Day 3 of the DirLead meeting was filled with more great experiences. Cheryl Gould led us through activities in change resilience and conflict resolution. Four of us had a memorable walk in the woods at the end of the day, followed by an outstanding dinner at the Double Musky.
Change is endemic in organizations. Technology and society change continuously, and libraries must embrace continuous internal improvement to serve our evolving communities. At Ketchikan Public Library, we are in the middle of a strategic planning process to assess community needs and plan for changes in the next 3-5 years. But, in an organization that requires the use of complex systems, policies and procedures in order to function, and with limited funding and personnel, how does a director reduce staff stress and encourage experimentation?
Being clear about the library’s mission and avoiding mission creep, helps. A library is a service organization, and most people who work in libraries are extraordinarily service-oriented. “How can I help?” is what we all say each day, every day. This is a great thing, as long as each staff person keeps the mission in mind.
What is that mission? To empower people to find and use informational and recreational resources within and outside the library, and to experience new ideas, cultures and activities through programs and events. The empowering part of it is most challenging, since in a consumer economy people’s expectation is often that a library will provide things for the asking. But what libraries provide is not things, but power—power to learn, power to experience, power to grow.
In the afternoon, we explored conflict resolution with an exercise in perception. Two people stand in the same place, but back to back, and see completely different things. Neither is wrong. When two people disagree about a policy or project, both perspectives are important and valuable in resolving the conflict. There are times when this is not easy, and directors need to overcome their own fear and emotion to set an appropriate example for the people around them.
During a break a group of us explored the possibility of working together with Anchorage Public Library on a project to serve small businesses in our communities. We agreed that reaching out to local businesses to ask what kind of help they could use would be a good first step.
Day 4 was the final day of the meeting, ending with another excellent lunch by Alyeska. That morning we went around the table to talk about each library’s accomplishments and challenges over the past year. It was impressive!
Afterwards we broke up into interest groups. I was with a group interested in exploring the digitization of local Alaska newspapers. Most of us keep local newspapers in microfilm, but microfilm readers are difficult to repair and maintain, and expensive to replace. There are many challenges to digitization—most notably copyright and the cost and staff time needed—but not digitizing is creating its own challenges. State Librarian Patience Frederiksen is leading us on a committee to explore this further.
Fairbanks Public Library Director Melissa Harter drove several of us back to Anchorage that afternoon (thank you, Melissa!). An uneventful flight back to Ketchikan the next morning ended my first DirLead meeting experience. It was a privilege to meet such an extraordinary group of colleagues, and I look forward to our next meeting at the Alaska Library Association Conference in March 2018!