A few years back there was a beverage commercial that, as I recall, ended with the spokesperson looking into the camera and directing the public “stay thirty my friends.”
As I think about life in a small library, I think one of the things that is very easy to do is to become so engrossed or even overwhelmed with the details of the day, as to lose sight of what I think brought many of us into this profession, curiosity. Back in the halcyon past, when the public would regularly come in and ask reference questions, one of the things that I liked about the whole interaction was the opportunity to learn something new about the world around me. No matter how minor, mundane or trivial the information was, I became as curious, or in the case of some school age kids who just wanted to finish an assignment, more curious than they were to find the answers. Once asked, I wanted to know what the capital of Namibia was (Windhoek, by the by).
That level of curiosity carried over in the role of a library director, with a new wrinkle. I wanted to know is there a way that we can do this faster, cheaper or better. Better still, I wanted to know is there something that we’re not doing now, that we could be doing that the public would really appreciate. You can divine some of this information through a sound knowledge of your community, and if you have the means, through surveying or other statistically relevant community analysis. However, before you can go there, one of the things you need to know is what things are possible that you are not doing now. To put it another way, I have heard told that Steve Jobs once eschewed market research by saying “I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, “A faster horse!”‘.
You need to know what is possible, before you can even start to think about what you will do tomorrow, and the way to do so is to stay curious. To wonder, to explore and to research. At the moment I can think of three or four things that I could point to that I or a group of people, both at my library and beyond, are working on to either improve what we do (outreach initiative to non-users), to save money (LED light bulb replacements) or to better our little corner of the profession (proposing to bring a small national-level conference to our region). All of these things and many more require two things. One, devoting at least a small amount of your time to ask “What’s possible?”
The second is to stay curious.
If this is not a current habit, what I would suggest is to start small. Look at one area of your library, one thing that your library does and ask yourself “is that the best way to do that? Is there something we could do differently that would be better?” Once you’ve had a little bit of time to think about it, ask your colleagues. As a director, I’ve found few ideas are received better than those that are proposed by my staff that we then run with. Ask folks from other libraries around Ohio, around the country if need be. Once you’re comfortable with where you are with the first initiative, start a second. This will be a different place for different people, and that’s ok. Sometimes you will find a new initiative because of something someone at another library says, or something a member of the public says. Sometimes, the germ of an idea will come from what you read in a book, or a magazine article, or even from a TV commercial.
At the end of the day, above all else, stay curious my friends.
Joe Knueven, Director
Germantown Public Library