If I ran a library

Yes, I still want to be a library director, even knowing some of the difficulties that are coming. A library director is not a dictator but is an executive head who answers to a board which in turn is a political entity. In other words the library director can’t run roughshod over political feelings of the community. All things considered this is probably good, but it can be frustrating.

If I ran a library, I would not get rid of books. Yes, some of my posts have implied that but it isn’t true. We are going to be in the book business for at least another couple of decades. We ARE going to be adding electronic books to the collections just as we added VCR tapes and DVDs. It will happen. They are still, however, books. That said, most of our patrons will prefer print for at least another generation. Since we have to satisfy our patrons, we’ll buy print.

If I ran a library, I’d wheedle more money for staff. That’s pretty much a constant everywhere I’ve looked, even the places with excellent staffing and staffs. My first priority would be for more training. My second would be for more bodies. There are a few places I’ve been where the reverse is necessary, but they’re exceptions.

In my experience a great staff can overcome a mediocre selection, but the reverse is not true. The staff needs to know what to do. The staff needs to remain competent in all aspects of their duties. I also tend to think staff should not need their hands held, and more training means not only they don’t need it from me but I can make a more convincing case to the board and the community that I don’t need to do so. The less time I spend hand-holding the more time I can spend to other aspects of making a good library great.

If I ran a library, I’d work on selling our reference capabilities. It is, as I’ve said in several posts, our primary competitive advantage over everyone else. We know the answer, or we can find out; it’s just that simple. There are techniques and tools to improve our capability, there are marketing gimmicks and underlying capabilities that would make our ability better known, and I’d use them all to the best of my ability. Even the best libraries I’ve seen have sadly slow reference desks. People don’t ask.

If I ran a library, I’d have an aggressive collection development program. Money is always a problem, but in my experience the older a book gets the less it’s used. In fact, any book that has been on my shelf and not moved in a year is going to get reviewed. Some books you keep anyway – they meet a community need, or they’re unique. HOWEVER, any book that’s sat unused for a year needs some promotion – some “by the way we have THIS” notice. Repeat if it goes two years without use. If the book has sat unused for three years it’s going anyway. If the community needs it, someone will use it in a three year period. If it hasn’t been used in three years then I’ve misjudged the community needs. That’s the weeding side, but what about the development side?

I’d be aggressive there as well. I’d look at what is being used, of course, and purchase a great deal to support that. I’d also look at community analysis to see what interests and hobbies and activities needs support. There is always the ‘other point of view’ materials which must be taken with caution. The difficulty with selection is rarely getting things, of course. The difficulty is more often working with a restricted budget. In that regard, I’d also look for ways to improve our collection. In a small library I’d consider various ‘best seller leases’ – where I get several copies for a few months, after which I only own one or two copies. I’d ask various special interest groups within the community to provide (with constraints based on policy requirements) materials for the collection.

If I ran the library, I’d inherit the frustration of “young adults”. There is a pattern which has been true for several decades but which is getting worse. We have a LOT of children come to the library – they’re brought (or dropped off) by parents. As these children enter the puberty years, their attendance drops (a lot). They have other things to do with which the library is in competition. As these young adults start forming families of their own they start coming back. Unfortunately they’re not all coming back. Some are happier spending their limited free time with other activities. It’s pretty apparent to all library directors – to most librarians in general – that if we don’t reverse this trend we’re going to be less important to the community when it’s deciding where the money needs to go. Now we think we’re darned important but, well, what we think isn’t what everyone thinks. I’ve written on this several times in several subjects, but young adults is a critical point of emphasis. The fewer that leave the better. Of those that don’t leave, the more we show we’re of use, the more they’ll talk of those who have left for now and who might (we hope) return.

Young adults are not going to be impressed by our book collection. It’s a puzzle that must be solved, and if I ran a library it would be my puzzle with which to play. (Hopefully – and by my intentions definitely – with a well trained, imaginative, motivated staff.)

If I ran a library, I would have to be involved in the community. Yes, that includes going to things that ordinarily don’t interest me. The library is a community asset, and it’s a poor executive of such who remains ignorant of the interests and focuses of their community. Does this mean give to every cause and glad-hand and all that? No. But it means I’d better care enough to pay attention. I do pay attention, I do care, and I’m willing to pay that “price” for my library to do right by its community.

Along these lines I would expect to develop and run something of benefit to the community beyond the same old same old. In other words more than literacy and even computer literacy classes. Be it a festival or a special program, I would do something that was of interest to the community for which the library facility, staff and grounds are an ideal base. It would be a mistake to focus only on children or on young adults, but I think the same of focusing solely on adults as well. It could be subtle and quiet; a community art display. It could be raucous and fun; a dawn to dusk music festival. It needs to be something that fits the community, that the library can and will support effectively, that the community (at least a part of it) enjoys.

I’ll point out that some communities are stuffed with activities. In these cases it would be better for the library to be an active participant. On the other hand it’s been my impression that in such cases the library already IS an active participant – my task and pleasure would be to sustain and improve existing support.

If I ran the library, my goal would be that the community thought of the library as a critical service and participant. My goal would be to see that few would think the internet means there was no more need for a library – it would be obvious to most that we have things the internet cannot provide.

Someday…

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