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!

Part of the process

I am ever so glad to add my congratulations to Pillsbury Baptist College, Crossroads College and SELCO/SELS on their Go-Live Day. See the SELCO/SELS website for the story and photos.

This project has been a long time in the making . . . perhaps longer than even I am aware of. Getting 2 academic libraries online is a pretty substantial task. Even getting to the point where they were ready was not an over-night process. Implementation of a collaborative automation project began with several visionaries.

About 8 years ago when I was working at SELCO, I got a call from the Dean at then Minnesota Bible College (MBC), now Crossroads College, inquiring about getting their library online with a larger entity. I met with the librarian Dr. Mahan about the possibility. Along with other staff colleagues, we talked about possibilities, and had another meeting with the college’s technology staff. Their network infrastructure could not handle the demands an integrated library system required. Furthermore, SELCO was then in the midst of selection and ultimate migration to a new library automation system. Certainly not a good time for anyone to think about such a formidable venture. And soon it appeared that the dreams for a connected college library were not going to happen when the college was sold.

Meanwhile, Pillsbury Baptist Bible College (PBBC) was also looking to enhance and expand library service to its students through joining the regional and state library catalog. With the leadership of new librarian and visionary, Nancy McGuire, this library also was preparing to join the broader library network. PBBC had the foresight to affiliate itself with OCLC and coordinate through MINITEX a barcode schema that would eventually readily integrate into the MnLINK network. When I first met Nancy at a SELS annual meeting, she shared her wishes for the library to be integrated into a larger network, although tempered her remarks with caution that the time was not yet right for such a big step.

Over the next few years, the lines of communication stayed open and librarians from both colleges participated in regional library events. The region supplemented their interlibrary loan service and the colleges and the region collected data to use to substantiate the benefits of network integration for both libraries.

I like the biblical term “in the fullness of time” which is particularly appropriate with these religious colleges. So, in the fullness of time everything came together that the college library catalogs would be incorporated into the regional catalog, and through that into the statewide MnLINK catalog.

Jim Godsey became the new Crossroads College librarian. Through his previous experience with consortial catalogs, Jim knew the benefits his students would receive, so he made the initial phone calls to meet with SELCO Executive Director Ann Hutton and me to get the ball rolling in the summer of 2006. I had also been talking with Nancy recently, and she too had indicated that PBBC was ready for the next step in library service.

So, we submitted a grant application in early 2007 to bring the 2 college libraries into the SELCO catalog. I, along with Nancy and Jim and everyone else who had been involved were elated when the project was approved. I was really pumped and looking forward to the next year’s hard work.

And then came another career opportunity. I agonized over the possibility of not personally seeing the project to completion. In the end, I knew the plan and structure of the project was laid and strong enough to carry it through successfully. And that’s where my part of the story ended, but all went off well!

I guess the point of all this reminiscence is that all my career efforts are links in something much bigger. While I don’t always feel that ideas are going anywhere quickly enough if at all, some projects need to percolate through time and often several vestiges of leadership. I can’t bring everything to fruition, but I am honored to be part of the process. And sometimes, life moves on and somebody else gets all the fun of accomplishment – and that’s good. A military NCO I once knew used to say “one monkey doesn’t stop the circus.” But the show indeed does go on.

Happy Birthday, Blog!

2 years ago today, I got brave enough to make my blog public. This is the 193rd post since then. My Blogger profile says I’ve been on Blogger since November 2003, which is when I came back from Internet Librarian, inspired to blog. There were lots of posts back then, but one day I (foolishly) deleted them, thinking I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say.

Lots of studies have been done on why people blog. Just today, the venerable Michael Stevens of Tame the Web wrote about the ideology of blogging. I identify with the comment in his post: “It amazed me how ingrained in my life the act of blogging had become.” I am often aware of how what a great blog post a certain experience would make. Now, if only I had time to act on all those inspirations.

I recently said to a colleague that blogging was so “yesterday.” I guess what I really meant was that blogging has become so mainstream that it’s hardly a phenomenon any more. We just accept and expect that the voices of our culture are heard through the blogosphere.

I think librarians as a group blog more than any other profession — maybe it’s a perception thing, since I know more librarians than anything else. Or maybe, it’s because we’re information professionals, and blogs are about information. Some of us blog because we believe we have something philosophical (or pithy) to say. Others use blogs as a super-easy to create marketing tool or billboard for what’s happening at the library.

Blogging was a natural progression for me, since I started writing for my adolescent self in a little pink diary with a teeny tiny ineffective key. I don’t write anything very controversial (witness the lack of comments), but I’ve sure made a lot of friends through this blog. While my blog is largely related to my professional life, it also reflects my whole person.

Wonder what this blog will have to say in another 2 years.

Image and impact

Does appearance really matter? Or is it true what my mother used to tell me as an awkward adolescent that “it’s what’s inside that counts.” (sorry, Mom, it didn’t cut it then, and it doesn’t cut it now.) I lean more to the “what you see is what you get” idea.

I’ve been thinking a lot about image lately. Joyce Valenza admonished her listeners to model the “information professional” in her presentation at Computers in Libraries. And I think she meant in every way from actions to image. When I was training to be a customer service instructor for the squadron in my prior life as a civilian working for the military, I attended Fred Pryor customer service training. One thought stuck in my mind — impact is affected 83% by appearance and 17% by what is said. Watching the Today show this morning, one topic was body language – the guest said 90% of impression is made by what is observed.

While these statistics are pretty unscientific, I think they say something about the image we present both for ourselves as information professionals and also for the library institution. And I think that mantel is on us whether we’re punched in on company time, or buying a gallon of milk at the gas station. This reminds me of a friend who is a Mary Kay consultant, who says her training emphasizes to BE the Mary Kay product whenever and wherever she is — which includes dropping her kids off at school in the morning. My friends who are teachers are very cognizant of their image and actions in their communities. I think librarians who portray a professional demeanor (even in jeans at the garden shop – where I will be later today) will leave a lasting impression of someone worthy of trust to any citizen or board member they encounter.

I even bought a “Radical Militant Librarian” button a couple years ago, in a moment reminiscent of my college days. No, I didn’t wear the button, since that’s not the kind of sound-bite impression I want to make to the infinitely more people I encounter than will ever get to know me enough to understand what that pithy statement means. A librarian colleague has a T-shirt with an irreverent, though humorous, comment that uses a street word that I would not say in any customer or office communications. Would I wear it? No, because I can’t control the occurence of opportunistic moments that may make or break someone’s opinions and make lasting impacts on libraries or even my future career path.

Not too many years ago, businesses had strict dress codes, with the intent of modeling for the customers a professional image of their company. Gradually, about the time of the tech revolution, we saw an erosion of professional dress standards not only on blue-jeans Fridays but any time through the week. In recent years, many companies have returned to a dress code for employees. (although, I still struggle with what exactly “business casual” is — I think it might have something to do with the brand/price tag?) The fast food industry usually requires company-supplied shirts and uniform pants. Big box stores like Target require company-colored polo shirts. Even WalMart, in its marketing efforts to upgrade its image, is phasing in a uniform shirt for its employees.

And personal appearance is only one part of image. Other clues can send messages too. I was shocked at one management training class I attended that advocated a practice that the interviewer should walk the prospective employees back to their cars after interviews, assessing their vehicle condition, cleanliness, etc. as a point of character. And, from the employee side – someone I know who was interviewing with a certain company, arrived in town early and found the homes of management team members (using phone book addresses), looking for clues about their personal priorities.

All food for thought, I guess. And this leads to appearance of libraries – condition and decor . . . but that’s another blog post.