Leadership Wednesday, May 5 2010 

This past month I was privileged to be a part of the first Virginia Library Leadership Academy. The Academy was the result of several years of hard work by the Leadership Development Forum of the Virginia Library Association.

On April 19 and 20 twenty-three selected individuals participated in a training and development program in Charlottesville, Virginia. Let by Robert Burgin a former instructor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at North Carolina Central University and a library consultant participants learned about leadership through lectures, networking and participatory exercises. Each participant is working on selecting a  project which must be completed in a year’s time.

I had agreed to mentor three individuals as a part of their project assignment.  With seven other mentors I attended the second day luncheon. During lunch I had time to meet and begin to know those with whom I would be working. After the luncheon there was a panel discussion where participants directed questions to the mentors.  I come away from such activities refreshed in both mind and spirit. It is wonderful to interact with such talented individuals who will be providing the next generation of leadership to libraries throughout the Commonwealth.

Events such as the Virginia Library Leadership Academy are important. Leadership is a difficult proposition at best and any help that a leader or prospective leader can receive along the way is to their benefit and to the benefit of the institution that employs them. After almost 35 years as a library director, I feel a strong obligation to work with  individuals as they proceed through the stages  of their leadership experience. Maybe, I can help them avoid some of the mistakes that I have made along the way.  Often all that is needed is a listening, sympathetic presence.

As I prepared for my presence at the Academy I thought of all the individuals who have helped me along the way. Some of these were librarians, some were trustees, others were community members who provided wise guidance in times of difficulty. Without their presence I would not have made it to where I am now.

The above event was followed by the annual meeting of the Virginia Public Library Directors Association. Our group has met for years at Graves Mountain for 24 hours of activities including annual business meeting, updates  from the Library of Virginia, a report from our legislative liaison, special programs, evening musical presentation and the awards presentation. In addition we have time to interact with each other in a very informal setting.

I find it nice to be able to put away my Blackberry (as it does not work in this remote setting) and chat and learn from my fellow directors as well as the staff of the library development division of the Library of Virginia. What did these chats tell me? That other libraries are also suffering in this economic climate; that advances in technology pose new challenges to library operations;  that none of us are getting any younger; and some of us have been in our positions for a good while. The longest serving public library director present at Graves Mountain had been in her position for 36 years. That in and of itself is a major accomplishment.

As I left Graves Mountain on Friday afternoon,  I was reminded again of the joy that the soul receives when the mind can idle and interact with others without the pressure of immediate deadlines, phone calls, e-mails and the other aspects of our technological society. You are also reminded that your institution can operate very well without your presence. This too is important.

So long for now!

Snapshots Thursday, Apr 1 2010 

I sit here in realization that another month has passed. Beyond being another month older and not much wiser, it means that another blog entry is due. What should I ramble on about this month? Maybe a yearning for the good old days when all I had to deal with was a typewriter, a notepad, and a phone. Now I have a presence on Facebook, Twitter,  and Linkedin, as well as this blog and the numerous e-mail that I receive and send on a daily basis.  Granted my Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin presence is minimal and I often go a week or more before checking in, still they are a presence in my life.

Seriously, would I want to go back to the “good old days”? Hell No! With electronic communication it is much easier to reach individuals and conduct daily activities in a timely manner. Anyone who has ever had to use correcting fluid on a typewritten document can attest to the wonders of word processing and spell check, although you still need to proofread before sending anything out.

While technology is wonderful it can be problematic when it does not work. This past month my office computer suffered a hard drive breakdown of monumental proportions. For almost a week I was without decent computer access at work. On one afternoon, I even went home where I had working computers to get basic work accomplished.

After getting the above rant out of my system, the concept of snapshots comes to mind. Why, you may ask?

The computer failure  of the past month is but a snapshot of a small period in my life. Each of our lives are full of snapshots encompassing the wide variety of experiences that each of us has as we journey through life.

Budgets are also snapshots, as I have had to constantly remind myself in the past month as I dealt with local governments concerning the library’s funding for FY11. While they are real and have an influential impact upon your institutions present and future, they are only a part of the total picture at any one time of what an institution is and what it can accomplish in service  to its user community.

During the month Ileen and I were blessed by having our family together. While the reason for this was a memorial service for her mother, it gave us time to catch up on happenings,  share remembrances, and observe the growth of our grandson who will be four in August.  A snapshot that is fleeting but one that will be cherished and remembered.

Another snapshot from March comes to mind. Two local non-profit organizations put together a “Dancing with the Williamsburg Stars” fund raising event. Nine brave local celebrities volunteered to dance as a part of the event. I had the opportunity to make observations as one of four judges. The event was a tremendous success as over $50,000 was raised and close to 800 people had a wonderful time hooting, hollering, and clapping for over two hours. Seeing such a widely diverse audience having a delightful time while supporting two organizations was wonderful. Again a snapshot to be remembered and treasured.

This month the Virginia Library Association will be conducting “Snapshot: A Day in the life of Libraries, Virginia’s Cardinal Asset”. Libraries will be choosing one day between April 19 and 30 to collect information and photos that illustrate the impact that Virginia libraries make on their communities on a typical day. I look forward to what this program will show about how residents of the Commonwealth use and treasure their libraries. When the New Jersey Library Association did their Snapshop day over 1,000 photo were collected showing people using their libraries in a wide variety of ways.

What snapshots do you value and remember?

So long for now!

Present Economic Times and Public Libraries Monday, Mar 1 2010 

Many commentators are indicating that the United States is in the worst economic decline since the depression of the 1930’s. As one looks at the local government financial picture this viewpoint is confirmed.

Public libraries are a service of local government. Depending upon where they are located, and how they have interacted with and served their user communities,  public libraries are viewed as an essential government service, something that is nice but not essential, or a frill that can be dropped without concern for the community’s health.

My personal career aside, I  view public libraries as an essential service of government. Without public libraries, individuals from every  Socioeconomic category would lack a place where information representing  all viewpoints is confidentially available without further cost. Using the information obtained in, or through, their public library individuals are then able to make their own decisions on what to believe and what to act upon. Access to information from all viewpoints free of doctrinal pressure or influence  is necessary for a democratic society to function and grow.

In these hard economic times public library use is increasing dramatically. As mentioned in earlier blogs, individuals without home computer access are coming in to file unemployment applications and apply for jobs. People are coming in increasing numbers to find materials to help them endure the tasks of daily living. Some individuals just want a warm, or cool, place to pass the day or a friendly voice to listen to their life story (another public library service often overlooked). Public libraries are also community centers where communal learning and social networking takes place on a daily basis.

Yet, many localities are in the process of decimating their public libraries. In Virginia  the strongest example of this trend is Fairfax County Public Library where the FY11 budget proposal for the Fairfax County Public Library includes a reduction of 81 positions and a fiscal reduction of $3,400,000. If approved, this budget will be 33 % less than the budget of FY09. In addition to the drastic staffing cuts, fourteen community libraries will be open 47 hours a week and 8 regional libraries will be open 51 hours a week. Disabled customers will no longer be able to order library books for home delivery and 35 deposit sites at senior living facilities, nursing homes and adult day care centers will no longer receive rotating collections of library books.

In a time of economic recession/depression all institutions must share in the pain. However, in many communities throughout America it is obvious that public libraries are being asked to shoulder more of the pain than other governmental services.

Has the country’s economic condition hit bottom? It depends upon where you live and which economic guru you talk to. In any case, once bottom is reached, local government fiscal health takes two or three years to begin to recover. This is longer than the general economy and is due to a variety of factors including revenue resources that take longer to reflect recovery than in the private sector.

What does this mean for public libraries? My prediction is several more years of severe financial pain that will include further decreases in staffing levels,  the ability to purchase current materials for public use, and increasing  pressure on service hours.

So long for now!