A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Successful Beginnings

by Monique Le Conge Ziesenhenne on November 9, 2018

Monique Le Conge Ziesenhenne, PhD, is Director of Library & Community Services at Palo Alto (CA) Public Library and the PLA President. Contact Monique at monique.ziesenhenne@cityofpaloalto.org. Monique is currently reading Origin by Dan Brown.

“In most endeavors, we should be awake to the power of beginnings and aim to make a strong start. If that fails, we can try to make a fresh start. And if the beginning is beyond our control, we can enlist others to attempt a group start. These are the three principles of successful beginnings: Start right. Start again. Start together.” —Daniel H. Pink, When: The Scientific Secrets Of Perfect Timing1

Pretty apropos for a first column. If you attended the 2018 PLA Conference, you may have seen Pink at one of the luncheons. He had just released When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. (A video clip of Pink discussing the book is available online, in case you missed it.) Since then, I have found myself considering timing and how it works out in our professional lives and library work. Pink goes on to note that beginnings are important and the impact of them lasts longer than nearly anything else. How you influence or shape a beginning can be as important as the beginning itself.2

When I was asked to stand for election as PLA president, I remarked that I had never served on the PLA board and maybe that would be a barrier to serving. The nominating committee representative reminded me that I had served on other boards and certainly knew what might be expected. Had I ever led a meeting? Well, yes, many. Then there will be no problem, was the answer. Having served on PLA committees, I understood the organization, which should be helpful. So I ran. I appreciate being elected—thank you all who voted for me. Little did I know that I would be joining a group of some of the finest library superheroes I have ever known and would be dedicating my time, this new start, to a wonderful team experience.

Start Right

Seriously, everyone on the PLA board has at least one library leadership superpower. I made it a goal during my time as the president-elect to learn the rhythms and culture of the PLA board and to participate where possible. From former PLA President Felton Thomas, I learned how skilled he is at storytelling with great impact and influence, as well as how to let go of the responsibility once it is no longer your turn. From Past-President Pam Sandlian-Smith, I have gained a great appreciation for waiting a moment and giving my ideas more thought after listening deeply to others. Holding everyone together is PLA Executive Director Barb Macikas and her superb staff, who support the best interests of PLA with passion, political savvy, and an astute sense of timing for making progress as a part of the American Library Association (ALA). I’m sure that I will soon learn ALA President- Elect Ramiro Salazar’s superpowers, and I am looking forward to that. Every board member demonstrates integrity, passion, and the persistence to provide leadership to PLA. You have to know that when representing public libraries in the larger organization, or working with international libraries, or providing training and guidance to public libraries in the field, the people I have started working with this year believe in the value of libraries and are eagerly looking at the future with strategic planning, leadership training, and innovative responses to the many issues that all of us encounter every day. You, as a member, are foremost in our minds because we know that you are superheroes, too.

The image of a library superhero is not new, but I like it because it’s a persistent idea and one that resonates. You know that it is when you see it. Merriam-Webster defines a superhero as “a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers; also: an exceptionally skillful or successful person.”3Wikipedia notes that a superhero is a stock character “usually possessing supernatural or superhuman powers, who is dedicated to fighting the evil of his/her universe, protecting the public, and usually battling supervillains.”4Protecting the public. Fighting evil. Battling supervillains. All within your universe. Yes, you—all of you—out there, whether in a small library in a rural area, in a big system, or in a suburb, all dealing with the many issues that happen every day, including many that you were not originally trained to handle, and likely never thought you would ever see. No matter what type of public library you are working in right now, no matter what your education or experience, you are one of us. You are a superhero. If you haven’t thought of yourself in that way, start today.

Start Again

If you have ever wanted to be involved in PLA, now is the time. There are many opportunities, including some that are virtual assignments. So, if you cannot come to conferences, you are still able to work in ways that support our division and provide us all with the benefits of your superpowers. Be sure to fill out a volunteer form to let us know where you would be the best fit!

Start Together

Perhaps most important, and, likely one of the reasons you are part of a membership organization: working with others to learn, to solve problems, to develop your skills or keep them sharp, or to simply give back to this great profession. Make the most of your membership by volunteering for a committee, offering to write for Public Libraries Online, attending a webinar, or contributing to the Fund for the Future. At some moments, everyone needs to find an ally—look for them in PLA! The Board has turned out to be such a wonderful, profession-affirming experience that I recommend it highly to all of you, if you are able. My years of participating on committees and feeling a part of PLA make sense now. The timing has been just right and I know that the strength of PLA comes from the wide range of experience and diversity among the membership. I am happy to start this year with you!


  1. Daniel H. Pink, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Merriam-Webster, s.v. “superhero,” accessed Aug. 15, 2018.
  4. Wikipedia, s.v. “Superhero,” last modified Aug. 12, 2018.