Archive for October, 2014

Process and Timing

October 29, 2014

Process and timing — such boring concepts … and it’s essential to know them if you want to be successful in engaging with your community.

I was reminded of this last week at the Long Island Library Resources Council’s 23rd Annual Conference on Libraries and the Future, in Bethpage, NY. Our dinner speaker on Thursday evening was Michaelle Solages, New York State Assemblywoman and former access services supervisor at the Axinn Library of Hofstra University.

Ms. Solages’ talk was a review of the New York state budget process, with advice for librarians about the timing and process for effective advocacy. Afterward, one of the attendees who has been involved in library advocacy with the state legislature told me that the presentation contained important new insights that the library group could use to strengthen its advocacy program. … So, even when you think you know “the system” — it’s not a bad idea to check your knowledge and be open to new information at any time!

Thus reminded of the importance of timing and process, I returned home Friday night and began to catch up over the weekend with things I had missed while I was away. One of them was a notice about a series of meetings coming up soon to discuss a revised land use plan for the suburban community where I live.  Now, we have a nice little community library that is within the boundaries of this land use plan, and it’s in a building that’s pretty much the same as it was 30 — maybe 50 — years ago. But as I read through the planning documents, I found not one mention of the library! There was lots of talk about livable communities and community spaces and so on, but not one word about the library’s role in the re-envisioned community! How can that be? If the planning board doesn’t understand the community role of the public library (they should), then the county library board, and the Friends of the Library (I’m a member) should be telling them. This is the critical time for the library in our community. It can either be our hub for the next 50 years, or get stuck in the 50-years-ago past. Understanding and working with the process will be essential. Timing is “everything”.

Well, I’ve started some inquiries. I don’t think it’s too late … yet. We’ll see what happens.


The Paradox of Relevance

October 3, 2014

So often in the library literature we read various prescriptions for “remaining relevant”. Some librarians adopt that as an unofficial mission statement. Their strategic goal is to “stay relevant.”

I think we should stop talking about how to remain relevant. Being relevant isn’t a goal, it’s a by-product. If we focus outward, on how we will contribute to our communities, and not inward, on our own “relevance”, we will discover much to our surprise that we have become not only relevant, but indispensable. And that’s the paradox.

Let’s go a step further. In an interview (Harvard Business Review, March 2014, p. 128), John Cleese (of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers fame) talked about his foray into management training. He said, “…we decided that the ideal leader was the one trying to make himself dispensable.” Let’s be those leaders. Let’s adopt the goal to empower our communities and contribute to their success. Let’s build and field the tools and resources they need, even if especially when it might mean they don’t keep coming to us for the same old things. If we keep trying to work ourselves out of a job, we might find the next job they’ll want us to tackle is just crying out for our attention. And that’s the paradox.

The Knight News Challenge

October 3, 2014

Colleagues Elizabeth Kelsen Huber, Elizabeth Leonard, and I submitted a proposal earlier this week in the Knight Foundation’s library challenge competition. Briefly, our initiative is to collect stories and models of librarians engaging with the community, and then to disseminate successful practices and lessons learned.

Please visit our proposal at and give us your feedback!