The focus of this issue is on fantastic failures, and boy, do I have a lot of those. To narrow it down, I will seek to define a “fantastic failure” for this column not as an instance of being extraordinarily unsuccessful, but rather as an instance of being unsuccessful that led to an important learning breakthrough. I’m fortunate to have many fantastic failures of this type, as well. I’ll focus on one in particular that stands out from deep in the past. The lessons I learned many years ago from this misstep serve as a foundation for my professional leadership and the lessons I pass on to others today.
From the President
PLA President FELTON THOMAS is Director of the Cleveland (OH) Public Library. Contact Felton at email@example.com. Felton is currently reading Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe. The focus of this issue is on fantastic failures, and boy, do I have a lot of those. To narrow it down, I will seek to define a “fantastic failure” […]
If the election has taught us anything, it is that standing quietly on the sidelines simply emboldens those who oppose our values. Join me and PLA as we ensure that public libraries are a safe place—free of intolerance for our communities and our staff.
Success today is judged by the outcomes displayed by those who attend our programs. Please join us as we seek to document how we make our communities better. Get more information at www.projectoutcome.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nearly twenty years ago, I made one of the best professional decisions of my life and joined the American Library Association. Soon after, I became a PLA member and began to volunteer with this fine organization. Even then, I could never believe that the young boy who had started working in public libraries at the age of thirteen to escape gangs in his neighborhood would one day lead the organization representing more than nine thousand public library workers and supporting more than 16,000 public libraries throughout the country. There have been many mentors over the years, and I begin by thanking them for their belief in me and their great counsel. I also want to thank my staff and board at the Cleveland (OH) Public Library for their support of this leadership journey. Finally, I must thank my family in advance for their patience and love over the next twelve months.
PLA President Vailey Oehlke is Director of Libraries for Multnomah County (OR) Library in Portland. Contact Vailey at email@example.com. Vailey is currently reading Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. As I write this, I am reflecting on the fabulous PLA 2016 conference in Denver. I’m so proud of the exceptional […]
We all know the ways in which a public library contributes to personal learning, growth, and fulfillment. As they have for many of us, libraries played an important role in my childhood. My family moved nearly every year of my life until I got to high school. The library was the place I could go where it didn’t matter that I was the new kid in class, where my clothes weren’t judged and, most importantly, where it was perfectly OK to spend time alone with my nose stuck in a book. However, it is as an adult that libraries have had the most profound impact on me, personally and professionally.
I knew just how I was going to begin this column. And that’s the problem. I was going to talk about the critical juncture in the history of public libraries at which we find ourselves today. I knew this venue would offer an opportunity to create urgency around how we in public library service must band together and shift the narrative about public libraries to ensure the lasting relevance of libraries to the communities they serve.
They say that good things come in small packages and I have often found that the advice and wisdom of others that best stick in my brain come in small phrases and sound bites. Over the years I have accumulated many of these and thought I would share a few of my favorites below.
As a polyglot I have always thought of myself as someone who was fairly globally aware. I received an undergraduate degree in Spanish and German, and my original career goal was to work in international business. I enjoy personal travel to explore new lands and cultures. I am the person who, when expecting to meet someone in or from another country, is rushing to learn a few key phrases in the person’s native tongue and social graces to attempt or avoid. I have also thought of myself as curious and eager to learn from colleagues about new ideas on service delivery, building design, planning, programming, and more. Yet I recently found out how limited my professional knowledge was of a whole public library universe that exists beyond the confines of the United States.
Sometimes our library jargon sets us up for negative customer-service experiences. How many of us have a “claims returned” status in our automation systems or even a “claims returned” form that we have customers sign? I challenge anyone to use the verb form “claims” with a positive connotation. Put yourself in the shoes of a customer who can remember plain as day returning five items to the library only to be told that one was not. In the customer’s mind the item has been “lost” or is “missing” from the library. In our minds it has become lodged between the front passenger side door and seat when the customer sped too fast around a corner. Yet in response we invoke the “claims returned” process. I can see the cartoon now, “this customer ‘claims’ to have returned this book and discovered a cure for the common cold.” No wonder we set our staff and customers up for an unpleasant confrontation. Although statistically likely, why have we fallen into a “guilty until proven innocent” approach with our customers? In my rethinking of my library’s policies this is one whose days I believe are numbered. We still need a procedure, of course, but framing it as an unfortunate circumstance and sending out a joint search team comprising staff and customer without pointing fingers seems like a much more positive and productive approach.
Although I have to admit feeling a bit self-conscious about wearing Mickey Mouse ears with a tassel after recently “graduating” from a workshop at the
Disney Institute (DI), the training from that day was nothing to laugh about and really got me thinking about the Aspen Institute’s (AI) “Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries” report released in October.1 Disney’s workshop was targeted to a broad range of attendees from the private and public sectors with a focus on leadership, creativity, and innovation. AI’s report is focused on public libraries and offers a call to action for library leaders, policy makers, and the community. The following are some of the interesting parallels I observed between the two institutes.
Thank you for your PLA membership and for being a part of the best association for public library professionals! One of the questions I was most frequently asked during my year as president-elect was what “big theme” or “signature initiative” I was going to bring to PLA in 2014-15. I am pleased to assure you […]
My favorite library conference tchotchke of all time is a button I received from the PLA membership booth several years ago. It reads, “Ask me why I love my job!” Considering the fact that I would have proudly worn that button the first day I started working in a public library thirty-two years ago and would still do so today makes me feel very fortunate. Of course those who dare to ask the question need to be prepared to cut me off at some point (luckily for you, there’s an end to this column).
Recently I received an email message from a fellow library director recommending a librarian for employment. She noted that the librarian was skilled in readers’ advisory and a good team member, but had been let go due to continuing cuts to the public library’s budget by the municipal authorities, despite the fact that the town is sufficiently affluent to afford sustained support for public library services. Unfortunately, the local officials do not see the extent of the public library’s contribution to the well-being of community residents and to the town. We need to show more effectively that libraries are not only busy and efficiently run institutions, but that public libraries have multiple direct and indirect impacts on our communities.