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.

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.