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Moving to a new library is risky personally and professionally. Will you like living in this town? Will you find success in this environment?

Job choice is even more uncertain in the first leap from librarian to director. Brian Kenney, director of the White Plains Public Library, shared what to look for in a new library director job in Publishers Weekly. He has great ideas for figuring out a library’s internal culture:

View the library’s hiring process as a microcosm for how the library operates. The best hiring processes are collegial, involving people from different levels of the organization, and perhaps the community.

woman using binoculars to scan the horizon

cc-by radocaj

Use those librarian research skills in the job hunt. Kenney finds clues about the potential for success in everything from the library board minutes to the “love factor”.

Kenney speaks to an audience of librarians choosing their first director position intentionally, but I hear more often of librarians stumbling into directorship in order to address a pressing vacancy in their own institution. These librarians never intended to rise to administration, but they see a need for leadership in the library they love.

What about you? Did you critically evaluate your library before joining it? Chime in below in the comment section about whether you intentionally chose your first directorship (or plan to do so!).

Photograph of large-scale Athena stone statue topped with gold headdress

cc by-sa Dennis Jarvis

You need more leaders at your library! The best way to squash the curse of competence is to foster more leadership in your team.

I wish every day for a new department manager to spring out of my forehead fully formed, but in reality, it’s my responsibility as a library leader to develop new leaders. The quandary is how to identify leaders before they take on a leadership role. Here’s my quick and dirty guide to identifying potential leaders.

Leadership Attributes

Look for these characteristics of leadership. People who will become good leaders in your library demonstrate these qualities even in non-leadership roles.

Engagement: leaders connect with people. Who on your team develops and maintains good relationships with users and colleagues?

Conviction: leaders persuade others to further the mission of the organization. Who on your team speaks with conviction about the mission of the library?

Invention: leaders suggest solutions. Who on your team brings up good ideas?

Initiative: leaders take those solutions and act to make them happen. Who on your team takes ownership of new projects?

Developing Leaders

You’ve identified potential leaders – now what? The best way to develop leaders is by giving them projects that let them take on bite-sized amounts of leadership responsibility. This can be leading a task force, making a new project happen, or representing your library in the wider community.

I’m particularly fond of encouraging potential leaders on my team to take on a teaching role. If they do something well in the library (like give great customer service), I ask them to deliver a training session. Instruction is a growth opportunity for the trainer, and the session spreads their strengths through the organization.

As your potential leaders take on new projects, celebrate their success and name that success for what it is: leadership!

In addition to work responsibilities, there’s also a lot of professional development opportunities out there for library leaders! Look for our post next week rounding up current library leadership offerings.

A core value of librarianship is that we have the ability and the responsibility to change society for the better. As the American Library Association puts it, librarians are responsible for “ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society.”

When we are faced with a critical problem like the heartbreaking pattern of unarmed young black men dying in altercations with law enforcement, what can librarians do to ameliorate this hurt?

In crisis situations, librarians can create an intentional community refuge. The Ferguson Public Library responded to community chaos in the wake of Michael Brown’s death by creating a safe space for all community members.

In addition to crisis situations, chronic inequality has an insidious effect on communities. Libraries can respond to chronic inequality as while as crisis situations. We can do this by sharing information, but more importantly, by actively speaking up for social justice.

Nicole Pagowsky and Niamh Wallace, librarians from the University of Arizona, shared a powerful message about librarians and social justice in this month’s College and Research Library News. Hundreds of miles away from Ferguson, these two librarians responded in their own library by creating a Ferguson resource LibGuide, which serves as a guide to information resources about Michael Brown’s death.

They express their belief that librarians have a responsibility to act in support of social justice:

“Positioning the library as anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-oppression helps us stay at the heart of the community, particularly in challenging times.”

Pagowsky and Wallace also remind us of Desmond Tutu’s words:

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Leadership and librarianship both carry responsibilities for challenging injustice. I often feel unsure about how to address social injustice in my own spheres, both personally and professionally. Pagowsky and Wallace’s article reminded me that it can be as simple as trading neutrality for support, to endorse the message that black lives matter.

Check out the full article in C&RL News, the University of Arizona Ferguson LibGuide and other #BlackLivesMatter guides from Oakland Public Library, San Francisco Public Schools.

Photo of three people walking silhouetted by sunset

CC-BY Abhijit Kar Gupta

Libraries exist to provide amazing services and resources to our users.  We are so committed to this vision that we continue to offer these services even after users don’t need them.

As non-profit service-oriented organizations, the motivation to pull the plug on a library service is minimal. If even a single user finds a printed pamphlet valuable, we’ll continue trifolding away. But is that the best use of library time?

Maintaining old services diminishes the innovation capacity of libraries. Our resources (staff time, building space, and money) are finite. In order to do new things, we have to stop doing some old things.

Don’t panic, book loving librarians! I said some old things. Of course we continue well-used old services. The printed word is still going strong.

In order create a makerspace or expand reference hours, however, library leadership would have to examine how every inch of floor space and every hour of staff time is used.

In an environment where we hardly ever give things up, libraries can turn to tech companies for inspiration on how to sunset services. Software reaches the end of its life cycle at the speed of light, and product life-cycle management is an entire discipline.

Here’s four lessons about sunsetting from the tech world that we can apply to libraries:

Choose to Sunset Wisely

Pragmatic Marketing, a software product management firm, offers a guide to retiring products. This errs a little far on the business side for library taste, with a lot of talk about profit margins. This advice on how to decide to sunset, however, rings true for libraries:

“The easiest way to know that a product should be killed or sold off is when it no longer fits the company’s distinctive competence and market strategy. Regardless of the costs, a product that doesn’t make sense in the context of the rest of your products just confuses your customers.”

“Distinctive competence” is an great concept for library leaders to consider. Our distinctive competence in libraries is matching users with resources.

I encountered a library where staff invested significant time at the photocopier duplicating journal pages in order to send printed scans of the table of contents to users. This was in 2014, in a time when most journals offer free table of contents alerts by email. It was time to end the physical copy service and instead point users to the email services direct from publishers.

When we examined this through the lens of distinctive competence, we realized that we don’t want to be known for labor-intensive copy making. We want to connect users with a fast automated service that they can control.

Retire Slowly

Even if the decision is clear, you have to move cautiously when sunsetting a service. In 2013, Google announced the sunset of Reader, their widely used RSS feed product. They gave users several months of advance warning:

“To ensure a smooth transition, we’re providing a three-month sunset period so you have sufficient time to find an alternative feed-reading solution.”

Google gave plenty of time for users to adjust to the idea of the service going away. Libraries could take a page from this example by targeting communication to the few remaining users of an aging service, like typewriters, to let them know gently that there will be other options soon.

Answer ALL the Questions

Geomagic, a suite of tools for transforming 3D scans into CAD models, recently consolidated their software offerings and discontinued some products. Their Q&A page on the sunset covers everything a user might want to know, from basics like “What are we doing?” and “Why are we doing this?” all the way to extreme specifics:

How did you decide which products to move forward with?

What happens to my dongle for a retired product?

I am a non-maintenance customer. Will my retiring product still work after Dec 31, 2015?

The Geomagic example anticipates any question that a user might have and gives them as much information as possible up front.

Communicate Sensitively

Slinger Jansen, a computer science professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, led a research inquiry into the software sunsetting process. The resulting technical paper has a softer side:

“Think, for instance, of the support engineer who knows every nook and cranny of the software product, or the user who has configured the product just to her specifications and is described as the wizard of that product by her colleagues. We advise practitioners to make compromises and be sensitive towards the emotions that surround legacy products, both in their internal and external communication.”

This is a good reminder that every single library service has a champion on staff. Sensitivity to the feelings of those “wizards” in your messaging about sunsetting – even internal communications – will help that devotee let go.

Photo of a library user using self-checkout at a desk titled

cc-by-nc-nd UTS Library

The Central District Public Library (CDPL) announced today that it will continue the library tradition of sharing resources by giving patrons a new loan service: money.

Any patron with a valid library card will be eligible for an interest-free loan, obtained by visiting a library branch during open hours.

CDPL Assistant Director April Pardilla said of the new service, “The library is committed to improving the lives of our community users. We’re leading the way to move libraries into the next generation of loaning by providing our users with much needed capital.”

Local officials expressed concern that these new library services overlapped with existing businesses, but Central District Bank senior executive Dan Norcev commented, “We don’t consider this new library service competitive with our business. The library is offering services similar to those of a credit union, but at much reduced rates. We can all compete in a fair market.”

Loans not returned to the library by the due date will be subject to overdue fines at the same rate as DVDs.

Edit 4/2/15: April Fools! While library banking isn’t currently a reality in the United States, 2014 saw interesting debates about the merits of post office banking.