Strategic Initiative Toolbox

18 01 2008

That’s the tentative title of my Capstone Project, the professional development project most MSIS’s at UT do these days instead of a thesis (although if I was doing a thesis, it would be titled either Librarians as Leaders or perhaps one on Fulfilling the Information Needs of Homeless Patrons).

The premise of this capstone is that the Austin Public Library (where I’m working on my capstone) would greatly benefit from increased strategic placement within the bureaucracy of the City of Austin, from a budgetary and other resource perspective. Simultaneously, adult programming at APL could be strengthened (although they have a wide variety of youth programs), and might be better supported if programs had a defined set of outcome/output/impact measures that could better demonstrate value to the library’s various constituents. Finally, as far as I can tell, APL has few community partners, and could be better positioned with regard to this aspect of planning.

For my capstone, I will be helping the Austin Public Library develop adult programming which addresses each of these challenges. The program begins by diagramming the City of Austin’s strategic plan, and then brainstorming program ideas that would help the city fulfill its goals. A total of three promising programs will be selected, and for each I will create a toolkit for funding, finding community partners, setting up, running, and evaluating the success of that program (if I have extra time, I may do a marketing plan for each, although APL has its own marketing department).

From mid-December to mid-January, I’ve been creating a Gantt chart for the project, diagramming City of Austin (CoA) goals and initiatives, doing a lit review of relevant materials published on the topic, and brainstorming ideas for possible programs. Next week, the ball really gets rolling: I have a meeting with my field supervisor at APL, to brainstorm further program initiatives, and finally, a similar session with my faculty adviser. Then I will create a diagram for each program, illustrating how well (or poorly) that program is connected to the stated goals/needs of the CoA. Then I’ll do an initial “fundability” review with a funding librarian at our Regional Foundation Library, ranking the programs in order of “most fundable” to “least fundable.” I’ll then turn this list over to my field supervisor, and let her pick the top three programs she thinks the APL would be interested in pursuing. Then comes all the fun stuff! Funding research, community partners who can make the program happen, volunteer candidates and management, management/ administration of the program (policies, best practices, history of similar programs), and finally, tools to evaluate the effectiveness and ultimate worth of the program, along with guidelines for modification based on feedback from the programs.

I’m very excited about the whole thing! More coming soon…

A brand new me

18 01 2008

This last semester was an intensely challenging one for me, and one that ultimately changed the way I relate to the world, particularly the library world. I took a Nonprofit Strategy and Entrepreneurship class, a course in Research Methods, and a phenomenal course called Leadership for Community Change. I did a lot of soul searching and learned a great deal about myself and how I interact with the world and my field, and what part I want to play in all that. The semester also armed me with an abundance of tools for strategically positioning libraries (and librarians) for success.

I also continued volunteered at Reading for the Blind & Dyslexic (first as a “director” and now as a “reader”) for two hours a week, and, as part of my class project for NP Strategy, did an extensive review of their volunteer practices, and developed a series of improvements to those practices which might help them increase their production studio’s efficiency. I also started volunteering as a reference intern at the Austin Public Library… every single day I work there, I am more convinced that I’m in the right place. I’m particularly interested in working for a large urban public library system in adult services, and APL is a great introduction to that world (both the good and the bad). On top of all that, I was also the student liaison to Stepping Up: Library Leaders for the 21st Century, and held two information sessions for applicants to the program and I was Co-Director and Webmaster of the “blanket” student organization for the School of Information (SASI). It was all worth it, and I even got myself selected for the 2007 edition of Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities (toot that horn!)

Out of this fall semester grew my professional experience project (“Capstone”). I decided to plunge headfirst into administrative work, particularly with regards to strategic positioning of libraries. I’m interested in adult programming, so I decided to look at the City of Austin’s strategic planning documents, chart out their goals, and then develop programs for the library which would help the city achieve those goals. In this way, the library will be better able to demonstrate the value they provide to the community (in particular when it comes time for funding dollars to be distributed). Once we’ve narrowed the scope to the top three programs, I’ll create a toolkit for each program: resource needs, funding sources, volunteer management, potential community partners, and evaluation and measures of success. I’m calling it (tentatively) the Strategic Initiatives Toolbox.

And that capstone is what I’d like to talk about today… I’m going to make a small shift on this blog (not too difficult because I’ve been absent for so long that I’ve indubitably alienated any readership I had) and spend the remainder of the spring documenting my progress on my capstone project, in addition to the work I’m doing in my other two classes: Collection Management, and Nonprofit Audiences (a class offered by the School of Advertising).

I’m working on a recap of the work I’ve done this past month, but I’ll be shooting for one update a week (more often when I’m in the thick of things) describing the challenges I’ve experienced, as well as the successes. Like the title says, my experiences last semester have irrevocably changed the way I perceive the library world and the challenges it faces (on a number of fronts). Not all of these are related to my capstone, but I have a feeling you’ll be hearing plenty of them in the weeks and months to come.

Leadership and Advocacy

7 09 2007

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about how important it is for libraries to court library advocates. Library advocates include anyone who’s willing to proselytize on behalf of libraries. Someone who goes out of their way to point out how a library can solve the problem at hand.

This is one of the most effective forms of advertising…we trust our friends and people we know far more than we do any marketer. If my friend Sharon tells me that her shoes are killing her, and I tell her about these new Brand X shoes I just got that feel like I’m walking on clouds all day… well, that certainly holds a lot more weight than if Sharon just saw an ad for Brand X.

What I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about is how consumer advocates are made. Why, for example, do so many people drink the Kool-Aid over at Apple? A great deal of it is about consumer advocacy, but where does it originate? I know I personally advocate for Mac computers every time I hear a friend or relative complain about the poor usability of Windows boxes. And yesterday, I did what many Mac users did… I watched Steve Jobs’ keynote. In fact, I make a point of watching every single keynote that Steve Jobs puts out. Even if it’s for a product I don’t personally use or plan to use.

No doubt about it, Steve Jobs is a phenomenal entrepreneur. But he’s also a very savvy leader. There’s something in the way you feel when watching a Kool-Aide Convention that makes you even more excited about the company than ever before — something about that unassuming personage up there, with the faded jeans, black turtleneck, and white sneakers — that makes you want to buy whatever it is he’s selling.

Steve Jobs excels at turning people’s natural reaction of “what’s in it for me?” to “what can I do to get in on this action?” Those of you versed in management will recognize this switch… the switch from “quid-pro-quo, replacing it with belief in a higher cause”*. That, my friends, is called Transformational Leadership (for more on this theory, pick up a copy of Kouzes and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge)

How can we turn librarians, and library workers, and ultimately our patrons into proselytizers of library services? If a patron’s sister is trying to figure out how to pay for her daughter’s college education, how can we get him to say “I bet they have something on that at the library?”

I hear all the time how librarians need work on our management skills, but management is not the same thing as leadership. Every librarian needs to be on board the leadership train!

Things Librarians should keep in mind when contemplating leadership:

  • Leaders may be born, but they can also be made. It is possible to train yourself to practice good leadership skills – those skills that empower your colleagues and patrons to “buy in” to the mission of the library
  • Leaders do not have to be in a position of authority – they can lead from within. Successful leaders inspire others, empowering them to do their part in the “quest for achievement of [a shared] vision.” *

Hey, if you want to learn more about leadership, I hear there’s this great place called a Library where you can check things out for free!

*Both these quotes are from “Authentic, Compassionate, and Empowering (ACE) Leadership: Transforming Labor and Restoring Leisure,” a paper by my Leadership for Community Change professor, David W. Springer, PhD, written for the UT Austin Humanities Institute 2006-2007.