Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Straight Talk Panel at CLA 2012 #calibconf

Straight Talk: The Directors Speak featured five prominent directors whose contributions to our profession are quite substantial. The program was sponsored by the Management Interest Group, and was presented at the California Library Association Annual Conference in San Jose. I was honored to moderate the panel, and excited to assist in providing such a valuable program. It’s inspiring to gather a group of some of the best minds in the library world to hear them talk about their experience as directors and their views on where we are headed as a profession. As busy as this group is, I was amazed that they so readily agreed to serve on this panel. The panel members are Librarian of the Year winners, library management school instructors, and Eureka program mentors, in addition to being inspiring library directors.

Luis Herrera, San Francisco Public Library Director; Rivkah Sass, Sacramento Public Library Director; Patty Wong, Yolo County Library Director; Brian Reynolds, San Luis Obispo County Library Director; and Robert Karatsu, Rancho Cucamonga Library Director, sat down with me to talk shop. The California Library Association Management Interest Group and I gathered questions to ask. The responses were insightful, inspiring, and surprising. It takes a lot to be a library director, and even more to be an inspiration to others.

I asked them five questions:

  1. What made you choose the path to become a director?

  1. What has surprised you about being a director?

  1. If you could give someone just coming out of library school one piece of advice what would it be? Keeping in mind that this might affect the path they choose to take.

  1. Given the current trends in technology and funding, where do you think libraries will be in 5 years?

  1. What are some of the most important lessons you have learned as a director?

The Responses
No blog post could possibly compare with having been a member of the audience. For those of you who were not able to attend, here are some of the notes that I gathered as they were speaking. Some of it of course may have been shortened and/or paraphrased. Organized by speaker, from left to right.

Luis Herrera, San Francisco Public Library Director
Organizational citizenship behavior: you are an ambassador to the organization. You contribute to the health of the organization. It's about creating a stronger and healthier organization. You are responsible beyond your job. If we are going to thrive, we need to blur our organizational lines. 

We can identify trends to prepare us for the future. The publishing industry will be a big impact on libraries. It also hinges on the consumer. We need to be part of that trend to be part of the future. Staff need to plan programs. Not just what has happened, but something entirely new. E-learning is a great idea working with vendors. Lifelong learning: libraries will be people's university. We are facilitators of learning. Collection management is going to be our one biggest concern. How do we balance media vs. print. We need to be storytellers. 

Political nature of the job- once you accept that you will do a much better job. 60% of the job is dealing with politics. You can broaden the political environment if you do not personalize it. Don't take it personal. You want to be liked, but it is part of a process to believe in what you are doing. You will not please everyone. High tolerance for change. Tolerance for ambiguity. Top down library management is out. Need a bottom up approach. Suggestions coming from the staff can be more accepted than it came from top down. Culture of engagement.

Brian Reynolds, San Luis Obispo County Library Director
You become a really big pebble. What you do or don't do matters. It affects everyone. Need to be compassionate and common-sensical. People are relying on you to be steady. Do you have what it takes to deal with difficult people and stay sane? You have to have that. 

We serve too small of a community. We only serve a small part very well. Need to convince half of the population that we matter. Not to look at just libraries, but also look towards the community.

Acquire and attain good staff. Create working additions that provide that environment. Don't let people know you are doing that. It is a political minefield over time. To improve morale, better to go after the bad staff rather than praise the high achiever. You have to be willing to fix it. 

Rivkah Sass, Sacramento Public Library Director
It's okay to make mistakes. We'll only get better if we make mistakes and own up to them. When you make a mistake, know how to fix it. Admit your mistakes. There are people who will not like you.  She used the Winston Churchill quote, "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."

Directors need to be optimistic about libraries. Well-educated community members over 50 are coming in running our programs as volunteers. Embedded community inside our libraries helping us solve community problems. Libraries that will thrive will not be wallpaper. Use our community in ways we never thought of before. It's the talent and skills that our community will give to us. Eureka program is a great harvester of our future. Convergence of community technology and people, with the library as the nexus. The library is the place that will help them learn what they want to learn.

Everyone has a set of strengths. Don't be afraid to hire someone with a skill set that you don't have. Different skill sets make a whole.

Patty Wong, Yolo County Library Director
The Director job is very unstructured. Need to go beyond the MLS. Getting it and being done is not ok. You need to be continually learning. Continue to grow. Need to make connections outside of libraries. Build community through others. You are responsible for your own growth. Go make the world a better place.

Need to be relevant with our own funding. Can't rely on the same resources that we have always relied upon. Find new sources of revenue and new partnerships. Work with local government organizations. Need to be stronger advocates for our diversity in funding. We can influence policy as a neutral organization. Access to information cannot be just through the smart phone. Internet Access is not as universal as we think it is. Libraries need to be at the forefront. Abundance thinking, not scarcity thinking. 

Directors can have same level of importance as politicians and other government officials. You are that important. It's important to know where your money comes from. Leave your ego at the door. You need to have partnering skills. Surround yourself with people who know more than you do. Team building support is necessary. You just need one more person to stand next to you and you have a team. Bridge builders! 

Robert Karatsu, Rancho Cucamonga Library Director
You are ultimately responsible for everything.
Be creative, do new things. Start a program and then let others borrow.   
We can't get in front of the technology. We can't predict the future. Find the right path. 

Libraries are not silos. We need to create relationships. There are always opportunities to partner with other organizations. As Library Director, he is part of the Emergency Operations Center because librarians have those crisis skill sets.