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the Un-naming of the James H. LaRue Library

It was news when they named a library after me. It was news when they took it away.

On the whole, I greatly appreciated, for a while, being both a person and a building.

Recent posts

The First Year: 5 strategies for success

[The First Year: 5 Strategies for Success, 1 of 8]

Over the past several years, I've had the pleasure of coaching several new public library directors. For a variety of reasons, many directors are stepping into the role for the first time. Often, particularly in smaller or more rural libraries, they haven't even had a lot of supervisory experience.
I tell new directors that the two big advantages of confidential access to someone who has walked in your shoes is that (a) you can ask the questions you might feel embarrassed to ask your board or staff, and (b) you have the advantage of someone else's mistakes. To be clear, everybody makes mistakes. It may be the most powerful learning tool we have. But I've thought about my mistakes, and I can help you identify the old ones, and with luck, make new ones. There's no good reason to make the same ones!
I believe that there are five key constituencies the public library director must satisfy: your boss (usually a board), y…

Managing your relationship with your boss

[The First Year Director: Strategies for Success, 2 of 8]
Make them look goodThe first dictum in managing your relationship with your boss is this: make them look good. I say "them" because for most public library directors, their boss is a governing board (i.e. hires the director, adopts the budget, sets policy, etc.). How do you know who the boss is? To quote my friend Pat Wagner, "the boss is the one who signs your paycheck." The boss isn't the only important player, but it's not a bad place to start.

In some cases, a board may be advisory. That is, while its members may well advise the director on library business, those governing decisions are made by someone else (a mayor, a town council, a board of county commissioners).

In other cases, the boss is someone else in the governing body's hierarchy. I once reported to the head of Cultural Affairs. There is an advantage to having a single boss: it's easier to figure out what matters to them, and to …

Managing your relationship with staff, Part I

[The First Year Director: Strategies for Success, 3 of 8]

A key relationship for directors is staff. There are at least two dimensions: managing relationships with direct reports (an administrative team, if the staff is large enough to have one), and with the larger culture of the organization itself. This post will concern the former.
The purpose of an administrative team is to make good decisions. To describe that process, let me outline the arc of a perfect meeting. It answers five questions, in this order: Why are we here? The first step of a successful meeting is deceptively simple: what is the problem or issue that brings us here today? That statement doesn't have to be fancy, but it should be specific, and based on evidence: "our problem is that our first release popular DVDs are being stolen. In fact, the theft rate has risen to 35%, within the first week of our putting them out." What makes this process deceptive? Not everyone can boil down the real problem, and …

Managing relationships with your staff: Part II

[The First Year Director: Strategies for Success, 4 of 8]

My previous post discussed managing the relationship with staff from the perspective of the director's immediate reports. This post will discuss the more general role of setting an organizational culture.
First, directors should be aware that a new directormeansa new culture. While long range plans matter, while training programs provide some continuity, while Human Resources practices build employee expectations of the employer's promises, almost all organizations promptly take on some characteristics of the new boss. The question is how purposeful those characteristics are, which itself is a measure of the mindfulness and emotional intelligence of the director.
Part of this near-instantaneous shift is simple survival. Employees look to the director to see what matters to him or her. It's easy, at this point, to list all of the behaviors a new director should not adopt. For instance: Nothing irritates staff like heari…

Managing your relationship with the community

[The First Year Director: Strategies for Success, 5 of 8]

I've written in many places about one of the key shifts in librarianship. We are moving from being library-centric to being community-centric. This movement is based on two core ideas: first, that libraries will perform better when they understand the environment in which they operate; and second, that true advocacy is about solving problems together, about helping to build an agenda for the community, then helping to get it done. Libraries that make their communities stronger get stronger support from the community.
So how can directors systematically inform themselves about community players and issues in the first year, especially in a new town? (Assistant Directors moving up within the same organization might have a handle on this, or might not.)
I propose a method that can be personal or institutional. Either approach begins the same way: work up a list of community movers and shakers. Who are the influencers in your c…

Managing your relationship with the profession

[The First Year Director: Strategies for Success, 6 of 8]

The next relationship to manage concerns the larger library profession. The successful library director is engaged with and contributes to our various professional networks. That might include an informal but regular regional gathering for lunch. It might be a formal participation in a longstanding library system, perhaps as a member of the governing board. It certainly includes participation in state library associations and state library committees. It requires membership in the American Library Association, and relevant divisions, offices, and roundtables.
Why does professional engagement matter? The main reason is continuing education. We learn from others. Our social and political environment is complex and changing. It's easy to miss things. Attending a session about, for instance, homelessness, makes it clear that this is not an isolated problem in just a few American libraries. The issue is widespread. Some librarie…