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Trust in the Library

Jessica Jones —  January 12, 2017 — Leave a comment

Bookshelves with bright lightbulb and title Trust in the LibraryLibrarianship is one of the most trusted professions. Our patrons trust us; the public trusts us; but, what do we do when we have trust issues within the library itself?
When I was the director at a small college library, we had trust issues within the institution. Significant ones. I managed this by working to make the library “campus Switzerland” and actively avoided the academic politicking that was happening at the time. In keeping the library a safe space, we thrived in comparison to many other departments. We still felt the effects of the larger institutional issues, but it was mitigated considerably by everyone making efforts to keep divisive issues out of our space.

Having already learned that lesson, my next position at a public library followed what I understood to be a very contentious manager, over a bigger staff than I had at the college. These were mostly site-specific issues, and, without the threats of employment termination and organized protests (the college was an adventure), I made the mistake of underestimating the problem at the public library. I thought that if I were proactive in repairing the damage previously done to the manager position, while forging positive relationships with my new staff, that other issues would gradually untangle.

To a degree, they did. I did individual interviews with each staff member, made an affinity wall, improved some IT processes, implemented a new chat program so that communication between separate desks would be more fluid, and troubleshot acute issues as they arose.

The thing is, trust issues don’t often correct themselves. Few problems do. When a manager instigates conflict in their staff, they don’t just compromise the staff’s relationship with the manager. They also compromise the staff’s relationships with other staff.

This feels obvious in retrospect. It was pointed out by a staff member who came to me to talk about trust in our building and the patterns she was noticing. I am not happy with myself for not seeing this earlier. This is the part of introspection that is more disappointing than insightful, but the two sides are equally important. It’s how we learn to do better.

It is our job as leaders to be responsive and our duty as fellow humans to be empathetic.At the college, I was partly successful because of my own efforts, but, in hindsight, I recognize that some of it was also fortuitous timing. The problems at the college were not endemic when I arrived, and I was able to get out in front of them to minimize damage. I cannot manage my current staff’s trust issues the same way I managed my former staff’s. Trust is complicated. It is multi-faceted and affects every possible permutation of involved parties. When you have a big staff, like I do now, it will be an ongoing struggle. It would be short-sighted to underestimate these issues.

So what do you do when you finally see the problem?

I am in the process of figuring that out, but I have some ideas. You know those terrible trust exercises that everyone hates? They have a purpose: to give people an opportunity to test their relationships in a controlled environment. We will also be having more staff meetings where we prioritize and facilitate discussions regarding personal conflicts in the professional sphere. I am scheduling follow-ups with individual staff members to talk about their needs and insecurities. And, I’m asking my staff to be active participants in helping themselves.


Last week ouklr school celebrated Banned Books Week. I am lucky enough to work at an arts high school that prides itself on intellectual and academic freedom, creativity, and instilling the value of the humanities within our students. Since our school opened its doors fifteen years ago, Banned Books Week (BBW) has been celebrated.  It is so well embedded in our school that even our President proudly supports our events and the openness of our institution. But none of this happened overnight.

Prior to BBW, I met with the graphic design teacher in August to discuss an ongoing annual project where seniors design BBW posters that are displayed in the library. In my opinion, they always do a better job than anything ALA will sell me (see above artwork). Throughout BBW I went to four high school U.S. Government classes to discuss the 1st Amendment, prominent case-law involving students’ rights, and how this ties to BBW and their rights as young adults. Each day in the library we held trivia contests distributed via email to our students where they could win Banned Books, posters, buttons, T-shirts and other anti-censorship prizes in addition to Amazon gift cards, all displayed on tables in cauldrons in the front of the library. Our library director did a program on the controversial opera “The Death Of Klinghoffer.” Mid-week we held our annual BBW Read Out at lunch in the courtyard and had a great group of students and teachers reading from their favorite banned books. I was proud to see our Dean & VP in the amphitheater observing.

sbAlthough many places don’t offer the support that I receive, there is nothing more patriotic than celebrating Banned Books Week. My father is a vet and retired Air Force and my sister-in-law is an Iraqi War Veteran. If you’re concerned about a backlash, invite service members into your BBW library program. My sister-in-law is a huge fan of fantasy literature and would proudly state “you’re damn right I fought for your right to read Harry Potter or any other book.” Hearing that from a service member in uniform with an American flag backdrop helps take away the politics and allows us to celebrate as united Americans.

apI have always believed that libraries are about relationships. I love getting to know all the students, teachers, administrators, and staff at school. The best relationships take time to build. It took years to build up trust before Creative Writing, History, Government, and Visual Arts teachers let me into their classrooms and collaborated with me for BBW. It was through informal conversations that they gained a sense of who I was and what was motivating me. I hope that everyone is out there building quality relationships that give them the support they need to celebrate BBW.  The best part of BBW this year? When a 12th grader I didn’t know visited me in the library and thanked me for coming to his class because he thought the discussion interesting.  It is the beginning of a new relationship.