An impressive panel this morning at OLA: Rebecca Raven, CEO Brampton Public Library; Jeff Barber, CEO question confusedRegina Public Library, Rose Vespa, Director Library Services for Mississauga; Maureen Sawa, CEO Greater Victoria Public Library.  They are addressing key questions that “keep them awake at night.”

Q: Are we wasting time & money building new physical libraries?

No, we need physical buildings, and we need to figure out: how do we plan for that space? how do we determine the square footage required. The # of ppl coming through the doors is increasing, not decreasing.

When talking with politicians, this question is very real.  So what is it about the library that requires a physical space?  We are carving out space as physical materials decline. But libraries are legislated to be a community place, and we are fewer community places for ppl (youth, seniors, students, etc.) to go.  Libraries need to be careful about how they position themselves as community spaces — let’s be honest, there are much cheaper community spaces that don’t have the cost of digital and physical materials and staff.

Q: Are we really prepared for serious service disruptions (like the ice storm), and are virtual services sufficient? 

The recent closures due to floods showed that it is the physical space that was really missed by the community.  Our website, digital resources and e-books are important components but are in no way replacing the physical service spaces.  The library is such a part of ppl’s routine — Library as Place is critical, so we have to be prepared for service disruptions.

This isn’t necessarily a question that keeps all CEO’s awake at night. Yes, loss of service is serious, but the question that does keep more CEO’s awake is that the library’s online presence.  That presence isn’t good enough. We need a longer term view of the profession — a profession that is not so divided.  (Me: we really need to use the word discipline — that’s what librarianship is, a discipline). We need public libraries to agree on a common cause and agree to move forward.

That’s really the question that keeps CEO’s awake is how do we lose these divisions in the sector?  The number of associations and “groups” is problematic.

Q: Public libraries are frequently referred to as safe? What does that mean? 

We are as safe as a public space can be. What’s worrying is how staff are interacting with patrons in those spaces.  Public libraries are open for everyone, and yet the reality is that some people make other patrons and staff very uncomfortable; staff needs to be on the same page about this; if someone is sleeping and using us as a lounge — is that ok?  In trying to be everything for everyone public libraries have situations that are really uncomfortable with some people. There is an underbelly to being a community space; where do we draw the line — does the person with the nauseating body odour trump the comfort of other people? Public libraries have to be tolerant of all people AND have policies for drawing the line.

Public libraries aren’t equipped to work effectively with all ppl  — we aren’t spending enough time discussing how we have social workers and youth workers on staff to work with the marginalized sectors.  Brantford Public Library employs a social worker and their work with at-risk youth has made the Library a much safer place, and made a difference in youth’s lives. Some libraries have redesigned it’s main branch redesigned the entrance to be very open and this removed the closed space where people would ‘hang’ and others would be intimidated.

Q: Would you recommend this profession to young people? 

Librarianship, like all professions, is changing dramatically – so yes.

Q: How do staff work with people who have very limited literacy?

Jobs aren’t disappearing, they are morphing and elevating.  There’s more jobs that are “heads up – eyes to meet the patron” rather than the former jobs like circulation which had “heads down, eyes on the task rather than the patron.”  Libraries need to position themselves much more aggressively in digital literacy.  What keeps the CEO awake is designing the right job — is the training required – and reassuring staff that their roles are changing. How do libraries continue to provide good employment opportunities?  Jobs are much more of a customer service model — working 3 nights/week and weekends.

Q: What are the HR strategies?

Staff need to be flexible and excel in customer service — everyone (IT, technical services, etc…). (Me: actually, the more ppl are greeting by staff, the less likely ppl are to be problematic.)  Library core competencies include problem-solving, trend identification, applying trends to services and processes, etc.  Teachers and many other professions require professional development — what about librarians?   Ultimately there isn’t a common denominator of professional development across the country — no standards.

My comment:  once again people began to talk about being educated to be “librarians”; we really need to look at the broad discipline of the master of information science or master of library and information science.  We are not going to effectively manage and eliminate the sector silos within the library sector if the education looks at developing “public library managers” or “academic library managers”. The education is to teach people the underlying tenets and theories of information science for them to apply in myriad ways of information-intensive environments, ONE of which may be a public library.

Excellent session — and full.