Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Updates since the July 9 Trustee's Meeting

(8:00 a.m., July 16)

Thank you for letting us know your favorite aspects of Urbana Free Library. 87% of you named the 'fantastic selection of old and new books' as what you enjoy most, and 81% reported that the 'friendly staff and librarians' were tops for you. Many of you appreciate the AV selections and the magazines, and a smaller number of you enjoy the programming, computers, and space.

Keep track of the full timeline of events here (comment welcomed): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1P5LS5DtPzTDvl9OoyzYfMzxOdUthhd4MrvXse9THmRM

(10 a.m., July 15)

(12 p.m., July 12)

Thank you for your input on the poll (now closed). 59% of voters want to "demand Trustees reopen the strategic planning process," 54% of voters want to "work to ensure that the Library doesn't create an digital / device divide by shifting too much of its collection to online, downloadable, and streaming items," and 48% want to "thank Director Lissak for her service."

If you still have ideas, please add them as comments to this post or by sending an e-mail to reclaimingourlibrary@gmail.com

(9 a.m., July 12)
(10 p.m., July 11)
(9 a.m., July 10)
Here's some of the news coverage of last night's meeting:

If you would like to view the full meeting, please see the archived stream.

(11 p.m. July 9)

More soon, but there were dozens of people who remained in the Library's auditorium, waiting for the Board to return from closed session. At around 10 p.m. the Board returned with the announcement that Director Lissak would be pursuing early separation; details will be forthcoming.

Many issues remain on the table: grievance policy and strategic planning among them. We've got movement in the 'right' direction, but much work remains to be done.

Is This Strategic Plan 'Strategic' or a 'Plan'?

In May 2013, the Urbana Free Library's Board of Trustees voted to accept the Library's Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2014 - 2016. You can read the full document here.

On pages 2 and 3, you can read about the process. Among the items absent from this description of process is any attempt at a community needs assessment. The only document that points to some attempt at a needs assessment is a 5-year old patron survey, which had a 30% response rate (<350 REGISTERED BORROWERS). Yes, there is a more recent survey of parking that the library conducted, but that doesn't really count as anything complete.

In fact, the Director worked used a planning strategy that discouraged participants from considering the Library's history and traditions. The planning model even discouraged the use of focus groups and surveys, as "they are rarely visionary" (p. 2). Read more here.

Our Library's direction - the service priorities that omit lifelong learning (p. 6) - were determined in large measure by an appointed panel of community representatives, an appointed Board of Trustees, and the Library's administrators. Library staff had limited roles. The community of Urbana - whether registered borrowers of the Library or those who have less formal or no connections to the Library - were disenfranchised.

The strategic plan also omits action steps, a vital element in any plan. For instance, how will the Library achieve an increase in the circulation of adult materials? What must it do to see an increase in the use of meeting spaces?

It includes generic objectives and evaluation targets, It only minimally addresses how evaluation will occur; for example, it fails to address who will do the evaluation or when evaluation will occur or how the evaluation will be used?

The Urbana Free Library's strategic plan, as it currently exists, is neither strategic nor a plan. Consider instead the process and result from Seattle Public Library's most recent strategic plan: http://www.spl.org/about-the-library/strategic-planning  There are most likely imperfections in it as well, but as a whole, it comes infinitely closer to responsible and responsive planning and stewardship than the shallow, uninformed plan produced for Urbana Free Library.

Why is the Director opposed to re-opening the strategic planning process, even to allow for public comment (p. 3)? If this is a strong plan, it should withstand public scrutiny.

Let's say the planning process started anew, using a better model. Perhaps it will result in the same service priorities. That's fine. At least we can be certain that the Library is moving in a direction that the community values and demands.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A Few Reasons You Should Care about #BOOKGATE Even If You're Not from Urbana

I had a moment (or two) this evening. I wanted to encapsulate in a few tweets why what's going on / wrong at Urbana Free Library matters to everyone. This brief list isn't intended to be comprehensive, but I hope it will provoke conversation.

  1. Public libraries are public institutions intended for the public good. We must ensure they remain responsive to the public.
  2. Public libraries have always had to respond to competing needs, but libraries must understand those needs first!
  3. Public libraries must remain a bulwark against digital / device divide; streaming & downloadable content don't work for all (and aren't desirable for others).
  4. False dichotomies (e.g. change vs tradition, analog vs digital, space vs materials) should not drive strategic planning.
  5. Librarians & library staff serve the public. It's not about pay or glamor or recognition. Their expertise & service ethic matter. They should not be bullied or belittled. They should have a meaningful voice in planning and implementation of services.
  6. Strategic planning which is rushed, is not driven by genuine needs, and fails to include stakeholder and community voices is neither strategic nor planned. 
  7. Public libraries should steward public resources for public good. That does not mean, however, they should be run like a business.

I do not want to send my LIS students out into a world of cookie-cutter, corporatized public libraries. This is my Howard Beale / Network moment: I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore.

If you're mad as hell too, do something

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Trustee Bill Brown speaks about the crisis at Urbana Free Library

In today's News-Gazette (Sunday, July 7), Trustee Bill Brown - the newest member of the Library's Board - presents his thoughts on recent events and actions.

Here's are excerpts of Brown's comments:

The public comments at board meetings on June 11 and 19, as well as the city council meeting June 17, and the dedicated research and other materials provided by interested members of the public, will make it possible for the board to begin to address the many concerns library patrons have brought forward...
The library director recently put detailed statistics on the library website showing the sections that were weeded with this process. She also put board packets for previous meetings on the site along with the minutes that were already there. While this is a start to greater transparency, the board obviously would benefit from more public scrutiny. Not only was our adjournment late into the night on the 19th a violation of the Open Meetings Act, three of the first five meetings this year also adjourned after closing hours. If a member of the public wants to come to see the last five minutes of a meeting, they should be able to do that. Meeting rooms must remain open and meetings should be video recorded and archived...
In all of this, I'd like to remind folks that our library is more than a building and books and media and meeting space. The library has achieved excellence and respect through the work of people — directors, trustees and employees. There is no point in trashing reputations, but it's perfectly acceptable to be professionally critical of those who can respond in public — the director and the board. 
There is no excuse for shifting blame to employees or criticizing them in public. One of the first priorities of the board should be establishing effective grievance procedures and protections to help alleviate tension in the workplace. 
Thank you, Trustee Brown, for standing up against the status quo. We must discourage 'blamesplaining and voice our concerns. Let's put the public back in our public library.