This year at TLA, TSLAC hosted our first ever preconference directed at new library directors that have held their position 3 years or less. We had a full day of networking, hearing practical tips from TSLAC staff, and engaging with a panel of experienced librarians on the topic of engaging effectively with governing authorities.
Our panel was so successful, in fact, that I reached out to the experienced directors and asked them to share their thoughts on the following question:
“What are your top three suggestions for new directors that will set them up for success in working with their governing authority?”
Judy Bergeron, Director, Smithville Public Library
Communication is key – especially multi-directional communication – upward to the governing authority, inward to library staff and Advisory Board members, and outward to the public and other City departments. Once we started regular one-on-one meetings with the City Manager and monthly meetings with all the department heads, I felt that we were more aware of all that is going on with City operations. This comes in very handy at budget time, too, as the library gets an opportunity to communicate and justify budgetary needs.
Define goals –
It is important to communicate long-range and strategic planning with the governing authority, too. At our one-on-one meetings, the City Manager and I determine our top goals and accomplishments for the year. We use the SMART goal system (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound), so we have specific, measurable goals to strive for and assess progress. These provide a great template to present our plans to the City Council (who have the final vote on the budget) at public workshops, and we also maintain transparency through this communication.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Try to familiarize yourself with the governing authority’s perspective and have some understanding of their expectations. Ask those who have been there before you: What worked? What didn’t work? That way you can learn from them. It also helps to ask others in your network – you have gotten off to a good start with attending library-related workshops and training sessions. TSL, TLA, PLA, ALA, and other library resources have a lot of experience to help answer your questions.
Dayna Williams-Capone, Director, Victoria Public Library
- Work with your city manager to determine how you can connect with the city council. In my case that was through:
- Being involved in the orientation when city council members tour the library and sit down with me to talk about library successes, challenges and goals.
- Presenting an annual report to the full council as part of their meeting.
- Being visible by sitting up front with other department heads at city council meetings.
- Being aware of the politics surrounding my particular situation and always alerting my city manager when I have concerns or feel that a situation is beginning to be uncomfortable or I do not know how to answer a city council member’s request.
- Turning outward. Learn as much about the inner workings of the city as possible and get to know as many other city employees as possible. Find ways to work with other city departments and support their successes. I led the city’s United Way fundraising effort two years in a row in order to be involved. I attend police promotion events, retirement parties and any city events where other departments are gathering feedback. MPO had consultants in last week to develop long range transportation plans and I attended to voice concerns I had about roads, sidewalks and transit around the library. We make sure items about the library are included in the city-wide newsletter. I attend splash pad openings or share feedback with Parks when I hear good suggestions from the community. There are many ways to connect with other city departments.
- Keep city council aware of your library events, publications, awards and better yet ask them to be involved in a library event. I do this by making sure that a library newsletter is always included in city council’s meeting packets. I have also personally invited city council members to programs if I felt that the topic tied in with his / her interests. Sometimes my city manager would ask me to make an announcement at the podium at city council meeting about a big, upcoming library event.
Julia Mitschke, Director, Cedar Park Public Library
- Maintain awareness of what’s going in your community and among your officials; go to council meetings, go to community events, network with other department heads or people at your organization level.
- Avoid library jargon and think about things from a constituent’s perspective when talking to your governing authority. It’s important that they understand what services you provide and why they are important to the community. Whenever I am making a funding request I always frame the need/case for support in terms of what the benefit to the community will be (even if it is something that is more of a staff efficiency/workload balancing request).
- Everyone makes mistakes; own the mistake and figure out how to move forward.
Mary Jo Giudice, Director of Libraries, City of Dallas
I’d add to their responses that volunteering for events outside the library or volunteering to host events for other departments in your City/County is a great way to develop colleagues and win positive attention from your government leaders. I often am on review panels for the purchasing department or hiring panels and the time that I get with other City officials this way is invaluable. When you get this time, ask questions, ask for advice, pick their brains and then let them know you will support them in their ideas too. Being a part of the governmental team just reinforces our value to a community.
It was said before but bears repeating – communicate with your government officials and be responsive when they ask for help or ask opinions. Raise your hand, lean in and holler at the top of your lungs to be heard.