Library leaders at all levels are, and will be, in great demand in the coming days and years. Our profession is caught in the societal turbulence that grips us all. Budgets are tight, debts are huge, and technology is forcing change in all facets of society. These challenges will demand energetic and wise leadership if our profession is to prosper. What qualities will best enable our leaders to lead successfully for themselves, their libraries, and the profession?
“We need to work as a team.” “Let’s do it for the good of the team.” “You aren’t working as a team player.” Those phrases can be heard around many offices, often during meetings, in the halls, or from the CEO. Another phrase with which everyone is familiar is “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’.” Teamwork is undoubtedly an important buzzword in the workplace today. As someone who has often had to be a “solo” presence in my work responsibilities, I have really relished the experiences I have had as a part of team atmosphere. My teamwork experiences have been instrumental in providing opportunities for innovation and growth. That said, I would have to dispute that there is no “I” in teamwork.
As technology has become central to American life, nearly every organization leverages data to improve its performance. Political campaigns analyze potential voters. Credit-reporting agencies devise algorithms to predict who can repay loans and credit cards. Businesses reach potential customers with highly targeted marketing and advertising messages. Yet when it comes to analyzing their own data, many libraries have not really been able to capitalize on it.
On October 20 I had the privilege of attending the memorial service for Clara Stanton Jones in Oakland, CA. Her death on September 30 at age 99 gives us the opportunity to pay homage to her, and reflect on of the personal and professional sacrifices of generations of trailblazing librarians. For over a century librarians have been willing to place themselves on the bleeding edge of social change in America, and Clara was a model in that respect.
There have been many efforts to quantify the return on investment of a library. Researchers take into account the cost of public meeting space, computer use, books checked out, and other factors, and have found that libraries return several times more value to the community than they cost. While those factors may be easier to quantify, I would like to revive a simpler definition of a library: it’s a place with books. The benefits of these books to the community are difficult to quantify, but research on the effects of reading shows us that the benefits are also difficult to overstate. As we adapt to the Information Age, we must be cautious not to forget about one of our core services.
This month the Library of Michigan celebrates the 20th birthday of its innovative Michigan eLibrary, affectionately known as MeL. One of the country’s earliest electronic libraries, MeL was toasted at a gala on October 4th that brought together scads of fans among residents, libraries, government (state and federal), and the information industry. Companies represented included ProQuest, Gale, LearningExpress, and Innovative Interfaces—all have worked with MeL since its pioneering days as “M-Link” and “Access Michigan.”
As we breathlessly race toward a sci-fi future, questions inevitably crop up about the meaning and usefulness of reading an actual book. And, while traditional modes of reading inexorably erode, the very existence of libraries seems to be at stake. Now before you assume this will be a diatribe against new media and a fist-shake at those damn kids on our lawn, it’s really not. The world is a big place, and there is plenty of room for all types of flora, fauna and techna. This article is more a plea for respecting the old forms, rather than merely trashing it in heedless favor of the new.
What if you had to ask permission before selling, lending, or even giving away your books? On October 29, the Supreme Court hears oral argument in the case of Kirtsaeng v. Wiley & Sons, a case that could change the way we own everything from books to watches. Libraries, who own books, movies, and other copyrighted works on behalf of all of us, could be hit especially hard.
“Close the door,” said the director, as the assistant director escorted me into the office. Well, that got my attention. You know the thought process: “Have I done something I shouldn’t have? Well, at least something they found out about? Did a patron complain about one of the books in the collection? What in the heck is this about?” The next thing I heard was that we were starting an English as a Second Language (ESL) program, and they wanted me to coordinate it.
Central to the library profession is our role as protectors of the freedom of information. With higher education facing greater scrutiny from regulatory agencies and citizenry in general, we have an important opportunity to affirm the importance of freely accessible information. If we seize this opportunity to protect the public’s right to information, the library will honor its role as an institutional conscience.