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The Editorial Board of LL&F invited all three candidates for ALA President to talk about leadership. We strongly feel that the next president of our primary professional organization needs to not only address the need for strong leadership in libraries, but also exemplify the traits we promote in this blog.

All candidates were sent the same questions via email. They were given the opportunity to provide a bio. Today we feature Lisa Hinchliffe.

Introductory Statement

Lisa_whiteThank you for the opportunity to respond to these questions and engage with Library Lost & Found (LL&F) readers. I particularly enjoy the Leader Interview series on the blog. Hearing other people’s stories and insights is a great way to reflection on one’s own story and purpose and find new ideas and inspirations.

I invite LL&F readers to visit my website (http://lisa4ala.org) for more information about my candidacy for ALA President. Please also be in touch via email (lisalibrarian@gmail.com), Facebook (http://facebook.com/lisa4ala/) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/lisa4alaprez or https://twitter.com/lisalibrarian). I hope to have your vote in the ALA President election!

Q&A

What does library leadership mean to you?

To me, library leadership means acting in service to individuals and society through one’s work in libraries or in other settings as guided by the values of librarianship. Though there are leadership positions – those with specific management and administrative responsibilities – in libraries, I believe leadership-in-action is not restricted to formal positions. Library leadership can be enacted by anyone who works proactively to influence how libraries develop in order to better meet the needs of their communities.

As such, my leadership approach is highly participatory and democratic. When I was head of the Undergraduate Library at the University of Illinois I worked with an external consultant on an organizational development initiative.  The consultant asked who should be involved in the team and I immediately responded: “everyone who works here – all of the librarians and staff!” He was surprised that I would choose to have 30+ people on a team but I couldn’t imagine re-thinking the organization and how we did our work without everyone’s involvement. My belief is that we have too much important work to do in our libraries and professional organizations to leave anyone’s perspectives and talents behind!

Who has inspired you as a library leader?

So many people have inspired me as a library leader that this post would be way too long if I named them all! So, let me choose one person to tell you about and what I learned from working with her.

Mary Ellen Davis is the Executive Director of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), which is a division of the American Library Association. I had the privilege of working with her when I was ACRL President in 2010-2011. It was a very busy year. There is a full annual report but let me highlight a few items that underscore just how busy it was:

• We launched the Value of Academic Libraries Initiative with the publication of the freely available report Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report.
• We created ACRL’s Plan for Excellence as a strategic framework for the association focused on value, student learning, and the research/scholarly environment.
• We transitioned ACRL’s scholarly journal College & Research Libraries to an open access model in order to better serve the library community and to model open dissemination practices for academia.
• We reviewed the ACRL committee structure and revised all of the committee charges and membership guidelines.

In addition to working with me as ACRL President, and the ACRL Board of Directors as a group, Mary Ellen was also supervising a staff of approximately 40 FTE located in Chicago (at ALA headquarters) and in Middleton, Connecticut (where Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries is located). And of course, she is accountable to both the ALA Executive Director as well as 11,000+ ACRL members!

Why do I list all of this? Because I think it makes it clear why Mary Ellen is such an inspiration to me. Her workload is intense and she is accountable to many different stakeholders. As I worked with her I observed many characteristics that I have sought to emulate but let me reflect on just a few:

Coaching – Mary Ellen works to bring out the best in everyone. She has the ability to assess peoples’ strengths and support them as they develop in areas of weakness, all the while helping them feel an increasing sense of confidence. As my term as President progressed, I felt supported but also challenged and was a more effective leader for her investment in me. I’m also a better mentor and coach for others now because I learned from her approach.
Compassion – Mary Ellen’s attention to the individual person, not just the position that they have, is rooted in a deep-seated compassion and care for others. Her first response when someone is struggling is “how can I help”– not to take over but to be supportive. She brings a calm sense of purpose to these moments that I admire and I learned from her how to better discern what is needed in a moment of crisis.
Commitment – Mary Ellen is “all in” as the saying goes. She is committed to the association, its members, and her staff as well as librarianship and libraries more generally. I remember the first time I visited her office – there was a sign on the door: “to serve and delight members.” This clear and visible statement of purpose inspired me to challenge myself to have clarity of my own purpose and to make it know to others.

Let me add a personal note that Mary Ellen also brings a playfulness to her work that is absolutely delightful. Because of her, I’ve learned to bring fun into even the most serious work because it is not only more enjoyable but also more effective!

Tell us about your career path. When did you decide to take on a leadership role?

My path into librarianship started in fall 1989 when I started college at the University of St. Thomas and took a library tour. The librarian mentioned that they were hiring work-study students. I applied on the spot – it seemed like a great job given my intention to go to law school! A year in, I had changed my career aspirations and prepared to head off to library school after graduation. I’m very grateful to Janice Kragness, then a reference librarian, who first suggested librarianship to me. I was an intern at the Minnesota Children’s Museum and the Minnesota State Department of Education as well. During library school, I worked in the Reference and Agriculture Libraries as well as the ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Beth Woodard was a wonderful mentor and helped me discover my specialty area within librarianship.

I started my first librarian position as Reference Librarian in 1995 at Parkland (Community) College and became the Library Instruction Coordinator at Illinois State University in 1998. I started at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2002, where I am now Professor and Coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction in the University Library and Affiliated Faculty in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. At Illinois, I have also served as Acting Head of the University High School Library, Head of the Undergraduate Library, Acting Coordinator for Staff Development and Training, and the Coordinator for Strategic Planning. I am also very engaged with students in the LIS program.

Going back to my definition of library leadership, I have tried to serve the needs of individuals and society throughout my career. While I was in library school, I learned about ALA and observed how effective it was to work across institutional boundaries and library types. I decided then that I wanted to contribute to that work.

My first appointment in ALA was on the ACRL Instruction Section Name Change Implementation Task Force (changing the name from Bibliographic Instruction Section) and also I served as an intern on the ACRL Instruction Section Membership Committee that year. I must have done okay since I was asked to step in as chair of the Membership Committee when there was an unexpected mid-year vacancy!

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to serve in a variety of leadership roles, and I always find it rewarding to serve the profession and to work collaboratively with colleagues. It is an honor to contribute to our community of practice.

What specific skills would you recommend ALA members learn to enhance their leadership abilities?

The specific skills that I would recommend ALA members learn in order to enhance their leadership abilities are those related to appreciative inquiry. The appreciative inquiry approach to organizational change was originally articulated by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney and is based in a:

“search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves, in a central way, the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential.” (What is Appreciative Inquiry?)

I noticed that Jon Cawthorne, a library leader I admire, mentioned the book Appreciative Inquiry in his LF&F leader interview as well!

Starting from an appreciation of strengths and identifying what individuals and groups do well is a strong foundation for addressing challenging circumstances and overcoming barriers. By engaging a community in finding solutions together, we can build partnerships to address areas of weakness and, like individual strands braided into a rope, together we are stronger than we can be on our own.

What change do you want to see in the library world?

In my candidate statement, An Ethos of Hospitality, I detail my priority for eliminating exclusion and achieving inclusion in our library work.

I am very proud of ALA and the work that we do together as colleagues. By joining together, we accomplish more than we can alone. We are a strong community of practice. But, we can be stronger. I believe that ALA must be a platform for participation and empowerment.

Many in ALA have worked to identify and eliminate practices of exclusion; however, an ethos of hospitality requires more. We must also create and support practices of inclusion. It is not enough to remove barriers; we must also build bridges. We must intentionally create space for diversity to strengthen ALA as an inclusive and collegial community of practice.

Here are four specific actions to expect from me as ALA President:

  1. I will charge my appointments committee to appoint at least one person who has not previously served on an ALA committee to each committee. I took this approach as ACRL President and welcomed many newer members of the profession into leadership positions and increased the diversity of committee membership.
  2. I commit to using ALA President funds to support promising examples of digital inclusion and to share those practices across the association.  ALA policy allows us to conduct our work virtually; however, we often still rely on in-person meetings. This exclude members who are unable to travel for financial, health, work, etc. reasons. We can do better.
  3. I will re-engage the vision for the ALA Allied Professional Association (ALA-APA). Library workers need a strong organization to advocate for wages, benefits, etc.
  4. I will lead ALA in systematically re-examining the viability of holding two conferences/year and the effect of doing so on member engagement and the ecosystem of division and state conferences.

As ALA President, I will be a passionate voice for libraries and library workers, for dismantling exclusion, and for pursuing an ethos of hospitality and inclusion.  I welcome the opportunity to lead ALA, our strong community of practice that can be made stronger. I invite all LL&F readers to join me in this work.


Thanks Lisa with sharing with us your vision of library leadership! The polls open on March 15 and close April 22. For more information visit the ALA Election Information webpage.

 

The Editorial Board of LL&F invited all three candidates for ALA President to talk about leadership. We strongly feel that the next president of our primary professional organization needs to not only address the need for strong leadership in libraries, but also exemplify the traits we promote in this blog.

All candidates were sent the same questions via email. They were given the opportunity to provide a bio. The first candidate spotlight is on Christine Hage.

Meet Christine

Hage Head Shots 001Christine Lind Hage has been a full-time public librarian for 45 years and has been responsible for five major library construction projects. Recognized as Michigan’s Librarian of the Year in 1997 she has published and presented widely on various public library subjects both nationally and internationally.

Christine has been a frequent contributor to PUBLIB and is the author of The Public Library Start-Up Guide published in 2004 by ALA.  Within ALA Christine is a past president of the Public Library Association and is the past president of United for Libraries. She also served as an ALA Councilor for 12 years, and Chair of the Office of Information Technology’s America’s Libraries for the 21st Century Committee.

She knew she would be a librarian since she was 8 years old and has never worked anywhere but a library.  She is currently the director of the Rochester Hills (MI) Public Library.

Q&A

What does library leadership mean to you?

My primary responsibility as a library director and leader is providing the essential and relevant resources our staff needs to serve the community and the profession. This includes financial resources, work and learning spaces, equipment, supplies, responsive and flexible schedules, and the empowerment and independence they need to be successful leaders in their own areas of service to others. As a team manager, I partner with my staff to create a collaborative, cooperative, dynamic, and visionary work environment. This shared vision translates into how we all serve our diverse demographic of patrons who come to us with a wide spectrum of resource needs, interests, and expectations. Likewise, the ALA has been instrumental in teaching professionals to be advocates for serving our public, respect all of our members and the profession, and creating responsive and responsible output from our committees. Our history shows that we are all better and stronger when we make decisions based on the needs, skills and contributions of our diverse membership. Being a leader, one must be first a team member who values new ideas and strategies for setting and accomplishing ambitious and valued goals and outcomes.

Who has inspired you as a library leader?

My first mentor was a library school professor Rose Vainstein who showed her students how important it is to create libraries that center on patrons while pulling together information, vision, and expertise from other professions. Sue Sutton, a former reference librarian, also modeled great reference librarianship to me. Sarah Long, former ALA President, additionally, has provided me insights and wisdom throughout my career. The new librarians also inspire me with their grasp of the emerging digital realms of information and the value of protecting and advancing the profession.

Tell us about your career path. When did you decide to take on a leadership role?

From the time I stepped through the Tudor designed libraries of the Detroit Public Library system, my dream has always been to be a librarian. My life and caraeer have been dedicated to libraries, patrons, and the profession. In 45-year of service, I have been the full spectrum of a page, circulation assistant, children’s librarian, reference librarian, and director. Advancing libraries as public, academic, and specialty institutions is at the core of who I am. Libraries are the fortress of a free society and our profession must defend and protect them as they increase society’s awareness of the value of free speech and the right to publish one’s ideas.

Before going to library school I worked in my school library, college library and as a page/reference assistant/circulation assistant in a public library.  While in graduate school I worked for Rose Vainstein.  I received my MLS when I was 21 (went to school year round) and started in my first professional position as Head of Adult Services in my hometown library.  I worked there for six years and moved on to the directorship of a small library and 4 years later became an assistant director/head of adult services and eventually director in my current library, the Rochester Hills Public Library. After 18 years I was recruited to start a new library and was the director of the Clinton-Macomb Public Library.  Seven years later, my work was done there and I returned to the Rochester Hills Public Library as director, where I still work.  It has been a 45 year career that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed! I believe I lead by example and it seems to work well.

What specific skills would you recommend ALA members learn to enhance their leadership abilities?

One skill at the heart of librarianship is membership and networking to create a unified organization that recognizes diversity but honors the profession as the defender of free speech and the right to access information.  Building this network is as simple as introducing yourself to others at conferences or online and then taking an active role by volunteering for committee work and service projects. Open your mind to all the possibilities by approaching your career with zest, curiosity, and an exemplified willingness to listen, invetisgate, share, and learn.  Find people you admire and ask them to mentor you.  And don’t forget to help others to build the profession and the institution of libraries.

What change do you want to see in the library world? 

We have certainly changed the formats we work with.  When I started 45 years ago one of the first decisions I had to make was whether to purchase paperback books for my public library.  Later I moved us from reel to reel tapes to cassettes, to CDs to downloadable music.  We moved from 16mm movies to VHS to DVDs.  So over the years our formats have certainly changed, but in most ways we’re in the same business of providing information and recreational materials to our users, in the format and timeframe they want and need.  We are still people working with people.  Our tools change, but our mission is pretty much the same…give them what they want and need.


 

Thanks Christine with sharing with us your vision of library leadership! The polls open on March 15 and close April 22. For more information visit the ALA Election Information webpage.

photo of Heather LoweHeather Lowe manages the Fine Arts Division at the Dallas Public Library, where she’s creating community around art.

Can you talk about your career path?

I had an art degree and was thinking I wanted to be studio art professor. So I went to grad school and got my MFA at Cranbook Academy of Arts. In the process of being in grad school I realized didn’t really want to take professor route for a lot of reasons. There’s not a ton of security, art professor jobs are really hard to come by – but also I just happened to have a job in the library there.

Cranbrook is the kind of place where you rely on other students. The things my fellow students were coming to me for were book suggestions, artist suggestions, help with research. I began to think about libraries as a potential career path.

After I graduated there I got a library assistant job at the University of Michigan, where I worked in access services and their visual resource collection. I really enjoyed that environment and particularly enjoyed the visual resources cataloging and thinking about digital resources. I decided I did want to pursue librarianship and went to UCLA for my MLIS.

There I worked as a graduate assistant in the archives and special collections at UCLA. The Center for Primary Research and Training matches grad students with particular expertise to process other scholars’ work but to do so in a way that’s subject area informed. It’s kind of a skills trade – they teach you how to do archiving and you use your knowledge. I found I really enjoyed that.

After I graduated from UCLA I had the opportunity to work at Cal State San Bernadino as the director of their Visual Resources Center. That position was really about teaching students information literacy, visual literacy skills, basic software skills, as much as it was about building digital collections. I really took on a teaching / tutoring role there.

I was there for a few years and then was ready to expand my skills and try something new. I saw a position at the Dallas Public Library for a subject-specialized library in the arts and it just seemed like a perfect fit, so that’s where I am now.

What are your responsibilities there?

As a manager, my primary job is to coach my staff to use their strengths and expertise to make the library more relevant to our community.

A typical day might involve a meeting with a community group, a meeting with a group of staff from various units talking about a library-wide program that’s going to happen in the future, a little time on the reference desk, maybe working on weeding or a overseeing a collection maintenance project.

There’s 8 floors in our central library and each floor has a subject focus. We cover art, theater, film, and dance. We’re totally the fun floor of the library.

One of the successes you’ve had is getting the community involved in the fine arts collection – like the recent vinyl sale at the library. What do you do to get the community involved in the collection?

Sometimes you get the tone right and sometimes you don’t.

For me (and what I tell my staff), being a public librarian, you are a librarian 24 hours a day. When you go to the coffeeshop, you’re still the face of the library.

Everyone on my staff is an artist of some sort – either a musician, or a dancer or an actor. Everyone has a life in the arts outside of the building.

I tell them, “Continue to support the arts and don’t make it a secret that you’re a librarian.”

Out of that, and because of the changes that are happening, there’s been a real openness to what’s possible.

4 library users peruse the record selection

(Jason Janik/Dallas Public Library)

For example, with the LP sale. There’s clearly an outside interest in LPs. We had this fantastic collection that was locked in a room and gathering dust.

To justify keeping the collection and make it visible to the public, weeding it and having this big sale and celebration makes that possible – it sounds really weird to some people in the community that by selling off the collection you’re actually protecting the collection.

It ended up being a really fantastic event. People were interested and surprised that the library had such a collection. It was something that was really fun.

You talked about how your primary job is to coach your staff. Can you share more about your approach management and leadership?

Because I am in a management situation where I cannot have the knowledge that my staff have, really focusing on them as individuals and their talents is extremely important and the coaching metaphor seems to be really apt in my situation. Staff have been selected for my library because they have certain talents.

People will perform the best when they’re engaged and they feel like they’re appreciated. My approach is to get to know the staff, really honor their differences.

I have one staff member who’s really into experimental music and he has really great ideas about programming and ways to engage the community. But he doesn’t get to do that 100% of the time – he still has to weed the film book collection. To be able to find things that are really personally meaningful for staff creates an environment where everybody feels respected, and respects each other, and gives a lot to the library.

Public libraries demand a lot from their staff. There aren’t a ton of jobs that tell you that you have to play this particular role in your community even when you’re not being paid, or that you have to work on Christmas Eve. It’s even more important in the library setting to respect the staff as individuals.

You have to have a passion. Every individual has to have that fire burning inside of them to serve the public.

It’s a really demanding job that can grind you down if you aren’t connected to values. I do consciously remind my staff why we’re there.

On the arts floor we have a very specific mission to promote cultural equity, to provide access to the arts to people who may not feel comfortable in other cultural spaces but feel comfortable in the library.

That’s a role that the public library in particular is really positioned to take and to push forward in our communities.

That’s a really beautiful mission.

That’s part of what drew me to libraries. If you look at any kind of polling about how people feel in public spaces, libraries are pretty much the friendliest spaces.

As an arts person with arts training, taking people who don’t have that training to art museums and watching how they react to that environment, you see very often in institutions that are trying to educate, people feel a little dumb.

I think museums are awesome. That’s not to knock museums. They’re greatly changing their spaces and making people feel more comfortable. [But] people go in and look at a piece of modern art and think that they should like every piece of art in the museum, and if they don’t it, they think “Oh well, art’s just not for me.”

Libraries have this really safe feeling so people think, “I can just go try it.”

There’s more of a self-directed learning in the library.

Hearing about your staff and how you’re coaching them, it sounds like you’re an awesome manager. When you came into this role where you were supervising staff, what skills did you already have and what did you need to develop?

I have always been a very empathetic person. I think I’m naturally fairly perceptive. I can read body language pretty well. So to some extent I brought those skills with me.

I had to develop intentionality. A team is not going to become a team unless you’re really intentional about creating opportunities for them to socialize and to see each other’s skills.

This is the first time I’ve supervised people who are more veteran staff than I am. I have a staff member who’s been with the library for 17 years. He has a lot of institutional knowledge. I’m figuring out that landscape and how to respect that knowledge and still coach him through a lot of change and see the change in a positive light while not feeling threatened.

So I would say being intentional and working on some of the skills I already possess.

It feels like you’re talking about my experience, as someone who’s coming in and supervising people who have been in a library for decades and managing change. needing to honor their knowledge and also lead them through change is this really tenuous landscape.

You have to do a lot of translating, and really thinking about how broad changes affect the individual. When we were hiring people and expanding library hours, I did the calculation: “How much desk time would you be doing with the new staff?”

I tried to break it down in very understandable ways that my existing staff’s life would change. “You’re going to go from doing 7 hours of desk time a day to 4 hours or 3 hours.”

Ugh – 7 hours of desk time?

If you’ve worked in a public library, you can understand that 7 hours of desk time in a day is a lot.

You talked about how exciting it is to be in a library figuring out the future. What do you see as the future of art and visual resources in public libraries?

Library has always been a place of self-directed learning. Parallel to the trends in technology and how much technology is making things easier, there’s also a trend toward going back to the handmade, to the tradition of crafts and exploring your creative side.

You can see interest in weaving and knitting and quilting. All of that has skyrocketed in recent years. The library is really well-suited to help people explore those kinds of interests and be a real stepping block to the arts communities.

The arts community can be – not exactly cloistered, but it can feel very much like a clique. In many cities it’s a very small community.  If you’re a printmaker, you know all of the printmakers in your city. Libraries can provide spaces for people to experiment and become more confident, and to connect with others.

Libraries have always been a community hub. Going forward, public libraries, particularly arts libraries, really need to reclaim that role as the place you can go and try out printmaking and find other quilters. We offer keyboard classes and guitar classes. We have an open mic night. There’s a real community beginning to form around those things, and I see that as the future of arts libraries.

It’s not just about art and art output, but bridging the gap between people who want to be supporters of the arts and the art itself.

What big projects are on the horizon for you in 2016?

cover of the dallas public library coloring bookWe had a couple of high profile things this fall, like the record collection and we produced a coloring book from local artists.

In 2016 we’re really looking at community-building endeavors. We’re looking at series of classes and ongoing events. We have an improv class that we’re going to start providing to the public completely free of charge. We’re going to have a series on

how to create photographic work in the spring, and then a professional skills for photographers series in the fall. We’re going to start doing a weekly arts-enrichment program for home-schooled kids.

We’re also trying to coordinate our programming a bit better to increase our impact on the community. For example in music, we have music classes where we teach basic keyboard and basic guitar. We now have an open mic night. We also in the spring and fall have weekly concerts on Sundays.

You can go learn music, you can go perform music, you can go listen to music. We’re looking at creating a series of classes on writing music, and then publishing music, and really strengthening our connections with people who self-publish music and the underground scene in Dallas.

If you really want to support the arts in a city, you really have to provide access to each part of the process. You can’t create art lovers if there’s no art to enjoy, and you can’t create robust arts-creating community unless you have every level of creator, from those that are pretty successful to those that are just starting out.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring library leaders?

Don’t let your fear guide you. It can be scary to step out and take a risk or suggest something that’s not been done or to make a critical comment.

Particularly in a field like libraries, we all tend to be more meek individuals. It really is important that leaders in the library are able to shed some of that fear and some of that meekness and let the values that led us into the profession lead us into pushing the profession forward.

photo of Vanessa MorrisVanessa Morris is the Assistant Library Director and Braille and Talking Book Librarian at Taylor Community Library. She founded the Library Access Foundation, which supports public libraries in serving people with print impairments. Follow her on Twitter: @Nessa_Morris.

You’ve been in multiple library leadership positions, including at a specialized library for people with vision impairments. Can you tell us about your career path and your current role?

Short Version: Library Assistant → Youth Services Librarian → Small Public Library Director → Library for the Blind Director → Large Public Library Assistant Director / Braille & Talking Book Librarian

Long version: I was hired as a Youth Services Librarian within a few months of getting my M.L.I.S. A few years later, I became director of the River Rouge branch of Wayne County Library in Michigan.

In part because of my interest in technology, I was offered the position of  director of Wayne County Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Services for people with vision impairments, like the rest of the world, are moving to an increasingly virtual environment. Refreshable braille is my favorite technological invention so far.

After Wayne County Library sadly bit the dust, I began working with Taylor Community Library (TCL), also in Michigan. TCL has generously allowed me to help establish a new Braille and Talking Books program that serves residents in Wayne County.

What skills or competencies do you see as important for library leadership?

Communication skills are vital. Budget cuts and program cuts happen when you aren’t around to stand up for your library. Always be present, and make sure to listen and think about what people say.

Librarians are often wordy people thinking a million thoughts a minute due to all the exciting knowledge our brains come across and that we want to share with non-librarians, but non-librarians, which includes many politicians and library board members, don’t always want to spend time pondering the mysteries of the library universe. They rely on library experts to relay pertinent information needed for them to make decisions about the future of libraries, and sometimes our messages get lost in our attempts to provide detailed information (i.e., don’t be wordy).

In summary, be present, be attentive, and be brief.

When the future of the Wayne County Braille and Talking Book Library was uncertain, you founded a nonprofit organization, the Library Access Foundation. What inspired you to take this step?

Service to people with disabilities has become a passion of mine. Everyone has a right to use public library materials. Libraries are great at providing materials, but not always so good at making sure people can use the provided materials, especially at smaller libraries where resources may be more limited. I wanted a way to support public libraries with providing accessible services after Wayne County Library closed.

After talking with a few former colleagues and patrons, I worked with them to establish Library Access Foundation (LAF)t, which could continue to provide minimal services no matter where I personally ended up. You can find out more about our projects at LibraryAccess.org.

What have been your successes with LAF so far? Lessons learned?

Photo of woman using a walker with a basketMy first success was the purchase of a walker with a basket for the use of patrons at Taylor Community Library. I happened to be at the library the first time a patron used the walker. For me, it was exciting that a Foundation I helped establish was able to provide something useful. The woman who used the walker felt like a celebrity when I took her picture to add to the library’s website.

As for lessons learned, establishing and administering a foundation is a long process. Make sure you plan ahead, break items into manageable steps, and delegate. You cannot manage an organization on your own. People need a shared vision and that requires communication.

What’s your library leadership philosophy?

Be practical and use common sense. Also, be your own customer. My daughter is a excellent loser of library books, and it’s a humbling experience to pay your co-worker for a lost book. I highly recommend trying everything your library has to offer from the patron perspective, including losing a book.

Then, use a common sense approach to figure out how your library can make experiences less humbling and less threatening, especially to a person who has never used a library before. Libraries can be scary places for non-users.

How is leadership different in the nonprofit environment than in a traditional library?

In my personal experience, the main difference has been lack of a paid staff for the nonprofit, but I’ve only been directing a nonprofit less than a year. At this point, we’re all volunteers with a shared vision.

I’m sure that a larger nonprofit would have more differences, but LAF is a small recently established foundation. We’re still getting our feet wet in the nonprofit world.

How can library leaders broaden access to library resources for people with vision challenges?

library patron seated at video magnifier

Video magnifier in Taylor Community Library Assistive Technology Lab

Experience your library from the patron’s perspective. Put on vaseline-smeared glasses and try to use your library. What do you find most frustrating? How can you fix it?

Some easy changes to make: Put large print stickers on computer keyboards. Position screens away from glare. Use large print with high-contrast on signs and fliers.

Other changes may be more expensive, but you can look for partner organizations like Lions Clubs or Rotary. Video magnifiers enable low-vision patrons to see photos or diagrams in print books more clearly than magnifying glasses. Screen reader software can be purchased on a USB-drive, so it can be used with any library computer, rather than a dedicated workstation.

Send staff to events specializing in services to people with vision impairments, regardless of whether they’re library-related or not.

What are the most exciting projects you have on the horizon, either with LAF or Taylor Community Library?

The new “Braille & Talking Books @ Taylor Community Library” grand opening celebration is tentatively scheduled for early April. Information about the celebration will be posted on TCL’s website in March.

LAF volunteers are evaluating assistive devices in order to create Library Access Boxes (LABs) to distribute to nearby libraries in order to help patrons with low vision.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring library leaders?

Whether we want to or not, librarians to engage with politicians.Politicians often decide the fate of your library. Do you really want uninformed politicians making decisions? Educate them.

Politicians should be patrons of your library. If they’re not, figure out why, and get them library cards. Don’t wait until an emergency. Make sure your local and state politicians understand, not just the governance, but the services your library provides to their constituents.

"Everyone has a right to use public library materials." Image of hand on book set in Braille.