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.

Is COVID-19 Still Preventing Indoor Library Activities?

I recently provided an update to Public Libraries Online regarding the status of indoor public library activities and events. Here is the opening of that posting.

When COVID swept across the country last year, libraries closed their doors to the public. Programming for children, teens, and adults went virtual and for the most part was very successful. Over time as buildings opened and services were restored, one thing that remained off limits was indoor activities and events. However, with vaccination rates climbing over the summer, many libraries explored reintroducing indoor activities. How many have taken that next step?

Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

A recent survey of Urban Library Council member libraries by this author showed that indoor activities are coming back strong. Many large library systems across the country are opening up their meeting rooms for staff led events. That being said, there are still lots of concerns. Out of the 66 libraries that responded to the survey, 28 had not started any indoor programming. One library system summed up the hesitancy as follows:

“Our rationale is partly low staffing, definitely that children are not vaccinated yet, and that we are working on getting the tech to succeed at hybrid activities. Our community is surging and the majority of our community are more reticent of in-person activities without a vaccine requirement which we have not enacted.”

Read the rest of the article at Public Libraries Online.

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.

Libraries Service for the Incarcerated

This past week I wrote an article about public library service for the incarcerated that was posted to Public Libraries Online. The article looked at the work being done by three major North American library systems to serve a population that is physically unable to come to their buildings. Below is the start of the article.

Libraries have been providing service to the incarcerated for many decades. While this past year has challenged the ability to serve the general public, many library systems continue to reach out to jail and prison populations. Here are examples from three large library systems that reflect the variety of creative programs and the outstanding efforts libraries are making in this work, despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic.

St. Louis Public Library

St. Louis Public Library has been very active serving the local imprisoned population under Director Waller McGuire. St. Louis has provided paperback materials for many years both to the adult population and the Juvenile Justice Center. In years past they provided programming within the Juvenile Center.

To learn more about the program in St. Louis, and then read on to discover what is happening in Salt Lake County and Toronto, please visit Public Libraries Online.

Libraries are an “investment that’s well worth it”

Those who work and frequent public libraries are well aware of the value they provide to their local communities. However, one challenge public libraries face is getting awareness of their value out beyond their core customers. So it is always great to see a national publication or program talk about the positive role that public libraries play in their community.

On a recent episode of NPR’s Marketplace, host David Brancaccio interviewed reporter Chris Farrell about the return on investment that libraries provide to their local residents.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Brancaccio: Well, do we know that? It’s a decent return on investment?

Farrell: Well, there’s this recent study — this one grabbed my attention — [by] three economists [from] Montana State University, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Miami University. And they calculate by some measures a healthy return on investment. So among their findings, library capital investment increases children’s attendance at library events by 18%, children’s checkout of items by 21% and total library visits by 21%. Now, OK, that’s interesting, but increases in library use translate into improved children’s test scores in nearby school districts.

Read or listen to the rest of the interview online at the Marketplace web site.

Are We Reaching the End of Library DVD Collections?

DVDs have been a mainstay of library collections for the past twenty years. These little plastic discs are often the most borrowed items every year. However, as with all technology, times change to potentially render them obsolete. In this case the rise of online streaming services threatens to push DVD collections to the trash bin alongside the VHS cassette and music CD.

Last month I surveyed members of the Urban Library Council to gain insight into the future of DVD collections. The results of my findings were posted in a new article on the Public Libraries Online web site, a publication of PLA. Below is an except from the article.

An informal survey of over a dozen Urban Library Council member libraries conducted for this article shows a more complicated picture. Based on checkouts, demand for DVDs across North American libraries has dropped. For example Migell Acosta, Director of San Diego County Library (CA) reported that they “Have seen a gradual decline in DVD/Blu-Ray circulation over the past 5 years or so, but not as steep as physical music and audiobooks.” 

This drop in borrowing has local variation. In Pima County Public Library (AZ), Director Amber Mathewson noted that demand remains strong. “In one of our more affluent neighborhoods the children’s DVDs were overflowing …. Our hypothesis was that neighborhood has switched to Disney+, but other locations in our county are still circing DVDs pretty heavily.”

The situation is different in Johnson County Public Library (IN). Kelley Gilbert, Collection Services Manager reported they may need more DVDs. “DVD circulation has been really steady throughout the pandemic, and our patrons are always requesting titles that we’ve managed to miss.”

To find out more, including the perceived diversity benefits of maintaining DVD collections, please read the rest of the article.

Will Libraries Get Credit for their COVID-19 Response?

As vaccines are now widely available and many people have had their first shot or both, life across the United States is returning to something like pre-COVID days. This includes libraries. In Florida, library service has been amongst the most available in the country, such as The Palm Beach County Library System which has been open for over a year! Other libraries across the nation have only recently opened their doors. However, that did not mean they were on the sidelines. Throughout the crisis, library staff were constantly working to help our public in this time of need.

In a recent article on CNN, public libraries across the country were profiled for the great work they did to assist their communities during the pandemic. One example was the work of Ramses Escobedo of the San Fransisco Public Library.

For more than a year, however, Escobedo hasn’t been lending out books. Instead, he’s worked with a Covid-19 contact tracer team for San Francisco’s Department of Public Health.

Covid has affected American schools, hospitals and businesses. But libraries — which often serve people who have nowhere else to turn — have responded in unprecedented ways. Like many of us, they’ve had to pivot, going from providing extensive in-person services and programming onsite in branches to quickly establishing virtual lectures and classes, and contact-less material pickup, as well as services that were strictly Covid-related like Escobedo’s assignment.

As a city worker, Escobedo’s contract states he can be activated in an emergency. After his library closed in March of 2020, Escobedo was reassigned to a disaster service detail.

As well as special duties, libraries also took advantage of their position in the community to help people.

In Hartford, Connecticut, some public libraries became Covid-19 vaccine administration sites. Librarians there also cleared obstacles to allow patrons to use outside electrical outlets to charge cell phones. In Leominster, Massachusetts, about 50 miles west of Boston, librarians installed mobile hot spots at the city’s senior and veterans’ centers, both of which have large parking lots, enabling many more people to log onto the Internet.”Anyone can go to the parking lot and connect to the WiFi for free,” Nicole Piermarini, the library’s assistant director told CNN.

Read the rest of the article on CNN to learn other ways that libraries made a difference.

Public Library COVID Restrictions

This week I provided an article for Public Libraries Online regarding the current status of library COVID-19 operating restrictions across the country. Here’s the opening of the piece:

Fourteen months ago the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country. By the beginning of April the vast majority of public library buildings were closed to the public. Over the subsequent months, some libraries dipped their toes into offering curbside checkouts before opening their doors for limited services. Other systems remained stuck in a full closure aside from virtual services. Now that vaccines are available and virus transmission rates are dropping, public library service is largely being restored across the United States, but at vastly different timelines.

To read more about the current operating restrictions in New York, Florida, California, and Missouri, which following recent CDC guidance are fast changing, read the full post on Public Libraries Online.