I think about the future a lot. The present is a good place to be; some would argue it’s the only place to be. But I also believe in lifelong learning and growing, and I already know that, someday, I want to be a library director. So I spend a goodish chunk of my time thinking about that goal, and how I will get there.
Part of said thinking involves visualizing myself in certain situations. What would I do if X, Y, or Z happened? How will I interact with my board? With my community? With my patrons?
The result of all that thinking is this somewhat idealistic list of things I solemnly swear I will do when I am a library director. Those of you who currently wear that hat may smile or correct me as you please, but these are my thinks based on my perspective in the here-and-now.
- I will know the first and last names of everybody I work with. Yes, even if it’s a big library. Yes, from the person who cleans the toilets to the president of my board. I will take an active, genuine interest in their lives, seeing them not merely as employees, but as people with hopes and dreams who, properly cultivated, can make the organization more excellent via their personal growth and development.
- I will treat everyone on my staff with dignity and respect. If I am wrong, I will apologize. If I have to do something unpopular, I will explain why, and clearly. I will communicate with them clearly and frequently, and I will respect everyone’s inherent worth, regardless of race, religion, gender, class, or favorite sports team.
- I will nurture and encourage innovation and change. I will support my staff when they have wild and crazy ideas, give them the opportunity to test out their theories, even–perhaps especially–the ones of which I’m skeptical. I will trust that they love the library and the community too, and that they have its best interests at heart. I will actively seek out staff and volunteers who can help me create a 21st-century library for 21st-century patron needs, and I will be fearless about trying new things and making mistakes.
- I will pitch in and help with whatever task needs done, no matter how big or small. Something that left a big impression on me as an undergraduate was an event the college president organized every year during homecoming. He called it “Lance Cooks,” and it means exactly what it says: he cooked and served food in the cafeteria line, and made conversation with everybody who passed through. It blew my mind that the college president would do that, and it made me feel good about the future of our campus. It also makes me want to be the director who opens the front doors every morning, a la Will Manley, or who works the circulation desk regularly.
- I will live in the community I serve, and become an active, engaged member of it. No ridiculous commutes for me. I want to be right up close to the action, shopping in the community’s stores, volunteering at its other non-profits, and getting to know its people in all sorts of situations, not just director-patron ones. If my job is to lead a library, then I want to do it in the most accessible fashion possible. The title of “director” should be a bridge, and not a barrier.
- I will dress up like a pirate on Halloween. Okay, to be fair, I’m already planning on doing that anyway–but that’s not the point! Leadership is a very serious business, especially during difficult times. However, I don’t ever, ever, ever want to lose sight of the fact that, despite its difficulties, life has plenty of fun things to offer, and I will bend over backwards to create an atmosphere of fun, trust, and bonhomie in my library.
- I wil bend over backwards to make the arcana of librarianship transparent and comprehensible to my board. Face it: there are going to always be some things that only librarians care about, and that would make the community’s eyes glaze over if we tried to explain, no matter how much we prettified it. That being said, we ARE degree-holding professionals with a particular skill set and particular rationales for why we do things. Sometimes, that will need to be explained to a board, cheerfully, and with patience. This is the area where I have the least expertise, but I’ve served on one strategic planning committee, and got a good introduction there to the scope of the task ahead.
- I will be a loud, aggressive, passionate, fearless advocate for libraries. I will blog. I will write collection development policies that uphold the community’s freedom to read. I will podcast. I will take advantage of every traditional and emerging technology to get the word out about the value of my library. I will cultivate relationships with my local and state senators and representatives. I will work with my Friends Group. I will get more deeply involved at the state and national levels of library advocacy.
- I will embrace transparency whenever possible. I will make it easy for community members to contact me. I will have an open-door policy with the staff. I will hold open houses and community meetings, and I will communicate early and often about any service changes that might come along. I will be candid about library finances. I will ensure, whether or not I’m actually responsible for website maintenance, that my library’s website contains the most up-to-date information about the library, its policies/procedures, and its resources.
- I will stay humble, grounded, and focused. I will constantly question whether or not the actions I take are in the best interests of my staff and the community. I will earn my salary with blood, sweat and tears, down to the last penny. I will surround myself with intelligent people who will gently, but firmly, correct me if I am drifting off course. I will network with other library directors and learn from their expertise, not just when I’m a newbie, but for as long as I have the privilege to lead. I will aggressively pursue continuing education opportunities, and my default setting will be that there is always, always something more to learn. And finally, I will be open to the lesson in all life experiences, including the gut-wrenching, painful ones.
That’s a tall order, I know. Break it to me gently, if you must disabuse me of my idealistic notions. But I would argue, once again, that if we give up our ideals, we are lost. Even if they are impossible, it is in the striving that we will become better library leaders.
But what about the fundraising part, you ask? Ah, fundraising. That’s a whole post in and of itself. Given that I’ve wanted to be a fairy godmother since I was a child, it’s yet another one of those things I muse about all the darned time. If I get a breather, we’ll discuss it.