Knowing Our Strengths

October 2010

Ask a member of the staff who works at the library what they do and you may get a puzzling response such as: "It all depends." It is not so much that individual titles and responsibilities do not exist. More likely it is because the individual is concentrating on a particular project underway at the time in a shared, networked environment. For instance, Sara Hallberg, head of adult services, and Raquel Ott, technology services assistant, will be found each Thursday working together with clients to provide a variety of job-related services. At the same time, Becky Barnhardt, head of genealogy services, may be applying her technical and creative skills toward the production of promotional material for a Halloween party in the youth wing. Likewise, Greg Lewis, head of technology services, may be seeking input on web development from almost every member of the staff (excluding the director), while, at the same time, he is working with Missy Bauby, head of youth services, on the development of a program to improve access to electronic homework assistance applications.

Do the above scenarios create chaos and confusion, or even worse - result in poor service? Not at all! Rather, it is representative of a work environment that respects and utilizes the strengths and inherent talents of each staff member. It does, however, require a willingness to share time and talent as well as a spirit of appreciation for the respective talents of each. What each person brings to the table is a critical key to our success.

Despite signs of success in traditional services, Mathews Memorial Library, like most public libraries, faces mounting pressure to add new services and streamline existing ones. Adding computers demands staff trained to assist patrons with technology needs. Creating dynamic teen areas to entice a new generation of library users means not only a need for additional space but also a different orientation of service.

Such dependence on individual skills to move forward cannot be left to chance. First, it is crucial that the needs of the library in terms of providing service to the community be identified. Second, there must be a nurturing environment that is absent elitism and built on respect at all levels; such that each individual has a strong sense of security in their role as a staff member. Third, there needs to be continuing opportunities for professional growth in terms of acquiring new skills and knowledge. Finally, there must be a willingness to change should that be necessary due to a gap between the use of the library and the services available.

It is the latter two points that will be the focus of the Mathews Memorial Library staff in the coming months. Although comfortable with our perception of patron needs, we plan to revisit earlier assessments to ensure their continued accuracy. We will also examine the library’s service model. Are we organized in a way that matches how patrons use the library? Next, we plan to review existing skill sets in terms of performing key functions, including customer service, project/program planning, technology implementation and collection development. If we are to remain relevant to our patrons and community, we must react to change and respond accordingly.