But they don’t usually bring their own visual aids. The Southern California workshop, held on May 15 at the Pasadena Public Library (PPL), was an exception. PPL director Jan Sanders brought a giant foamcore version of one of Bendekovic’s slides, on which she’d asked library staff members to plot where they felt their library stood.
I have a theory that too many library trustees are underutilized in their board work. In far too many libraries, fear of meddling and of losing control have meant that directors don’t take advantage of the expertise and talent on their Board of Trustees. Where that is true, library leaders are squandering critical capacity and losing a potent edge in the key task of connecting to the community.
For 101 years, Alberta’s Edmonton Public Library (EPL) has galvanized its ever-growing city. From its beginnings above a meat and liquor store in 1913 to its current configuration as a massive, team-driven enterprise, EPL has served as a pioneering gathering place, connecting people and expanding minds. In the process, it changed the parameters of what it means to be a public library and transformed itself. Having the spirit and creativity to do that meant taking risks, innovating, and embracing change. It made EPL a model for all public libraries and the winner of the 2014 Gale/Library Journal Library of the Year Award.
The Robbins Library in Arlington, MA, is a busy place. Often, all of the computers are in use, and by the summer of 2012, all were just about ready to be retired. Rather than keep to status quo, technology librarian Catherine Kiah, working with intern Brad McKenna, envisioned an expanded wireless service model made possible by three key ingredients, two of which were a risk-tolerant staff and a wireless network upgrade. The third ingredient that made this new service model possible was a relatively new technology for public libraries, a laptop vending machine.
With carefully crafted thank-you speeches and an assemblage of local VIPs, grand opening events demand a certain level of patience and decorum from the curious public who gather to watch. But, of course, things don’t always work that way. On May 1, California’s Fresno County Public Library (FCPL) held the grand opening of its new Sierra Vista branch, a 400-item book and media vending unit installed in a high-traffic area of the Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis. As County Librarian Laurel Prysiazny spoke, a young couple with a child—apparently oblivious both to the ceremonial ribbon in front of them and the presentation going on behind them—walked up to the new machine and started checking something out.