Most public libraries were established by folks who appreciate the value of a public library in their community and the reality that libraries need community support to survive. It is this symbiotic relationship that makes public libraries in Canada unique, envied by other community services, and sustainable. Libraries need friends.
Although the origin of the first Friends of the Library group is lost in the annals of time, it is known that business man and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was a big believer. He is quoted as saying “the man who dies rich dies disgraced.” Lucky for us, Carnegie spent his considerable fortune on establishing 2,500 + public libraries in Scotland and North America. However, he required community support as part of his agreement to build a library in a community. He really was our first Friend’s group.
Today Friends groups are people like Carnegie who believe that a public library is a necessary and valuable institution and are ready to contribute their time and skills to make a great library even better.
►What do Friends groups do?
□ They provide financial support through fundraising i.e. book sales or events, encourage financial donations i.e. establishing Foundations, and as an external community partner as the library applies for grants
□ Keeps the library “front of mind” by organizing high profile programs and events i.e. candidate’s forums, author and book events
□ Advocates on behalf of the library.
►So who are these Friends?
□ They are retired teachers, librarians, book club members, library board members, staff, customers and of course spouses but they are also
□ Teens learning about volunteering, young professionals looking for a way to connect with the community, neighbours, community leaders and readers who just like to be with fellow geeks.
There are some great resources available for folks who want to organize, share or learn more about Friends groups. No one organizes or shares better than a group of librarians!
□ The huge American Library Association resource ALA Friends portal
□ The Friends of Canadian Libraries portal FOCAL (currently under construction)
There are some excellent examples of very successful friends groups (but I maybe a bit biased with this list)
► Friends of the Guelph Public Library In the last 8 years this group of 200 dedicated members has raised over $150,000 from their annual book sale and events. In 2014 they made the founding $10,000 donation to establish an endowment fund for GPL and sponsored events including Guelph Reads and the $1,000 Munsch Award. Their long term fundraising goal is to furnish and equip the teen area of the new Main Library. All libraries could be so lucky as to have Friends like these folks!
►Friends of the Toronto Public Library The north and south chapters of the TPL Friends have raised over $1 million in support of their library. They operate a bookstore and fundraise to support the TPL shut-in service and summer reading program.
►Friends of the St. Paul Public Library. Since 1945 and with over 3,000 members this Friends group is the “gold standard’, they are simple awesome! They have sponsored library events, book purchases, bought bookmobiles, they even operate a consulting service …you name it they have done it!
So why am I such a big fan for library Friends groups?
Let me count the ways…
- They regularly remind me of why public libraries are great and being a librarian is the best job in the world.
- They are courageous, ready to defend public libraries at all levels of government, take on any newspaper editor or letter writer and defend the library like only a Friend can.
- They are creative; just look at the vast array of programs and events they have initiated from crossword tournaments to masked balls.
- They are willing to put their time and skills to work to make their community a better place to live, work and play.
- They know how to have fun. If you have ever been to a Friends book sale, you know exactly what I mean. They love working with books, they are passionate about reading and it shows!
The more I work in library land, the more I appreciate library Friends.
Kitty Pope #38 October 2014
Recently, a friend’s daughter was appointed CEO of a mid-sized public library in central Canada. She is a great librarian and I know she will be an even better CEO. I emailed her my congrats and in replying she asked me for some advice. Never short on advice, this is what I told her.
►Trust is fundamental to any CEO’s success. It is built or eroded with every exchange and is predicated upon whether you are focused inward (self-focused) or focused outward (on others). If trust is not there or is broken, nothing else will work.
►If you don’t know where to start, follow the money trail, it’s always a good place to start understanding an issue. Where did the $ come from and where did it go?
►If you are struggling to answer a question, it’s safe to say it’s either a communication or a budget issue. Then figure out which one it is…
►And, if you don’t know the answer, it’s totally appropriate to say so, “but I will get back to you”. The real error is in not following through and sharing the answer with all who heard the question.
►Even though you are new on the job, take every opportunity to speak publically. The more you talk about your new library, the better you will understand it.
►Expense account irregularities will destroy a CEO quicker than anything. Be personally responsible for your expense account and follow all policies and reporting procedures exactly.
►Doing nothing is not an option. The CEO that ignores a contentious situation, or refuses to act, is waiting to be fired.
►Nothing is private . Everything a library CEO does or says is fodder for gossip, and social media. Rightly or wrongly, it is all bound to be public, eventually. My personal litmus test is how would this incident look as a newspaper headline?
►When you are listening, you are learning. So when you are not listening…
►When good work is outweighed by controversy (personal or otherwise) a library CEO becomes a liability and another way to be shown the door.
►The organizations reputation is sacrosanct. The CEO needs to always take the high road and defend the organization. The safest ground is usually right behind the Board chair.
And my favorite piece of advice for freshly minted CEO’s:
► Evolve or evaporate, it really is that simple. If a CEO is not changing and moving the library ahead they are losing ground and sliding into stagnation.
Kaden I wish you the very best, work hard and enjoy the adventure. It’s a great time to be a librarian.
Kitty Pope #37 October 2014
A co-worker sent me this quote a few days ago. I read it quickly and went on with my busy day. But this morning, as I sat at the kitchen table reading the Sunday paper its message kept flooding back into my head. It reminded me that control doesn’t predetermine success or happiness. What determines success or happiness is the process and how we handle it.
I have learned to pay particular attention to my responses in the first few minutes of a crisis. I consciously work at processing the issue and looking for the positive response, so I can deal with the crisis appropriately. If in those first few minutes I respond spontaneously and negatively, the “die is cast” and the end result will not be pretty!
Kathy’s quote also reminded me that we are the mistresses of our own destiny. You have a choice every morning when you wake up and put your feet onto the floor, you can either be happy or sad. In that split second you have a choice and if you choose to give up, others will quickly fill the void. There is no grace, courage or humor in abdication.
When the Mayor of Toronto was diagnosed with cancer days before the opening, Sheldon with great courage, humour and grace stepped forward to say his portrayal of the mayor was all about being respectful while still making the audience laugh because “there’s a little Rob Ford in us all”. After the show we went back stage to chat with Sheldon, (who lost his mom to cancer two months ago) and he was the first to wish the mayor a speedy recover. This is courage, humour and grace in action.
Kathy Kinney you are one smart lady and Sheldon, you are the very best!
Kitty Pope #36 October 2014
Library customers come in many forms and flavours. For example there are the delighted, devoted, disappointed, disaffected, dormant, unrealistic and angry, to name just a few. Each type presents a variety of pluses, challenges and unique skills to handle.
1. The delighted customer is our favorite kind of customer and I suggest; (with no scientific backing) that 60% – 70% of all public library customers fall into this category. They love the library because the staff regularly exceed their expectations, usually with a comment, a smile or a thank you.
2. Devoted library customers, (again with no scientific backing) represent 20% – 30% of our customers. They are the folks that have high library expectations and consistently staff provide them with a great experience. The key to satisfying the devoted customer is don’t neglect them. Staff needs to consistently offer them exceptional, personal service. Just think of the Apple or Tim Horton’s customer experience.
3. The detached customer is the “neutral” customer that is basically satisfied with their library service, but doesn’t love us. These are the customers library staff need to focus on rebuilding the relationship by offering them additional services, information or resources. They are the customers most likely to evolve into devoted or delighted customers so, this is time well spent.
4. The disappointed Staff may have provided great library service to these customers in the past, but now, for whatever reason, the customer feels let down. The solution is having a staff process to quickly and on the spot, deal with their disappointment. Is it offering to add them to the library e newsletter or signing them up for early overdue notices? Staff need some options to return the disappointed customer back to their devoted or delighted status.
5. The disaffected customer is the disappointed customer that the library did not successfully deal with previously. They are now aggravated and ready to tell the whole world about the short comings of the library. This can be the most destructive customer and so every effort needs to be made to turn them into the delighted customers. But, it will take even more work to get them back than the detached customer.
6.The dormant customer is one that was delighted or devoted but has drifted away for a variety of reasons. The key to getting these folks back is staff opening a dialogue with them to rebuild the relationship.
7. The unrealistic customer is one that has expectations that far exceed the library’s capabilities to supply i.e. the customer who wants staff to write their resume, or waive all their overdue fines. The best way to deal with the unrealistic customer is provide staff with phrases that outline the library’s policy and if all fails, a Supervisor to try and satisfy the customer.
8. The angry customer is agitated and focusing their anger on the library. Rarely have even the most skilled customer service folks been able to turn around the angry customer, because usually the customer is angry for reasons that are totally unrelated to the library. The angry customer is raising their voice but more importantly their hand is above their shoulder. This is your cue to immediately call a Supervisor and step back, this is a no win situation. Luckily they represent perhaps less than .0005% of all library customers.
Library customers come in a wide variety of flavours, but it’s this variety that makes library work so interesting, challenging but more importantly so satisfying.
Have a great week.
Kitty Pope #35 September 2014