From the ILA Annual Conference: Bouncing Beyond Your Customer’s Expectations

The following guest post is from Alissa Williams, Assistant Director at the Pekin Public Library. Alissa is also chair of the ILA Reporter Advisory Committee. If you’d like to contribute a blog post on a leadership topic, please send it to l-barnes at illinois dot edu.

One of the best sessions I attended at ILA was “Bouncing Beyond Your Customer’s Expectations.” My biggest take-away was the reminder that I set the tone for my staff, so I need to hold myself to a higher standard and do the things I expect my staff to do (for example: show up on time to the desk, where my nametag, smile, provide excellent customer service).

It reminded me of a pivotal discussion we had at Synergy about the power of hello and that we should say hello to everyone we work with, whether we like them or not. Being a leader is all about setting the tone for your organization. And while sometimes we decry top down edicts, modeling behavior we want to see is really key to being a leader. People believe what they see more than what you say.

The speaker shared a story where a new client wanted her to come “fix” his staff because they were never on time. She went to meet with him at 1 pm and had to wait until 1:30 for him to arrive for their meeting. The speaker told the client, “Sir, the staff is not the problem, you’re the problem.” A few weeks later, the client contacted the speaker and said she was correct. Once he’d started being on time, so had his staff.

Since conference ended I’m being much more intentional about checking myself each day to see if I’m setting the appropriate tone for my staff members. I’ve had a few off days, and by admitting my wrongs, I feel I’ve created a more open relationship between my staff and I. It helps them to see that I’m not perfect, and that I’m actively working to be better.


From the Unconference: The library as your community’s Third Place

Editor’s Note: We’re inviting people to contribute thoughts and ideas sparked by the recent ILA Leadership Forum Unconference. Send contributions to l-barnes at illinois dot edu. The following guest post is from Alissa Williams, Assistant Director at the Pekin Public Library. Alissa is also chair of the ILA Reporter Advisory Committee.

At the Leadership Unconference, we had an interesting conversation about library sustainability. I’ve advocated since graduate school for libraries to become the third place in their community. The idea of the third place comes from Ray Oldenburg’s 1989 book “The Great Good Place” – people have a third place, not your home, not your work, but another place to chill. In the early 2000s, Starbucks was striving to be the third place for America. So what did libraries do? They installed a coffee shop, as if that will convince the community you’re a cool place to hang out. Of course, we’re now seeing empty coffee shop spaces in libraries — a victim to both the economic recession and a lack of awareness of what your community truly needs.

In order to be the third space for your community, you have to get hyper local. Libraries are great about sharing/borrowing/stealing ideas and sometimes we take the entire idea and plop it in to our town and wonder why it’s not a raging success like it was in Naperville, Ann Arbor, or Colorado. To make these projects successful, you need to identify the thing your community needs. NOT what the state needs, not what the community the next town over needs, but what your residents/taxpayers/service base need.

Lynn Elam shared a great example of the preschool directory her library developed. Parents were coming to the library, looking for one place with information on preschools, and a great library resource and partnership was born.

I believe in the library as a destination. One of our greatest assets is our meeting rooms and gathering spaces. The library is neutral ground for people to meet. Market your study rooms to small business for daytime use as a space they can meet with clients. Naperville is doing the library as a destination really well by bringing in traveling exhibits and busing children to the library.

Make the library a place where people can stay and not just come and take something. Let’s make it the third place for your community.

From the Unconference: Photos of note sheets from some of the discussions

As part of the Unconference, attendees at each table could take notes on flip charts. Here are photos of the sheets from discussions at a few of the tables.

From the Unconference: Silos: To break or not to break? What is the question?

Editor’s Note: We’re inviting people to contribute thoughts and ideas sparked by the recent ILA Leadership Forum Unconference. Send contributions to l-barnes at illinois dot edu. The following guest post is from Jill Sodt, LRC Coordinator for Black Hawk College in Galva, IL. Jill also tweets as @cclibrarian.

During the unconference, there was a great deal of discussion about silos and how we can deal with compartmentalization. It made me curious about how and why silos exist and if there is an effective way to make bridges between different groups. The concept of silos within organizations isn’t something new. I’ve heard much over the years about “breaking down silos” and how being too compartmentalized is a bad thing. But I’ve always doubted the need to either break anything or to destroy departments in favor of something more integrated. It seems that most organizations need a blend of a shared vision and defined groups. Being a librarian, I decided to do a bit of research into the subject.

Silos happen in two different but connected ways. We’re familiar with putting people into departments based on shared tasks, goals, skills, etc. The same often occurs with committees or other work groups. This makes sense organizationally because resources, both knowledge and physical, can be shared by those with similar duties. Sam Marshall explains the usefulness of “tribes” in his blog post, 5 Great Things about Silos. Silos do not necessarily stop collaboration from happening; it just occurs among a specific group. In these situations, the work can be focused and it’s easy for team members to understand what their role is. However, one important thing to point out is the group must work together effectively.

The problems start when these silos start to influence organizational behavior on an unconscious level. To put it another way, according to research by Frans Cilliers and Henk Greyvenstein, “silo mentality impacts team identity.”  While departments may be divided into different physical spaces, silo mentality is not based on any physical designations. Those walls are invisible barriers. Silos become dangerous when people start seeing their group in an “us vs. them” struggle. Eventually, people will identify only with their “tribe” and ignore the rest of the organization. Often, it leads to groups feeling superior to “outside” groups. While silos can be useful according to Marshall, they can also lead to toxicity and other negative impacts on the team.

Perhaps we don’t need to get rid of our silos; maybe we need to reorganize them.  Still, restructuring and reorganizing will not work if we don’t change the way we do things and approach things. You won’t get buy-in from managers or employees if all you are doing is just moving people around, cross-training, or creating interdisciplinary committees. It’s simply not enough and eventually you will find yourself back in the old organizational mentality. Moving beyond silos does involve change management and good leadership. It takes a culture change. Instead of groups or departments that are concerned with their specific functions, leadership must steer people towards an environment that encourages problem-solving.

Don’t despair. It can be accomplished. Laura Gregg describes a situation that could have gone horribly wrong, but didn’t, in her article “Lessons Learned From the Brink of Disaster.” This particular case appealed to me because after reorganization, the steering council came up with the idea of a “service line” where individuals within the organization could choose to develop secondary skills. We often talk about cross-training in libraries. However, sensitivity needs to be given to people’s interests and abilities. For example, a cataloger may be extremely uncomfortable being on the reference desk, but may find they like working the circulation counter a few hours a week. Initially, the idea of “service lines” at Gregg’s company almost failed because the steering council didn’t get input on their initial vision. How many times has administration decided to roll out a new process or project without consulting the very people it will most impact? It didn’t work. Once the council started talking to people, they were able to come up with a better plan.

What does this mean for libraries? We know that either within our library or school (if you are an academic library) there are silos created by different departments. In an ideal situation, your director or administration would be the initial force in breaking down the barriers and setting a different tone. However, we also know the reality is this isn’t how things work much of the time. So, what to do?

While I can’t speak for the whole library community, I will share some steps I’m taking with my department/library in formal and informal ways. With a nod to a colleague for the idea, I’ve started inviting other department heads or directors to our staff meetings to chat. In a busy college, we often don’t realize what is going on elsewhere. This is providing my department with the opportunity to learn what else is going on around campus. Eventually, I hope to expand this to tours of different departments, such as our agricultural mechanics labs or the facilities areas. Other things we do to show off what the library is about include a summer reading program, National Library Week activities, and targeted emails to solicit feedback and push information.

Informally, I try to get outside my office and the library daily. It helps me stay aware of what else is going on around campus and to chat with individuals throughout the college. Sometimes those conversations lead to interesting ideas and collaborations on projects beyond our department. I’ve also started a knitting/crochet group that is open to students, staff, and faculty. Finding a common interest can be a great way to move beyond those invisible walls. Even if you’re not talking about work, you are still creating an environment where people being to build relationships and trust. That can be transferred later to actual work related projects.

My hope is that eventually, by leading from within, change can happen in my culture. You can help lead that change where you are, even if it starts in an informal way. Look around for opportunities. Be open to change and new ways of doing things. Even if we can’t break down the silos, I believe that we can make them work in positive ways.


Cilliers, Frans, and Henk Greyvenstein. “The Impact of Silo Mentatlity on Team Identity: An Organisational Case Study.” SA Journal of Industrial Psychology 38.2 (2012): n. pag. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Oct. 2012.

Gregg, Laura. “Lessons Learned From the Brink of Disaster.” Journal for Quality and Participation Spring (2005): 8-12. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Oct. 2012.

Marshall, Sam. “5 Great Things About Silos.” Jostle. Jostle Corporation, 27 Sept. 2012. Web. 18 Oct. 2012. <>.

Thorp, Holden, and Buck Goldstein. “How to Create a Problem-Solving Institution (and Avoid Organizational Silos).” Chronicle of Higher Education 57.2 (2010): 43-44. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Oct. 2012.

Session topics for Leadership Unconference

If you’re attending the ILA Leadership Unconference on October 8, please contribute your session topic ideas in the comments. I’ll compile them as a starting point for setting the agenda on October 8.

Career Clinic at ILA Annual Conference needs volunteer Career Coaches

The ILA Career Clinic returns for a third year! The resume review clinic will be available for new or soon-to-be graduates, as well as those seeking 
job and resume advice. At each twenty-five-minute session, candidates will receive free advice on how they can improve their resumes from librarians who have experience with the hiring process.

Career Coaches are being sought to participate in the Career Clinic. The deadline to sign up as a coach is September 28. You can sign up today or contact Portia Latalladi at

ILA Conference Internships Available

ILA is launching an internship program for the 2012 Annual Conference in Peoria, which will be held October 9-11, 2012. Full- and part-time students who are enrolled in Library/Information Science graduate or LTA programs and 2012 graduates are invited to apply. Successful applicants will receive waived full-conference registration in exchange for their work at the conference.

For full information on the conference internship program and to download the application form, please visit the 2012 ILA Annual Conference Web page.

Applications are due by August 31, 2012.

Leadership Forum Unconference

When registering for the ILA Annual Conference, don’t forget to also sign up to attend the Leadership Forum’s very first Unconference, to be held at the Sheraton the day before the start of Annual. The registration fee will cover the cost of the food we’ll be providing during the break.

In late August or early September, I’ll be soliciting ideas for discussion topics, which we’ll vote on at the beginning of the conference. Watch the blog for a link to the suggestion form and for more information as we work out the details.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Taking Library Leadership Personally

Interesting paper from Australian Library Journal and referenced in the Library Leadership Discussion Forum at Library 2.0.

Davis, H.  & Macauley, P. (2011) Taking library leadership personally, Australian Library Journal (Special Issue–Library leadership: Creating and sustaining a performance development culture), 60(1): pp. 41-53. Online at

Abstract: This paper outlines the emerging trends for leadership in the knowledge era. It discusses these within the context of leading, creating, and sustaining the performance development cultures that libraries require. The first step is to recognize that we all need to take leadership personally no matter whether we see ourselves as leaders or followers. Leadership literacies for the knowledge era are relationship based and require us all to be aware of and surface underlying values, assumptions, and ideologies that are in play and to understand how leadership and followership practices affect production in a knowledge-intensive economy.

The Future of University Libraries: 2012 Midwinter Report

The Future of University Libraries: 2012 Midwinter Report
Prepared by Michelle Dunaway for the Committee on the Future of University
Libraries January 2012

Committee: Miranda Henry Bennett, Theresa S. Byrd, Christopher Cox, Michelle Dunaway, Rafia Mirza, Chair: Marilyn Myers, Laura K. Probst

Abstract: The ACRL/ULS Committee on the Future of University Libraries is charged with exploring and documenting emerging issues, trends, and services in university libraries, and identifying and articulating means through which ULS can support university librarians in the future. In support of this mission, the Committee on the Future of University Libraries initiated a review of recent literature relating to university libraries in order to identify publications and resources that support university librarians in their efforts to plan and prepare for changes in university libraries and higher education broadly. This report outlines the themes that emerged from publications between June 2011 and January 2012, and discusses identified issues and trends centering around three principal elements of university libraries’ futures: missions, money, and people. This report aims to provide university librarians with an appreciation and understanding of current and future leadership and management challenges, and to encourage university librarians to engage in forward-looking discussions of how to best contribute to the effectiveness of universities and university libraries.