The Transparent Library Director

I’m not a library director.  Heck, who knows if I’ll ever be a library director.  But spend some time working in a public library and you’ll see a common theme: most employees and the public have no clue what a library director does.  There’s this belief that the library director is some person way high up in the sky making all these decisions and pulling all these strings to make the library work. With such little information known about the day to day happenings of a library director, employees and patrons end up getting confused about the direction of the library.  In turn, that can sometimes lean towards anger, poor morale, and communication breakdown.  The victims here?  It’s always the patrons.  When the library staff doesn’t know what the hell is going on, the patron’s suffer.  They lose out on valuable materials, services, and more.

Social media allows us to be more transparent than ever.  We can check in at every place we visit, we can tweet quotes from conversations we’re having, we can share pictures at the tap of our screen.  Blogging/Video blogging makes it super easy and quick just to share your thoughts/actions for the day.  To some folks, this transparency is scary.  Most everything you say or do can be found on the web.  Here’s where I burst your fun bubble.  THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU.  I’m just as guilty of this as you are, so I’m not pointing fingers.  We have to remember that when we’re working in a public library that we are public employees.  Our salaries and benefits are graciously paid for by public taxes paid by the people we serve.  Living in the era of the Tea Party and slashed library budgets, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that our country is pretty darn upset about taxes and will do anything to get rid of what they consider unnecessary spending.

USTREAM
Have a UStream feed running in your office all day as well as during meetings.  What have you got to hide in these day to day meetings?  If you’re talking about people behind their back, you probably shouldn’t be doing that anyway.

Opening up your office and your meetings to the public will give your community the primary resource they will need to understand your direction and vision.  Instead of hearing half true rumours from other employees and around your town you’ll be giving the information to the public as it was meant to be heard.

*Yes, I understand that some meetings are meant to be private.  These meetings should totally stay that way.

FOURSQUARE/FACEBOOK PLACES/GOWALLA/ETC
Check into every place you’re visiting in the community.  Give us a little info about why you’re there.

I don’t have a solid example for this recommendation, so instead I’ll point you to my Foursquare account (http://foursquare.com/justinlibrarian).  Just imagine that all those restaurants I checked into are different meetings and locations I’m out scouting for possible collaborations.

TWITTER
In my own opinion, this is the perfect tool for the director who is on the go to use.  Tweet quotes from meetings you’re attending.  Give your followers a brief 140 character synopsis about what’s going on.

Don’t think you have enough time to tweet?  That’s a lame and outdated excuse that everyone uses.  Look at Newark, NJ mayor Cory Booker’s Twitter stream for inspiration.  He’s running a whole city and he can still tweet! http://twitter.com/corybooker

VIDEOBLOGGING
Fire up your webcam (chances are that your laptop already has one.  If not, get this one) and start talking.  If you’re a director, you should be well spoken and ready for the cameras.  A quick 1-3 minute videoblog about your day that can then be uploaded to your library YouTube account will give your staff and patrons always valuable face time.

I couldn’t find any specific library directors already doing this (although I clearly remember seeing one out there a few years ago) so instead I turn your attention to teen author John Green and his brother Hank.  They run the Vlogbrothers channel on YouTube where they just talk about…stuff!  It keeps them connected to their rabid fan fan base and provides quick and easy updates to keep them relevant and interesting.

LIFESTREAM
Jenny Levin’s blog is a beautiful example of how a lifestream can be used to keep people up to date with what you’re tweeting/blogging/sharing.  It’s easy to set up and use once you get the ball rolling and it will provide your community with more than enough information about what you’re doing while you work.

http://theshiftedlibrarian.com/archives/2009/08/17/experimenting-with-my-stream.html

There shouldn’t be this communication breakdown in libraries anymore.  Starting at the top and leading by example, directors who embrace social media can show their staff and the public they serve just what they’re doing to keep their libraries relevant.

For further reading, I highly suggest you check out these awesome articles by Michael Casey & Michael Stephens:

-Post by Justin Hoenke, Tame the Web Contributor

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9 thoughts on “The Transparent Library Director”

  1. How does this transparency stack up against the need/desire to have a strong “brand” and to constantly show a polished, packaged, cohesive message to the employees and community?

  2. Justin,

    I more or less get your point and agree with much. But, as a library director, you come off as a little preachy in this post. I’ll tell you, you couldn’t be more right about the fact that the effort a director makes toward thorough and frequent communication has a direct impact on library morale. The flip side to this, however, is that I can’t *make* anyone feel any specific way. While I do believe in being communicative (staff at the library where I work follow me on Twitter and Facebook and they read my blog), I also believe that attitude is a choice. Even in light of less than perfect situations (aren’t they all?), each individual has the responsibility to control his or her own attitude.

    You mentioned rumors and the fact that most library staff don’t really know what a director does. Again, whether or not a staff member is aware of my every action throughout the day (which is what you certainly seem to be suggesting) doesn’t mean they have the right to make stuff up. Do you have any idea of the obstacles created in maintaining a happy library when a staff member spreads some piece of misinformation. Again, the director didn’t make that person spread that rumor.

    I’m sorry if I sound defensive or sound like the kind of director you hope to avoid (I’d say you are wrong if that’s how you feel referencing my active, work-related social media presence that is followed by staff and the local media alike) but to be lectured by someone who has never done a given job about how to do that job makes you come off as naive.

  3. Chris,
    Thanks for the comment. I dig the feedback.

    Just wanted to start off by saying that I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m coming off as preachy. I didn’t intend it that way at all.

    I totally 100% agree with you that it is up to the individual to make decisions on what he/she says about the library director and they really don’t have the right to do so. It is wrong when someone does this and you really can never control that. With my post, I was just trying to suggest different ways that a director could take to possibly help any kind of trouble they are having within their own library. I’ve run into a lot of directors in my time as a librarian who keep running themselves around in circles trying to figure out staff/community communication problems. My post was only meant to suggest possible options for them.

    I totally do not think you sound like the director I hope to avoid. I can tell by your web presence that you totally get it and have an open communication with your staff and community. That is a beautiful thing. Would you mind sharing your blog/twitter/etc in the comments to the post to give some examples to the public how a director like you is doing something like this?

    Once again, I’m not trying to lecture you or any directors out there. Instead, I’m just trying to help offer a few pointers that may not be the first choice for directors. I often find inspiration as a teen librarian through looking at different ways others (librarians, other professions) are doing things.

  4. The staff doesn’t always know what the director is doing but that works both ways. The director and the administration people do not always know what the staff is going thru. We are stuck with the decisions they make. Trying to placate the patrons as a result of a decision is not always fun. (Particularly when one does not agree with the decision.)

  5. This has me thinking about how social media can be used to keep big projects and reorgs transparent. Someone in my library mentioned a University that did a big shifting projects in their stacks and in order to keep all Library staff informed created a blog to report day-to-day happenings. I like this as a possible focused use of social media for Library administrators looking to try it out.

  6. Justin asked if I’d share my Twitter/FB accounts as one example of a director who uses these tools. Both accounts are under the username “civillibrarian” though I’m pretty sure I’ve set up my FB account to be visible only to friends.

    Another cool thing we’re doing at Stockton-San Joaquin is using a wiki to chart the progress of our strategic planning: http://ssjcpl-spit.wetpaint.com/

    Since the whole staff can’t be on the committee, I post the minutes from the meetings and encourage all staff to visit and comment. It’s seen moderate use by staff but the more the committee pushes, more staff will chime in, I hope.

  7. Some fascinating ideas there Justin. I’d be intrigued to see how the Ustream idea would work. I’m not so sure that (as a staff member) I’d have the time to sit and watch my director/manager constantly ;-). I guess having the option would be worthwhile, but I’d probably rather get a summary of the meetings than have access to the raw data. I would definitely like to see my manager using blogs/Twitter – with comments turned on, of course (the head of my company “blogs”, which is great because he talks informally about what he’s doing and thinking, but comments aren’t enabled, which is a shame.

    Anyway, thanks. Definitely interesting reading.

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