Career Development

How can libraries transform and thrive? Dorothy Stoltz and James Kelly on successful collaboration

How does a library amplify the skills and enthusiasm of its staff while also identifying what the community wants? In their new book Transform and Thrive: Ideas to Invigorate Your Library and Your Community, Dorothy Stoltz and her coauthors Gail Griffith, James Kelly, Muffie Smith, and Lynn Wheeler argue that adhering to a handful of straightforward principles will point the way forward. We spoke with Stoltz, director for community engagement at the Carroll County (MD) Public Library, and Kelly, library director of Frederick Public Libraries (MD), about their prescriptions for library success.

How did the book come together?  What was your starting point?

Dorothy Stoltz: People inside and outside the profession ponder whether libraries are on the verge of becoming extinct.  My experiences at Carroll County Public Library and observations of many other libraries demonstrate the opposite result. However, not all librarians are awake to the kinds of tenets that can nearly guarantee long-term success.  I wanted to pull together a team of colleagues who promote and activate a strong, thriving relationship between their library and their community. The starting point was to write a book that debunks the notion that libraries are coming to an end. A library is not just a wonderful resource, but also a crucial component in any community that values the talents of its individual residents.  A library can thrive only if the community as a whole thrives.  If a community is declining, its library may well be declining, too. Yet the library can be a source for reinvigoration, if it can inspire its citizens. 

James Kelly: Dorothy was part of some truly inspiring work that was taking place at Carroll County Public Library and she was starting to note some trends in libraries across the state of Maryland and nationwide. She invited co-authors to consider questions about our own practice and to share examples. In this way, the book started to take shape.

What are some positive examples from the book of library leaders who have found ways to set the right tone for library staff?

DS: A great exponent of a thriving community was Benjamin Franklin – one of my library heroes – who sought to bring out the best in himself and in others in order to improve the community. Today, we have library leaders such as Felton Thomas, Cleveland Public Library director, who practices the golden rule by treasuring the people he serves and thus discovering that they – no matter their walk of life – in turn use and support CPL. Brian Bannon, commissioner of Chicago Public Library, practices how to make room for creativity and apply enthusiasm through experimentation and patience – striving to help uplift the community a day at a time, a person at a time. This is where Franklin is such a wonderful role model.  This book is something of a wakeup call, to be applied in different ways in different communities, but always with the idea of transformation. Imagine Plato being called in to rescue a library from dullness. What would he do?  Perhaps the library should be declared a “no dullness zone.”

JK: I think the conversation in chapter two about the importance of values is critical for library leaders who want to undertake culture change in their organizations. Strategic plans are important, but they are short term and concerned only with “what we do.” More important than the “what” in my opinion is naming the “how.” Values set the expectation we have for ourselves and for our teams, for the experience we want our internal and external customers to have, for how we will interact with our community partners. Naming and committing to those values is a powerful exercise. Hiring with those values in mind is the quickest way to affect culture change. Values are also the bar to which leadership should hold themselves accountable. As a piano in the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimoreleaders, if we live these values, staff see that and that helps us set the tone. If we name those values, but conduct ourselves counter to those values, staff will see it and we erode morale and trust.    

Can you offer a few tips for leading a productive brainstorming session?

DS: Brainstorming is often used to generate a list of ways to solve a problem with the hope to find one workable solution. It may be helpful to up the ante by viewing brainstorming as an act of creativity. Human creativity is not confined to artists, musicians, writers, or inventors. Creative thinking is about challenging our assumptions. It’s important to note that many of us may think of “challenge” as criticism, when it is actually constructive help.  In conducting a brainstorming session, you might consider discussion prompts, such as, how many alternate ways of thinking can be generated?  And, after a promising answer appears, keep asking, “What is possible?” Anyone who enriches a discussion or conversation with wisdom, respect, and dignity is creative. By challenging our assumptions or traditions, we can spark curiosity in ourselves and others in order to find several top-notch solutions. We don’t accept the first encouraging solution, but pay attention to possibility – and thus we can discover an answer far superior than we at first imagined. A library in the role of community anchor can be a great stimulus to creative thinking and activity.

One of your chapters is about taking intelligent risks.  How do you define that?

DS: Librarians are far more experienced in intelligent risk-taking than we might realize. The Latin origin of the word “intelligent” means “the power of discerning.” The Proto-Indo-European origin of the work “risk” means “to leap, climb.” Putting these words together we can define “intelligent risk-taking” as using our ability to discern how to overcome obstacles that seem to be in the way. In other words, we can develop the skill to ask the right questions to prevent short-sightedness and help us think through and understand the book cover for Transform and Thrive: Ideas to Invigorate Your Library and Your Communityobstacles. Each situation requires a different approach and its own set of questions. For example, Bob Kuntz, director of operations and innovation, Carroll County Public Library, asks questions that help staff think through the risks with new and emerging technologies. How might our customers benefit?  Is this a fad or does it have staying power? What should we invest in? What has the best chance of success?

JK: You want to make sure to be aware of the priorities of elected officials. In my experience the alignment of the values of the community, library board, and staff together lay the foundation for taking intelligent risks.  Decisions made which are in alignment with those priorities and values – even if they seem to run counter to traditional views of library service or roles – are intelligent risks to take.  

What’s one of the most persistent barriers to collaboration, and can you give some advice for overcoming it?

JK: One of the most persistent barriers is one that has been with organizations, not just libraries, forever. It has to do with communication and our willingness to actively listen, to be vulnerable, to have honest and direct conversations in a profession where many of us go to great lengths to avoid confrontation. I feel there is strength in vulnerability and when we allow ourselves to build trust, then to be vulnerable and speak directly, the bonds that are built between us are strongest. I believe that our work is about people, not about stuff. Our degree of success, in my opinion, rises and falls commensurate with our ability to connect to coworkers and community members. Teams that can do that, can build something great together.

DS: Many of us have a default tendency or habit of focusing on what is wrong in a situation, but if we tap large or abstract ideas of life, such as respect, discernment, and helpfulness, we can stay in tune with the bigger picture. We can develop a habit and steady attitude of looking for what is right – we don’t ignore problems and challenges, but we try to see the good in people and think about how to correct issues.

Learn more about their book at the ALA Store.

Solving the dysfunctional library: a conversation with Jo Henry, Joe Eshleman, and Richard Moniz

Frankly, it’s not something we like to talk about. There is an unfortunate stigma to acknowledging workplace dysfunction, let alone trying to grapple with the problem. But negative behaviors such as incivility, toxicity, deviant behavior, workplace politics, and team and leadership dysfunction not only make the library a stressful workplace, they also run counter to the core values of librarianship. So what's to be done? In their new book on the topic, Jo Henry, Joe Eshleman, and Richard Moniz take a close look at these negative relationship-based issues and suggest workable solutions. In this interview they discuss their collaboration and how library staff can handle workplace conflicts.  

What was the genesis of the book? Why did you decide to write a book on this topic?

As frequent collaborators, we had always touched on different topics related to leadership and management when we got together. At one point we started more concretely discussing the possibility of updating Richard’s textbook Practical and Effective Management of Libraries. It's a solid work for understanding management principles. That said, it didn’t really get after the most difficult challenges librarians and library managers might face. In talking it through we decided that we specifically wanted to a photo of Tug of War by  -Jacky Liutackle the really tough issues. We all saw various examples of dysfunction either in our own libraries or in other organizations that we had interacted with. We all knew colleagues that had dealt with challenging situations. With that in mind, we felt as though we could both learn a lot and maybe help others by diving deep into the topic.

You’ve all collaborated on writing projects before. Was there anything different this time around? How do you keep track of who’s doing what?

That’s true. We really enjoy working as a team. All three of us have a passion for librarianship and we each bring a different perspective. While one of us may take the lead on a given project, book ideas have typically been generated through vigorous discussion.  Once we have a project, we divide that writing by individual interest and set our internal timelines.  Jo is definitely the leader when it comes to keeping us on track. If there was ever an excellent project manager, it's Jo. Joe is our “big idea” person on the team. He challenges himself and the rest of us to not settle for an easy answer. Often times, he will raise unique points “outside the box” that make our projects deeper and more interesting. Richard can be pretty driven when it comes to keeping on track and he frequently brings his practical experience as a library director to bear on issues. We love the talks that we have as we often get together/email while working on a project. There was not a lot different this time around other than an increased trust factor. We don’t want to let each other down and we try to bring our best selves to each project. We think we did that this time as well.

Because of technology, human beings are more connected to one another than ever before; yet basic communication skills seem to be worse than ever. Why do you think that is?

We see both good and bad examples in the workplace and with our patrons. One can definitely see that the younger generation tends to be “plugged in” all the time and may, as a result, have lost a bit of the connection and skill sets for face to face communication which has been shown to be a more robust communication method.  The book even touches on these generational differences in the realm of workplace incivility.  For example, millennials would rather move on in a dysfunctional workplace than try to adapt or find a solution.  We also discuss communication distortion and how sending and receiving messages can lead to misunderstanding.  Utilization of technology in communication may contribute to these misunderstandings.  Also, there is a loss of “humanity” itself when communicating through technology.  (Think of things such as feedback from sound, gestures, or body language.)  Finally, in the book we address how some of the problem in libraries lies in the fact that the profession has such strong roots but is also going through such radical change. We think that part of the challenge may be resistance to change.

book ccver for The Dysfunctional LibraryIn the book, you write, “Conflicts are a normal part of life and the library workplace.” What are some key steps that both managers and staff can take to deal with conflicts better?

There is a whole lot we could say about this but one central point of the book is the need for civility and respect. It is very important that individuals within an organization build rapport, understanding, and learn to appreciate what each person brings to a given team. Conflict should not be avoided when it arises but dealt with in a manner that is respectful and well-considered. Conflicts between individuals should never be allowed to fester. This requires a certain amount of trust. If that’s lacking there is little hope of resolving the conflict.

What advice would you give to a librarian who needs to report toxic behavior or harassment?

We would say to take care of yourself mentally. That could mean a number of things. First, you need to be careful not to blame yourself for being stuck in a terrible situation. We are proponents of mindfulness and one type of meditation we recommend is loving-kindness meditation. We think it is important to reach out to others that you trust to share what you are experiencing. If you plan to report an issue to HR or another higher authority be careful to document facts about the situation or situations. Unfortunately, sometimes toxic behavior is so embedded in an organization that the best thing you can do is find a healthier workplace.

How can library leaders harness instability and change for a more functional workplace?

Library leaders need to embrace that aspect of change that taps into creativity and humanity.  Realizing that good and open librarians are welcome to change and showing the benefits of accepting change up front are key factors here.  In addition to leading by accepting change themselves, library leaders need to realize that change is one of the things that makes us human. Doing the same things day to day or over a long period of time makes us robots and also makes the librarian position one that can be considered to be automated and phased out.  The most functional librarian is one who is invested in aspects of their job that tap into their own needs and passions. This is not to say that some of the day to day tasks need to be completely eliminated, but merely to point out to library leadership that embracing and facilitating change can make us more engaged.

Learn more about The Dysfunctional Library: Challenges and Solutions to Workplace Relationships at the ALA Store.

Books hot off the press, Meet the Authors at the ALA Store in Orlando

Located just inside the Shuttle Bus Entrance at the Orange County Convention Center, the ALA Store offers products that meet the widest range of your promotional and continuing education/professional development needs—as well as fun gift items. Make sure to carve out some time in your schedule during the conference to stop by and examine the many new and bestselling items available!

ALA Store hours:

  • Friday, June 24            12:00 pm – 5:30 pm
  • Saturday, June 25       8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Sunday, June 26          8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Monday, June 27        9:00 am – 2:00 pm

ALA Graphics will feature a selection of popular posters, bookmarks, and promotional materials, including new 2016 Teen Read Week and Banned Book Week items. And stop by early to get your pick of conference t-shirts—they sell out fast! We’ll also be introducing several brand new items and exclusive gifts:

  • Libraries Transform Expert Badges
  • CSK Book Award T-shirts
  • CSK Book Award Pashmina (limited quantity and only available at the Conference Store)

ALA Editions and ALA divisions are excited to offer several new titles hot off the press, such as “RDA Essentials,” by Thomas Brenndorfer; “Engaging Babies in the Library: Putting Theory into Practice,” by Debra J. Knoll; and “The Librarian's Nitty Gritty Guide to Content Marketing,” by Laura Solomon. Come by the ALA Store for these special Meet the Author events:

Saturday, June 25      

Sunday, June 26      

Remember that you can now find titles from ALA Neal-Schuman and Facet Publishing in the ALA Store. You can also get free shipping on all book orders placed in the ALA Store (posters, bookmarks, and other gift-type items are not eligible for this offer).

Stop by the ALA Store to learn more about our eLearning opportunities. You can also arrange for a live demo of RDA Toolkit—just contact us by June 20 to request an appointment.

Prices at the ALA Store automatically reflect the ALA Member discount, so there’s no need to dig out your Member number. And remember that every dollar you spend at the ALA Store helps support library advocacy, awareness, and other key programs and initiatives!

Continuing the Conversation: Hiring, Training and Supervising Library Shelvers

We just wrapped up Pat Tunstall’s three-part workshop Hiring, Training and Supervising Library Shelvers. This was a fantastic event with some great discussion! 

Pat’s slides for all three parts are posted below. If you didn’t have a chance to participate, check them out!

Continuing the Conversation: Real-Life Strategies for Successful Library Job-Hunting

We just wrapped up Real-Life Strategies for Successful Library Job Hunting: A Forum. Thanks to everyone who attended, to our facilitators Andromeda Yelton and Tiffany Mair, and to JobList, HRDR and Hack Library School for their support.

Don't forget to register for ALA JobList's upcoming Webinar How to Get Unstuck in Your Job Search with Dr. Caitlin Williams, Ph.D.

Keeping up with ALA JobLIST

ALA JobLIST Placement Center information –
ALA JobLIST Direct e-newsletter subscription form and archive –
Facebook –
Twitter –
LinkedIn subgroup: “Librarianship Job Search and Careers” –
Google+ –

ALA  JobLIST Webinars, Podcasts, and Chats

For resources and more, view Hack Library School's Google Doc for today's event:

If you missed the event or you’d like to view it again, please check out the archive:


Tiffany and Andromeda's Slides:

Real Life Strategies for Successful Library Job Hunting

Archive: Tactics for Library Job Hunting in a Tough Market with Jeannette Woodward

Earlier today, we wrapped up our webinar Tactics for Library Job Hunting in a Tough Market with Jeanette Woodward. We want to give a special thanks to our sponsors, LearningExpress and Mango Languages, for making this session possible.

If you’d like to view the archive of this event, it’s available at

Jeanette’s Slides

Tactics for Library Job Hunting in a Tough Market

Continuing the Conversation: Patron-Driven Acquisition: Radically Re-Thinking the Collection, Session 1

Due to the large number of questions that emerged from the first session of Rick Anderon's workshop Patron-Driven Acquisition: Radically Re-Thinking the Collection, we have posted Rick's responses as a separate blog post. Feel free to chime in via the comments area and join in the discussion!

We just wrapped up the first session of the ALA Editions Workshop Patron-Driven Acquisition: Radically Rethinking the Collection  with Rick Anderson. We had some fantastic discussion during this event, and we’re using the comments area of this post to continue it. Whether you attended or not, feel free to join the conversation!

Discussion Questions

  • What’s your definition of Patron-Driven Acquisition?
  • The presentation presumes that print is dead, which is debatable. The Gutenberg led to mass -produced books, therefore allowing multiple simultaneous users. Could you elaborate or give your perspective on the difference between book as abstract text and book as object?
  • If librarians aren’t good at selecting, who is? Selection by librarians saves the time of the user. People want the best sources, but often settle for the easiest to find. Librarians’ selection skills give users accurate information. Regarding the concept of “at least one use,”  do we have research on whether what patrons acquire is what they need?
  • It seems there is a tension between libraries roles in archiving and giving access.For large research libraries, collecting for current users has to go hand-in-hand with preserving the scholarly record for unanticipated future uses. Circulation statistics can’t capture that role, yet it’s important.
  • Are libraries using PDA with media other than books and articles?
  • What are the considerations for the library's systems department in implementing PDA?

Rick’s SlidesPatron-Driven Acquisition: Radically Re-Thinking the Collection, Session 1

Community Partnership: How to Raise Money and Build Relationships

Paul Signorelli is currently teaching the ALA Editions eCourse Community Partnership: Raising Money and Building Relationships. The course begins today, but its not too late to register at the ALA Store.

At a very important yet oft-overlooked level, every member of library staff is now a fundraiser in a very competitive environment. That’s because great fundraising comes from the building of great relationships, and all library staff members play a role in nurturing and sustaining positive and mutually beneficial relationships between libraries and the communities they serve—in good as well as in challenging times.

Fostering effective collaborations is at the heart of the ALA Editions’ Community Partnership: How to Raise Money and Build Relationships, which runs online from Monday, October 3 through Sunday, October 30, 2011. But don’t let the fundraising aspect scare you. We’re as much concerned here with the collaboration-relationship side of the equation as we are with the funding and in-kind gifts that result from those relationships.

There are wonderful resources to be explored here, including the Urban Libraries Council report Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development. It’s as fresh today as it was when it was published in January 2007. We’ll be using it as an anchor to our explorations and discussions of how partnerships are developed and what some of our most creative colleagues have been doing to serve as active participants within their communities.

We’ll also have access to the complete version of Providing for Knowledge, Growth, and Prosperity: A Benefit Study of the San Francisco Public Library rather than the executive summary that is available on the Internet. Reading and discussing that document in conjunction with the use of other articles, short online videos, and PowerPoint presentations from several sources will help us recognize the benefits we bring to our communities so we can better demonstrate the worth of our organizations to our current and prospective community partners.

And we’ll finish this four-week interactive course with an in-depth look at one of the hottest recent library-business community partnerships—the e-reader project between the Sacramento Public Library and Barnes & Noble.

There will be plenty of other resources to explore, and the collaborations we develop will include the interactions among our learning colleagues from libraries across the country as we use an online bulletin board to share weekly assignment postings, engage in optional weekly office-hour chats, and produce resources we can immediately use in our efforts to create, nurture, and sustain partnerships that benefit our communities.

To register, please visit the ALA Store.

A Free Webinar for Library Job Hunters

reportJeannette Woodward, author of our special report A Librarian’s Guide to an Uncertain Job Market will host the webinar “Tactics for Library Job Hunting in a Tough Market” on October 20, 2011 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Thank you Mango Languages and LearningExpress for sponsoring the webinar. Register today!

Below is a sample from the report. We are offering $5.00 off the special report, in all formats print, eEdition, or combined. Visit the listing in the ALA Store and use the coupon code LGJF11. Offer expires October 17. 2011.
UPDATE(Oct 3): Bigger savings! Use this coupon code for a 50 percent discount on any format. 
Employment Prospects for LIS Professionals

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