During the 9th Annual Metrolina Library Association Conference held recently in Charlotte, North Carolina, David Singleton, Director of Charlotte Mecklenburg Libraries and Julie Walker, the new State Librarian of Georgia conducted a breakout session entitled, “Secrets for Leading in the New Normal.” While Singleton and Walker have extensive careers in public libraries, all libraries share the same challenges in justifying their existence and making their organizations valuable to whoever is making funding decisions.
Singleton and Walker began their presentation by highlighting the changes in society which have necessitated changes in libraries. To demonstrate that people still love their libraries, they used the results of a Pew study and data from a Mecklenburg County (North Carolina) study in the chart below:
Using Gallup poll results, the library directors showed that people have confidence in their libraries and feel they are important to the community in comparison to other organizations.
While data that demonstrates the public’s positive perception of library value is a good selling point, the directors pointed out the complications of using such information during the recent recession. They cited the American Libraries issue on The State of American Libraries 2013. When staff and library hours are reduced, patrons have limited access and begin to see less value and relevance in the library. This cycle is a warning for academic libraries too.
Another important selling point has been a Return on Investment (ROI) study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Urban Institute which concluded that the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library returns $4.57 in direct benefits for every $1.00 invested from all sources. Funders want to know that their money is being used to the greatest benefit.
Librarians have traditionally kept numbers like total checkouts, program attendance, reference transactions, and instruction sessions. However, funders are not interested in these measures. They are interested in outcomes, especially the impact on the community. Some examples of outcomes for public libraries are young children prepared for kindergarten, children and teens doing well in school, residents proficient with computer skills, and adults getting jobs. Academic librarians need to determine the outcomes important to their organizations and measure the library’s contribution.
While numbers and outcome measures are important in relaying the library’s value, Singleton pointed out that librarians also need to collect stories that tell of successes. Academic librarians need to articulate the library’s relevance in the 21st century, value to the community, value to funders, and competitive funding advantages. Singleton and Walker believe that libraries can thrive by identifying the needs in the library’s community, contributing uniquely, focusing on priorities and goals, collaborating with others, embracing change, staying grounded, and telling their story!