Ask a Librarian: New Library Director Advice?

An old one from the inbox about starting as a new, youngish library director in an established library.

Here are some quick links and things to think about:

1. How to manage smart people.
http://www.scottberkun.com/essays/28-how-to-manage-smart-people/

If your staff is smart, they mostly need you just to help them with resources and support to help THEM be awesome and don’t need a lot of top-down guidance. If they’re not as smart, you have a different set of issues.

2. Know the work.

list of rural library director's jobs

A friend make this list. You’ll have to view this large but it points out all the different parts that go into library directorship in a smaller place and even though all those jobs aren’t going to be yours, many of them will be SOMEONE’s

3. Outreach.

I think the biggest thing that libraries do is they sort of hang their OPEN sign out and wait for people to come in. That doesn’t help or affect the people who aren’t coming in. Reaching everyone or as many people as possible in your service area is mission critical, to me, they spend money on the library so how do you help them. Populations that often get ignored are

  • the elderly who may have mobility/cognitive impairment
  • prisoners
  • teenagers (people think they’re annoying, want them to come back
    when they’re less annoying)
  • the disabled who may need accommodation
  • the computer illiterate

Basic improvements in signage, accessibility, staff training (for friendliness, usefulness, etc) can go a long way towards helping ALL these sorts of people without sort of unhelping other people at the same time. I really think every library needs to take a good look at their website, OPAC and other tech services to see if what they do is working for the patron, not just the staff. I mean you have to make the staff happy too, but reworking so that you’re visibly helping the patron is also good for funding and general satisfaction levels.

4. Eating your own dog food.

Make sure you’ve done a Work Like a Patron Day yourself and,at some appropriate point, for your staff.

Ask a Librarian: How do smaller libraries work together to get economies of scale?

GMLC logo with the group's name and an poen book

Someone I work with at Harvard’s Library Innovation Lab asked me for examples of smaller rural libraries working together to “combine forces” to get more done. I realized that for someone outside the library world, the breakdown of state libraries, state library associations and regional consortia may be really confusing since every state does it differently. In Vermont we have the State Library doing some consortia-like things, the Green Mountain Library Consortium doing some other things and the Vermont Library Association doing still other things.

I split out some examples.

Hey there — you asked about libraries that band together and provide programming. One of the things I do a lot of public speaking (talking to libraries about tech, the digital divide, what life is like in VT) and one of the people who hire me a lot are consortiums for staff development types of things. So I have a higher-than-usual level of interaction with a lot of different states’ consortia.

Here are some links to give you an idea of what some of them do. Smaller states like CT and MA have statewide consortiums. Bigger states like KS, NY and FL have many consortiums.

Massachusetts – I grew up in MA so am fairly familiar but things keep changing. MA has

Mass Library System – the consortium – http://www.masslibsystem.org/
Mass State Library – run by the state –
http://www.mass.gov/anf/research-and-tech/oversight-agencies/lib/
Mass State Library Association – a professional association for
individual librarians – http://www.masslib.org/

Connecticut has a lot more money and you can see it in some of their projects

Connecticut Library Consortium – http://www.ctlibrarians.org/
Connecticut – state library – https://ctstatelibrary.org/
Connecticut Library Association – http://www.ctlibraryassociation.org/

Some other example consortiums so you can see what other people are doing and what sophistication level they are at. These all encompass small/rural library systems. Often large city libraries are not part of consortiums because they’re so big they don’t need to be, if that makes sense.

NEKLS – Northeast Kansas Library System – http://nekls.org/
STLS – Southern Tier Library System – 48 small libraries in central NY – http://www.stls.org/
PLAN – Panhandle Library Access Network – tiny libraries in Florida’s panhandle – http://plan.lib.fl.us/

ARSL is also worth knowing about, they are the Association for Rural and Small Libraries – http://arsl.info/about/ and they do a conference every year (info online usually) and a lot of it has to do with the general question you have about smaller libraries combining resources etc.

Ask a librarian: My library is requiring proof of citizenship to get a library card. How do I fight back?

Question from an author who recently learned that her library is requiring proof of citizenship for patrons to get library cards. She wanted to know what she could do about that.

I’m sorry the library where you’re from is doing this. We’ve been seeing a lot of boldness recently in terms of how people are treating people with any sort of issue in their citizenship or country-of-origin status. It’s undemocratic and lousy. Everyone should be allowed to use the public libraries and everyone should be welcome. I’ve been personally working with my Senator (Leahy) to try to get the Bill of Rights as it appears on WhiteHouse.gov to be accurate and show that the rights in the bill of rights are for EVERYONE in the country and not just citizens.

So as you write your letter it might be worth a few things

1. Consider writing to the library board to let them know this. They may be on board with what the library is doing but they also may not be and can change library policy.
2. Consider speaking with your state library association. I looked at your website and it looks like you are from Illinois? Apologies if that is not correct. If that is correct you could contact the Illinois Library Association.

Website: https://www.ila.org/
Advocacy page: https://www.ila.org/advocacy
Twitter: https://twitter.com/IllLibraryAssoc

Elizabeth Marszalik is the chair of the ILA Cultural and Racial Diversity Committee (CARD) and a Polish American librarian. I can’t find her email offhand but she’s reachable at her library and could probably let you know what the state rules are concerning citizenship status.
http://oppl.org/meet-elizabeth

Illinois is also home to the American Library Association (in Chicago). They have a lot of resources on the subject of the rights of immigrant (and undocumented) Americans but it can be a little daunting to dig through here.

http://www.ala.org/advocacy/advocacy/diversity/libraries-respond-immigrants-refugees-and-asylum-seekers

Your best bet for people to speak to within ALA might be the Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table

website: http://www.ala.org/emiert/
twitter: https://twitter.com/ALA_EMIERT

These are all librarians from all over the country who work on this project under the ALA banner, committee members. They have a staff liaison at ALA proper who works for the Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services

Phone: 800-545-5433 x4294
Email: diversity@ala.org

If I am wrong and this is NOT about Illinois, please do let me know and I can find you some local resources. You can check out some of the stuff here for more national-level stuff, not quite the same populations but not unrelated. I think it’s important to push back on this sort of thing where we see it. Libraries are for everyone and no one should be made to feel unwelcome. If I can help more let me know.

Ask a librarian: How do I learn tech skills in a fun and interesting way?

One of the things I do a lot lately is write email to people who ask me librarian-type questions. Sometimes the answers are more widely applicable and I figured I should note them somewhere. This was a reply to a question from a Drop-in Time student who wanted to know about ways to learn “new skills” for older students who might need to learn tech for work or just know what’s out there. How does a librarian know where to point people?

Hey there — yeah the 23 Things stuff is a good place to start exploring. The other things I mentioned that I think you wrote down
are

Lynda.com
Universal Class through the library
Khan Academy
GCFLearnFree for basic skills

The other things that is a bit more on the “fun” end of the spectrum but can get some tech interactive experience AND feel like you are part of a project is looking for crowdsourcing things that people do online to help enhance cultural institutions digital data. So I think of things like this…

Citizen Archivist at the National Archives
https://www.archives.gov/citizen-archivist

Text Correct Cambridge Newspapers at Cambridge Public Library
http://cambridge.dlconsulting.com/

Smithsonian Digital Volunteers at the Smithsonian Institution
https://transcription.si.edu/

These don’t always help people who need paying work, but can give people more familiarity interacting in an online environment which can translate into better skills which they’ve learned in a more interesting and engaging environment than just “Watch this video, now try this stuff” Because of Vermont’s unusually low tech saturation (for reasons we discussed a little) there are very few, if any, of these tech projects based in VT or centered around Vermont resources. And RSVP doesn’t have as much of a hold here as it does in other places.

You can poke around this list here and see if anything else piques your interest.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_crowdsourcing_projects

the system, sort of working

I’ve been doing a lot of writing in my newsletter lately. You might like to read it but I do still post here from time to time and I keep my talks list and my booklist updated.

This week I had my most popular tweet ever and it was an interesting experience and I thought I’d spend a few words talking about it since we’re wrapping up National Library Week. Ivanka Trump, the POTUS’s daughter and special assistant, made a fairly banal “Go libraries” tweet. This is to be expected from politicians and celebrities, but maybe not so much ones who are involved in an administration actively working to defund IMLS, one of the major federal organizations that helps libraries nationwide. IMLS gets about $200 million annually, less than the cost of one of those mega-bombs. So, you can imagine how well that went down. It’s actually amusing (to me) to read the top replies. Mostly librarians being like “Are you fucking kidding me?” Top reply tweet was from Margaret Howard who, I am assuming, took the brunt of the haters.

margaret's tweet, readable at that link

Most of the people replying to or retweeting me were people who agreed and the occasional grump who doesn’t know how to use an Oxford comma. But then someone called me a whore. Which, I have mixed feelings about. I mean, most people don’t like being called a whore. I didn’t take it personally, that person doesn’t know me. I even redacted his personal information before I complained about it, because I didn’t want to turn it into a thing.

However, I did want to see if Twitter’s abuse system was working any better than it has in the past. So before I blocked him, I reported his tweet for abuse. And, unlike in the past, I got an email that said “Hey we received your report and we’ll let you know what happens.” Which, sure, it’s easy to send a “We’re handling this” message. Much easier than it is to handle things. And then today when I woke up, I got a specific email that said his account had been locked and wouldn’t be unlocked until he had agreed to follow twitter’s policies.

screenshot of twitter's email to me, if you need a text version email jessamyn@gmail.com

Now I’m not fooling myself I know this probably just involves clicking an “I’m sorry” link and getting right back in the game. I also think my verified status may have helped here, though it’s hard to tell just what the verified status thing really means. I’m also a polite middle-aged white lady who doesn’t lose my shit about this sort of thing which shouldn’t matter and yet might. As I mentioned to someone else, I’m not even sure if the insult was directed at me, there’s a slim chance that the guy was trying to insult Ivanka but that’s still actually not okay. As far as Twitter’s abuse handling, I do feel that this may be too little too late, but I do marvel that it’s even working at all. If you’re someone who deals with harassment on Twitter and gave up on their abuse team long ago, consider trying again, or looking into tools like Block Together which can really help keep the noise down. No one deserves your attention. No one deserves online abuse.