Unite Against Book Bans

Across the country attacks on the freedom to read have multiplied. While there have always been attempts to remove books from library shelves, this time the movement is more organized and widespread. Most of the targeted items are children’s material covering LQBTQIA+ information and race relations, such as Black Lives Matter.

The American Library Association stands at the forefront to protect the right to read. For years they have tracked book challenges and compiled the top ten list of targeted titles. With the threat rising, they recently started a campaign called Unite Against Book Bans. The site contains the results of a nationwide poll that clearly shows book banners are a minority.

On both sides of the aisle, large majorities of voters and parents oppose book bans. 71% of voters oppose efforts to remove books from public libraries. 67% of voters oppose efforts to remove books from school libraries. And yet, attempts to ban books from libraries are rising at an unprecedented level across the country. The American Library Association reported more than 729 attempted bans of 1,597 individual books in 2021 alone.

Join the campaign to preserve the right to read and fight book bans. It is as simple as signing up through the ALA’s campaign page. The web site also includes an action kit and ways your organization can partner with the movement.

Don’t let a small minority ban books from our library shelves. Join the cause and unite against book bans.

Interview with Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada

I had the honor of interviewing incoming ALA President Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada. The interview is available to read at Public Libraries Online.

Working out of her home base as the Adult Services Assistant Manager at the Palos Verdes Library District in Southern California, Lessa has been deeply involved with ALA for many years. Given the huge responsibilities and time commitment, I asked what inspired her to run for ALA President.

The idea of becoming President stuck in my mind because when I was in Emerging Leaders, my group said I was going to be ALA president someday although I’m not sure I agreed then. When I was on the Executive Board and started doing work for the Steering Committee on Organizational Effectiveness (SCOE) it was a labor of love, and a lot of work. I saw how much I cared about the Association, but it also showed me how much others cared about it too. I saw the difference that ALA made not only in personal lives, but in libraries and other Associations across the country. When I was finishing my executive board term, and SCOE was coming to an end, it was right when the pandemic hit. Calls for nominations for ALA president were being solicited. I wasn’t finished with this work and wanted to continue to completion to see those changes. I don’t want to just drop it into someone else’s lap. I want to take responsibility and help the management and cultural changes going on in ALA, and as a society as a whole. That’s how I got here today.

Later in our conversation, she shared her list of the most important issues facing libraries today.

I think our biggest issues include ensuring that ALA continues its mission to preserve and strengthen library services through technical assistance, professional development, and direct funding for libraries and library practitioners. What that looks like on a practical level is how we support library workers right now. We’ve gone through a lot of trauma, regardless of the type of library you’ve worked in. As library workers and as people, figuring out what that support and advocacy for library workers looks like is one of the biggest issues. ALA can utilize its 501c6 arm, the ALA-Allied Professional Association, to carry out this mission. As ALA, one of the biggest issues right now is also supporting those who are facing intellectual freedom challenges. We must work against those challenges with a concerted effort. ALA recently launched Unite Against Book Bans, and is rolling out tool kits. We’re seeing support from our Office for Intellectual Freedom helping those on the front lines. Finally, there’s lots of different ways that folks can use their skills, time, and dollars. I think it’s important to remind folks of the value of ALA membership and how it affects libraries across the nation.

Read the rest of the interview to learn about her Presidential plans, the value of an ALA membership, and what she believes are the biggest opportunities for libraries of all types.

Thank you to Public Libraries Online for posting the conversation.

Libraries Can Really Change the Future – Interview with Susan Benton

In February I had the honor of sitting down with Susan Benton, President/CEO of the Urban Libraries Council (ULC). Susan is retiring this summer after thirteen years of service at ULC. Before she left, I wanted to learn more about her tenure at ULC and her thoughts on the challenges facing, and future of, public libraries. The full conversation is posted at Public Libraries Online. Here is an excerpt from that interview.

DC: How has ULC changed under your leadership both internally and also in terms of its relationship with members?

Susan Benton

SB: When I first joined ULC, we had a very small staff and were located in Chicago. We made the move in 2014 to Washington D.C. which was important for us. While some thought ULC moved to Washington to lobby on Capitol Hill, we moved to D.C. so that we could be closer to allied organizations that are important to libraries. The work that ULC is doing to transform the lives of people in our cities and counties requires us to work with organizations here in Washington D.C., such as the National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, the Council of the Great City Schools, the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities and others. They are truly sister organizations with very similar missions to ULC. We now connect with them to extend our work. The move helped us take a stronger position for urban libraries. We are constantly in conversations with colleagues in the public sector and private sector so that we can educate others about the essential contributions of libraries to all aspects of life. 

Read the rest of the article on the Public Libraries Online web site.

Finding Your Leadership Pathway – a PLA PreConference

Are you planning to attend the Public Library Association Conference in Portland OR or live in the vicinity? If so, why not brush up on your leadership skills by joining me and a team of great leaders for a full day pre-conference session, Finding Your Leadership Pathway.

Our presenters include:

  • Lynn Hoffman, Director of Operations, Somerset County Library System of New Jersey
  • Isaiah West, Teen Services Specialist, Prince George’s County Memorial Library System
  • Derek Wolfgram, Library Director, Redwood City Public Library
  • Douglas Crane, Director, Palm Beach County Library System

This full day event is happening on Tues. March 22, 9 am to 5 pm, at the convention center.

What to know what is in store? Read on!

Public libraries offer multiple pathways to leadership. From team supervision to directorship, and from small municipal and rural libraries to large multi-site systems, the array of options create a rich leadership landscape for public library careers. Join current and prospective leaders at all levels to share in a day of exploration, self-reflection, and networking, all focused on helping you map out your own career development journey. In addition to having ample opportunities for interaction with other participants, you’ll also hear from over a dozen diverse leaders as they talk about their own varied experiences throughout the day.

Outcome OneState their leadership value and identify the strengths they can put to the most effective use now and in the future;
Outcome TwoCommunicate with stakeholders and powerfully advocate for change within their organizations, employing strategies to make their voice heard at all levels of leadership; and
Outcome ThreeCreate a plan for sustained action that exemplifies their commitment to maintaining and building on their leadership practice

Register for the PLA Conference and add on this event for an additional charge. Lunch is included.

I hope to see you there!

Book Bans on the Rise

In the past year, book challenges have been on the rise. It is not unusual for school and public libraries to have people contest items in the collection. In fact every year the American Library Association shares a list of the top ten most challenged books. Librarians have established procedures in place to address complaints along with collection policies to support them.

However, the recent wave of book challenges in schools and public libraries is a new breed of challenge. In a recent article by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post titled This wave of book bans is different from earlier ones, she points out there is a particular subject matter in contention.

Now we are seeing a new wave of book bans, marked by an unprecedented number of challenges and intense polarization. Its focus: narrowing the universe of information in schools and public libraries that might challenge young people on race and gender — the same issues at the center of the political and cultural wars ripping through the country.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What makes this round also different is that there appears to be a greater national coordination on messaging and the books being challenged.

Advocacy groups are working to nationalize book challenges, this time with the help of conservative TV and talk shows, that for the past few decades have been mostly local events. Some state legislators are threatening punitive action against anyone in schools or libraries who spreads material deemed obscene or harmful to minors. And now students, parents, librarians and school boards are fighting back, calling the push censorship.

Read the full article on the Washington Post web site.

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.