Thursday, December 26, 2013

More Straight Talk #clanoise

I recently wrote an article for the California Library Association Management Interest Group Newsletter LEAD covering the program that I moderated at this year's annual conference. I'm posting it below.

More Straight Talk by Jeff Scott, County Librarian, Tulare County Library

I had the honor to host another Straight Talk program with some of the best library minds in the state, Directors: Jose Aponte of San Diego County Library, Julie Farnsworth of Pleasanton Public Library, Robert Karatsu of Rancho Cucamonga Public Library, Jan Sanders of Pasadena Public Library, and Rivkah Sass of Sacramento Public Library, were captivating as they discussed the trials and tribulation of today's modern library director.

I really enjoy putting this program together. Library directors are always so willing to tell their story and to help others. Often, people can be too intimidated by directors, particularly with a group as prestigious as this one. However, they are all incredibly down-to-earth and willing to help. My thought behind providing this program was that I hoped it would not only inspire those new to the profession, but would also demonstrate how human these directors are; they started out just like everyone else. I gathered some notes from the program which were particularly poignant for me.

Don’t Follow the Crowd

In their own way, each director had advice on being innovative. Jose Aponte said it was important to look outside of the profession, in some cases getting out of the profession for a time to gain perspective. It leads to a different outlook and attitude when coming back. Robert Karatsu said that the only way to know the future is to change it. If we follow everyone else, we will always fall behind; by taking our own path we can create something new. Julie Farnsworth said that those drawn into being a director must possess a heart-pounding drive to do good things. All members of the group reminded us that politics make strange bedfellows. In order to get things done you have to look to the people to make alliances with and put party politics aside.

Say Yes

It's important to look for opportunities, be willing to say yes, and build a culture of the same, according to Rivkah Sass. It‟s important to be fearless and be willing to move backwards or sideways in a career in order to make the big leaps forward. I particularly liked Jan Sanders point when she said, “Dragons be damned” emphasizing the importance of pushing through despite heavy opposition. Robert Karatsu further expanded on this by suggesting it is important to stir things up.

One is the Loneliest Number

All of the directors reminded us that it can be very lonely at the top. It's important to know oneself since the ego will be often bruised. One of the most frustrating things, brought up by Julie and Jan, was how the slightest phrase can be taken out of context and twisted. Rivkah had the best comments on the topic stating that words can be twisted, making you out to be a monster. It's important to have a trusted circle. It's also important to be a good poker player.

The real point of this program for me is to allow library directors to speak directly and honestly about how they got where they are, what others can do to be successful, and where the profession is going. While others may panic during budget cuts and a changing climate, these directors have seen it all. The benefit of this experience can be very calming for those new to the profession or experiencing tough times for the first time. I always appreciate their honesty. Even with the same questions, each time it takes a different tack, the less formal the better. Straight Talk is a straight answer about the library field, past, present, and future.

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