Magazine article American Libraries

The Leaders' Tour

Magazine article American Libraries

The Leaders' Tour

Article excerpt

Public library administrators can create a public relations coup by making "insiders" of community leaders. Showing influential members of the community the complexity and sophistication of the library's behind-the-scenes actions is a good first step to making them loyal supporters. In the process, library trustees can learn about the institution they hold in trust and raise staff morale.

How? By providing a "leaders' tour" through areas of the library that are usually off-limits to the public.

Every six months or so, the Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library on Long Island sends out invitations, six weeks in advance of the selected evening, to 25 community leaders. Each invitee and a guest are asked to join the director, trustees, and key staff members for a buffet supper and tour.

We look for a good mix of guests from the officers of civic organizations, youth groups, political clubs, the chamber of commerce, fraternal organizations, volunteer fire and ambulance departments, senior citizen organizations, school and PTA officials, local editors and reporters, and religious leaders. Our experience shows that, of the 25 leaders invited to each tour, 16-18 will be able to attend. Most bring a guest, resulting in an average of 30 attendees.

To prepare, we identify interesting tasks, processes, and/or equipment as features of the tour (the features selected vary from tour to tour). After the choices are made, the staff who regularly perform these tasks or work with the equipment outline a presentation, receive input from colleagues, revise the "script," and practice their presentation. At this point, the trustees observe the presentations. Their questions frequently mirror those of the invitees, and help the staff prepare an effective presentation.

Short and sweet

Guests arrive in the library's meeting room at 6:15 p.m. for refreshments. At 6:30, they are formally greeted by the library director and then seated at five tables, where they sit with a trustee and a staff member. The buffet dinner lasts until about 7:15 p.m., during which a slide show featuring scenes of people using the library is projected as a background.

After dinner the guests are given an outline of the tour and are split into five groups, each led by a trustee-guide. The tour is broken into 12-minute segments, with three minutes allotted to move to the next station. Keeping to this schedule ensures that there is only one group at a station at any time and that our guests have a clear view of each presentation.

Although 12 minutes may not seem like a long time, it is sufficient for carefully structured and rehearsed presentations. Community leaders are extremely busy people; many leave the library immediately following the tour to attend other meetings. We believe that providing supper and ending the program before 9 p.m. are two factors that have contributed to the tours' success.

Our guests have displayed special interest in a wide variety of activities, including our "print shop," online searching, and the library's orientation and training procedures. Many leaders have been highly impressed by the complexity and sophistication of library systems and the people who create and manage them. We also discovered that the intellectual and organizational basis of fundamental library operations such as selection, acquisitions, cataloging, and circulation greatly impressed guests. …

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