Friday, December 01, 2006

Fix-it Friday: Too Much Success

There is such a thing as too much success. It typically comes when all of your plans have succeeded. You did your strategic plan. It worked! You are getting all these new people getting library cards, checking out materials, using computers, using the library, and talking about how great it is!

Unlike a business, a public library, or any government entity, will experience a gap in service, between the success and the money. You realize that you are really successful, but then you realize you don't have the space, the computers, the collections, or the staff to sustain it.

You must trust that your library will receive the rewards of the success. Hit all of your budgetary authority, general public, and key figures with everything you have measuring the great success, especially when that success is in an area dear to some of those stakeholders. It will not always happen. When it does, it is great! When it doesn't, it makes staff very frustrated. Trust the system, because by denying a successful library, they are denying what their community wants. I have read it over and over again, about communities with no libraries, who demand it. One can see it in areas like Johnson Ranch, Goodyear, El Mirage, and Mesa, Arizona. There will always be a demand for library services, but never enough to go around. Things will turn around; one must always be vigilant to stand one's ground, to get what the community wants.

Here are some tips to make your library a priority in your community:

1. Find out what your budgetary authority prioritizes (Whether that authority is City Council, County Supervisor, Dean, whomever.) Anything they could possibly prioritize is an aspect of library services: education, economic development, workforce development, small business assistance, literacy, technology, fiscal responsibility, can all be demonstrated library impacts.

2. Create a Strategic Plan to help you find out not only the budgetary authority's priorities, but the community's priorities. You find that most of the priorities are the same. The more people you get, the more voice the library will have in the community.

3. Get advocates- sure you need more money, space, staff, and resources, but you it will always be you who asks. You need to get other people to ask as well. A request from the President of the Chamber of Commerce will go father than yours in many cases. (Plus the budget authority will see that person more often, making it harder to say no to them.)

4. Demonstrate impact in any which way you can. Typically, you need to send in reports, or demonstrate some sort of progress on library services. This may be the only time you can demonstrate the impact of library services. Make it clear, clean, and precise. Try to use as little data as possible. (Of course I don't always follow that, but the eyes of non-library people will glaze over if you don't.) The human impact is more powerful than data alone.

5. Advocate- Indoctrinate patrons, your staff, anyone who will stand still for five minutes. Every conversation is a segway to a conversation on the need of library services, even with those who have a complaint (especially a complaint).

6. Be flexible with your services. When we did our strategic plan, we didn't get any new staff or resources, but we were able to prioritize services and re-allocate staff to those needs. With some staff training, you can create adult literacy programs, teen programs, lifelong learning, and technology programs.

7. Find the need and make it public. When you see a huge need that you are servicing, make sure everybody knows about it. Contact the local newspaper, other new organizations, talk to community leaders, important people, and make sure no one turns around in your community without seeing it.

8. Market your library services, create email lists, rss feeds, podcasts, a running library news section in your local newspaper, magazine, and anything else that will reproduce print or talk to your audience. If something new happens at the library, EVERYONE should know about it. When our library broke 20,000 circulations in one month for the first time, we found the person who checked out the 20,000th book, gave her a goodie bag of library items, called the local newspaper photographer, and the picture was in the paper.

9. Engage the community- Put your services in your patrons' hands. Electronically or physically, they need a reminder that you are there and to know where they can find you. Outreach programs, books by mail, bookmobile, just get out and about and let them know you are there. They can perform their genealogy research from home by going to your website. They can repair their vehicles with the library's help, or learn a new language. Find services that will blow their minds. I will always remember something David Keeber, Director of the Sedona Public Library, told me, "People need to wake up and see the library like Mecca. How do we connect today?"

10. Thank them for their patronage. Our community passed a bond and we thanked them in the library's weekly news bulletin, in the newspaper, via email, and the website. The best signs I have seen are for the Chandler High School Bond. They placed signs advertising "Vote Yes" for the bond, and then when the bond passed, they placed a thank you sign on all of those signs. That makes you feel warm and fuzzy. It feels more personal.

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