Gazing into the Crystal Ball

2021 proved to be a very unpredictable year. Between the pandemic, political uncertainty, and economic challenges we never knew what would happen next. Still, everyone must plan for the future, including Library Directors and CEOs. So, what are these leaders focusing on with the new year?

In a recent survey I conducted of Urban Library Council members, I asked Directors to share their top concerns for 2022. The results were published in an article on the Public Libraries Online web site. The group reported focusing on a broad range of topics, but far and away the largest was COVID and its fallout.

The pandemic upended the library’s relationship with patrons. Between limited hours, uncertain access to buildings and safety concerns about virus spread, patterns of use changed dramatically. Libraries have seen a drop in visitors that has not reverted back to pre-pandemic levels. A Canadian library director listed a number of possible reasons including:

“The continued effects of the pandemic including changing customer behaviors, hesitancy to frequent public spaces, mental health issues, impact on loss of learning due to school closures, and the shift to online.”

Related to the pandemic were concerns about budgets due to a violate economy.

Several directors commented that their infrastructure is in need of repair and upgrading. However, funding for capital projects is running up against tight operating margins. For example, a California library director shared the following about their system.

“This may not be the case for every library system but over half of our branches are too small and well beyond their normal useful life. There is a high amount of deferred maintenance and insufficient funding resulting in increased deterioration of buildings.”

Explore more thoughts from public library leaders on their top concerns for 2022 at the Public Libraries Online web site.

The Six Step Guide to Library Worker Engagement

Over the past four years I have focused on building a strong culture in my library system. Unlike revising a policy or plan, strengthening a culture takes time to achieve. One of the key books I have used is Primed to Perform : how to build the highest performing cultures through the science of total motivation. It included ideas such as creating a Firewatchers committee and measuring your culture based on six key factors.

This year a new book has come out on culture that focuses solely on libraries. Written by Elaina Norlin, it is titled, The Six Step Guide to Library Worker Engagement.

In the book, Norlin demonstrates how library workers can easily become disengaged from their work. To prevent this from happening, she identifies the following areas as key to building a strong culture:

  • Leadership and Management
  • Trust
  • Recognition and Praise
  • Feedback and Performance Evaluation
  • Teamwork and Collaboration
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

To show best practices, Norlin includes interviews with library directors, managers, and leaders from public, academic, and special libraries. I was honored to be interviewed for the section on Feedback and Performance Evaluation. Here’s a portion of that interview.

If a new library director or manager wanted to know how to get started inspiring a more engaged workforce, what would be your advice?

The first step is always to listen. Often a new leader may come in with great ideas and pet projects to launch. However, if they don not take the time to learn more about their organization and connect with the people who comprise it, they may end up going in the wrong direction very quickly. Typically there is a problem or an old way of doing things which is a pain point for the staff that needs to be resolved. A new leader can show their support by tacking that issue first and only afterward start advancing their own ideas.

Find the book at your local library or from the ALA store.

The Leader as Diplomat

I am happy to share this article that was recently published in Learning Exchange: The Newsletter of the Learning Round Table of the American Library Association.

Oftentimes the first thoughts of leadership are about the internal relationship between a leader and their team. However, leadership also involves interacting with others beyond that leader’s chain of command, whether they are in another part of the organization or completely external to it. This is where a leader must take on the role of a diplomat.

To paraphrase the definitions of diplomat and diplomacy from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a diplomat is someone who practices the art of conducting negotiations between groups. They must have skill in handling affairs without invoking hostility, and handle awkward situations with tact. To be a diplomat requires sound leadership skills.

What does diplomacy have to do with library leadership? Think about the diplomats who work for the United States. They are appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate to live in another nation in order to represent America’s interests. To be successful they need to understand the culture of their assigned country while at the same time demonstrate American values. The goal is to create a productive relationship based on regular communication and trust.

Read the rest of the article on the Efficient Librarian web site.

Leadership Perspectives – Organizational Health

Who is responsible for the health of the organization you work for? Most people assume it is the top leader and there is lots of truth to that belief. However in reality everyone in the organization has a role to play in building a strong culture.

The ALA Learning Exchange newsletter recently published a short article I wrote about this topic. It starts out with this question.

So how does one determine organizational health? Many people think it is through the measurable outputs and outcomes laid out in the strategic plan. These can be such factors as visitor counts, circulation numbers, program attendance and more. Other factors such as employee turnover may point to job satisfaction. However, all these pieces are just a part of the equation. After all, you can have an organization that achieves its goals yet is stressed out and hostile. In the end, an organization’s health is determined by the strength of its culture. Strong cultures thrive no matter what the situation, while weak cultures disintegrate at the slightest sign of stress.

To learn more about how culture directly affects an organization, please read the rest of the article which has been posted here for your review.

Think Like a Scientist

The world is full of disagreement. Throughout our lives we encounter people who have different views from us on a wide range of topics. In some cases, these views may be held very intensely, leading to arguments, conflict, and at worst violence. If you have ever tried to change people’s minds, it can appear to be a futile process. Why is that so?

According to Adam Grant, part of the reason that disagreements are rarely resolved is because people don’t know how to engage in thoughtful debate. He argues in his new book, Think Again, that most people fall to one of three default modes of persuasion. In a recent article in Inc. magazine, contributor Jessica Stillman describes these modes this way:

Adam Grant

Preacher: “When we’re in preacher mode, we’re convinced we’re right,” explained Grant. From the salesman to the clergyman, this is the style you use when you’re trying to persuade others to your way of thinking.

Prosecutor: “When we’re in prosecutor mode, we’re trying to prove someone else wrong,” he continued.

Politician: It’s no shock that “when we’re in politician mode, we’re trying to win the approval of our audience.”

The problem with all three of these modes is that they rarely succeed in changing other person’s mind. In fact, they often create more resistance. Instead, Grant identifies a different approach to resolving disagreements.

Scientist: When you think like a scientist, “you favor humility over pride and curiosity over conviction,” Grant explained. “You look for reasons why you might be wrong; not just reasons why you must be right.”

This mode is challenging because it requires the maturity to accept that their position could be wrong. This vulnerability can become a bridge to connect people in a way that allows for understanding. To learn more, I invite you read Stillman’s article. If you want to dive deeper, please read Grant’s book, Think Again.

Understanding the Role of Public Library Directors

Public library directors fill a unique role in their organizations as leaders in both policy and culture. Whether it is a single building rural library to a multi-location big city system, all library directors face a series of similar problems as they strive to keep operations going. Between budgets, politics, policies, and staffing, no two days are the same.

On Tuesday I will be moderating an online discussion with experienced directors who will share their stories about why they chose this career path, its challenges, and their thoughts on the future of the profession. If you are interested in becoming a director, already a director looking for some tips, or simply want to learn more about the role, this is the panel discussion for you. Even if you are not a librarian, the leadership lessons alone will be worth your time.

Joining me on the webinar will be Roberta R. Phillips of the Prince George’s County (MD) Memorial Library System, Mark Williams of the Milton (Ontario) Public Library, Mary Ellen Icaza of the Stark Library (Canton, OH), and Jessica Hudson of the Fairfax County Library (Fairfax, VA). It is hosted by the Public Library Association.

The webinar will take place on Tues. May 18, 2 pm EST. To sign up, please visit the webinar page. Registration is free but space is limited. This panel discussion is organized and hosted by PLA’s Leadership Development Committee.

Leadership in Libraries: Observations from the Director’s Seat

Earlier this month I did a presentation for PCI Webinars titled Leadership in Libraries: Observations from the Director’s Seat. Using information gleaned from dozens of interviews with Library Directors over the past seven years, I shared my biggest insights regarding the profession. If you were not able to tune into the training, I have added the script as an article on my web site. Here’s how it starts:

Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com

Right now is the most exciting and challenging time to be a library director.  With new formats of material, a vibrant in person and online communities, and the need for quiet space in the face of a busy world, public libraries are busier than ever.  It is also the most confusing and unsettling time to be a Director.  Between shifting political winds, a global pandemic, and uncertain financial conditions, the future of libraries is highly uncertain.  How library leaders navigate this dynamic environment will determine the future of libraries in the 21st Century.

As a current library director I am engaged in shaping the future of our profession.  To that end I have spent over hundreds of hours during the past seven years talking to other library directors to discover their views on the profession and the institution of libraries.  In this article I will share insights I learned and provide guidance on whether the path of the library director is the right one for you.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Disagreeable Feedback

It is a simple fact that in order to improve in any skill, whether it be management, communication, or computers, feedback is needed. Great feedback happens when it is very specific, given timely, and in a way that is supportive of the recipient. However, we have all experienced feedback that doesn’t work for us. In fact, some feedback may simply be inappropriate or wrong. What is the best way to respond?

Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, is one of the leading experts on effective workplace communication. In a post on her blog, 5 Tips for When You Disagree with Feedback, Kim is very straightforward with the notion that you do not have to agree with feedback.

You can and should tell the person that you disagree. If you just say, “Thank you for the feedback” through gritted teeth, you seem Manipulatively Insincere. Better to take the time to explain why you disagree. Once, a CEO to whom I’d offered criticism told me the next day, “I reject that feedback — but I love that you told me what you think! Do you want to hear why I disagree?” Of course I did — and I actually felt better about my coaching of him after that because he’d been so totally open to criticism before that moment that I wondered if he was really hearing it.

Kim Scott

Kim wants to ensure that the person providing the feedback is honored for doing so. That way they understand you appreciated the effort even if you disagreed with their assessment. She then provides five tips on how to deal with feedback. The first is to check your understanding.

Repeat back what you think you heard, and say, “Did I understand correctly?” or “Did I get that right?” This is a good opportunity to show you care about the person, and what they think.

Learn more tips about how to respectful respond to disagreeable feedback on the Radical Candor web site.

Forget about the 5%

As a senior public official for one of the big six Florida Library Systems, I sometimes receive complaints and criticism about my decisions. Even through it is part of the job it is never fun nor easy to endure. Sometimes when my decisions are seen as controversial the feedback can be fierce. Instead of thoughtful communication on their point of view, some people quickly devolve their message into an angry personal attack. For example, someone once accused me of sponsoring terrorism because I issued a statement supporting racial equity which included the words “Black Lives Matter.”

Recently my friend Shola Richards wrote about his own experience facing unjustifiably angry people in his Monday morning newsletter. For someone who has had to endure far more vitriol than I will ever see his perspective on the subject was inspiring.

As a HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), it took me a while to get to a place of acceptance when dealing with trolls and haters. After seven years in this game, here is one thing that I know for sure: whether it’s my books, my speeches, my social media content, or the emails that I write to you each Monday, there will always be a percentage of people out there who won’t like me or my content. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call them the “5%”.

Later in the newsletter, he shares insight on why it is so important not to give into this toxic group.

The key is remembering that the 5% do not deserve the power to stop us from making the world a kinder and more compassionate place. More importantly, we should focus our energy on the 95% of the people who, at least, are willing to give us a chance to connect in a meaningful way.  Of course, when you get constructive feedback, make sure to listen to it and adjust accordingly whenever appropriate. But the destructive and hateful feedback from the 5%? Yeah, feel free to brush that nonsense aside and keep it moving. As I said in a recent Go Together Movement email–if what you’re doing is not hurting you or anyone else, and it’s bringing you joy, then please keep doing it

To learn more about Shola and to subscribe to his newsletter, please visit his official web site.