Dear Abby,

You called and asked if you could interview me for your Saint Catherine’s Library School assignment. Being asked for an interview is sort of like an invitation I received to speak at a 25th high school reunion in a school where I used to be a teacher. Not only are my students 25 years out of school, they’re inviting me back as an old teacher (do they expect me to use a walker?). Sort of makes me feel older than dirt – or at least an elder of the tribe. But anyway, I take my commitment to the future of our profession very seriously. So seriously, that while I readily gave you answers to your list of questions, after some thought I’d like to change (or at least re-arrange) my answer.

You asked, “What problems and challenges does [my] library system face?” Of course, my number one answer addressed not-enough-funding. I responded, “Demonstrated increasing service needs in absence of corresponding increasing funding.” Continuing, my answers 2, 3, and 4 respectively addressed delivering techy services simultaneously with traditional services, finding new ways to provide outreach services, and providing a diverse high quality collection. And my very last answer (#5) was, “Employing, inspiring, and equipping visionary, customer service-oriented library staff – both in leading current staff and hiring new staff.”

4 days after giving you that answer, I’d like to rearrange my responses and move #5 to #1. Yes, funding is important, but I propose that our greatest resource is our staff, and the care and feeding of staff resources is the job of the Director. Take care of the staff, and the staff will take care of the business.

Staff leadership is a daunting task. Modeling energy and enthusiasm is a real challenge some days. Sometimes you lead from the front, more often from alongside and occasionally from behind. Even terrific employees need continual nurturing through support and training to equip them to carry out ordinary tasks in extraordinary ways and inspire their visions of how to provide services better. And when people move on, the challenge of finding the right person to bring in a fresh perspective is too often not easy, but a real opportunity. We get many applicants, but many misunderstand or ignore the minimal requirements for the job. But at the end of the day, it’s a real reward to see the staff functioning as a team, in tune with the community and each other.

Funding problems will always be here (or at least they’ve been with us as long as I can remember). But I really believe that an efficiently staffed organization, maximizing the resources we have to provide the most appropriate services we can, is the best possible marketing tool to prove that we’re worthy of the funding we get — and hopefully to inspire the trust to continue to receive.

So, thanks for asking. It gave me a real opportunity to reflect and remember why I love this job. Good luck in your library career!

Energy of change

Is change energizing or draining? Depends on how you look at it. I’m usually energized by change. Sure it’s tiring, but it’s a good tired. It’s been over 2 months since I made an employment change and moved 100 miles up the highway. While I was far from burned out in my former job, I find every day a new and exciting adventure. I actually get up and can’t wait to get to work. Yup! For me, change is invigorating.

Sort of like re-arranging the furniture in your house. Some people never move a chair. Others move the couches so often that you’d better check behind before you sit down, lest it has moved across the room. I’m sort of in between (partly because my house doesn’t give me a lot of options). And when you do sit down, and the couch is facing north instead of south, you get a whole new view of the room. You see things differently when the light shines on you from a different angle.

Had an inspiring change moment yesterday when I invited a small staff team to vision how we might re-arrange the public area of the library. First we gathered around a table, and soon we were walking around the library. Before I knew it, the team was so excited that they couldn’t wait to accomplish even some small change that would feel like progress. They moved chairs and tables. Then we came downstairs and dug through closets finding magazine shelving for a revamped teen area. We’ll have to wait for moves that involve electrical cords and Cat 5 cable, but we’re on our way. Even today, people are pouring over sketches and diagrams What fun!

Patience in feeding

Michael Stephens’s Tame the Web post this morning, Advocates Overcoming IT Resistance to Web 2.0, resonated with me, in my new world which is very 1.0. Michael pulled out two concepts from the Carson article about Morgan Stanley’s implementation of 2.0 tools: (1) -Feed the open mouths; don’t force it. and (2) -Be patient, because change takes time.

As the new Director, I’ve seen a number of places where 2.0 tools would improve not only my efficiency but our collective ability to communicate with and serve our customers. I even have a 1.0 (paper, pen, and ink) list of possibilities and have identified a few champions to start the journey with me. Now, how to identify, prioritize, and hold back are my major challenges.

Leadership as musical enablement

While playing organ for a worship service this morning, I carried the analogy begun in my previous post even further.

Whenever I play organ in a church, I hear my German Lutheran Grandpa Walter’s voice — indeed his spirit often is near me. He used to complain mightily about the organist in his church (who, incidentally, was my beginning piano teacher.) He said she played too loudly, “only for herself,” he claimed.

As I’ve thought about his critical comments, I now know that the duty of the organist is as accompanist to guide the worshippers through their experience, and lead them in song. They are not there to put on a concert, there are other venues for that. The organist introduces the song, sets the tempo, outlines the melody, undergirds the dynamics, and then gets out of the way to let the people sing. One of my favorite things to do (in a congregation of good singers when the hymn is well-known) is to drop down to a whisper or maybe even drop out altogether for a verse or a section of a capella singing. The organ, with its myriad of hidden orchestra components, frames the entire program. With a prelude, the organ centers the attention; in soft, hushed tones it underlies the prayers; through modulation of keys, provides bridges between progressive elements of the liturgy, with trumpets, it soars with joy; all the while providing the infrastructure upon which community worship and singing happens.

Aha — organizational leadership! Good leaders set the tone, provide the accompaniment, and get out of the way so that others can accomplish their purpose. And, if the leader is a good one, does it all not for their own glory.

So to wrap this analogy to a beneficial conclusion, and not go on ad nauseum ;^)
A good library leader:
1. Builds a staff with diverse skills
2. Brings the staff together in teams
3. Blends some teams together as appropriate for tasks
4. Selects compositions/programs for appropriate times/places/audiences
5. Guides teams through the composition of projects
6. Determines planning and pace of programs
7. Enables others to be all they can be (darn, there’s that military influence in my background coming out again)
8. Does not detract from purpose through self-aggrandization

I know a number of library leaders who share my passion for music, specifically organ — Lars, Judy, Fran, Jane, Linda, are a few that come quickly to mind. Bet they already know this.

Leadership as a harmonious blending

Avocation: a subordinate occupation pursued in addition to one’s vocation especially for enjoyment : Hobby Merriam-Webster online dictionary

My first career in music became my avocation quite a while ago — which was the best thing that ever happened for me, since now I find therapy in making music. But when I quit music as a career field, I missed the rush of conducting a performing organization and the feeling of satisfaction in bringing the best interpretation forward through my conductor’s baton. I would point at one group, and they would add their voices; gesture to another section and they would whisper their accompaniment; while I lifted the soloist to bring out the melody.

I recouped some of that feeling through playing the organ. At my fingertips, I had the instruments of the orchestra at my beck and call. What fun, to mold a composition to my individual style. My right brain was challenged, and balanced the left brain logic and analytical thinking I was doing at work.

Somehow, while practicing today, “work me” invaded “personal me” when I realized that playing the organ is a microcosm of organizational leadership. Just as I set up various instrument combinations on each manual, with complementing voices and timbres, I look for complementing skills and attributes in staff teams. Where I use couplers to bring various voicings on the organ into other settings, I bring additional resources into various work projects that I’m leading. Adding a higher pitched stop adds a brilliance, and adding more bass to the pedal gives a stronger foundation.