Category Archives: Training opportunities

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.

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.

Notes from The Hopeful Workplace webinar

Earlier this afternoon, I attended a webinar by Joan Frye Williams and George Needham entitled “The Hopeful Workplace.” It was as entertaining, inspiring, and thought-provoking as their keynote at last fall’s ILA conference.

Below are my notes. The session is archived and available at no charge, if you want to view it. If you have questions or thoughts, please leave them in the comments.

The theme (for me): Instead of doing more with less, do different with less.

Set meaningful goals

  • Make your goals something that people will be proud to accomplish (i.e. things that make a significant difference).
  • Look for meaning beyond the library –> connect to what gives people hope. Don’t set particular goals to make other people happy. They need to have meaning.
    • Example: clearing the cataloging backlog in six months is a goal, but is it meaningful to anyone but the technical services staff? It can be if you frame it as providing access to materials that patrons might otherwise not be able to use.
  • Goals should be clear. Ask yourself: “What does success look like?” Connect them to things that people care about.
  • Be ready for when things go right. What happens if you’re successful?

The Will To Get There

  • Will is commitment/energy. Frame it as “Here’s what’s in it for you…”
    • Think about how change will effect people’s day to day work, both within and outside your department/library, then find the win for each audience.
    • View the changes from the perspective of your department, other library departments, your patrons, and your governing body.
    • You need other people to follow your lead. Otherwise, you’re just a lone nut with a crazy idea. [LB note: Watch Derek Sivers TEDTalk on How to Start a Movement because it illustrates this point better than I can explain it here. “Lone nut” is his phrase, not mine, although I like it a lot.]

Hope thrives in an environment that reaches consensus

  • Consensus IS NOT complete agreement
    • Consensus occurs when the people involved:
      1. Believe the process was fair
      2. Understand how the decision was reached
      3. Believe they had an opportunity for their opinions to be heard
      4. Are willing to support the decision with positive comments and actions, even if it isn’t in their direction.

The Way to Get There

  • You need a plan
    • Hopeful plans are flexible, with multiple paths to reach the goal
  • Begin with your assets –> appreciative inquiry
    • What do you have to work with?
    • What are you really good at?
    • What is uniquely ours?
  • Instead of saying, “Yes, but…”, use “Yes, and…”
    • “Yes, but…” is argumentative and kills the forward motion of the conversation.
    • “Yes, and…” adds information (or your opinion) without blocking or killing what came before it.

Focus on results

  • Get beyond workload. The end result is what’s important. You are accountable for your results, not just the ingredients.
    • For example, patrons (and your board) don’t want to hear about all of the steps it takes to order a book and get it on the shelf. They just want their stuff.
    • When things go wrong, focus on what you can do with what you have to get results. Don’t shift blame and don’t dwell on how great things would be if you didn’t have to overcome this obstacle.
  • Learn from mistakes
    • Plus/Delta –> What worked? What can I change?
    • Ask yourself, “The next time something like this happens, what can I do differently to improve the result?”
  • Use stealth, guile, and disobedience
    • Think sneaky, find a way to beat the system
    • Complaining about how things aren’t working kills hope. Brainstorming your way around obstacles gives you strength.

Maintain some level of control (But don’t become a control freak)

Total lack of control leads to hopelessness, as does total control by those in power.

  • Set clear role expectations
    • “This is the outcome we want. We need your help to achieve it. Your role is integral to its success.”
  • Communicate openly
    • People need information in order to make good choices. Don’t prolong or sugar coat bad news and don’t lie. It’s much less painful and hope sucking for people to deal with bad situations immediately.
    • Active, inaccurate grapevines flourish in the absence of open communication. Better to admit you don’t know the answer than stay silent. If you stay silent, the grapevine will often assume you’re actively plotting against them.
  • Give people the authority to seek alternate routes
    • Empower people to try something else if normal pathways are blocked. Agreement on goals is key. There is usually more than one way to reach the goal.
  • Give public recognition when goals are reached
    • Good performance should be recognized. Spread recognition around. Show how everyone’s work contributes to positive results. Support each other. Allow team members to acknowledge the contributions of their teammates.

Have reasonable expectations of success

  • Don’t set goals unreasonably high (“We’re going to provide the fastest reference service in the world to our patrons.” Really? Probably only if the Internet goes down all over town).
  • Borrow appropriate strategies from other sources, particularly outside the library community. How are other community organizations providing services? What models are companies using?
  • Analogies are useful. Find familiar comparisons to get your ideas across. Don’t use library lingo to explain programs, services, or operations to people from outside the library profession. Use their language.
  • Get support from successful role models. Develop relationships with people in organizations who are doing interesting things (both within and outside the library community). Offer yourself to others if you think you can help.
  • Not all surprises are bad. Look for the pony (upside) of unexpected situations.

Connect to others

  • It’s hard to be hopeful when you’re all alone.
  • Seven steps to making connections
    1. Civility — Maintain a civil workplace. Lead by example by treating everyone with respect, regardless of position in the organization. When disagreeing, do so with respect by separating the content from personal and avoiding ad hominem attacks (“I respectfully disagree” vs “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard”)
    2. Generosity — Make yes your default answer. Replace “This is badly written” with “There are some good ideas here, but it needs some work. Let me help you.” In your head, start your sentence with “I’ll be part of the solution by…”
    3. Flexibility — There is always room for equally opposite decisions. Practice saying (and meaning), “Today, it’s your day to be right. We’ll try it your way.” Remember that achieving the goal is important. There are many ways to get there. [LB addition: Also remember to pick your battles. Ask yourself if this is the hill you really want to die on.]
    4. Self-care — You can’t do right by others if you don’t do right by yourself. It’s your job to make yourself comfortable. It isn’t your boss’, your spouse’s, or your kids’.
    5. Teamwork — Trust one another as a team. Trust needs to be earned, but don’t go into situations expecting to be let down. Give trust a chance.
    6. Laughter — Find ways to make it fun, but don’t force it. Keep your sense of humor when everyone else is losing theirs.
    7. Gratitude — Say thank you. Let people know that you appreciate their efforts.