When David Hanson was hired as the director of the Linwood (KS) Community Library, he knew he was going to want to make some changes and that those changes would not always be easy. One change involved staffing. A 20 hour per week clerk position was open at the library, but instead of hiring someone to fill that position, David saw it as an opportunity to help the library build for the future. He wanted to turn the clerk position into a position focused on digital resources.
Creating the Position
Linwood is a town with a population of 375 according to the 2010 census. The Linwood Community Library is a district library serving 4,000 people. The library has four staff members, including the director. Changing one of those positions, from a clerk to Digital Resources Specialist, was a hard decision.
Over the first four months of his job, David met with his board and began outlining ideas about what could be done with the open position. They looked at demographic information. The library serves a relatively large area and is not centrally located. They discussed the increased impact of e-books. After three months of discussions, they had decided there were two potential ways to use the open position – either as a Programming Specialist or a Digital Resources Specialist. David says,
“This is a much harder decision than I think it appears. A Programming Specialist generates foot traffic and can in a relatively short time really impact usage stats. People also inherently understand what programming is in a library. A Digital Resources Specialist? This was a bet on the future.”
Hiring Someone for the Position
After the decision to create a digital resources position was made, the next challenge was to hire someone. David remembers,
“I made the argument to the board (who was not hard to convince because it is a very forward thinking board) that when you do something, you need to specifically hire for it. It is much easier to find someone with the core digital skills and train them to work in a library than the other way around. So we agreed on a job description and set off to find a person. At this point I felt pretty good, but then I still had to find someone who wanted to work on digital projects for only 20 hours a week.”
Luckily, the library received applications and found several good candidates. They interviewed four people. This included a formal interview with the board chair and the library director and then a presentation (which neither the director nor the board chair attended) in which the candidate was asked to teach a digital task (how to download to a device) to the remaining staff. The staff let David know which candidate did the best job of teaching and that really impacted the hiring decision. It was also a great way for staff to feel like they had a say in the process and were part of this new digital initiative.
Once Chris Bohling (pictured at right) was hired as the Digital Resources Specialist, he was immediately busy - answering technology questions, building and launching a new website, completing trials of digital products, and launching participation in an ebook consortium. When asked if the position is a success, David replied,
“I spend most of my days trying to figure out how to expand the hours of his position because we've only scratched the surface.”
Many larger libraries have staff with titles like Digital Resources Specialist, but fewer rural libraries have staff positions entirely dedicated to this. David, however, feels the shift worked well because the library is small.
“As for small libraries, I really believe we are better situated to do this than our bigger counterparts. Ask any of the retailers you know and they will tell you how the Internet is decimating the big box stores - think Best Buy. The winning size for retail now is small and focused - think Apple Stores or the new Microsoft stores. These are places where people can get access to unique products and - almost as important - access to expertise.”