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…


Library Advocacy, the story continues

8 06 2007

The morning of Legislative Day, I woke up and rode the bus downtown to the Capitol. I still didn’t have a suit. I wandered to the group meeting point at the Texas State Library and Archives building next door to the Capitol, and found my way to the delegate gathering area. I felt even more self conscious in such close proximity with professional librarians who were all dressed to the 9s in pinstripe suits with briefcases. I sat down and started playing the wallflower again until I recognized some people from the night before and went over to say “hi.” Finally Lisa arrived – she is the most networked librarian I know – and began introducing me to everyone and I started to relax.

Once the rest of our group arrived, we headed across the street to the Capitol for our first appointment, which was inside the Capitol Annex. I never even knew the Capitol had an Annex; it’s a huge underground structure built to house all the delegates and representatives and their staff because the main capitol building is far too small. We walked past the main building, and then up to these odd pagodas in pink granite with greenish copper roofs (same as the main building) that were essentially glorified elevator stations. We rode down in the elevator and then were released into what could only be described as a warren, or perhaps an ant mound what with all the legal/political aids running around through the twisting corridors. I would never have figured out where to go, but thankfully everyone else had been there before and we wound our way around to our first meeting.

As we passed by a courtyard, I saw men in khaki vests and cowboy hats with their arms raised walking around in a circle and looking at the ground. On the mosaic tiled courtyard floor lay three or four coiled rattlesnakes. People were clustered around the windows and some even ventured outside to watch a little excerpt from the rattlesnake roundup (hey, this is Texas, after all). One of my colleagues said “I wonder what they’re lobbying for…?” and I was startled because, surely, they weren’t here to actually do any serious lobbying were they? Not with rattlesnakes! They were just putting on a show…weren’t they? They weren’t even in suits! As we continued on – right turn, left turn, up a short staircase, around a bend – I got a glimpse of other groups who were petitioning their representatives for support. You know what? The only people I saw in suits were my fellow librarians. Everyone else was wearing matching shirts screaming their message lest the representative (or perhaps they themselves) forgot their party line. I saw other people in suits, sure, but none of the groups petitioning. I could tell the librarians from everyone else because we all wore these huge buttons that said “Texas Loves Libraries.” It was surprising to see how casually some groups took lobbying. Perhaps it was because they did it more frequently (TxLA only has a Legislative Day once every two years).

We finally arrived at our first meeting and we all tried to squeeze into the tiny waiting room of a junior legislator to sign the visitor book before being led down the hall to a larger meeting room. There we met with the aid of said junior legislator and Don Hammerly gave her our handouts, and ran through the issues we wanted our legislator to support. Those delegates in our group who lived in the representative’s district named themselves as such (because the legislators like to know how many of their own constituents are there). I don’t believe I said anything at this first meeting – I just smiled and nodded, introduced myself when asked, and trembled in fear that I’d be asked to speak! The others were giving personal stories of how the proposed legislation would affect them at their libraries and I couldn’t say anything like that because I didn’t even work for a library. After a short 15 or 20 minutes, our meeting was over and we marched on to the next.

Throughout the afternoon it was much the same. Spend a great deal of time walking from one office to the next, try and cram in and sign the guest book, and speak with a very friendly and receptive aide who apologized for the absence of the representative. We eventually discovered that most of the representatives were called to the floor for a last-minute issue, which is why we were seeing so many aides. At each meeting, my fear grew a little less. Eventually I realized that, even though I didn’t work at a library, I was a patron of several libraries, and I could try to provide insight from a user-perspective. Once I realized that, I tried to speak more often.

Finally, after five or six meetings (they’re all a blur in my head), we went to our last meeting of the day: Eliot Naishtat, my own representative. This was the only real-live legislator we’d seen all day, and Rep. Naishtat’s office is located in the main building since he’s a senior legislator. I shook his hand and introduced myself as “a grad student in library studies and a constituent” and then we all went to his office for our meeting. We said the same things we’d been saying all day, but this meeting was a bit different. Rep. Naishtat was aware of our platform and already supported our legislation, so the talk quickly moved to other matters. We had been “warned” at our briefing that some representatives would try and change the topic to get our opinion on other matters, and that we were to gently steer them back to libraries. I got a small sense of this, but generally, Rep. Naishtat was asking us about other library issues, so none of us really felt the need to “steer” the conversation. We were just so pleased to be talking to a real representative for once (of course, his aide sat in on the meeting, taking notes so the Rep. didn’t have to worry about that).

Finally, it was all over. Everyone had been very receptive to our requests, and very polite and courteous. There had been no conniving, no wheedling, nothing of the sort (although I did see a very rotund man in a pinstriped suit carrying a basket of goodies into one representative’s office…I smirked because the scenario smacked of the fast-talking, wheelin-and-dealin luncheons I thought we were going to have to do to help “lobby”).

As we all rose to the surface and departed the Capitol, I realized I was exhausted. My feet ached and were blistered because I’d made a poor decision in shoes (I hadn’t realized how much walking would be involved!) I bowed out and said “farewell” to my fellow delegates, and as they walked back to the State Library building for the reception, I trudged off to wait at the overcrowded bus stop. I was physically exhausted, but mentally uplifted.

As I rode home on the bus, I gazed out the window and replayed everything in my mind. Being around these librarians had been so inspiring. That they cared for their communities was obvious (that’s why they chose librarianship, after all), but they went above and beyond that. They took time out of their schedule to pound the granite and squeeze into too-small offices and uncomfortable suits and smile and shake hands with 20 year old aides and tell them why libraries were important. I think some of the aides were a bit clueless about libraries before the meetings, but left with open eyes.

I learned from Legislative Day that a part of keeping libraries relevant is not just marketing – user surveys, usage studies, marketing materials, social networking – but advocacy. Getting out there and telling people about libraries – what they offer, now, in the past, and what they could offer in the future with support. I realized then that what I’d found so distasteful about the idea of legislative day was the persuasion behind it. I didn’t like cold-calling, and I didn’t like trying to influence people. My line had been, up to that point “Everyone has their own opinion, and I’m sure they have good reasons for feeling the way they do, so there’s nothing I can do to change that.”

Well, I was wrong. People have their opinions because of their own experiences, true, but also because of outside influences that shaped those experiences. Some of those “influences” were probably people – people who inspired or repulsed. I now realized that we, as librarians, needed to be an inspiring influence in our communities. We could shape our communities for better or worse, depending on our advocacy efforts, or lack thereof. We are all representatives of libraries. Representatives of the patrons who use our services, but equally responsible for those who don’t. By advocating for libraries, we’re supporting our communities in the present, and in the future, by ensuring free access to quality information, assistance in selecting information from among the ever-growing sea of sources, and teaching people to navigate those waters, whether their end goal is personal betterment and fulfillment, social connections, learning, or achieving a better quality of life. Every dollar we gain in governmental support will help improve our services. And every convert we bring into the library fold has the potential to be an advocate for libraries – bringing in their friends, family and colleagues. Likewise, every patron lost through poor services, poor programming, or poor facilities also has the potential to be a naysayer of libraries, undoing the hard work we have done.

That’s why apathy can’t be tolerated. We have to be the best, and motivated to be advocates every day…not just in the political arena, but to all our patrons, and our would-be patrons. That’s what being an advocate means.  I hadn’t realized it before. But every time I talk to someone now, if I tell them I’m studying to be a librarian, and they mention that they haven’t been to the library in years, I try and suggest some way that the library could be useful and relevant to them.  I know that many will just smile and nod, but maybe one or two actually will go check out those databases, or maybe our classes, or our media collections. And that’s a good start. Like I said, I see these converts as potentially exponential growth – viral advocacy if you will. And that potential inside each one will keep me talking, even though I still hate trying to change people’s minds. I’ll get better at it, with practice.

Library Advocacy, or How I quit worrying and learned to love politics

2 06 2007

Part I in a two part series

Six months ago, when I was a very green library student, I had a life-changing experience. This event irrevocably changed the essence of who I was, and what I believed in. It shook me to my core. I had been saved. Saved from a life of apathy, ignorance, and (let’s call a spade a spade) selfishness. And saved from myself, too – my own insecurities and fear of failure.

What was the impetus for this change? Why none other than TxLA‘s Legislative Day. Legislative day occurs once every two years for Texas libraries, and I knew this would be my only chance to participate in political library advocacy while I was still in school.

I was deathly afraid. I told everyone I knew that I was terrified of Legislative Day. Me! Lobbying! At the Capitol! I nearly shrieked my fears at anyone who would stand still long enough for me to grab them by the shoulders and pour out my heart to them. At this point, I hadn’t even worked in a library before, not even one volunteer shift, and I felt like I knew nothing and would have nothing to contribute. Yet there I was, signed up to lobby at the Capitol for the sake of Texas Libraries. And it wasn’t as if I was being a hanger-on… I wasn’t signed up because all my friends were. In fact, I didn’t know a single other library student who’d volunteered. At this point in my life, I’d never done anything like this before. I hadn’t been to the Capitol since I was eight, and I rarely had anything to do with politics. I was petrified. I didn’t even own a suit. You had to have a suit to go to the Capitol…didn’t you?

Maybe it was my own complete overwhelming fear at the prospect of political advocacy that convinced me this was something I had to do. It was like rock climbing. The first time my instructor told me to purposely fall off the wall to learn how to trust my partner holding me on the ground… letting go and then falling – then feeling the jerk as the rope catches and you’re fine and laughing hysterically because you could have just died. That kind of feeling. So I signed up. And finally February rolled around and I went.

The evening before Legislative Day, there was an orientation at a hotel downtown. I rode my bike in rush hour traffic down Congress and to the hotel, where the valet at the hotel told me I could “check” my bike at the counter and they would stow it inside. I was shaking like a leaf from the adrenaline boost I’d gotten from riding in so much traffic, but I managed to remember to get my bag from my bike before taking my claim ticket and walking over to the room where the orientation would be held. I nervously went up and claimed my packet and the nametag that were waiting for me. And then I went inside the conference room.

I’m a very poor judge of room sizes, but it seemed like there must be 500 chairs lined up facing the stage. At the end of every row was a helium baloon with a number written on it. I had learned from the packet desk that these numbers represented our districts. I found mine, but the row was empty. I’d learned a few days before that Don Hammerly, a PhD candidate at the iSchool, would be the head of our delegation. I didn’t know Don, but I’d seen him before and I was so glad to have someone else from the iSchool there. Another iSchool student, Lisa Charbonnet, would also be there, and I felt much calmer since I knew Lisa well, and she was a brick (Lisa has so much more experience with this than I – she’s already finished one successful career in business and now is starting another in librarianship). Not wanting to sit like a wallflower in a nearly empty room full of chairs, I grabbed a bottle of water and went to stand near the packet pick-up in hopes of seeing someone I knew.

All around me, more and more librarians started arriving. They were loud and boisterous, and sometimes quiet, and all seemed to be part of a big family. I felt like a total outsider. What was I doing here anyway, I wondered. How could my being here possibly make a difference to anyone? I was staring at the ornate floral carpeting as if it were the most interesting thing in the world and trying desperately to remember why I’d ever signed up for this.

Then I saw a pair of shoes in front of me. Shiny brown men’s shoes. I looked up and there stood a *gasp* librarian, smiling at me.

I should take a moment to explain something. Perhaps this was one of my own personal eccentricities, but at this point I was still in complete babbling awe of librarians. I couldn’t even speak to one properly without going all giddy and flushing from sternum to hairline in that spectacular way that only the Irish have. I’m not sure where this rapturous awe came from, but it has taken many months of concerted effort for me to act somewhat normal around a librarian.

So there I was, smiling stupidly at this librarian who had obviously taken pity on me standing all alone, looking forlorn in this sea of joviality and familial greetings. He asked what district I was in, and if this was my first time at Legislative Day (“Does it show?” I almost asked). I really can’t remember much of the conversation because I was so in awe – this librarian had been doing advocacy for his libraries (he was the head of a tri-city library group) for 30 years. He talked about politics and library issues and told me what to expect. He introduced me to the many (many!) librarians who came up to say hello to him, and I quickly realized I must be in the company of someone of significance. I’m a dunce at names if I don’t focus hard when being introduced, and so I don’t remember his name, but I really appreciated him taking me under his wing until I finally saw Don Hammerly coming up the escalators. I thanked him for talking with me and promised I’d say hello the next day at the reception.

Don was great and made me feel much more at ease. He explained how we’d have a set of issues we were to focus on, and that we already had appointments with all of the representatives in our district. I was thrilled to hear how organized everything was – we had appointments! I was so afraid this was going to be like cold-calling, but I laid that fear aside. We weren’t trying to coerce anyone, we were simply there to remind our reps of the issues that were important to libraries, why they were important, and then to ask for their support. We even had talking points! I felt so much better about the entire process after hearing that. We walked into the conference room which was now nearly full. I found Lisa and we sat together on our district’s row.

Gloria Meraz spoke to the group – she was the one who had come to my school and talked about Legislative Day. She’s a very inspiring speaker and one of the reasons I became convinced that participating would be a great thing to do. There were other speakers, each giving us advice and trying to rile the librarians in the room to get them passionate about telling their own personal stories to our representatives. And then, at some point, out of nowhere, Gloria said “and I hear we have some students from the UT School of Information here tonight. Where are you?” We three, Lisa, Don, and yours truly, stood bashfully and waved at the hundreds of eyes that turned around and faced us. I felt a flush creep up my face as I stood there with a plastic grimace grin stuck to my face as I stared into the eyes of All. Those. Librarians. They were so… old. That sounds terribly harsh, but I think… no, I know… I was the youngest person in the room. I’m no spring chicken at 29, but all the faces of my fellow librarians, were kind, and be-spectacled, and inquisitive, and oh-so-much older than me. And perhaps this is just part of my librarian-related-awe, but they seemed so all-knowing. I felt like I had been placed on a scale and was being weighed for quality – would I pass muster? Perhaps they merely seemed so much older than me because I felt like I knew so little, and they, surely, knew so much.

But why was I alone here? Where were my fellow student librarians…those of the as-yet-unknowing brother- and sister-hood? Lisa and Don seemed so different – they were grown…they’d had lives and careers before and I felt very isolated again from everyone. But then all the faces started smiling, and then they started beaming. I felt tears prick the corners of my eyes because I could feel it – I’d won their approval simply by showing up. By participating. I felt as if, at that moment, all their hopes for the future of librarianship were placed on my shoulders. What a weight to bear! And Gloria went on talking, saying how much she appreciated the librarians-of-the-future for showing up and participating. And then other librarians started saying things like “let’s pledge to each bring a youngster next year – too many old faces in this crowd.” And finally we sat down and it was over, but not quite because just when you’d start to forget what a spectacle you’d been moments before, another head or two would turn, with eyes glittering, to send a wink or a nod or a smile in your direction.

Finally it was over. We had our plan of attack. Our marching orders. We had The Agenda. Don told us where to meet and in what order we’d be speaking with the representatives. Everyone said “wear comfortable shoes” but at this point my attention was waning and I just wanted to get home (this is foreshadowing, by the way). Finally we all drifted apart, and I claimed my bicycle. The valet on duty complimented me on it and we had a moment or two of bike-talk before I turned on my night-lights and rode off into the twinkling blackness.

Part Two will be delivered tomorrow…