sabinaVaily Oehlke, President of ‘Public Libraries’ magazine, wrote last year in her President’s  message, —– “Everyone working in public libraries has a unique, perhaps historic opportunity to shape what a library… is….. can… and will be”

(and further asks)      “Do we know what actions we can take to make this happen?”  ………….not too long ago we didn’t have the answer to that………….

I used to work in an organization which seemed to personify the class system.  Like Downton Abbey, the librarians lived upstairs and everyone else lived downstairs………

I work in Circulation,… a department that was once seen and not heard. Even though we were the first point of contact for patrons, we were under-valued and excluded from almost every aspect of library service.

It mattered not if I’d worked in the library 10-15 or 20 years……if someone had just received their library degree 5 minutes ago……they immediately had more authority, …..were far more valuable than me,…and ultimately more respected.

“Have you ever been involved in a conversation with two other people, when you realize that neither one of them is making eye contact with you….you’ve been relegated to a mere observer?  You feel invisible…..and that is what it felt like.”

There was no autonomy even within our department …. no decision….. no matter how small,… was ever made without the approval of a librarian  first.

The dismissive nature towards circulation staff wasn’t out of hostility.  When asked why things were the way they were, the answer was always…..”Well, that’s how we’ve always done it’

Different directors and managers over the years ……maintained the status quo and even when faced with declining statistics it seemed no one could see beyond “more of the same”.……and because of that when Jacqueline van Dyk arrived, she faced a lot of cynicism.

We expected her to make changes of course, but nothing that would involve the circulation department………. Yet it wasn’t too long before things began to look and sound a little different.

The first thing that directly affected me was the management structure that shifted from a decades-old ‘chain of command’ to a new unrecognizable framework. Rumors began to run rampant and people felt threatened.

Though Jacqueline had an open door policy, not many dared by-pass that ‘chain of command……Stepping out of line had brought repercussions in the past.

Meanwhile a new position was developing….Manager of Welcoming Initiatives…….

And the rumors continued……….

She was young, bright, and full of ‘pie in the sky’ ideas that had some scratching their heads……Most importantly she was going to be our very own manager, our own representative; a librarian that had developed a new way of thinking and behaving.

She asked meaningful and provocative questions and listened to some not so pleasant answers.

While sharing her plans and ideas some staff were reluctant, and some even suspicious.  And yet….it felt as though my own straight jacket was starting to loosen.  She had a unique ability to cut through outdated conventional wisdom and was resolute in dissolving outmoded procedures.

Gaining credibility by setting a vision, promoting empowerment and manifesting change, her belief in the principle of equity was evident and the contrast between what was familiar and what we had now was extraordinary.

And now, a year and a half later the changes have been remarkable..

She had a unique ability to cut through outdated conventional wisdom and was resolute in dissolving outmoded procedures……. ……..Things were starting to look up.

And now a year and half later,… the changes have been remarkable.

For Circulation, there’s been a vast difference in our level of engagement——-The mere fact that I’m standing here is a testament to that.

With the patron in mind we now practice ‘First Contact Resolutions’……..where once questions of a certain sort needed to be answered strictly by a librarian………we now have the skills and experience to answer questions from Collections to Tech Support, and beyond the workroom we have circulation staff on almost every library committee.

My personal triumph was getting involved in reader’s advisory which connected me with the readers themselves….. and now when patrons ask to speak to me personally, it’s gratifying because it’s something I really enjoy doing and do well.

By diversifying our roles, it’s no longer about achievement……but about contribution.

A wealth of knowledge is gained with training and experience——–and the ability to cultivate relationships with library users doesn’t require a degree.

Libraries that embrace inclusive, internal practices and varied viewpoints unearth inspiration….. and…… transformation.

So in answer to Vaily Oehlke’s question;

“Do we know what actions we can take to make this happen?”

The answer is ‘Yes we do’….because our  plans are well on their way.

Thank you

Return to Under the Hood

Links to panelist speaking notes:

Andrea Freeman, Manager of Welcoming Initiatives

Jennifer O’Donnell, Digital Services & Resources Librarian

Ashika Debba, Circulation Supervisor, Lynn Valley Library

Krista Scanlon, Collection Services and Evaluation Librarian

Paul Taylor, Branch Librarian, Parkgate Library

Jacqui Jones-Cox, Branch Librarian, Lynn Valley Library

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