Planning for Better Times

Monday, October 19,  8:30 – 10:00

Mary Rose Quinn, director of Stevens Memorial Library in North Andover, MA and Ron Van Winkle, Town Manager for West Hartford, CT discuss the hard decisions that have to be made in times of economic strife and share ideas on how we can look down the road and plan for better times.

Mary Rose Quinn:
Three downturns in last 10 years: 1999, 2004, now. When you are in good times you are planning for the bad, and when in bad, you are hoping for better. Planning is key. What are your library’s priorities – what are those things that you can’t live without?

Be mindful of ebb and flow of budgets. If you add new technology, can you sustain it in the next economic downturn?

Town manager insists that items in the library budget are rearranged in terms of priority.
1. People
2. Collections
3. Technology
4. Physical plant.

Think strategically and prepare for the siege. Library directors should read “The Art of War” and/or learn to play chess.
Plan for the best while anticipating for the worst.
Have a Plan B – not to be shared with town officials. Have your contingencies in place. ” But  If” -What can you afford to live without while maintaining your services.
What is sustainable and what is not.
Gather your allies.
Marshall your forces and build strong community partnerships. (Rec dept & Senior Center)
Make a friend of your town manager. Make sure thay understand your services and will advocate for you.
“Hang together or hang separately”
In a downturn, libraries are vulnerable and need to build a moat – take stock – what’s important and communicate what your priorities are.
Preserve what you value and make tough choices.
Reduce book budget to save jobs – you can fund raise for books, but not salaries.
Elevator message (Gates Advocacy) – simple message for the parking lot.

Boston Public Library was cut last year by 4-5 mil. had a Ref Ctr for businesses, but closed that branch and moved it into the Copley Square branch which led to increased hours, more accessible, increased attendance, higher level of effectiveness.

Librarians and tragic flaws:
“But we’ve always done things this way”
We try to do too much with too little.
We believe that if we work for others, they will come to our aid – vs every man for himself.

In budget meetings with town officials:
Do not offer any info you are not asked.
Do not throw any one else’s budget under the bus.
Present “we are one big happy family” working toward a common goal.

In a long range plan, focus on the ideal – if you get it you have to be able to sustain it.
In tough times, retrench rather than retreat. Reinvent and plot your next move for when economics improve, recapture your lost ground.
Technology is a prime mover.
Attend: 12:30 “What if”
State of the States.
8:30 Tues Difficult financial times
12 steps
When time are tough ithelps to laugh.

Ron Van Winkle:

Libraries are key for community.
Town managers have a tough role in a downturn.
what is the difference between a town manager and a dog – if you let the dog in, he’ll stop whining.
We have lost 8 mil jobs in the last year (2 mil in 2002) Unemployment at 10% and rising.
Harshest and longest since the great depression.
W/o the stimulus package, the economy could have had and unemployment rate well into the teens.
NE is better off than the nation (NE lost 300k = 4%) in this current recession
1989-92 = biggest recession in NE, lost 600k and 10%

Recession is over – car accident scenario – in recovery – will be OK
In the meantime, conditions are harshUnemployment will continue to rise.
Borrowing fell, industrial manufacture declined, household debt fell, worst housing market, 23 trillion dollars of wealth evaporated.
Wealth to income is lowest since 1951.
We will probably need a second stimulus by extending unemployment benefits, mortgage supports, first time homebuyers credits, tax reductions, aid to state gov, new health plan, new energy policy, Bush tax cuts expire.

Local level:
Property taxes. No new building, decline in tax revenues, health care climbing. NH third highest property taxes, CT is #1, MA in top 10
Foreclosures are occurring in every town. No one wants higher property taxes
Connect and communicate to your town what library issues are:
increased need for library services in a downturn, libraries increasingly provide social services.
Make sure your community understands and values the library’s services.

Every community values the library. Be a marketer and entertainer and a financial officer – Know your budget well.
People looking to relocate to your town by buying or building houses, want to move to a town with a great library.
provides big incentive for town managers to supprt the library.

More than just a library, you are a person, you are part of the solution to the recession, identifies the town – library as the heart of the community.

What can your Friends group do for you if they arn’t providing funds for the book budget.
Beg and plead not to have a disproportionate cut to the budget come out of libraries and senior centers.

Advocacy efforts through town newspapers – local platforms.
Yahoo group
Weekly library newsletter
Quarterly print newsletter from the library
Twitter and Facebook
Word-of-mouth Tell people who come to programs to spread the word.

Libraries Prosper with Passion, Purpose and Persuasion!

Discussion group ffacilitated by Cheryl Bryan from Southeast Massachusetts Library System beginning with introduction of the PLA advocacy toolkit. The toolkit is a road map to present your library effectively to your community.  There is a difference between public relations, advocacy and marketing. Marketing involves a transaction-such as increase circulation. Public relations is networking. Advocacy is getting the vote out.

Who needs to advocate: Everyone-staff, trustees, volunteers, and patrons. Remember one negative comment is usually repeated twenty times. Libraries need to really look at partnering with other organizations.

Passion is important when advocating for your library. Go over this toolkit with your board and staff so they are informed and passionate about it as well. Speak to the heart. What a value the library is to the community.  Cheryl suggest “treating everyone you meet at the library as if you may be the only person they see that day-you may be”.

With the current economy-loss of jobs-the library can step in working with partners to offer help to job seekers.  Look at your demographics.  Use  Define savings and benefits to the community for each service. Target your advocacy. Don’t forget to ask exactly what you are looking for from those you are targeting. Have a sense of who you are talking to.

Strategies: match with your audience. Develop talking points. Ask staff what questions they are getting-make sure they have talking points to these questions.

Evaluate at the end of your effort-what/where worked-important

The toolkit may be purchased at:

$100 – ALA members $90


What are others doing:

Suggestions for how to handle increase in budget request: Put petition on front desk. Focus on having a credible informed speaker. Keep in mind that many library supports are financially unable to support increases-we need to reach the non-library people as well. Acknowledge the economic times-make clear the benefits.

Suggestion: Do not overlook your local barbershops and hairdressers-that is where people are talking.  Pinpoint where people are gathering and forming opinions in your community.

Shortfall Revenue: Not enough money coming in to support the community services. What do you do? Maybe it is good to advocate for the community as a whole-not just the library. Go to meetings-they talk and think differently when you are sitting in the room.  Important-just show up!

Handouts from this workshop will be available on the NELA website.

Telling it like it was: blog response for “Telling It Like it Is – Communicating Effectively in Difficult Conversations Conference”

We all know the field of librarianship is evolving. New technology, perspectives, information needs, media formats etc. greet us around every corner. I personally believe that this is what makes our field exciting – it is not stagnant and because we constantly try to keep up with the world around us – it can’t be. All this change often leads to conflict. Organizational consultant Maureen Sullivan points out that conflict, disagreement and collaboration do not have to have a negative connotation. Conflict can lead to better understanding of oneself and colleagues and ultimately promotes change or improvement.

Most people do not seek out conflict; many avoid it. Maybe you even avoided attending this session because just seeing the phrase “difficult conversation” made you squeamish.

How do you handle conflict? There is a range of responses to conflict: avoid, accommodate, compete, compromise or collaborate. Sullivan explains that from her work with libraries she finds many librarians tend to collaborate and compromise in the face of conflict but there are many more in our field that prefer to avoid it all together. Sullivan finds that many administrators and people holding positions of authority do not have the skills necessary to engage in successful dialogue on difficult issues. There is a definite need for people to be trained and encouraged to communicate more effectively. Effective communication is crucial to our daily interactions. The ability to address and handle conflict is also critical in light of the role advocacy plays in our profession. We advocate for many things like funding, awareness, privacy, and access–what will happen to those efforts if we shy away from conflict?

In the session, dialogue was defined as “a conversation in which the parties involved use a set of practices to create shared meaning or collective understanding.” Successful dialogue requires people to suspend judgment, listen actively and make a genuine effort to understand the different perspectives of the parties involved. Sounds easy right? While it may be common sense – openness and active listening is hard – particularly when emotions run high. Sullivan outlines 7 steps to approaching a difficult conversation (handouts will be posted on the NELA website). The basic idea is that you should be clear of your own personal goals entering a conversation, be perceptive of the reaction of the other parties, create a space of mutual respect and confidence, and clearly explain your picture of the situation. In order to make it a dialogue, you then need to step back, actively listen and contemplate the perspective of the other parties involved. After everyone has had a chance to express and discuss their views, the group should work to reach a consensus and document the necessary course of action. In order for this to be a successful exchange people need to reconsider how they represents themselves in a conversation. To be an effective communicator you must understand yourself and your ideas, be an active listener, clearly express your thoughts and feelings and manage emotions.

So much for a succinct blog entry…I just wanted to tell you like it was!