Administration, Management, and Finance

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich discusses resilience, subject of ALA’s Center for the Future of Libraries' book

Formally launched in 2014, ALA’s Center for the Future of Libraries works to identify emerging trends relevant to libraries and the communities they serve, promote futuring and innovation techniques to help librarians and library professionals shape their future, and build connections with experts and innovative thinkers to help libraries address emerging issues.

Resilience by Rebekkah Smith Aldrich has just been published in the new Library Futures series, presented by ALA Neal-Schuman in partnership with the Center. At the 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Denver, Miguel A. Figueroa, the Center's director, interviewed Aldrich about her work and the new book. What follows is a transcript of their conversation, edited for clarity.

Miguel A. Figueroa, Director, Center for the Future of Libraries: One of the trends that our Sustainability Round Table and some of our other advocates in the profession really encouraged us to explore was this idea of resilience. Resilience was first explained to me at a civic innovation summit. And I remember the Miguel A. Figueroa, Director, Center for the Future of Libraries, and author Rebekkah Smith Aldrichperson who was talking to me about it, he said that it was really about equipping and informing communities so that they could talk about how they can be responsive to changes in their community. Whether it's environmental changes or economic changes, or political discord, or any number of things. And the more that he spoke to me, the more I realized that it has everything to do with information and communities coming together and how we empower people to make better decisions in their lives. And that's fundamental to what libraries do. So I'd love to hear from you, Rebekkah, how you've become more interested in resilience and how it's transformed some of your library practice and what you think of its long-term importance to libraries.

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich: I work for the Mid-Hudson Library System, and a big part of the work I was doing about 10 years ago was helping libraries to build new buildings. I was frustrated that we weren't building more resilient and sustainable buildings. I would go in to talk to boards and I'd ask, “Why aren't you using LEED?” And they'd say, “That's too expensive.” I said to myself, I have to learn how to make the case for this.

So I started to educate myself and I ended up going to the United States Green Building Council's conference, Greenbuild. I got to hear Alex Wilson, who's the editor of Environmental Building News. It’s a little niche publication, but he had started a new thinktank called the Resilient Design Institute and he was really focused on how to build for resilience. But when I started to learn the ten principles of building for resilience, the ninth one really stood out to me, which is that when you build, you have to respect social equity and community. And that's when the light bulb went off because that's what libraries do. That's us right there. That's our sweet spot. What I really came to learn over time is, you have educated guesses of what might be coming your way in terms of disruption, whether it be economic, environmental, political, social, technological, but you can’t know the specifics of it. So the best preparation you can have is a community that knows each other, respects each other, and has empathy for one another. Because then in the right moment we can come together and find shared solutions. So that proactive role that libraries can play to bring people together and help them understand their neighbors, that's the most valuable thing we can bring to any of the disruption that arises within this world.

Libraries are perfectly and uniquely positioned to do that work. But I wasn't seeing us owning that in that space. It’s kind of like, libraries get called in after the fact. After the river floods, after there's an economic downturn, then libraries, all of a sudden, are thought of. But really libraries should be part of planning for the future in those respects. George Needham has this great observation, he says that libraries aren't first responders, but we're first restorers. But in reality, if we're not part of the conversation in the beginning, we're a couple book cover for Resiliencesteps behind. Libraries can help to give a voice and a platform to some of the more vulnerable residents during resilience planning. Those who are vulnerable, from a socioeconomic standpoint, are more at risk in the face of the disasters a community may face. Vulnerability in the midst of an environmental disruption could mean life or death. Libraries that create a tighter social fabric are actually saving people's lives. Particularly as we're thinking about the extreme weather we’re going to be living with in the future.

So, when I think about the profession, we're really good at the social equity stuff and we're pretty good with the economic feasibility stuff. But environmental stewardship, we aren't really as up to speed as we should be. That's where I focus a lot of my work, understanding how libraries can be a better leader on the topic of sustainability and resilience. And to really own the idea of being a catalyst for change and be proactive about it.

Miguel A. Figueroa: You mentioned that ninth issue, that connection to equity. Sometimes it's really easy for us to think, oh, well this is one more thing for me to do. But the way you framed it, it kind of fits into why so many of us got into this profession. It is core to our values. It's core to the profession’s values, but also our roles as helpers. Our roles in believing in the power of communities. So how does that help people reframe the idea: it's not just one more thing to do, it's one more way to do what we've always been doing, but to do it in a better way?

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich: I would say, you know, we’re not just educators for education's sake. Not to get all existential or “What's the point of it all?” But really for me it comes down to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Like if we're not contributing to that, what's the point? It's not just about students’ scores on the tests or someone's ability to get a job. It's really about the quality of life they have in the aftermath of those achievements. We need to keep what matters in focus. The core values of librarianship fit right into this. When you talk about access to information to make better decisions for us all, and leaders who can lead us in a direction that's going to be better for us all, that starts at the beginning. It runs through the spectrum of library services. When you take a look at lifelong learning, social responsibility, the public good, all of that is tied to the health and well-being of the people that we serve.

So as you said, we're a helping profession. I always think of the Mr. Rogers quote, in times of distress, look around for the helpers. And that's where people find hope and that’s why libraries are so perfect for this moment in time, right here, right now. We don't get the recognition we deserve in that area. Because we really do come through for people. They really do find us in those hard times. But you know, the trust we build during the quiet time is really the most valuable thing we bring to the table. Where people trust us. We’re an asset you need in the face of disruption when you're not sure who to trust, when things have gone south on a variety of topics, whether it be politics or economics or the environment, libraries come through. Librarians, we always joke around that we're superheroes, but I think it's more true than ever today.

Miguel A. Figueroa: When I look at these trends and how we can stitch them together with our values, librarians are going to be very well acquainted for thinking about the future. Because we have guiding values that adapt to these trends and changes and we know how to utilize them for the future. Thanks so much for talking with me and for advancing the issue of resilience and sustainability in the profession.

Learn more at the ALA Store. The next book being published in the Library Futures series, Anonymity, is available for pre-order. 

logo for Center for the Future of Libraries

How can libraries transform and thrive? Dorothy Stoltz and James Kelly on successful collaboration

How does a library amplify the skills and enthusiasm of its staff while also identifying what the community wants? In their new book Transform and Thrive: Ideas to Invigorate Your Library and Your Community, Dorothy Stoltz and her coauthors Gail Griffith, James Kelly, Muffie Smith, and Lynn Wheeler argue that adhering to a handful of straightforward principles will point the way forward. We spoke with Stoltz, director for community engagement at the Carroll County (MD) Public Library, and Kelly, library director of Frederick Public Libraries (MD), about their prescriptions for library success.

How did the book come together?  What was your starting point?

Dorothy Stoltz: People inside and outside the profession ponder whether libraries are on the verge of becoming extinct.  My experiences at Carroll County Public Library and observations of many other libraries demonstrate the opposite result. However, not all librarians are awake to the kinds of tenets that can nearly guarantee long-term success.  I wanted to pull together a team of colleagues who promote and activate a strong, thriving relationship between their library and their community. The starting point was to write a book that debunks the notion that libraries are coming to an end. A library is not just a wonderful resource, but also a crucial component in any community that values the talents of its individual residents.  A library can thrive only if the community as a whole thrives.  If a community is declining, its library may well be declining, too. Yet the library can be a source for reinvigoration, if it can inspire its citizens. 

James Kelly: Dorothy was part of some truly inspiring work that was taking place at Carroll County Public Library and she was starting to note some trends in libraries across the state of Maryland and nationwide. She invited co-authors to consider questions about our own practice and to share examples. In this way, the book started to take shape.

What are some positive examples from the book of library leaders who have found ways to set the right tone for library staff?

DS: A great exponent of a thriving community was Benjamin Franklin – one of my library heroes – who sought to bring out the best in himself and in others in order to improve the community. Today, we have library leaders such as Felton Thomas, Cleveland Public Library director, who practices the golden rule by treasuring the people he serves and thus discovering that they – no matter their walk of life – in turn use and support CPL. Brian Bannon, commissioner of Chicago Public Library, practices how to make room for creativity and apply enthusiasm through experimentation and patience – striving to help uplift the community a day at a time, a person at a time. This is where Franklin is such a wonderful role model.  This book is something of a wakeup call, to be applied in different ways in different communities, but always with the idea of transformation. Imagine Plato being called in to rescue a library from dullness. What would he do?  Perhaps the library should be declared a “no dullness zone.”

JK: I think the conversation in chapter two about the importance of values is critical for library leaders who want to undertake culture change in their organizations. Strategic plans are important, but they are short term and concerned only with “what we do.” More important than the “what” in my opinion is naming the “how.” Values set the expectation we have for ourselves and for our teams, for the experience we want our internal and external customers to have, for how we will interact with our community partners. Naming and committing to those values is a powerful exercise. Hiring with those values in mind is the quickest way to affect culture change. Values are also the bar to which leadership should hold themselves accountable. As a piano in the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimoreleaders, if we live these values, staff see that and that helps us set the tone. If we name those values, but conduct ourselves counter to those values, staff will see it and we erode morale and trust.    

Can you offer a few tips for leading a productive brainstorming session?

DS: Brainstorming is often used to generate a list of ways to solve a problem with the hope to find one workable solution. It may be helpful to up the ante by viewing brainstorming as an act of creativity. Human creativity is not confined to artists, musicians, writers, or inventors. Creative thinking is about challenging our assumptions. It’s important to note that many of us may think of “challenge” as criticism, when it is actually constructive help.  In conducting a brainstorming session, you might consider discussion prompts, such as, how many alternate ways of thinking can be generated?  And, after a promising answer appears, keep asking, “What is possible?” Anyone who enriches a discussion or conversation with wisdom, respect, and dignity is creative. By challenging our assumptions or traditions, we can spark curiosity in ourselves and others in order to find several top-notch solutions. We don’t accept the first encouraging solution, but pay attention to possibility – and thus we can discover an answer far superior than we at first imagined. A library in the role of community anchor can be a great stimulus to creative thinking and activity.

One of your chapters is about taking intelligent risks.  How do you define that?

DS: Librarians are far more experienced in intelligent risk-taking than we might realize. The Latin origin of the word “intelligent” means “the power of discerning.” The Proto-Indo-European origin of the work “risk” means “to leap, climb.” Putting these words together we can define “intelligent risk-taking” as using our ability to discern how to overcome obstacles that seem to be in the way. In other words, we can develop the skill to ask the right questions to prevent short-sightedness and help us think through and understand the book cover for Transform and Thrive: Ideas to Invigorate Your Library and Your Communityobstacles. Each situation requires a different approach and its own set of questions. For example, Bob Kuntz, director of operations and innovation, Carroll County Public Library, asks questions that help staff think through the risks with new and emerging technologies. How might our customers benefit?  Is this a fad or does it have staying power? What should we invest in? What has the best chance of success?

JK: You want to make sure to be aware of the priorities of elected officials. In my experience the alignment of the values of the community, library board, and staff together lay the foundation for taking intelligent risks.  Decisions made which are in alignment with those priorities and values – even if they seem to run counter to traditional views of library service or roles – are intelligent risks to take.  

What’s one of the most persistent barriers to collaboration, and can you give some advice for overcoming it?

JK: One of the most persistent barriers is one that has been with organizations, not just libraries, forever. It has to do with communication and our willingness to actively listen, to be vulnerable, to have honest and direct conversations in a profession where many of us go to great lengths to avoid confrontation. I feel there is strength in vulnerability and when we allow ourselves to build trust, then to be vulnerable and speak directly, the bonds that are built between us are strongest. I believe that our work is about people, not about stuff. Our degree of success, in my opinion, rises and falls commensurate with our ability to connect to coworkers and community members. Teams that can do that, can build something great together.

DS: Many of us have a default tendency or habit of focusing on what is wrong in a situation, but if we tap large or abstract ideas of life, such as respect, discernment, and helpfulness, we can stay in tune with the bigger picture. We can develop a habit and steady attitude of looking for what is right – we don’t ignore problems and challenges, but we try to see the good in people and think about how to correct issues.

Learn more about their book at the ALA Store.

Celebrating Preservation Week 2018: an interview with Janet Delve and David Anderson

ALA encourages libraries and other institutions to use Preservation Week to connect our communities through events, activities, and resources that highlight what we can do, individually and together, to preserve our personal and shared collections. In collaboration with Facet Publishing, UK, we spoke with some of the field's leading figures to discuss the importance of preservation. Janet Delve and David Anderson are co-editors of Preserving Complex Digital Objects.

Why is preservation awareness so important?

So many institutions today are pushing for a paperless society: for example, banks frequently suggest getting online statements in order to save trees, paper and postage. This is all very well if everyone is confident that ALL the necessary digital records are kept safely, and will be readable in the future. This is a considerable challenge, however, and if you consider the effort required in keeping digital art, computer games, and the 3D models that you might see in a museum, then it just gets harder. However, libraries, archives and museums across Europe have been working concertedly over the last two decades to tackle these issues, so help is at hand. For the rest of us, it is vital that people in all walks of life become aware of book cover for Preserving Complex Digital Objectsthe fragility and difficulties of keeping hold of their material, and realise that whilst our digital lives bring many benefits in terms of searching and accessing material, this does come with a price concerning the maintenance of the data and their platforms. Companies need to keep their digital records, individuals will want to safeguard their personal digital memories, etc.      

What are some of the ways that libraries and other institutions can reach out to communities about the importance of preservation?

Our own experience is of working with national libraries, archives and museums to help develop fundamental solutions to preservation problems. We are aware that these national bodies then communicate with regional, local and commercial bodies through their normal channels to raise awareness about the importance of preservation. The national bodies are also good at reaching individuals through their excellent website, the British Library; the National Archives with their new digital strategy, which mentions the E-ARK project; and the Parliamentary Archives. They are all excellent at communicating all things digital. Regional and local libraries/archives can then reach out to their immediate communities to pass on this knowledge. There are also dedicated organizations such as the Digital Preservation Coalition who are reaching out to many communities, including the banking sector, mentioned above in 1.

Digital collections are growing fast, and their formats are prone to obsolescence. What are some current or proposed digital collection initiatives from cultural institutions that give you hope for the future?

The British Library Digital Scholarship area has a program “Innovate with British Library collections and data”. The webpage shows a collection of initiatives that give me hope for the future: help with research, help with digitization, support with collections, staff training, the THOR project which focuses on persistent identifiers - so that we can find digital objects in the future (important for collections and also the Internet of Things). Also the E-ARK project mentioned above which took the first big step in addressing the need for common standards and systems for archiving digital records.

Be sure to check out our previous interviews with Michèle Valerie Cloonan, Walker Sampson, and Helen Forde and Jonathan Rhys-Lewis.

Celebrating Preservation Week 2018: an interview with Helen Forde and Jonathan Rhys-Lewis

ALA encourages libraries and other institutions to use Preservation Week to connect our communities through events, activities, and resources that highlight what we can do, individually and together, to preserve our personal and shared collections. In collaboration with Facet Publishing, UK, we spoke with some of the field's leading figures to discuss the importance of preservation. Helen Forde and Jonathan Rhys-Lewis are co-authors of Preserving Archives, now in its second edition.

Why is preservation awareness so important?

The preservation of material culture is crucial for society, for an appreciation of the past and for building blocks for the future.  Archival preservation is a massively important part of this, given the crucial role which archives play in holding organizations and individuals to account, in documenting the past and ensuring the survival of corporate memory.  Archives provide the structure of the past and without written evidence societies flourish only in the present.  Historical examples demonstrate that however powerful a civilization may be, failure to preserve documentary culture eventually results in it being largely forgotten.

Ensuring that communities, government, businesses and individuals are all aware of the essential role of archives is a message that all those involved in the creation and care of written material need to spread widely.  Too often, in the current throw-away or careless attitude of society, vital documentary evidence has been lost; this happens in government, in commercial organisations, in legal proceedings and in everyday life.  The message which needs to be heard is not that everything should be kept but that the selection of material to be preserved should be carried out logically and consistently to ensure that the full story can be told.  Awareness of the material means of then preserving it for current and future use should ideally form part of the initial creation process.  The selection of suitable carriers for information – stable inks, quality paper, stable digital platforms - is an essential part of the process of spreading the message about preservation and its importance throughout all societies.   

What are some of the ways that libraries and other institutions can reach out to communities about the importance of preservation?

Good practice is often the result of emulation; if libraries, archives, museums, governments and organizations demonstrate their awareness of the importance of archival preservation, others are more likely to follow suit.  An understanding of the consequences of neglect and decay can be demonstrated with illustrations of the weakness of poor quality paper, of the solubility of poor quality writing and printing inks and the inherent dangers of not migrating digital information on to stable platforms. 

Conservators are good ambassadors for preservation, given that their skills are easily demonstrated and are always appreciated by the public.  Any tour of a library, archive or museum can be guaranteed to come to a full stop in a conservation studio where the techniques, for both intervention and prevention, attract attention and lead to discussion.  Planning open days and behind the scenes tours are a good way of demonstrating preservation in action, with conservation reserved for specialists.

book cover for Preserving Archives, Second EditionDiscussion and demonstration sessions held in-house with communities which struggle with the concept of preservation can be useful and demonstrate that it is good practice, rather than expensive additional activity, which contribute to the survival of archival material.  Simple packaging with acid free paper or board, strategies for eliminating pests, planning against disasters and training volunteers to handle materials carefully are all possible within many communities and organizations without the expense of intervention techniques by conservators.

In addition, both librarians and archivists, in line with conservators, need to ensure that the professional organizations that represent them are also underlining the importance of preservation in enabling access. Providing information about the risks to materials, and outlining guidance to enable those with important collections to effectively respond to these risks, is also a vital way in which a wider impact can be achieved.

Digital collections are growing fast, and their formats are prone to obsolescence. What are some current or proposed digital collection initiatives from cultural institutions that give you hope for the future?

The challenge of preserving the digital archive is now impacting on all governments, organizations and individuals. The security of information from access and tampering from other agencies is now critical, and so it is vital that appropriate and co-ordinated strategies to address the risks are in place. All citizens understand the importance of data, and especially personal information, and so new legislation, like the General Data Protection Regulation, is integral in defining our digital preservation needs. Alongside this, organizations are responding to the further challenges of technical obsolescence by addressing the needs of the wider community via open source software and working more closely with the hardware and software providers. This is also reflected in the growth of digital specialists in the archive and library worlds, initially prompted by the needs of Freedom of Information, but now building pragmatic roles within organizations.

It seems that finally the world of archives and libraries is acknowledging that it is not possible, or morally and economically sustainable, to digitise all collections. This has resulted in some interesting developments in preservation policy and strategy, but also acknowledges that prioritisation is the key. This may be because of condition, sensitivity or just enabling access to information – the key role of preservation.

Be sure to check out our previous interviews with Michèle Valerie Cloonan and Walker Sampson.

Celebrating Preservation Week 2018: an interview with Walker Sampson

ALA encourages libraries and other institutions to use Preservation Week to connect our communities through events, activities, and resources that highlight what we can do, individually and together, to preserve our personal and shared collections. In collaboration with Facet Publishing, UK, we spoke with some of the field's leading figures to discuss the importance of preservation. Walker Sampson is co-author of The No-nonsense Guide to Born-digital Content.

Why is preservation awareness so important?

I think there’s an assumption for many that we know about everything we’ll ever know about the past, both near and distant. Preservation, both incidental and purposeful, is a fundamental part of how our past is discovered anew and rewritten.

What are some of the ways that libraries and other institutions can reach out to communities about the importance of preservation?

Often, communities will be interested in telling their story – furnishing the evidence and documents needed to recount a narrative – and I think that is vital. However, there may be groups and communities that aren’t confident on their story yet, or fear they need to have a “good” story to tell first. For these groups, I would encourage them to preserve their materials in spite of uncertainty. Someone else may come along to tell book cover for The No-Nonsense Guide to Born Digital Contentyour story, and it will be better told with more preserved materials, not less.

What are some current or proposed digital collections initiatives from cultural institutions that give you hope for the future?

One project I’m really excited to see progress is bwFLA (Baden-Württemberg Functional Long-Term Archiving and Access), a project to develop an open framework for emulating software online. This would allow users to access vintage software, and the documents created from them, in their original environments – directly from a browser.  Preservation of “look and feel” has arguably been relegated to the most valued of digital objects because of cumbersome logistics, and this project really promises to deliver contextual authenticity to many more users, for many more digital objects.

Be sure to also check out our interview with Michèle Valerie Cloonan.

Celebrating Preservation Week 2018: an interview with Michèle Valerie Cloonan

ALA encourages libraries and other institutions to use Preservation Week to connect our communities through events, activities, and resources that highlight what we can do, individually and together, to preserve our personal and shared collections. In collaboration with Facet Publishing, UK, we spoke with some of the field's leading figures to discuss the importance of preservation. First up is Michèle Valerie Cloonan, author of the classic text Preserving our Heritage: Perspectives from Antiquity to the Digital Age.

Why is preservation awareness so important?

I am in the UK right now. Just yesterday I toured a historic site that included treasures from its rich archives. The archivist showed us autographs and sketches by well known artists. Some of the bindings were in poor shape, but the inks and papers were in very good condition. After we all admired the wonderful items, the archivist said, "You'll be glad to know that we have just digitized everything so you will have easy access to the materials. We are currently looking into off-site storage facilities for the originals." One of the people on the tour, with real pain in her voice, asked "does that mean that we will never be able to see the originals again?" Everyone else in the group nodded in accord. A discussion ensued, and the archivist assured us that we could see the originals if we made special requests, though depending on where the collections will be stored, it might take a while to retrieve them.

It was enlightening to be in the role of the general public, and I didn't offer any perspectives; I just listened. The lesson that I took away is that we aren't doing a very good job of explaining to the public what the role of digitization is in a preservation program. The archivist inadvertently made it sound as though the digitized records would replace the originals. The public expects us to effectively steward our collections, which belong to us collectively.

book cover for Preserving our Heritage: Perspectives from Antiquity to the Digital AgeWe need to get a positive message out there: digitization gives the user 24/7 access, but this kind of access doesn't diminish the importance of--and access to--the original.

What are some of the ways that libraries and other institutions can reach out to communities about the importance of preservation?

How about a Preservation Roadshow, or Preservation Library Show? Or regular workshops? In public libraries we could hold sessions in which we invite people to bring in items in need of repair, or perhaps re-formatting. I remember a few years ago Parade Magazine advised people to re-format their old home movies and throw away the originals. Now, people are advised to save everything "in the cloud." Lots of people think that they are preserving their photos on Facebook, or on their phones. They don't realize how vulnerable their digital collections are.

It was a lot easier to explain deterioration to people in the "brittle book era." The landscape is far more complex now. We need to prepare kits or educational packages for the public. We should do this at the national level, too. LC, the British Library, and some other institutions have information on their websites, but there needs to be even more out there. We need an effective update to Slow Fires which didn't offer advice. Instead, it painted a rather gloomy picture.

What are some current or proposed digital collections initiatives from cultural institutions that give you hope for the future?

Over the past twenty years there have been a number of magnificent projects: American Memory at the Library of Congress, Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America. The challenge is for projects to develop funding strategies that will assure that programs are sustainable.

There is also the need for major institutions to do the appropriate strategic planning for digital preservation. For example, the British Library's 2020 plan to preserve their digital collections in a trusted digital repository is a positive initiative.

Look for more posts celebrating Preservation Week in the coming days.

Ensuring libraries' future through sustainable thinking: an interview with Rebekkah Smith Aldrich

For the past several years the library world has been abuzz with the concept of "sustainable thinking." Yes, we all want to help the environment and also ensure that libraries are on board too. But beyond being just a feel-good catchphrase, how does sustainable thinking translate into concrete action? Rebekkah Smith Aldrich explores exactly that in her new book, and in this interview she discusses how many libraries are taking the initiative in areas ranging from community outreach and programming to building design. 

You’ve done quite a bit of writing for various publications, including your regular column for Library Journal, but this is your first book. What was different about doing this kind of long-form piece? What were your biggest challenges?

At first, I thought to myself, no problem, it’s just like writing a series of articles like I do for Library Journal. I did the math, figured out my word count and went for it. But that approach really didn’t work. There is an element of storytelling necessary to make the case, build buy-in and inspire people to keep reading so they are primed for the work ahead.

It took me several tries to find the right “arc” to the story. Each chapter required that I have a plan, that I was purposefully helping the reader walk through the story as it had evolved for me over the past decade. Ensuring I carried the thread throughout the work rather than writing several 800-word essays that might come across as disjoined was important. The work was to balance the enormity of the topic with a call to action that then led the reader to pragmatic steps that library leaders could relate to, regardless of the size of their library. Keeping things simple, well-defined and justified definitely took more time than I had anticipated. 

How did your experience as a founding member of New York Library Association’s Sustainability Initiative guide your book?

Thanks to the NYLA Sustainability Initiative (NYLA-SI) I have had the opportunity to think out loud and to get honest feedback from my peers. That was incredibly helpful while writing the book. I would throw ideas out VENN DIAGRAM DEPICTING THE DEFINITION OF THE TRIPLE BOTTOM LINEthere sometime and get the thumbs up, other times… crickets. That’s when I knew I wasn’t connecting on a particular point. That peer feedback has been invaluable.

The other great thing about the SI is that I get invited to speak on the topic all over the state. I’ve been able to fine tune my talking points and get real time reactions from hundreds of library leaders – directors, staff and trustees. It has also meant that I have a front row seat to what is going on around our state and get first-hand accounts of what’s working, what’s not and what challenges leaders are coming up against. That inspires me to ensure the work I’m doing is as relevant as possible. The theory of this stuff really only gets us so far. If library leaders don’t have examples to draw from, success stories to point to and sparks of inspiration to get them going we can’t accelerate fast enough to meet the challenges that are facing us.

What we routinely hear from library leaders after an introductory workshop is: “What do I do next?” That drove me to stop just pontificating and our committee has really thought through how a library leader would proceed. We are talking about a huge mindset shift for not just individuals but whole institutions. While I have great faith in my colleagues to do this work, we can all use some help and guidance to accelerate the pace of what needs to happen. There is a definitely sense of urgency that is lacking in the profession. If people feel too overwhelmed they will be immobilized. The experience with NYLA-SI has taught me to break it down into bite-sized chunks and develop step-by-step assistance to help library leaders ramp up on the issue.

The NYLA-SI has been a huge reality check for me: even in the face of such a large topic we must keep things simple.  
One of the foundational ideas in your book is that the sustainability of libraries, which is extremely dependent on things like community support and visionary leadership, has a close relationship to the sustainability of our planet. Would you briefly explain why you believe the two are so intertwined?

As Rachel Carson famously said in Silent Spring, “Nothing in nature exists alone.” Libraries do not exist alone. Library leaders do not exist alone. We are all connected to the wider world around us. As libraries we need to be embedded, in an authentic and meaningful way, into the lives of those we serve. That means understanding the status of the building blocks of life, that means awareness of the wider world around us. The library is how we translate our desire to be of service to our fellow citizens. We cannot be relevant if we do not understand what people are currently dealing with or facing in the future.

If we are to truly convey to those we serve that we care about their well-being and that we are trusted institution that are good stewards of their trust and tax dollars there needs to be an inherent commitment in our libraries to environmental sustainability. If we are careless with natural resources, if we do not respectfully dispose of unwanted items, if we do not help to educate others of the effects of our actions on the natural world there will not be much left for us to do in a few decades other than disaster response. We will be on the front lines of helping more and more citizens with what may have been preventable problems or issues we should have learned to adapt to.
At a time when it seems like many libraries are stuck in a perpetual battle for survival, a yearly fight just to stave off cuts in funding, how do issues like social equity and justice come into play?

It’s tough out there, financially, politically and socially. The only way forward on any of those topics – for both PLATFORM FOR SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITY INVESTMENTlibraries and communities – is for libraries to actively co-create communities in which citizens have respect, understanding and empathy for one another.

Funding doesn’t come from a machine, it comes from people. Whether that be from direct taxpayer decisions in the voting booth, municipal governments that allocate a portion of their budget or private donations – people are behind the decisions about library funding.

Library leaders are responsible for not only creating library services and programs that inspire the community to invest in the library, but to work collaboratively with their neighbors to help their community thrive. The coalition building, the partnerships that help realize shared goals in the community – that is what inspires opinion leaders and decision makers to invest scarce tax dollars into our libraries. You can’t only venture out of your library and speak to others when you need something. You need to be genuinely invested in the community’s success and a community cannot be successful if it is not socially equitable.

In the book there is a chapter on what I call the “Three Es of Sustainable Libraries”: Empower, Engage, Energize. These three actions describe how library leaders should approach their work to inspire people inside of the library organization and community members. In twenty years what I have observed is that this attitude in how we interact with others has a fascinating energy exchange – if your work is focused on empowering, engaging and energizing others they, in turn, will do the same for your library. I have found this to be a “secret ingredient” for many of the most successful libraries I have worked with. 

What are some pieces of advice you can offer libraries about more effectively demonstrating and communicating their importance to the communities they serve?

First I believe we need to “walk the walk.” We cannot just tell people we are committed to intellectual freedom, diversity, social responsibility or the other Core Values of Librarianship – we need to “live it.” Our policies and practices should reflect our commitment to these values. How we spend funds on behalf of the community should reflect our commitment to these values. The partnerships, programs and services we create should reflect our commitment to these values.

Examples of this can include simple things, like the food we serve at events – is it healthy? Locally sourced? – to more complicated things like how we operate our facilities or how we build new facilities. Is human health obviously valued in these choices? Are natural resources respectfully utilized? Are we humane to our staff? Do they make a living wage? Do they have access to affordable healthcare? Are our services and programs designed to advance larger community goals? Do our boards of trustees reflect the diversity of the community that we serve? These are just a handful of examples of the non-verbal choices we make that communicate what kind of organization we are.

In traditional communication channels – annual reports to the community, newsletters, social media – it is imperative that we, ourselves, state why we do the things that we do. I feel libraries make too many assumptions about what the community-at-large truly understand about the work that we do. We need to state that we are contributing to economic development by doing x, y, x. We need to clearly articulate our values. If we don’t do it, no one else will. There is no one else but ourselves to blame for our mushy messaging over the past twenty years. We need to get better at this, and fast, if we want to continue to maintain and grow our capacity to be a positive force in the world. That is a major theme of the book and I spend a lot of time delving into this.
What are some promising changes in the library world that give you hope for the future?

I see so many awesome things happening in our world right now! A great example is that the fine free debate is finally graduating from a financial issue to a social equity issue. I am so impressed by my book copver for Sustainable Thinking: Ensuring Your Library’s Future in an Uncertain Worldcolleagues who have stood up for their communities to make the case that fines are a barrier to access for children in poverty.

The Living Building Challenge was on the cover of Library Journal last year, that is a huge statement that the library profession is paying attention to the right things. I’m also keeping my eye on Hayward (CA)’s 21st Century Library project; when completed, Hayward’s new library will be among the largest “Zero Net Energy” public buildings in the nation.

The makerspace/breakerspace/repair café movement is so inspiring. I love that we are challenging people of all ages in our communities to learn how things work, to fix their own stuff, to create and invent new things and methods. In the book I talk about how critical it will be for us to inspire people to work together to find community-based solutions so we can adapt in the face of some pretty severe disruptions that are headed our way (and some are already here). We cannot be effective at this unless we cultivate a spirit of innovation and collaborative problem solving. I get seriously annoyed when I hear library leaders that are dismissive of this trend as just the latest “shiny.” This is one of the greatest examples of how libraries empower their communities and future generations. It is one of the best talking points out there of how libraries contribute to sustainable, resilient and, ultimately, regenerative communities.

The number one thing that gives me hope is the spirit and fortitude of my colleagues and the volunteer trustees that govern our libraries. People who keep trying. People who keep innovating. People who keep fighting for the right things on behalf of those we serve. We are all in this together, both in library world and more important, in the big wide world around us. Libraries are critical partners to the success of our communities and it is an exhilarating time to be a part of this work.

Sustainable Thinking: Ensuring Your Library’s Future in an Uncertain World is available at the ALA Store

Solving the dysfunctional library: a conversation with Jo Henry, Joe Eshleman, and Richard Moniz

Frankly, it’s not something we like to talk about. There is an unfortunate stigma to acknowledging workplace dysfunction, let alone trying to grapple with the problem. But negative behaviors such as incivility, toxicity, deviant behavior, workplace politics, and team and leadership dysfunction not only make the library a stressful workplace, they also run counter to the core values of librarianship. So what's to be done? In their new book on the topic, Jo Henry, Joe Eshleman, and Richard Moniz take a close look at these negative relationship-based issues and suggest workable solutions. In this interview they discuss their collaboration and how library staff can handle workplace conflicts.  

What was the genesis of the book? Why did you decide to write a book on this topic?

As frequent collaborators, we had always touched on different topics related to leadership and management when we got together. At one point we started more concretely discussing the possibility of updating Richard’s textbook Practical and Effective Management of Libraries. It's a solid work for understanding management principles. That said, it didn’t really get after the most difficult challenges librarians and library managers might face. In talking it through we decided that we specifically wanted to a photo of Tug of War by  -Jacky Liutackle the really tough issues. We all saw various examples of dysfunction either in our own libraries or in other organizations that we had interacted with. We all knew colleagues that had dealt with challenging situations. With that in mind, we felt as though we could both learn a lot and maybe help others by diving deep into the topic.

You’ve all collaborated on writing projects before. Was there anything different this time around? How do you keep track of who’s doing what?

That’s true. We really enjoy working as a team. All three of us have a passion for librarianship and we each bring a different perspective. While one of us may take the lead on a given project, book ideas have typically been generated through vigorous discussion.  Once we have a project, we divide that writing by individual interest and set our internal timelines.  Jo is definitely the leader when it comes to keeping us on track. If there was ever an excellent project manager, it's Jo. Joe is our “big idea” person on the team. He challenges himself and the rest of us to not settle for an easy answer. Often times, he will raise unique points “outside the box” that make our projects deeper and more interesting. Richard can be pretty driven when it comes to keeping on track and he frequently brings his practical experience as a library director to bear on issues. We love the talks that we have as we often get together/email while working on a project. There was not a lot different this time around other than an increased trust factor. We don’t want to let each other down and we try to bring our best selves to each project. We think we did that this time as well.

Because of technology, human beings are more connected to one another than ever before; yet basic communication skills seem to be worse than ever. Why do you think that is?

We see both good and bad examples in the workplace and with our patrons. One can definitely see that the younger generation tends to be “plugged in” all the time and may, as a result, have lost a bit of the connection and skill sets for face to face communication which has been shown to be a more robust communication method.  The book even touches on these generational differences in the realm of workplace incivility.  For example, millennials would rather move on in a dysfunctional workplace than try to adapt or find a solution.  We also discuss communication distortion and how sending and receiving messages can lead to misunderstanding.  Utilization of technology in communication may contribute to these misunderstandings.  Also, there is a loss of “humanity” itself when communicating through technology.  (Think of things such as feedback from sound, gestures, or body language.)  Finally, in the book we address how some of the problem in libraries lies in the fact that the profession has such strong roots but is also going through such radical change. We think that part of the challenge may be resistance to change.

book ccver for The Dysfunctional LibraryIn the book, you write, “Conflicts are a normal part of life and the library workplace.” What are some key steps that both managers and staff can take to deal with conflicts better?

There is a whole lot we could say about this but one central point of the book is the need for civility and respect. It is very important that individuals within an organization build rapport, understanding, and learn to appreciate what each person brings to a given team. Conflict should not be avoided when it arises but dealt with in a manner that is respectful and well-considered. Conflicts between individuals should never be allowed to fester. This requires a certain amount of trust. If that’s lacking there is little hope of resolving the conflict.

What advice would you give to a librarian who needs to report toxic behavior or harassment?

We would say to take care of yourself mentally. That could mean a number of things. First, you need to be careful not to blame yourself for being stuck in a terrible situation. We are proponents of mindfulness and one type of meditation we recommend is loving-kindness meditation. We think it is important to reach out to others that you trust to share what you are experiencing. If you plan to report an issue to HR or another higher authority be careful to document facts about the situation or situations. Unfortunately, sometimes toxic behavior is so embedded in an organization that the best thing you can do is find a healthier workplace.

How can library leaders harness instability and change for a more functional workplace?

Library leaders need to embrace that aspect of change that taps into creativity and humanity.  Realizing that good and open librarians are welcome to change and showing the benefits of accepting change up front are key factors here.  In addition to leading by accepting change themselves, library leaders need to realize that change is one of the things that makes us human. Doing the same things day to day or over a long period of time makes us robots and also makes the librarian position one that can be considered to be automated and phased out.  The most functional librarian is one who is invested in aspects of their job that tap into their own needs and passions. This is not to say that some of the day to day tasks need to be completely eliminated, but merely to point out to library leadership that embracing and facilitating change can make us more engaged.

Learn more about The Dysfunctional Library: Challenges and Solutions to Workplace Relationships at the ALA Store.

Delivering a Data Strategy in the Cauldron of Business As Usual

Guest blog by the co-authors of The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook, Caroline Carruthers (Group Director of Data Management, Lowell Group) and Peter Jackson (Chief Data Officer, Southern Water).

Being a Chief Data Officer in the current climate is a rather interesting place to be, it can feel a little like dancing on quicksand while you have to learn to juggle wriggling snakes. So in order to help people interested in this area, whether you are a new CDO, well established data hero or just wondering what all the fuss is about, we have worked on a set of articles to answer some of the questions we are asked at nearly every conference we go to. While we can’t promise you a solution to all your data related problems handed to you on a plate, we can promise that once a week you can look forward to another concise, interesting and easy to read article to help you on your data and information related journey.

One of the most difficult tasks for the new CDO is developing a Data Strategy while the organi\zation continues to operate (and must continue to operate) using and abusing data, continuing with bad habits around data and often with a lack of governance and planning. This has been likened to performing open heart surgery on a runner while they are in the middle of a marathon, in reality it’s more like patching them up, giving them water to keep them going and a clear map to get them to the end of the race. In most situations for a new CDO the organisation probably feels that it has been operating quite happily without this new person for a very long while. So, for the new CDO it may feel like they are sitting in the corner talking to themselves. Alternatively the CDO may be met with comments like ‘Yes, we tried that before and it didn’t work’ or ‘ IT/ Finance/ Procurement/ Marketing (delete as appropriate) won’t like you doing that’ or my personal favourite ‘that’s not how we do that here’.

What is the context of Business As Usual? In most cases (unless the organisation is a start-up) it will be:

  • a legacy data environment: siloes of data, multiple records, ‘duplicates’, weak data governance, no useful meta data, heavy MI and no BI.
  • legacy systems: burning platforms, bespoke developments, hard to maintain and manage, reporting systems remote from end-users, no true data management systems
  • legacy business processes: evolved over time, limited by technology and data available at the point in time, containing many work-arounds
  • multiple suppliers: of software and systems
  • legacy IT department: focused on building stuff rather than delivering and supporting software-as-a-service, internal networks as opposed to cloud
  • legacy ‘transformation’ process: based on project governance and waterfall, struggling with agile and innovation. Not able to adapt to transformation being data driven rather than technology driven

The task for the new CDO is how to steer their way through this bubbling cauldron and deliver a data strategy. One approach is to break the task down into two parts: an Immediate Data Strategy (IDS), a tactical approach to deliver support for BAU, gain quick wins and temporary fixes and to prepare the way for the second part. The additional benefit of the IDS is the delivery of incremental value to the organisation through its data, avoiding the hypecycle on the way (the next article deals with this in more detail). The second part is the Target Data Strategy (TDS), the strategic approach. The new CDO cannot sit back and deliver the TDS over a two to three year window, the organisation will probably be expecting some results now, so it is just as important to set realistic expectations as it is to provide some tactical delivery through the IDS. One piece of advice, don’t call these tactical deliveries ‘Projects’ instead refer to them as ‘Initiatives’, this might engender a more agile approach.

The IDS should listen to the organisation’s data pain and try to deliver high profile quick wins. The tactical initiatives of the IDS should blend into the strategy of the TDS, and not run down a rabbit hole or blind alley. The IDS should help build up the narrative and vision of the TDS.

The six key elements of the IDS could be:

  1. Stability and rationalisation of the existing data environment
  2. Data culture and governance
  3. Existing and immediate data and IT development projects
  4. Data exploitation and integration
  5. Data performance, quality, integrity, assurance and provenance
  6. Data security (especially with GDPR in mind).

While the new CDO is delivering the IDS they should be pushing the TDS through business engagement, the organisation needs to be prepared, ready and believe in the changes that are coming. The CDO should also be using the IDS to show the ‘art of the possible’ to a data illiterate business to help the business engage with the new data possibilities. Through the IDS they should be running Proof of Concepts, feasibility studies, data science initiatives and building a narrative around the vision of the TDS for all levels of the business.

Finally, six tips on how to succeed using the IDS and TDS approach:

  1. Use internal communications to sell the vision, don’t allow a vacuum to form
  2. Seek every opportunity to communicate the vision. Do not be frightened of becoming a data bore.
  3. Socialise the data visons and the changes that could be coming, especially the controversial ideas, locate the data champions to support you
  4. Engage the organisation’s leadership and find your senior sponsors, they will be crucial
  5. If you can’t explain it, you’re doing something wrong, ‘it’s me not you’
  6. Win hearts and minds, often a good argument is not enough to win the day.

The book is available to purchase now. This post first appeared in a somewhat different form on the Facet Publishing blog.

Syndicate content