10 Things I Will Do When I’m A Library Director


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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Er, right?

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.

Reviewing the Situation


I love reviewing books.  If this librarian thing doesn’t work out, my backup dream is that some publisher, somewhere, is going to read one of my reviews, recognize my untapped potential, and pluck me from relative obscurity in the mid-Atlantic to a life of Dorothy Parkeresque wit in a large city (I’m partial to points west, but I’ll take Manhattan).  Slain by my critical insights and enraptured by my keen understanding of what makes for good fiction, I will be the darling of City X’s literary circles.  Then one of my cats will meow in my ear and I will awaken, disappointed that we didn’t get to the part of the dream where I’m playing poker with my BFF, George Clooney.

Ahem.  That is to say, I’ve been meaning to write about book reviews ever since  LJ sent me a package that contained the mother of all conundrums:  the ARC of Margaret Atwood’s new novel, The Year of the Flood.  Now that the review’s been published, I can tell you that it’s a fine line between detached library professional and gobsmacked drooling authorcrush fangirl.

I’ve reviewed for Library Journal since 2005, when my colleague, the late Cathy Duhig, encouraged me to apply. Before I found my way to library world, I’d been on my way to a PhD in literature, so when asked for my area of expertise, I wrote “literary fiction.” It didn’t occur to me that loving sci-fi and horror (which I do) could make me as qualified to review those genres as a background in literature and theory made me to review literary fiction (which it does). I know better now, and would like to sink my teeth into some genre reviewing. However, having that epiphany while staring at the ARC of someone you idolize doesn’t get your review written!

So, first you read. I stayed up late and swallowed the novel whole, because I knew I would need as much time as possible to write the darned review. My thoughts went back and forth on a variety of points for which I still don’t have great final answers:

  • What library on the planet isn’t going to purchase this novel?
  • Is that first assumption true?  If that’s true, what is the purpose of reviewing a popular / critically acclaimed author?
  • I’m completely besotted with Atwood.  Should I send it back?
  • How on earth am I going to do justice to this?

The recent switch from “recommended for” to “the verdict” didn’t help matters any.  There are some things about “the verdict” that definitely work for me:  I get the opportunity to be wittier, for one thing, which one can’t always do with the phrase ” recommended for.”  But reviews are supposed to be more than an opportunity to flaunt one’s writerly chops, and I worry that some of the reviews’ usefulness to librarians might get lost.

Unlike most of the other review journals, LJ has always been “for us, by us.”  PW is for publishers, really, more of an awareness tool.  Choice is still for librarians, but it’s mostly for academic librarians, except when it comes to the useful links, with which I beef up our delicious accountBooklist only publishes positive reviews, so you can approach it cheerfully, confident that whatever you find inside is probably going to be a win for your library.  Kirkus is for Oscar Wilde and other malcontents, and I say that with great love.   But LJ has always been the review tool of my heart because it’s where I go to get the down and dirty, the good-bad-ugly from my peers.

I’m all for being more inclusive, and “the verdict” will definitely expose our work to a wider readership, which is, I suppose, a good thing.  However, the phrase “dance with the one who brought you” keeps coming to mind; after all, it’s not the casual reader who is going to shell out for those LJ print subscriptions.  At least, not the casual reader who saunters through the door of my public library.  To remain a viable reviewing tool, LJ reviews need to keep librarians as the core audience.  Otherwise, why print it at all?  Why not just have it entirely online?

Don’t answer that!  But do break both legs to get your hands on The Year of the Flood, especially if you care about our fragile world and its possible tempestuous futures. 175 words simply couldn’t do justice to the goodness that lies therein.

And there, I suppose, is the writerly challenge! Anyone can blather on for pages about Atwood’s genius (and many will, I’m certain). But can you get to the heart of the matter in 175 words? Almost as difficult as executing good haiku!

When next I get a moment to write, I want to do another sort of review. I’m coming up on my 2-year anniversary in my current job, and I can’t quite believe it. I want to talk a little bit about patterns and changes, as well as my goals for the year to come. These matters may be tempered by the presence or absence of a state budget, but, I assure you, we will get to them.

Dances With Vendors: Confessions of a Clumsy Alchemist


Your alchemist is not the most graceful person on the planet.   Ever since my childhood dance teacher suggested–not unkindly, mind you–that perhaps being a prima ballerina was not in my future, I’ve been a little leery of anything that requires physical coordination.  When I do dance, it’s either in a dark, crowded room where nobody’s really looking at me, or in the privacy of my own apartment, where I can lace up my Doc Martens, crank up something gothtastic on iTunes, and let ‘er rip.

Dancing with vendors is a slightly different proposition, but, I would argue, only slightly.  The same amount of grace and dexterity is required, and there’s certainly plenty of sweat involved.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to pick the best products and services for your library.  This involves setting good boundaries, being able to say no without closing a door to future interactions, should your needs change, communicating your needs clearly, and, from time to time,  letting poor behavior roll off your back.

All things considered, strapping on a pair of pointe shoes again sometimes seems preferable!  That being said, though, I’ve been practicing this particular form of dance for about two years now, and I think I’m starting to get the hang of the basics.  Maybe in a few more years, if this sort of thing continues to be part of my responsibilities, I’ll be able to execute the pas de deux with the best of ‘em (like our former deputy director, who was, arguably, the Martha Graham of database negotiation).

Here are some behaviors that work well for me in the sense of keeping me relatively sane when doing the vendor dance.  I’d also like to offer some suggestions to vendors so that our dances together can be more enjoyable for both of us.

Dance Steps for Librarians

  1. Try scheduling vendor calls.  Your Outlook calendar can be your friend.  If your life is as busy as mine, you can’t always take a call when the vendor wants to talk…and yet, sometimes, you really will be interested in what they have to say.  Offer to schedule a time that’s convenient for you.  This cuts down on random calls, and lets vendors know you’re willing to dance.  If a vendor isn’t willing to work with you on your time, maybe it’s time to rethink that relationship.
  2. Learn to say no.  I know, I know.  If we could all figure this one out, the world would be a magical place full of sunshine and rainbows.  Still, the only way you’re going to get better at this is if you practice.  There are a million ways to say no, and many of them are kind.  “We’re going in a different direction right now” and “This doesn’t seem like the right solution for us at this time” are two examples.  There’s something to be said, as well, for the basic, “No thank you, we’re not interested right now.”  Pick your poison, but pick one (PA residents should feel free to invoke the state budget dilemma)!!
  3. Screen your calls.  This is a sticky wicket for me personally, because I don’t have a personal extension or voice mail.  I hate asking my colleagues to run interference for me and take messages, but the fact of the matter is this:  if you’re the vendor contact, and you take every single call that comes in for you, you will go stark raving mad in short order; in addition, you will never get anything else done.  If you can screen calls, do it!  If you can’t, talk to your boss and colleagues about what a good solution for your office might look like.
  4. Take calls when you can.  Vendors are human beings with a job to do, so you should treat them with the same respect you would ask for yourself.  That means actually taking their calls when you can.  If you aren’t interested in the product, see #2.  If you’re interested, but the timing isn’t right, say so, and suggest you talk again in X number of months, or next year, or next budget cycle. 
  5. Have FAQ information organized and ready.  Vendors often need to know certain things in order to quote us prices accurately.  Often this information includes population served, number of cardholders, city/county population, and/or number of public computers available.  Write these things on an index card and keep it handy.  That way you can make the most of your phone time by being prepared for questions.
  6. Be able to articulate specifically what your users want and need.  By the same token, there are certain things you’re looking for in a product.  Make a list of these and ask about them right away.  If the vendor cannot fulfill your needs, it’s better to find out right up front.  Then you can go straight to #2 for the polite “no.”
  7. Don’t take bad behavior personally.  Selling something for a living–and some folks are solely on commission–can really stink, especially during these economic times.  If you’re working with a vendor who dances clumsily, please try to remember that they did not get up this morning hell-bent on ruining your workday.  A vendor’s job is to sell you things.  That’s just how it is.  If their behavior bugs you, please go find a colleague to vent to, or watch a funny kittens video on YouTube, or make an ice cream run, or whatever will get you through the day.  Just don’t take it personally, because, quite frankly, it isn’t.

Dance Steps for Vendors

Dear library product vendors:  Your job is a tough one, and I know I wouldn’t do it very well, so I appreciate the hard work you do.  Here are some suggestions I would like to make that could improve our relationship all around, and make for better business transactions.

  1. Please don’t send me presents.  I don’t know you very well, and getting a gift from somebody I don’t know is a little awkward and doesn’t feel ethically correct.  On top of that, giving me a present is not likely to influence my purchase decisions, especially if your product isn’t what my patrons need right now.  I’d much rather the money you spent on presents went toward improving your product, and making sure all your employees get a fair wage.
  2. Please don’t call me 3 times in 30 minutes.  If I can’t take your call, it’s because I have another committment.  Working in a large public library is delightfully insane, and it doesn’t make for predictable phone availability.  Repeat calls in a short period of time doesn’t make me enthusiastic about your persistence or your product.  I know you’ve been burned on this one before, but I’d appreciate it if you could trust me.
  3. Please learn to spell and pronounce my name.  It’s a little tricky, I’ll grant you, but it’s not like they call me Chasmodeus Czyrwilmeninczky.  I accept that I’ll probably have to explain it once or twice.  Once we hit three times, however, it just seems like you’re not listening.
  4. Please don’t write me long, friendly e-mails full of chit-chat if we’ve just metIf I’ve contacted you for information, I’d like just that information.  I know that the current business emphasis on making the customer feel valuable has resulted in a lot of friendly gestures designed to make us feel comfortable with you as people.  A good working relationship, however, is built over time.  If I buy your product, and we work together a lot, a level of informality will grow naturally.  Being overly folksy right out of the gate is somewhat off-putting, however. 
  5. Please answer the questions we actually have.  I know you’re really proud of your product, and you want to tell me everything about how it’s going to change my life.  But if I have a question, I’d really like the answer to just that question, and not an explanation of all the other great things.  If I ask about a feature you don’t have, don’t tell me about the other four features you DO have.  If I have questions about those features, I will ask you.
  6. Please don’t take “no” personally.  If your product isn’t right for us, or we have to cancel your product due to budget cuts, or whatever reason we’re saying “no” at this time…it’s not personal.  You didn’t do anything wrong, per se, and you should take our “no” at face value.  Calling repeatedly to find out the “real” reason why we canceled is kind of stalkerish, and doesn’t inspire a change of heart.
  7. If we ask for a trial, please don’t offer us a live demo.  This is especially applicable to vendors who are just now discovering the library market, and don’t know public libraries or their users very well.  We want to get our hands on your product and playtest it against the realities we face every day.  Live demos can be interesting, but there isn’t always time in the day for them.  On top of that, a lot of time can be wasted in a live demo trying to get you to cut to the chase.  I know you’ve worked very hard on your presentation, but there are certain things we look for that only a good playtesting will assess accurately.  If we have questions, or want a live demo, we will ask for them.  Pinky swear.

Now, all of that being said?  I work with some really cool vendors.  I’m Facebook friends with one of our reps, and she’s been insanely helpful in terms of training, answering questions, tech support, etc.  She also understands the boundaries of our professional relationship and doesn’t feel the need to comment on every conversation I have.  There’s another vendor with whom I wish we were doing business (stupid PA budget) because she’s perfected the art of knowing how often to call to see if our situation has changed, and she’s clearly done her homework on public libraries because she knows what’s important to us and what’s not.  Doing the vendor dance doesn’t have to be a hair-pulling, migraine-headache inducing experience; it can be pleasant, cvil, calm, and–dare I say it?–even fun on occasion.   It only works, though, when we all strive to dance well.

As ever, I would like to hear your take on these things, and I’m open to other perspectives.  Do you work with vendors at your library?  How’s that working out for you?  Do you have any tips for an intermediate, still slightly clumsy, alchemist?

Oh, and I wasn’t kidding about the Docs or the dancing.  Might I suggest A Life Less Lived? To see if it would be your cup of tea, here’s a representative sample:

Happy dancing, and I’ll see you next week.

Stay Classy, Girlfiend: Keeping Your Cool in a Budget Crisis


Each day, some time each hour, brings change.
Dune, Frank Herbert

One of my favorite fallback chestnuts is Oscar Wilde’s oft-repeated epithet that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.  I tried to keep this in mind when I found out that my library’s funding crisis had made headlines at Library Journal.  On the one hand, it’s good to have our problems taken seriously by a national professional publication.  On the other hand, given what an amazing library we have, and how many amazing people are doing (wait for it) amazing things within its current limitations, it’s kind of a downer not to get press for all of those wonderful things instead.

A stellar example:  one of my peers, a man far too modest to ever speak up and tell anyone about this, is ranked SECOND in the ENTIRE STATE for number of questions answered on AskHere PA, the Pennsylvania virtual reference service.  Yes, that’s the same service some PA legislators want to cut from the budget entirely; my peer has answered thousands of questions for Pennsylvanians in need, and he’ll be number one any day now…if I don’t catch him first.  Nothing spurs excellence like a little friendly competition.   :)

But I digress.  For good or ill, the news is what it is.  And since so many other libraries are in the same boat (notably Omaha Public )I thought it might be useful to spend some time talking about coping strategies.  Everyone handles stress and uncertainty in their own way, but I think the potential wisdom library workers can glean from that venerable sage, Kenny Rogers, should not be underestimated:

Step 1:  Know When to Hold ‘Em

Your snarky comments, that is.  There’s a time and a place for snark, but when the pressure’s on and the future’s uncertain, do you really want to be the spark that touches off your problem patron’s bad behaviors, or your fragile co-worker’s last nerve?  Take an extra five seconds before you open your mouth, and apply the following criteria to everything you say:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it kind?
  • Is it the right moment?

These questions, otherwise known as the Four Gates of Speech, have been attributed to both Buddhist and Sufi thought; however, many religious and ethical platforms contain some variant of right speech, so hopefully asking yourself these questions isn’t too far out of your comfort zone.  And remember:  the life you save may be your own!

Part 2:  Know When to Fold ‘Em

This time we’re talking about your responsibilities.  During times of struggle, your workload can start to seem overwhelming.  Now is the time to talk to your colleagues, your boss, and your peers in other departments (or possibly other libraries) about how you can collaborate on projects and work together for the common good.  Start looking at ways you can work WITH and FOR each other to get things done.  One of the biggest pitfalls in a budget crisis is that people have a tendency to start freaking out over the unknown, and worrying about what’s going to happen to them personally.  If you put the focus back on the patrons, on making the best of a bad situation, on getting the job done, you minimize the individual freakouts.  Yes, socialism CAN be a good thing, if it’s in the interest of keeping your patrons happy, and your blood pressure down!

Part III:  Know When to Walk Away

From triggers, I mean.  Now more than ever you should be conscious of your weak points and be willing to ask for help.  If Mister So-And-So drives you absolutely nutty at the desk, DON’T try to help him – grab a peer.  If a co-worker just can’t let up with the doom and gloom, stop eating lunch when s/he does, or change your coffee run time so you don’t see each other as often.  You are probably never going to be able to change other people’s behaviors, so, for your own sanity, make the changes that will safeguard your weaknesses until you can transform them into strengths.

Part IV:  Know When to Run

For your boss, silly.  Maybe you’ve done everything right so far and you’re still having problems coping.  This is where your boss comes in.  Don’t be concerned about bothering her/him – they pay her/him the “big library bucks” to LEAD and MANAGE  you.  Listening to your concerns is part of that deal.  Stop by–or make an appointment, if s/he’s a touch more formal–and have a chat.  Express concerns.  Ask questions.  Blow off steam.  Have the humility to know when you need the wisdom and discernment a supervisor can provide.

If you absolutely positively feel you can’t talk to your boss?  Well, that’s a whole separate blog post – but don’t despair!  Surely there is somebody in your organization whom you trust?  Somebody who’s a model of leadership and kindness and humor and patience and win?  Make time to have coffee with that person.  Take a walk around the building.  Go out to lunch, get away from the office for a little while.  Speak, from your heart, about what’s going on with you and what you need to keep going.  And, it goes without saying, be willing to reciprocate for your peers if they should see you as a beacon of helpfulness.

One of my very first library bosses  taught me the most valuable coping philosophy I’ve ever heard.  “It’ll be fine,” she reassured me.  “And if it’s not fine, it’ll be over.”   The first time she said this, your alchemist–with her penchant for broody humor–laughed outright, because it’s true!  The only constant in life is change, and right now in library world that tendency’s been ramped up to the max.  When so much is out of your personal control, doesn’t it make sense to identify those things that are, and work ‘em to the best of your ability?

Oh, and that subject header?  Definitely not a typo.  Just today at the refdesk I fired off an emergency e-mail to a colleague, asking to be relieved 10 minutes early so I could get out of the hotseat.  The reference room was full, the waiting line for computers was four-deep, and terminals kept dropping out of the CybraryN queue.  Some poorly-behaved person walked off with a mouse, effectively taking a computer out of play while we waited for a replacement.  Other patrons chose to say unkind things, and I nearly burst into tears…but just being able to ask for help, and knowing there were people around to help me, helped me stay classy and get over the rough spot.

How are you coping with your library’s budget crisis?  Are you an optimist, a pessimist, a realist?  What’s helping you soldier on through?  I know you lot generally err on the side of comment-shy, but I hope just this once you’ll make an exception.

Re-entry. Also, character.


Re-entry

The work doesn’t stop just because you go to a conference!  Between catching up on what I’ve missed, and the inexorable forward progress of projects and meetings, I’ve been a busy bee – far too busy to blog. It’s been a great exercise in applying all those leadership lessons from EL. Quietly and subtly, of course. :)

Today, though, with my official ALA report complete and good progress made on most of my major projects, I can afford a quick end-of-day check-in.

The key item on which to report is that this is the last week of 23 Things ‘n @, and while we’ll have to wait a bit for the exit survey results, the comments on this week’s post are, for the most part, positive. Here are my gut instincts on what we could do differently next time to improve the learning experience:

  • Cap registration.  Following 250 blogs and trying to make sure everybody felt supported / listened to was pretty darned exhausting, even for four people as awesome as the members of Team Celery Stick.  Smaller cohorts would allow us to give people more individualized attention
  • Offer various “flavors” of “thing” for each skill level.  Example:  When talking about YouTube, have the absolute beginners FIND a video, have the fairly comfortable folks EMBED a video, and have the really advanced folks MAKE and POST a video.  No value judgments – just OPTIONS.  A lot of really highly-skilled people dropped out, and while the program sort of wasn’t aimed at them, we have a responsibility to make sure our advanced learners get even more opportunities to advance.
  • Recruit graduates of this cohort to help teach the next cohort – not only would this spread the work around, it would give graduates of the first cohort the chance to enhance their skills by passing them on.

Just some gut thoughts.  I’ll have survey results/excerpts for you soon, I hope.

Character

It’s funny how, sometimes, there’s a theme to everything you do in a particular week.  During this ALA re-entry period, the theme in my work life appears to be character.  Or maybe it’s just because, for professional reading, I’m knee-deep in The Speed of Trust. Whatever the case may be, I’ve been paying particular attention to situations where integrity and other elements of character have come up, and been more aware of my own actions.

You’ll pardon me if that sounds cryptic.  There’s nothing specific I can put my finger on – I’m just noticing these things more – again, possibly an aftereffect of Emerging Leaders.  There seem to be a hundred thousand opportunities to demonstrate character/integrity at work, every day, especially during challenging economic times.

The Pennsylvania legislature, for example, continues to astound me with its blatant disregard for electronic resources.  Yesterday they passed a version of H.B. 1416, the most recent budget proposal, that completely eliminates funding for AskHere PA and the Pennsylvania POWER library.  Although it would be easy to hit the ceiling and break out the pitchforks and torches, I am determined to remain classy.  Ergo, rather than begin any partisan mudslinging, I’ll simply let you compare all the budget proposals on hand and draw your own conclusions. Needless to say, if this version of the budget ultimately triumphs, it’s a huge blow to library service in PA…and it drives me crazy that electronic resources are seen as “extras” or “pork” in the budget, when they’re actually a lifeline to thousands of people statewide.

But it’s not just the big issues; character is revealed in the little things, too. It’s in the way we talk to our colleagues, the way we share (or don’t share) information, the way we seek (or don’t) for win-win solutions. Everything that comes up in a day is grist for the mill, an opportunity to be classy or not so much.

And here’s the kicker: how do you choose to behave when there won’t necessarily be a reward for good behavior? Salary freezes and benefit cuts are the new normal, so it’s not like there’s a financial incentive to behave with integrity. If you take away the monetary rewards, and the future looks uncertain, what’s your motivation to show up, do a good job, treat your colleagues fairly, etc.?

As ever, I have no answers. I simply ask prickly questions! Some people have religious beliefs to guide their choices. Others have personal codes of morals or ethics that aren’t necessarily grounded in a higher power. What criteria shape your choices? What does it mean to you to be a librarian with integrity?

On a slightly more fun closing note, I now have 1/2 an intern to help me with my tasks! I say “1/2″ because she’ll be splitting her time with me and someone in another department. She’ll be here until the end of August, and she’s already been a huge help to me today – finished mailing out those Mango bookmarks, started weeding our LibraryThing account, and got a crash course in collection development with some catalogs I brought back from ALA (independent publishers, mostly).

From a leadership point of view, having an intern is fun-scary – I had to do a lot of planning to make sure she’d have things to do, and I want to be conscious of her having a good, well-rounded library experience (and not just do all the LAV scutwork – not ethical!). But it’s mostly a great opportunity to model the profession for somebody who is actually studying something else, and not necessarily going on to be a librarian.

So, I’ll probably have more to say about that as the month goes by. For now, though, I’m bound and determined not to blog until I get caught up on these darned EREC oommittee meeting minutes. We are now two meetings behind, and it’s not fair to blog when I’ve got actual accountability things to finish. What an incentive to be done, though!

Oh, and once it’s published, I have a thing or two to say about the last book review I wrote, and about book reviewing in general. You’ll see why…..

Another Luminary Leader Passes


A colleague passed the word that E. J. Josey had left us, and everything else I was going to say seems a little insignificant.

That’s normal, I think. We pause for a moment out of respect for somebody who accomplished a great deal for the library profession. Please note that words used to describe Dr. Josey and his work include:

disrupted
noisily
activist
militant
challenged
angry

Those are words that have negative connotations, but the fact of the matter is, it’s how they’re applied that counts. Dr. Josey wasn’t angry, for example, for the sake of being angry, or to hurt anyone. He was angry about injustice, and he took his anger and used it to further the cause of what he felt was right. That’s what made him a leader.

Leaders do things. At the ALA level, they write resolutions and start roundtables. At other levels, they teach, or they manage, or staff the refdesk, or create budgets. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they speak, and when they do speak, it is both loudly and with passion. They aren’t afraid to make waves, and they certainly don’t care about popularity contests.

The kicker is, doing is hard. Talking is easy, and complaining is the subset of talking that’s easiest of all (right next to gossiping and backbiting). What kind of librarian do you want to be? The kind who complains a lot, and talks smack on other librarians? Or the kind who does things?

Rest in peace, Dr. Josey, and thank you for everything, from the written body of your work to the example you left behind.

Donations to The E.J. Josey Foundation for Justice and Peace can be sent to 526 West Second Street, Washington, NC 27889. Please consider making a contribution, if you can.

When next we speak, I’ll be writing from ALA, so it’s anyone’s guess what will capture my fancy, though I suspect it will be very EL-heavy.

Irony is not good for the librarian’s blood.


It seems to me that if you’re stealing a book on religion, you have completely missed the point of that religion, whatever it may be. No religions of which I am aware condone stealing.

Stealing library books in tough times? Not cool. And even the irony factor inherent in stealing a spiritual book is not enough to redeem said act.

This somewhat snarky comment on ethics brought to you by a long and challenging week. I recognize that people are not always going to behave the way I’d like them to, but I do reserve the right to feel tired and sad about it.

Tech Playground Videos. Also, resiliency.


If you’d like to see some of the footage we shot at the Technology Playground program, check out the CLP YouTube channel. The wizards in our Communication and Creative Services department are going to edit footage from these into one longer video, to show our legislators just how much of an impact the library has on Pittsburghers’ lives.

If you’re pressed for time, try just watching this one. It’s my favorite because it’s short and poignant:

In other news, t’s nearly 5 p.m., which is the time of day when I, as a morning person, have long since scaled the top of BrokeBrain Mountain and am once again contemplating goatherding for a living. So I reread Beth M.’s wonderful slideshow on resiliency, and got some much-needed fortification. Honesty forces me to admit that I also got a cup of coffee and a chocolate peanut-butter brownie from our cafe on the ground floor, but you go with what works. :)

But, I digress: I don’t think we can talk about resiliency enough, because–and I fear I’m starting to repeat myself, or enter a recursive loop, or something–public service is hard, hard work. And yet, it’s not something we talk about much in library world. I’m not sure why.

Of course, occasionally people do. In a conversation taking place elsewhere in the blogosphere, concerning librarians who talk smack about their patrons online, a commenter who identifies simply as “Sarah” has this to say:

The actual underlying problem here, the big elephant in the profession is that public service is becoming increasingly more stressful and the divide between those who do it on a regular basis and those who don’t is becoming increasingly wider (just like the wage gap). The profession isn’t dealing with it but instead issues statements, documents, and all sorts of meaningless stuff castigating those who supposedly can’t deal with “change”. People will talk, and vent, period. If they don’t have any constructive help in dealing with the stress, and if there isn’t respectful two-way communication, and if they are crapped on for their public service skills by those who don’t want to realize that there are also INTERNAL customers to be served, then this will just continue. Most people don’t get pats on the back for being “so 2.0″ when they are doing their job, over and over again. How about making sure that public service people have the resources they need to do their jobs – after all, they are customers of library management. Would they take their business elsewhere if they could? So instead of getting all snotty about “negative energy” and customer service, how about cross-training yourselves to ensure that public service people can get off desk and take vacations? How about designing jobs which are 50/50? I’ve had an offer out for 25 years that, if anyone has a problem with my public service skills, they can do my job for a week and I can watch and take notes on how a REAL professional does it. Nobody has yet taken me up on my offer.

I wish Sarah had included an e-mail address, so I could thank her personally for her honesty and bravery. It’s not cool to snark about patrons online, anonymously or otherwise, if only because everybody really is always doing the best they can. However, it is also decidedly not cool for us as professionals to turn on each other during these horribly stressful times when we all need each other more than ever. Librarians should be helping each other out, supporting each other, not taking each other to task in their blogs.

My opinions on this matter are heavily colored by the recent news of Pennsylvania Senate Bill 850, which pretty much ambushes library service in a dark alley, takes its wallet and credit cards, and then beats the living snot out of it. You can read the specifics here, but the paragraph that made me sick to my stomach was this one:

Library programs under S.B. 850 are hit hard. The Public Library Subsidy would be cut 50% to $37 million. The Library Access line (POWER Library, statewide borrowing, interlibrary delivery) would cease operations as this year’s $7 million appropriation would drop to zero. The Electronic Library Catalog (Ask Here PA, Access PA database) would have only $1.7 million next year compared to this year’s total of $3.7 million. Funding for the State Library (50% cut to $2.4 million) and Library Services for the Visually Impaired and Disabled (2% cut to $2.9 million) are the same in both the Governor‘s proposal
and the Senate Republican bill.

Emphasis mine. These are only possibilities, but terrifying ones.

So, resiliency and professional courtesy become more important than ever now. If we do not hang together, well…you know how it goes. Here’s hoping we can all look past our own cares and worries for a few moments and take time to check in on our peers, see if they need a sympathetic ear, a cup of tea, a walk around the building for a private vent session…

Tomorrow and Friday are kind of eaten up with NetLibrary trainings and preparation for a presentation I’m giving next week. I’ve been so busy, I’ve been forced to delegate my next Eleventh Stack post to one of my cats. Those of you who know my cats won’t be too surprised to learn it’s the Smoky grey one who will be doing the guest honors. :)

More next week, probably. Until then, keep the faith…

Power, Love, Libraries


Sometimes it’s easier to catch up on professional reading when it’s professional listening – that way my hands and brain can be engaged at the same time.  Of course, sometimes what you hear stops you dead in your tracks, which is what happened to me while I was listening to Agents for Change in a Complex World, a production of the Urban Libraries Council.  The second speaker, Adam Kahane, gave an electrifying presentation on power and love that, if considered carefully, can help us all build better libraries.

Kahane’s rhetorical framework draws heavily on Martin Luther King Jr.’s belief that “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”  He cites a few other thinkers in the same vein, but the bottom line is that without a balance between these two forces, we can’t create successful ways of being in the world  The bottom line?  Here’s the money quote:

We have to learn to speak fluently two paradoxically different languages:  the language of power and the language of love.

There was more, but that’s what knocked me out, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Let’s take power, for example.  In tough economic times, when it seems like so much is out of our control, power starts to seem like something other people have (specifically people who are one degree, title, or administrative rank above yours).  It’s a challenge to step up to the plate and realize how much power you actually do have.  Being able to execute that power lovingly is the sour cherry on top.

But it’s not all hopeless, if you really do have the love for libraries.  In fact, I would argue that, for most librarians, the problem is a surfeit of love, and not enough belief in one’s own personal power.  We love people and want to serve them.  It’s why so many of us chose library work in the first place.  We didn’t want to buy, sell or process anything, but we weren’t cut out to be professional kickboxers.  Corporate America wasn’t going to cut it.  We wanted a profession where we could make a difference, and do something that mattered.

Along the way, however, this sort of got twisted into the notion that loving our patrons means giving them whatever they want, and never saying no.  True love, however, means being able to set good boundaries, and if we love our patrons as much as we say we do, we need to be able to set limits and say no.  No, you can’t have your computer time extended – there is a line of people waiting to use the resources.  No, you cannot borrow that reference book – we need to make it available for everybody who wants to come and see it.  No, you may not take your cellphone calls in here – this is an area for people who want to read and study quietly.  No, you cannot have coffee in this particular room – this is where we keep the expensive, fragile materials.  In other words, library love is not always about satisfying the whims of the individual patron:  it’s about taking into consideration what’s best for the entire community, and communicating that in a respectful, non-adversarial fashion.

Before anybody bites my head off, I’d like to point out that this particular  door swings both ways.  No, I won’t ask those teens to quiet down / leave the library – this space is set aside for them and their unique needs.   No, I don’t think it’s horrible that there’s food in the library:  the first floor is a place for people to eat and socialize while they read.  No, I won’t remove that graphic novel / video game from the collection – we buy materials to suit all needs and itnerests at the library.  No, I won’t let you cut in line for the computers because you’re working on a paper and that guy wants to edit his MySpace account – everybody gets computer service, regardless of how they choose to use our equipment, and you’ll have to wait your turn.

I’m not sure if that’s the sort of thing Kahane was driving at, but that’s what I took away from his presentation.  I think it’s wonderful that the Urban Library Council invited a speaker who deal  with larger, philosophical issues to come in and give a presentation.  And I know I’ll be ordering Kahane’s writings via ILL, so that I can learn and think about this sort of thing more.

Any thoughts on power and love in libraries?  I’d love to know what you think….

Emergence, evolving. Also, opportunities to learn and grow.


Day three of the Midwinter whirlwind continues!  Truly, the best January 25th ever.  Here’s why:

Emerging Leaders Subcommittee

Can you tell how much I believe in this program?  I attended the subcommittee meeting because, having benefited from Emerging Leaders, I’d like to pay it forward on all levels.  I’ll be writing a report for RK, obviously, and vague plans are afoot with some of the PA ELs to offer our experiences to the PaLA folks planning the state leadership program.   But helping at the ALA level would be an immediate way to give back, so I screwed my courage to the sticking place and went to the meeting.

It was made of awesome.  Why?  Because one of the first things that was decided was that, starting in 2010, the Emerging Leaders program will be open to library workers who do not hold an MLIS.  This is a huge step toward diversifying the profession, I think – everyone can be a leader, even if a decision about the degree hasn’t been made yet!  Some people can emerge just fine on their own, but others need the structure and the push, and that support should be available to everybody.  Who knows?  It could be just the encouragement a person needs to go GET the MLIS.  But if not, that’s okay too.

Don’t think I won’t be coming after certain members of my reading audience and “strongly suggesting” they apply.  She said, not looking at any two people in particular (IY and RA).

At any rate, watching meeting procedure one more time was very instructive for me in my ongoing efforts to get better at meeting dynamics.  And being present with people who really want to see library workers succeed inspires me to go home and be a leader, albeit in my own quirky fashion.  Remember when I said I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do next with my career?  I not only have a much clearer picture now, but a better roadmap for how to get there.

LITA BIGWIG Interest Group

Blogs, wikis?  I’m interested!  I was also mistaken, but in a very good way.  The group has actually evolved beyond its initial purpose, and does a lot of cool things I wasn’t aware of.  So I did what you do when you’re a stranger in a strange land:  I listened, and learned.  A lot.  The group is made up of smart, passionate people who have big ideas, the group hierarchy is flexible, and they make it really easy to get involved – check out Your BIGWIG for more details.

Listening to the discussion, though, made me conscious of how much I have to learn, and reminded me that if I’m feeling uneasy about the learning curve, some of our patrons and colleagues must be completely mystified. Ergo, I’m finally ready to take that tech-bodhisattva vow: we’re all going to the brave new world together, or I’m not coming. :)

Speaking of Opportunities…

Those of you who have been to conferences before know that sometimes the best opportunities for growth and development come in the gaps of unscheduled time when you serendipitously meet people.  The whirlwind of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and coffees with both new friends and old has reminded me more than once these past few days of an Edith Wharton novel, in a very good way.

If you’re smart, I think, you learn a little something from everybody you come in contact with, from the person who serves your coffee to the committee chair in a field wildly different from yours who ends up sharing a table with you in the convention center causeway.  It’s really easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of your job and not see the bigger picture.  Every single person I’ve talked to so far has helped me renew my committment to library work, and am ready to come home and communicate that excitement through concrete action, knowing that I’m part of something larger than my own library, something that can help me help my peers make the library better.  I win, my colleagues win, patrons win, everybody wins.

But we’re not done just yet.  Another report tomorrow night, if I can.

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