If the three L’s of buying a house are “location, location, location”, then the three C’s of librarianship should be “communication, communication, communication”. I don’t think what I’m going to list is anything revolutionary; I do think it might be a novel way to remember the basic interactions that keep the library moving forward.
(1) Communication with Patrons
There is a symbiotic information cycle at work here. Patrons ask for things from the library collection; in return, we ask them what they want for future collection development. A no brainer, right? But take a moment and think about how it’s being accomplished in your library today. Is it done through face to face staff interaction? On the phone? On the web? Text or Mobile? Or [shudders] Signs? (How many library “issues” do library staff try to solve by posting signs? Seriously.) What medium is being used to facilitate this staff-to-patron interaction?
I think libraries can tie themselves up into knots attempting to solve this riddle. They want to be sure they have staff on hand to handle any issues that arise or to be available for those patrons who prefer human-to-human contact, but they try to make the system as accessible as possible for the “Do It Yourself” crowd. We’ll never be able to completely satisfy the multitude of potential interaction points, so we just try to present as many as possible.
There is no proper answer for what medium is best; it’s wherever your patrons prefer. What is important is that this communication be as open as possible.
(2) Communication with Staff
You can call it whatever you want: staff awareness, staff buy-in, staff communication, or some other term with connotations of togetherness. It’s the communication that happens across the organization planes, whether it is horizontal (within a reference department) or vertical (from the janitor to the director). What matters is that it is an important and integral aspect of running a library.
Librarians tend to separate staff around organizational function: circulation, reference, adult, children, programming, serials, subject specialties. But there are details and points of information that need to be mentioned outside of the function. It helps the circulation staff to know about programs for children; it helps a reference librarian to know about changes to circulation policy; it helps subject specialists to know about catalog alterations to their field.
It’s organizational knowledge, plain and simple. Do you know what is going on in other departments that could affect what you are doing? What information are you sitting on that could allow others to help you do your job? We’re not exactly spies; we don’t need to operate on a ‘need to know’ basis.
Otherwise, it becomes a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.
(3) Communication with Governing Bodies
And by governing bodies, I mean the people who write the checks for your institution. Whether it is a mayor, town council, freeholders, county administrator, state assembly, or another political body, it’s up to you to keep them informed as to the value of the work you are doing.
And this is not a call to shower them with statistics. Five thousand people visiting the library in a month doesn’t mean anything without context; what does a number like that mean? Even so, it helps to put a human face on it. Show them who is using the library and what it means to them. This is a time to shine on your behalf (by showing them how the taxpayer money has been well spent) and their behalf (for continuing to fund you and making a good investment).
As local and state budgets tighten, it is critical to show what the library means at the constituent level. Even in better times, it is the maintenance of a good relationship that will see the library through the bad times. Let those who watch over your budget know the meaning and value of what the library does for the community it serves.
As I said at the start, I don’t think I said anything really revolutionary here. But a good and timely reminder never hurt. It’s up to librarians everywhere to keep the channels open and maintain healthy relationships within and throughout the institution.