General, Leadership, Management, Uncategorized

Peter Drucker is My Spirit Animal (or, Hacking Library School from the Inside Out)

If you’ve ever had drinks with me at a conference, you know that conversation inevitably turns to library school – why it exists, what’s its real value, and what they heck are they teaching there?!  By the second drink, we are redesigning the list of required courses on the back of a cocktail napkin.  Three drinks in, we are plotting a full-on revolution. Then we pay our tab and part ways and wait for the next conference and the next hotel bar and next convo about libary skoo (BTW – see you in Chicago, Meghan and Natalie and Chris!)

Those moments were on my mind last fall when my alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science, offered me a teaching gig.  I was SUPER excited to get to teach things like Reader’s Advisory 101 or a seminar on Public Libraries or maybe even a special topics class on User Experience or The Future of Public Services.  So, when they asked me to teach the required “Management for Information Professionals” course, I was a little less excited.  But then I thought about all of those conference cocktail convos and thought, “THIS is my chance!  The revolution starts HERE!”

When I sat down to design the course, I started talking to library colleagues from around the country – who are managers and leaders themselves – about the management courses they took in library school, what they learned, and what they wish they had learned.  I thought about my own experience and considered what I learned versus what I do on a regular basis – and the skills and knowledge I need in my current job.

Based on my own thinking and my conversations with others, I decided on two important guiding principles for the course – 1) It will be a practical approach to management, based on real world scenarios rather than textbook theory and 2) It will be based on best practices for management generally, rather than a library-centric approach.

In the course of the semester, we’ll talk about hiring/coaching/developing/firing employees.  We’ll talk about managing budgets and managing PR crises.  We’ll discuss performance measurement and LEAN and project management.  We’ll read First, Break All The Rules and The No Asshole Rule.  However, before we get into all that, I wanted to start somewhere that would ground the class in those two guiding principles of practicality and universality.  So we spent the first class or two with the father of modern management, Peter Drucker.

managing-nonprofit     pracice-of-management     effective-executive

If you haven’t delved into Drucker in a while – or ever – I encourage you to do so.  His thinking and writing are still incredibly relevant to just about any profession or organization. Here’s some of what we discussed in class, and gleaned just from the introduction to his classic book, Management:

  • On leaders vs managers – “The very best leaders are first and foremost effective managers. Those who seek to lead but fail to manage will become either irrelevant or dangerous, not only to their organizations, but to society.”
  • On the necessity of management – “None of our institutions could function without managers.”
  • On what managers do – 1) Set objectives  2) Organize work 3) Motivate and communicate 4) Measure  5) Develop people
  • On managing people “The manager works with a specific resource: people. And the human being is a unique resource, requiring particular qualities in whoever attempts to work with it. “Working” with human beings always means developing him or her.”

Again, that’s just the introduction.  In this and other works, Drucker offers practical insight into just about every realm of management from assessment and planning to work/life balance and personal development.  Seriously, check him out.

In revisiting Drucker’s work and in sharing it with my class, I am struck by the clarity of his thought, the precision of his writing, and how much we can all learn from him, no matter where we are in our careers. Because for him, management is not an art or a science but a practice.

Conceiving of management as a practice demystifies it for those at the beginning of their career, as it is something that can be learned and understood. Conceiving of management as practice offers reassurance for those who are already managers, as it reminds us that we can reflect and learn and continually hone our craft.

In Jim Collins’ forward to the Revised Edition of Management, called “Peter Drucker’s Legacy,” the Good to Great author reflects on the reasons for Drucker’s enduring appeal:

“What accounts for Drucker’s enormous impact? I believe the answer lies not just in his specific ideas, but in his entire approach to ideas, composed of four elements:

  1. He looked out the window, not in the mirror
  2. He started first- and always – with results
  3. He asked audacious questions
  4. He infused all his work with a concern and compassion for the individual.”

The students in INLS 585 and I agreed that if we – as aspiring and practicing managers alike – can approach our work with these four elements in mind, our libraries, archives, school media centers, and just about any organization, will have an enduring impact as well.

So, yeah, I’m a fan of Mr. Drucker.  And I encourage you to run – don’t walk! – to your local library and check out one of his books.  And see if you don’t find yourself inspired.  And the next time we see each other in a hotel bar at a conference, we can toast Mr. Drucker, grab a napkin, and get to work redesigning that information retrieval class.


Big Ideas, General, Leadership, Management, Uncategorized

50 More Shades of Change

“To practice leadership, you need to accept that you are in the business of generating chaos, confusion, and conflict.”

– The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools & Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, by Ronald Heifitz et al


A few weeks ago, I wrote about how people approach change in different ways, according to their preferred “change style.”  Just as there are different approaches to change, there are also different types of change – and it is just as important to understand them.

Technical change can be successfully executed with knowledge, skills, and expertise that already exist within the organization. The problem to be solved is clear, the solution can be provided by an expert, and resolution comes relatively easily. Technical change requires management.

Adaptive change requires an organization to think differently, question the status quo, and, in order to be successfully executed, it often requires a paradigm shift. The problem to be solved is hard to discern, the solution requires new learning and thinking, and that solution cannot be provided by the leader or expert – in order to be lasting, it must come from within the organization.  Adaptive change is not easy. And it is often messy.  Adaptive change requires leadership.

I was introduced to this model of change in a leadership seminar that was built around Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading by Ronald Heifitz and Marty Linksy.  If you are leading through change, and I believe we all are, I encourage you to check out their work.  For me, it has been incredibly useful as I seek to continually learn and grow as a leader.

Learning to recognize technical and adaptive challenges, and lead accordingly, is essential for success – and sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.

Just after I came on board as Director, I started a process with staff to review and revise our key policies and procedures.  One area we attacked was our fines and fees schedule and borrowing limits. In my mind, this was a technical challenge – we needed to lower our fines, raise our borrowing limits, streamline our fee schedule, and abandon outdated borrowing policies.  No big whup, we’d knock it out in an afternoon meeting.   Continue reading “50 More Shades of Change”

Big Ideas, General, Leadership, Management, Uncategorized, UX

Designing for Dementia (and ALL)

I’m far from a UX expert, but I am learning more and more all the time, thanks in large part to working with Aaron Schmidt over the past year.  Here’s the thing about UX – once you know it, you can’t unknow it.  Once you see it one place, you see it in all the places. Like Mojo Nixon once said of Elvis, “UX is everywhere, man.”

Here’s a recent example:

This week, staff at Chapel Hill Public Library have had training sessions on how to best serve users facing dementia.  Sponsored by Dementia Friendly Orange County, a non-profit whose goal is “to raise awareness and make life better for people with dementia and those who care for them.”  Their new initiative is to train local businesses and organizations about ways to recognize and serve people facing dementia, leading to a “Dementia-Friendly Business” certification.

To help staff understand what’s going on with users facing dementia, the quote that was repeated throughout the session was “They aren’t giving you a hard time.  They are having a hard time.” The trainers stressed that if you find yourself interacting with a user who is facing dementia, remember this to help you empathize, strategize, and ultimately help them.




As soon as I heard this statement, I thought, “If you find yourself interacting with ANY user, remember this to help you empathize, strategize, and ultimately help them.”

Sure, there are a few folks out there whose sole purpose is to give you a hard time.  I’d argue that they are rare.  Most people want to have a successful outcome and genuinely accept help, but they are often having a hard time.  As I’ve learned through working with Mr. Schmidt and garnering some basic UX skills, that hard time is often caused by policies, procedures, places, and spaces that were not designed with the user in mind.

Here are a few more slides from the training about working with folks facing dementia.  I think these are good ideas for working with all the folks:

dementia one

Patience, respect, and dignity for all.  Simplicity in interactions and information.  Yes, please.

dementia two

Helpful attitudes, easy signs, and simple options.  Sign me up.



Use jargon-free communication?  Monitor body language and tone of voice?  Be patient and flexible?  Let’s do that with all the people, okay?

You can find the training video here and more about the Dementia Friendly Movement here.

General, Leadership, Management, Uncategorized


You’re probably familiar with the popular site Librarian Problems and the hashtag #librarianprblms.  Lately, I’ve been thinking about LIBRARY problems.  The essential question I’ve been asking when faced with an issue to address, a decision to make, a resource to allocate, or a problem to solve is this:

Are we solving a library problem? Or are we helping solve a community problem?

At CHPL, we’ve had the great good fortune to work with Aaron Schmidt on a year-long LSTA grant to assess and improve the user experience on all fronts. It’s transformative work that will have an impact long after the grant cycle ends.  In one of our earliest workshops with him, he brought up this idea and it has stuck with me.  I can’t even recall the context or the slide from the slide deck, but the message was this – Let’s make sure we are solving a community problem and not a library problem.

library problems

It’s simple, right?  This is the essence of the business we are in, right?  We are problem solvers!  Whether helping a job seeker with a resume, a student finish a project, or making our space available for free tax help, we solve problems for and with our users and communities.

However, sometimes we lose perspective on the problem that needs solving.  Sometimes we get overly invested in solving problems of our own creation and we forget to ask the essential question – “Whose problem is this?”

Here are a few refrains I often hear:

  • “How can we increase program attendance?”
  • “We have to get our circ numbers up.”
  • “How can we get more people to use the databases we pay so much for?”

I think that these are all library problems.  Libraries do something – plan a program, acquire materials, subscribe to databases – and then solve the problems that arise from those things.  The solution to these problems isn’t a better program flyer or more displays or ordering promotional materials from the database vendor.   Continue reading “#LibraryProblems”

General, Leadership, Management, Uncategorized

50 Shades of Change

I have never been change-averse.  Over the course of my career, I have taken the Change Style Indicator several times.  It’s an assessment tool that measures a person’s preferred style in approaching, addressing, and managing change.  Your score puts you somewhere on the change style spectrum of Conserver, Pragmatist, or Originator:

Conservers are cautious, deliberate, and prefer incremental change that does not significantly disrupt the existing structure or system.  They may appear resistant to change but they are also thoughtful about all the details and consequences.

Pragmatists are open to necessary, functional change and help facilitate it  by listening, mediating, planning, and carefully considering all of the issues as they seek common ground.  They are the practical project managers who actually make the change happen.

Originators are the disruptors with big ideas and a high tolerance for risk.  They prefer change that is fast and radical and paradigm-shifting.  They may appear to be unfocused, unorganized, and undisciplined, but they are more focused on the big, unconventional ideas than the details that surround them.

Seemingly unfocused, unorganized, and undisciplined?  Check, check, and check.  I have taken the assessment three times over the past 8-10 years and each time, I move even further along the Originator end of the spectrum.  Last summer, as part of a Leadership Institute, I took it again and actually maxed out my score.  Does that make me better or worse than others who are more conservative or pragmatic about change?  Nope.   Continue reading “50 Shades of Change”

Big Ideas, General, Management, Uncategorized

Rethinking the Rules of Behavior: Part 2

“A policy is a deliberate system of principles to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes.”


Last week, I wrote about how we ditched the rules and came up with a set of Expectations for Behavior at Chapel Hill Public Library.  This approach represented a pretty radical departure – both in the wording of the policy and the mindset at its foundation – so we knew that engaging staff on this approach would be critical to success.  Here are some of the ways we did that:

We made it easy.

We created a three question test to use when faced with a situation:

Is the situation at hand illegal?

Is it unsafe?

Is it making others uncomfortable?

If the answer is yes, then staff should act.  They don’t have to remember all the words of the policy, just these three measures to apply.   Continue reading “Rethinking the Rules of Behavior: Part 2”