Monday, April 8, 2013

A Culture of Optimism #sljtt

I was at the SLJ Public Library Leadership Think Tank last Friday, where Pam Sandlian Smith of the Anythink Libraries in Colorado was the keynote speaker. Her talk, titled "If Libraries were Tree Houses," contained many great sound bytes and ideas, but she shared one quote that resonated with me more than the others:
"The public library is the center of public happiness first, of public education next." -John Cotton Dana

Think about that statement for a moment. Is your library a happy place? Are customers happy when they are at the library? Are staff happy? Are you?

According to Smith, the power to foster all that happiness lies with us--the staff, the librarians. We have the power to be creative and energetic in how we approach and do the work of libraries. We have the power to innovate, to transform our library, both its spaces and services, into an entity that promotes public happiness in everything we do. Using that power, says Smith, fosters a culture of optimism and, ultimately, better libraries.

Smith's talk was inspiring, for sure, but what good is inspiration without thoughtful change? Throughout the whole rest of the weekend and my flight home, I found myself asking: What can I do? I came up with three ways I can shift my own mindset in an effort to foster that culture of optimism:
  1. I want to support remarkable, transformative experiences. I want the library to be an active, not a passive, place where customers from all walks of life are engaged. Engaged in conversation, leisure, exploration, play, discovery, story, learning... I want the library to be a place where kids (and everyone!) use their hands as well as their minds.
  2. I want to say "Yes!" Does someone have an idea? Will it further open our services to the people in our community? Let's give it a shot!
  3. I want to be the type of person who says, "That was awesome. How can we make it even better?" Innovation and keeping things fresh doesn't always mean reinventing the wheel. Sometimes it means looking at current services more deeply or from a new perspective to really mine the potential for excellence.

I am happy with those goals. But, lest you think this whole topic is too hunky-dory, too kumbaya and idealistic rainbows--What if my staff/boss/administrators just don't buy into innovation?--Smith had a response that I really liked. To paraphrase:
There will be naysayers, those folks who cite a bunch of worst case scenarios as reason not to innovate or take even a tiny step off the well-trodden paths in library services. There will always be these people. Acknowledge them. But do not let them drive the bus.

I love that: let the optimistic people drive the bus. They are the majority, and through some thoughtful work, they can continue to make the library even better.

What can you do to foster a culture of optimism at your library?

I am grateful that I was able to participate in the first SLJ Public Library Leadership Think Tank in New York City. The one-day event, according to SLJ's Editor-in-Chief Rebecca T. Miller, aimed to serve as a lightning strike--a meaningful influx of energy and ideas for the librarians gathered from all over the country. I'll be recapping my takeaways from the conference in a series of posts throughout the next two weeks.


  1. I love this and have forwarded it to everyone I know. :) I have recently discovered your blog, and it is delightful. I borrowed your "early literacy" calendar idea for my library. My first calendar is for May, so I'll let you know how my patrons like it! Thanks for all you do.

    1. I'm glad you're finding it useful, Michelle! And best of luck on the calendar--I hope it works as well with your customers as it does with ours!


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