We've interviewed a lot of people from libraries for the Edge Initiative. In our interviews we're trying to uncover what factors or best practices aligned to create a situation for success in a particular benchmark area. In our seven published Edge Spotlights, we uncovered that it all comes down to...
People. Not the money, not the fame, not even the technological tools topped the list. People. Do you have people at your library? Then you can manufacture success, too.
What was the key to your success?
1. Management Support
A supportive administration was reported by most of our interviewees as leading to success. In "Say Yes to Sharing" Susan Allen, from Worthington Libraries (WL) explained how management influenced a culture that supports staff development:
Susan explained that a second key to WL’s success has been a supportive organizational culture. So, for example, if a staff member has an opportunity to present at a conference, upper management does their best to make that happen, even if staffing is a challenge and they have to adjust the schedule to accommodate their colleague’s time away from the library. She explained:
'We try to say yes to our staff.' She added, 'If that means going out and helping out on the reference desk when I don't normally do that, that's something that we just really try to do to support our staff in their efforts to be involved.'"
In "Making Technology a Priority" Alexis Caudell from (IN) shared her belief that a supportive management is key to success. Alexis framed it a bit differently than Susan Allen, citing transparency as an important philosophy.
"I try to give everybody an explanation for why we're doing this. ... Because they don't necessarily all read the professional literature." As an example: "I'll share circulation statistics, which are nose-diving, versus our computer statistics, which are increasing." To make her point, she'll explain that "if we just kept doing the things we're doing now, in 5 years we will become irrelevant to our community." She knows this is vital because she is "sort of consumed by that bigger picture all the time" as a director, but, "For [staff], that's not the case."
2. Plan for the Future
You don't have to be a soothsayer to run a successful library, but you do have to be flexible, smart, and have the plans in place for future projects and expenses. In "Better Connectivity," Debbie Moss from Orange County Library System shares her team's philosophy around future think:
Being prepared has always been a priority for us." Debbie’s team works hard to anticipate, plan, and prepare for what comes ahead, even if the use case isn’t clearly defined at the point of the planning process. Moss shared, "we focus on agility." As an example, the team makes sure when signing agreements that "there is flexiblity to do upgrades without a re-bid." She continued, "also, we overbuild. Over step what's absolutely required to get the job done expecting that you'll need it sooner or later whether you see a purpose at the time."
3. Staff willingness to take risks
If your administration is supportive of staff decisions, your staff will be empowered to tackle big problems, or better yet: they'll be in a safe space to fail. In A "Technology Knowledgeable Staff Leads to a Tech Savvy Community," Scott Sime, from the Johnson County Library (KS) shared:
"Don't be afraid to do something big I guess would be another one. I just finished reading a book about this called Little Bets, and it was if you are going to fail, fail quickly. So put a pilot up. Don't design a whole system-wide campaign. If you can do it quickly and see if it works or see if you need to make any changes, do it as a pilot program and make sure it works before you spend a ton of time on it. The idea of failing quickly and learning from your mistakes is a good one that I definitely try to use.”
4. Supportive local government
The International City/County Managers Association (ICMA), a member of the Edge coalition, is helping build connections between libraries, local government leadership, and other key stakeholders. Taking the time to foster these relationships within your own community can help expand opportunities and support. At the last Association for Rural and Small Libraries conference, I heard a fantastic session by Gail Santy of the Central Kansas Library System, where she shared this little nugget (I'm paraphrasing):
Spend 10% of your time outside of your building."
I've been spreading that gem to libraries big and small ever since I heard her say it, because it's a manageable and measurable number that can really make a difference. I don't know how much time Jackie Icenhower of the Atlanta Public Library (TX) spends outside of her building, but I'm guessing she shuts the door behind her, often. In "Positivity and Patience," she shared:
In my prior life as an educator," Jackie shared, "I knew what it was like to work with no support from your superiors. When I interviewed for this job, I was determined to find out just what kind of manager I was interviewing." She never wanted to be in a situation again with management who would "throw her under the bus." She explained, "When I was hired on, my city manager told me my job is to hire people that can do the job, and then to step back and let them do their job." This was good advice, a tip Jackie heeded. She carefully vetted and hired colleagues who constitute what she deemed "the perfect staff" – and then let them do their job. Trust is key to set up her staff to thrive. She noted that staff "have kicked in and covered for her" when she’s busy, provided opinions, and served as "a kind of reality check." She added, "they are right there behind me, with me, beside me."
5. Staff training
Most of those interviewed talked about some variety of training, but in "Making Technology Training a Priority—And a Job Requirement," the entire article is dedicated to training (Edge Benchmark 8). Alexis Caudell, from Mitchell Community Library (IN), shared her committment to training:
Ensuring that all staff members have the ability to help patrons use technology is at the core of this benchmark, and this library scored high because that skill is part of everyone's job descriptions (the director, the other two professionals, the library assistants—even the bookkeeper). In fact, the leaders felt so strongly about this competency that, this past June, they changed employee performance evaluations to specify that tech skill counts for 30% of their total score. In order to implement this, they needed benchmarks, so in June, they evaluated every staff member.
6. Understand your community
Every person we've talked to for the Edge Initiative has reported in some way or form that knowing their community's needs has been key to offering succesful services and programs. Not one director or staff person has ever denied this claim, even if they haven't yet engaged the public in a systematic way. To better support librararies assessing their community, the Edge Initiative is creating resources to help. Stay tuned!