Magazine article Information Today

Tales from the Library Trenches, Part 2: A Year of Firsts

Magazine article Information Today

Tales from the Library Trenches, Part 2: A Year of Firsts

Article excerpt

In the May issue, we were chatting about how the first step to becoming a library director is recognizing that you're in the middle of a big life change. Now you're here, and guess what? It's time for the second phase of your work to begin.

U Got the Look

It's your first day in the office. You settle in behind your new desk, and it hits you: As a library director, you're not going to be as tuned in to the day-to-day happenings at your library. How are you going to be able to understand your community when you're not the one helping patrons create their resumes? How can you move an organization forward without being part of the troops on the ground? Hint: It's not as daunting of a task as it sounds, but it will still require a lot of work. You'll need to create relationships and connections with everyone around you.

The public library of today is people- and community-focused. Its end goal should always be to provide the best services for its specific community, and as the director, it is up to you to make sure that happens on a consistent basis. You are the community representative for the library. When people think about the library in their town, they will most likely think of you. Having this spotlight can be tough to manage at first, but with patience and time, it will become second nature. The public library director of today knows that this spotlight can be used to better publicize and share the great work the library is doing for the community. If something goes well, everyone will applaud you. If something goes wrong, all fingers will be pointed at you. In these situations, library directors must do two things: 1) make sure the community knows that all the good work being done is because of the amazing team the library has and 2) take all the blame for problems while continuing to support and nurture the staff. Everything begins and ends with the library director, and those entering this role have to know how to best achieve a balance between these actions.

My first few months as a library director in Titusville, Pa., were spent meeting lots of new people, trying my best to remember names, and shaking a lot of hands. At the time, these meetings felt like simple introductions, but later, I was able to see that they were very important in establishing the library as a center of our community. First impressions matter, especially at a local level. Make sure that when you're creating these connections as a new library director, you do so in an honest and positive way. Clearly communicate to everyone what the library offers to the community (we're not just about books!) and emphasize that the library is an integral part of why it is so great to live in that community. Statistics are not everything, but make sure you have a few to toss out here and there during these conversations. I've noticed that what works best for my community is to emphasize the success of our youth programs and our daily visits. Your community will have different statistics that are important to it, but the key takeaway here is that these numbers can help you better tell your story.

Understanding the past as a way to have a better handle on the present is always a good idea. A clear way to understand the history of your institution is to go back through all the board meeting minutes you can find. It would not at all be a waste of your time to spend a day or two reading through as many of these documents as you can. To make this as librarian-speak-friendly as possible, these are your primary sources. They help you understand why certain things are the way they are and will show you exactly how your library has grown from its inception to the present. In these minutes, you will see the discussions of the past come to life and in turn give life to an understanding of the present.

My big aha! moment was when I discovered why my library has two huge doors that lead to nowhere in our entrance. I had always wondered why we have these and why we spent so much money on installing them when they don't lead to anything. …

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