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:

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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.

Have Less to Do

Our society values more. We are constantly pushed in our careers to gain more responsibility. Commercials continually encourage us to buy more stuff. Having more to do than can be ever be done is seen as a sign of success. However, having more is only good up to a point. After that, having more is actually an impediment to happy and productive life.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founders of Basecamp, wrote about this in their book, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. They set out to make their company the opposite of how most technology companies operate. No 60-80 hour weeks; no endless meetings; no pressure to perform every day. One of their fundamental operating principles is that having less to do is better than more. As they wrote on page 172-3 of their book:

Management scholar Peter Drucker nailed it decades ago when he said, “There is thing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all!” Bam!

At Basecamp we’ve become ruthless about eliminating either work that doesn’t need to be done or work we don’t want to do.

I have recently appreciated that eliminating extra items from my work life is the best way to become productive. Just as it is easier to juggle one ball instead of ten, having only a few top projects is easier to manage than dozens of low value projects. I often think back to a conversation with Pat Losinski, CEO of the Columbus Metropolitan Library. When I asked him for advice on being a Library Director, one thing he shared was, “Focus only on what the Director can do.” By that he meant don’t get caught up doing work that other people could perform. Do only the things that are your own responsibility, then delegate or eliminate everything else.

To that end, how can you find ways to purge your workload? After all, the less you have to do, the better you will do what you are doing.

Support Your Local Library – Its Easy to Do

Do you know how your public library is funded? Most of them survive on revenue from property tax, sales tax, and fees. While most people assume that they will always be there we have seen library systems lose revenue and reduce services in the face of broader economic downturns. As tax funded institutions public libraries rely on the support of local, state and federal elected officials. This makes the advocacy of library card holders essential to ensure their future.

This time of year is especially important for your voice to be heard. Many governments are in their budget planning process for the 2022 fiscal year. Speaking to your elected officials early on in the budget process can make a huge difference. For example in my home state of Florida the State Legislature opened its annual session last week. At stake is funding for the State Aid to Libraries Grant, Public Library Construction Grants, and the five Multi-type Library Cooperatives. To support this push, the Florida Library Association put together an advocacy campaign for increased funding to support libraries as they assist with economic recovery and advancing education. At the Federal level, the American Rescue Plan increases funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services to assist libraries of all types, including schools.

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One organization that advocates for public libraries across the country is EveryLibrary. They have made a huge impact in library referendums through fundraising and expanding awareness. As explained on their web site:

EveryLibrary is the first and only national political action committee for libraries. We are a gold-rated non-profit organization that helps public, school, and college libraries secure new funding through tax and advisory referendum, bonds elections, negotiations with school boards, and advocacy at municipal, state, and federal levels. Our primary goal is to ensure stable funding and access to libraries for generations to come.

EveryLibrary carries out its mission through the generosity of its donors. I am a proud monthly supporter of EveryLibrary. If you want to ensure libraries thrive I encourage you to consider offering financial support for this hard working organization.

At the end of the day, don’t forget that the majority of library funding happens at the local level. Send your Mayor and Board of County Commissioners an email or a quick call to share how important libraries are to you and your community. Sometimes all it takes is a few passionate voices to make a difference. Libraries exist for the betterment of the communities they serve. Make sure your voice is heard now to ensure their future.

When Will Amazon eBooks Come to the Library?

Libraries and publishers have had a long complicated history over access to eBooks. Libraries routinely pay multiple times more per copy for each title than the regular public, face limited availability for the number they can order, and have their copies expire after a fixed number of uses or a set time frame. However, did you know that one of the biggest eBook publishers in the world still refuses to sell their eBooks to libraries? That publisher is someone everyone knows very well: Amazon.com.

Recent developments indicate that pressure is building to change this situation. An article in The Hill found that many organizations and even elected officials are working to convince Amazon to change their practice. It might be having some positive effect.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company is in “active discussions” with the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) to make its e-books available for library distribution.

The company expects “to be testing a number of different models” early next year, the spokesperson added.

“We believe libraries serve a critical purpose in communities across the country, and our priority is to make Amazon Publishing eBooks available in a way that ensures a viable model for authors, as well as library patrons,” the spokesperson said.

Amazon declined to provide details regarding pricing or the lengths of licensing deals it plans to test in 2021.

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If Amazon does not create a viable model on its own, it may face legislative pressure to do so.

Two states have proposed legislation that would seek to regulate Amazon’s ban on selling e-books to libraries. State senators in Rhode Island and New York proposed bills this year that would require publishers to offer licenses for electronic books to libraries under reasonable terms.

A spokesperson for state Sen. Rachel May (D), sponsor of the New York bill, said the senator will pursue the legislation in the next legislative session.

“New York’s public libraries are one of the state’s greatest assets. In order to fulfill their democratic function, librarians must be able to access the materials their clients need on fair and equitable terms,” May said in a statement.

Read more about the current status of the Amazon eBook situation.

Top Ten Challenges Facing Public Libraries

Public libraries have survived many ups and downs over the past century. Throughout it all they are remained core institutions in communities large and small. However, their survival going forward is not guaranteed. Right now COVID-19 is the biggest challenge facing libraries today, but even after a vaccine is widely distributed other problems await.

In an article from last year, Mark Smith of the Texas State Library wrote about the top ten challenges facing libraries going forward. The very first one listed has been on prominent display the past few years: a growing distrust in government.

As a unit of government, typically at the municipal or county level, it should be of concern to public libraries that the percentage of Americans who mistrust government is rising sharply. In 1958, 73 percent of Americans said they trusted the federal government to “do what is right” just about always or most of the time. In 2015, that figure was 19 percent (Pew Research Center 2015 “Beyond Distrust”). This appears to be a trend across demographic and ideological lines even as it shifts along partisan lines depending on who is in power in Washington (Pew Research Center 2017). … Currently, the public library is the rare public institution that bucks this trend. … As managers and workers of public-sector organizations, this trend should strike us as deeply alarming.

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Read about the other nine challenges facing public libraries in the article.

The Positive Effects of Growing Up with Books

As a librarian I naturally appreciate the value of a personal library of books at home. While my daughter was growing up we bought many classic and favorite books to supplement the ones I borrowed from the library. This lead her to become a proficient read and excellent student. While my daughter clearly benefited from a robust home library, it raises the question about the impact that access to books at home has on children across the population.

In a Smithsonian Magazine article, reporter Brigit Katz points to a study that “suggests that exposure to large home libraries may have a long-term impact on proficiency in three key areas.”

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The study, published recently in Social Science Research, assessed data from 160,000 adults from 31 countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Turkey, Japan and Chile. Participants filled out surveys with the Programme for the International Assessment of Competencies, which measures proficiency in three categories: literacy, numeracy (using mathematical concepts in everyday life) and information communication technology, (using digital technology to communicate with other people, and to gather and analyze information).

Learn more about the results of the study on the impact of home libraries on children’s development by reading the rest of the article.

The Ongoing Library Publisher eBook Saga

The pandemic has impacted public libraries in many ways, most significantly being the number of visitors. With many libraries on reduced operating hours or offering only curbside/walk up service it means access to their physical collections is limited. As well vulnerable populations that make up a significant portion of public library users are still staying at home for their own safety. These factors have combined to generate large increases in eBook borrowing. At the same time it has renewed simmering concerns about publishers and their eBook pricing models.

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A recent article in Wired Magazine provides a good overview of the interaction between libraries and publishers in the age of COVID-19.

The rising demand for digital materials has prompted some librarians to shift what they buy, even as they fear shrinking budgets amid the economic downturn. A recent survey of 400 librarians in the US and Canada found that one-third are spending less on physical books, audiobooks, and DVDs, and more on digital versions since the pandemic began. Twenty-nine percent have had their budgets frozen or reduced.

But the publishers’ licensing terms make it “very difficult for libraries to be able to afford ebooks,” says Michelle Jeske, director of the Denver Public Library and president of the Public Library Association. “The pricing models don’t work well for libraries.” Between January and July, the Denver system saw 212,000 more books downloaded than the same period last year, a 17 percent increase.

Read the rest of the article at the Wired Magazine web site.

REALM Results 3 and 4

In the last few weeks the REALM Project, a partnership between the Columbus Metropolitan Library, OCLC, and the Battelle research labs, provided two new rounds of test results regarding library material and the survivability of COVID-19. Round 3 looked at five different item types including DVDs and Talking Books cassettes. The summary finding was as follows:

Results show that after five days of quarantine in an unstacked configuration, the SARS-CoV-2 virus was not detected on the storage bag (flexible plastic) or the DVD. The storage container (rigid plastic), plexiglass, and the USB cassette all showed detectable virus at five days. Day five was the final time point tested.

Round 4 looked at materials from Round 1 but this time left them stacked to simulate items in a book return. The study indicated the following:

Results show that after six days of quarantine the SARS-CoV-2 virus was still detected on all five materials tested. When compared to Test 1, which resulted in non-detectable virus after three days on an unstacked hardcover book, softcover book, plastic protective cover, and DVD case, the results of Test 4 highlight the effect of stacking and its ability to prolong the survivability of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Learn more about both studies and more at the REALM Project web site.

COVID on Library Materials – Part II

A few weeks back I reported on the first phase of an important study. The REALM Project is a partnership between the Columbus Metropolitan Library, OCLC, and the Battelle research labs. In the first round of testing five types of library items were studied to determine how long the virus lasts on these surfaces. According to the result of the first phase of the study: “Results show that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was not detectable on the materials after three days of quarantine.”

Last week the REALM Project released phase two of the study, this time looking at five more library items including:

*Braille paper pages
*Glossy paper pages from a coffee table book
*Magazine pages
*Children’s board book
*Archival folders

The findings were similar to the phase one results.

Results show that after two days of quarantine in a stacked configuration, the SARS-CoV-2 virus was not detectable on the archival folders.

After four days of quarantine in their stacked configuration, the virus was not detectable on the braille pages, glossy book pages, and board book.

The magazine pages showed a trace amount of virus at four days. Day four was the final time point tested.

These results continue to support the practice of quarantining library materials for at least three days. Download the full phase two report to learn more about the study and its findings.