Friday, March 15, 2019

Libraries have a People Problem

Vancouver Public LibraryNo, I'm not talking about community members.

Libraries often attract people who want to work in that setting (and perhaps that specific library), and who then stay in their positions for a long time.  We frequently hear of library staff, who have been at the same library for decades.  Some may have been in the same position for decades.  The good news is that this creates a stable work environment and a stable staff may be just what the library needs in order to meet its goals.

Staff that is in place for a long time has the opportunity to really get to know the community.  They know the community's power structure, etc., and can get things done in a way that a newcomer might not.

Yes, a stable staff is a good.

But a stable staff does not necessarily allow people to develop the skills they might need to move into a position which has more responsibilities.  For example, when the director retires, does the assistant director - or perhaps a branch manager - have the correct skills and experience to move into the director position?

Number of Libraries in the U.S.

According the Public Library Survey data, there are 17,400 public library outlets in the U.S. (including central, branch, bookmobile, and books-by-mail-only outlets). That is almost one for every 19,522 cities in the U.S. or nearly 6 in each one of the 3,031 counties in the U.S.

ALA estimates that there are 116,867 libraries in the U.S., including public, K-12, academic, government, and armed forces.  If they were distributed evenly across the U.S., that would be 38 in each county.

Moving to Gain Experience

In some industries, it is common for people to move from organization to organization (or company to company) as a way of gaining more experience.  Those workers might be able to do that without changing geographic regions.  If you want to gain experience by moving to a different library, the choices in your geographic region may be limited, especially if you want to only work in one type of library (e.g., public).  go back and look at those numbers above. The choices could be further limited by civil service requirements. Thus gaining experience - or moving up in a library organization - may mean moving to a different region.  Given the wages paid in libraries, not everyone is able to move and take a new position, even if doing so mean gaining the knowledge, skills, and abilities which will lead to a better paying position in the future.

Yes, when someone leaves, there is someone available to take that person's place, although that person may not be totally prepared.  We need more people to be totally ready.  We need to somehow give more staff the experiences and training they need, in order to move into a new position when there is an opening and especially when that position is for a library director, branch manager, systems director, or state librarian.

Is There a Solution?

The solution clearly is not doing what we are already doing. That is not working.  Rather we need to transform our library hierarchies in a way that allow people to gain experience in different areas of a library, and with different levels of responsibilities. This would be akin to what some businesses do, in order to groom someone for upper management. Over the course of months and years, that person is giving different roles, responsibilities, and experiences which will give the person a deeper understanding of the organization and how it functions, as well as provide the person with the knowledge, skills and abilities to lead the organization in the future. In other words, the person is rotated through different jobs and departments. Giving someone this type of opportunity should not be done without accessing that this is the correct person to invest in.  Is the person committed to learning? Is the person interested in taking on a larger role? And the person should be assessed along the way, in order to know that this person is still someone who - after the effort is done - will be able to lead the organization. Perhaps, instead, the person will be a mid-manager (instead of a library director), where the training will still be of value.  This actually means training multiple people, because it could be that some will not complete it or will still not be ready for a leadership position.

That idea works in an organization that is not governed by civil service and in an organization where there are a variety of different roles.  For smaller libraries, perhaps there could be job sharing or job swapping.  Imagine swapping with someone at another library or being able to share a more challenging position (even at another library)?  That might be hard to pull off, but it could help build better staff and people who are ready to step into bigger roles.

As for civil service, I am not an expert on it and so cannot think of a way of giving people these types of opportunities in that environment.  I would hope it would be do-able, but it might require more work upfront to create an environment and structure for it.

Are there other solutions? You might have one (or two) and I hope you'll leave a comment to let us know what it is.

Yes, libraries have a people problem that needs to be fixed.  Since our future library leadership depends on having a good pipeline of people, let's work on a solution now!

Monday, February 25, 2019

ALA eCourse beginning March 4: US Copyright Law in the Library: A Beginner's Guide

From March 4-31, I'm offering an asynchronous eCourse on copyright through ALA Publishing eLearning Solutions.  After giving copyright webinars last year through ALA, I'm please to have been asked to deliver a four-week course entitled "US Copyright Law in the Library: A Beginner's Guide eCourse."  The description is below.  Registration information is on the ALA website.  The four weeks of course material, including materials to extend your learning, will provide approximately 28 hours of learning activity.  Participants will be able to interact with each other - and with me - during the course. I'm looking forward to the library-related copyright discussion that will develop!
ALA ecourse logo


The library is a hub of content, all of it subject to copyright law. The legal reality of copyright is dynamic—changes in technology have created a landscape that is constantly adapting and can be difficult to predict. If you don't have any formal training in copyright law, it can be intimidating to know how to answer your patrons' copyright questions and to know what you can and cannot do with your library’s content and resources. It can be tough to understand the line between providing information and answering a legal question.

In this new eCourse, consultant, speaker, writer, and educator Jill Hurst-Wahl guides you through the basics of copyright law and provides you with the foundation to become your library's copyright expert.

Each week, you'll learn how copyright law informs what libraries, library staff, and patrons can do with their materials and how you can stay up-to-date as this area evolves. You'll be able to check and affirm your knowledge through focused self-assessments.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Blog post: Copyright Office Ruling Issues Sweeping Right to Repair Reforms

This article from October 2018 written by Kyle Wiens on the efforts to secure the ability to repair our own digital devices, and the ruling which the U.S. Copyright Office gave.  The ruling regards Title 17, Section 1201 (Circumvention of copyright protection systems) and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.   The article outlines in good detail:
  • Major new freedoms
  • Some bad news
  • The Fine Print
...and important discussion points and nuances.

If the repair of digital devices interests you or your community (including what might happen in makerspaces), be sure to give this article a read.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Aritcle: Working To Give Libraries More Actionable Information | Peer to Peer Review

In December, I wrote here about the iSchool Public Libraries Initiative (IPLI), which I began earlier in 2018. On February 7, Library Journal published an article by me about the IPLI, with contributions by MSLIS student researchers Heather Elia, Georgia Westbrook, and Sabrina Unrein (Unmanaged Mischief on YouTube).  The LJ articles gives a peek into what we have been doing. 

In the coming weeks, we'll be building out our website, with the goal of placing the results of our work there.  Yes, we will also be using social media, and are deciding which social media platform will be the best. (We do not want to spread our social media efforts to thin.)  I encourage to bookmark our website and check it for updates. 

text reads iSchool Public Libraries Initiative

Friday, February 01, 2019

Totally Off-Topic: Sample Interview Questions – Diversity and Equity

Five different colored hand prints
I am currently on three search committees.  While understanding what a candidate can be asked legally (for example, Minnesota State and, it is also important to ask questions which help the search committee understand the candidate's views on specific topics.  One of those topics is diversity.  These are sample interview questions from Northern Illinois University on diversity and equity.  I'm placing them here, so I can find them later. And they also might be of help to you.

Our recent history has shown that a person's understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion should not be assumed.  Yes, be willing to ask questions of candidates about this, rather than being surprised.