Library Leadership

111. Less Planning and More Action with Anya Feltreuter

Anya Feltreuter

Have you ever thought that the time spent planning took away from actually getting things done? On this show Anya Feltreuter, Director of the Mjölby Public Library in Sweden, shares how less planning and more action took her team out into the field to get things done. Doing this they were able to succeed at getting people to start using the library, building relationships, and getting her organization seen in a new light. You can, too.    

Transcript

Library Leadership Podcast is brought to you by InnovativeInnovative, a part of Clarivate, is a globally recognized library industry partner with nearly five decades of experience developing library management solutions, discovery tools, marketing and communication services, and digital resource management products. Innovative believes every person in every community deserves a personalized library experience. Learn more at www.iii.com

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.

Have you ever thought that the time spent planning took away from actually getting things done? On this show Ayna Feltreuter, Director of the Mjölby Public Library in Sweden, shares how less planning and more action took her team out into the field to get things done. Doing this they were able to succeed at getting people to start using the library, building relationships, and getting her organization seen in a new light. You can, too.  Enjoy the show!

Anya, welcome to the show.

Anya Feltreuter:

Thank you for inviting me. It’s great to be here.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #1: It’s great to have you. Thank you for talking with me about less planning and more action in libraries. I know you’ve used this technique in your library to make positive actions happen for direct impact. Can you begin by telling me why less planning and more action can be helpful in libraries?   01:30 

Anya Feltreuter:

Of course. When planning for activities in libraries you’re putting a lot of thought and time into the planning, right? Sometimes it could be that nobody shows up, and all the planning is done in vain. Or if people do show up, they might not match the profile that you have planned for. 

For example you have planned for an activity for teenagers, but a group of eight-year-old children show up. Therefore my coworkers and I decided that we would start working with something that we call flexible planning. It is as simple as reducing the time that you’re planning for a certain activity and instead plan for different outcomes.

For example if we are having an activity at a fair, or in a local park, we have different activities that we can use depending on the people we meet. We also have a library bicycle that allows us to be flexible where we have our activities. So, it’s a lot about getting out of the building and meeting people in their everyday life.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #2:  By taking an action approach in your library you’ve encouraged people who do not use the library to start using it. What has this involved?  02:51 

Anya Feltreuter:

According to the Swedish Library Act, the public libraries must be available to everyone— emphasizing the needs of children, people with functional disabilities, people speaking minority languages, or a different mother tongue than the major population. However, many of the prioritized groups didn’t use the library.

When my coworkers and I asked people why they didn’t use the library they gave three main reasons: they didn’t know the location of the library; they didn’t know the library services, and that the library services were free of charge; or they felt unsure of how to use the library, and found it hard to ask for help. They thought that they should have a certain level of knowledge before entering the room.

For example, one thing we did was start a book club for immigrant women who felt they wanted to learn Swedish, but were unable to attend classes because they had to take care of their babies. The project was a cooperation between the municipality’s social services and the local housing company.

The library provided staff for the book club. The social services hired an interpreter, and supplied the coffee, and the housing company contributed suitable premises. The women got to practice Swedish, and talk about Swedish traditions.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #3: Direct action can help build relationships between customers and library employees, and between customers and other customers. What does this look like?  04:21 

Anya Feltreuter:

By stepping out of the library building and simply talking to people face-to-face we managed to reach out to people we hadn’t reached before. The idea is simple. Library staff meet people on location, and tell them about the services provided by the library. The location could be the town square, or a shopping mall, a residential area, or even a special event arranged by the town, or a local organization. 

By using this method we increased our number of visitors a lot. We also managed to make the library the talk of the town, which led to people, and organizations, contacting us for new cooperations. Some of the organizations also wanted guided tours of the library, and depending on how unsure the members of these organizations were, the library staff would sometimes be asked to meet up with them and walk together to the library.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #4: What have the overall benefits from less planning and more action been in your library, and has there anything that has arisen of which you are particularly proud?  05:26 

Anya Feltreuter:

Well, as I said we have increased our number of visitors, and also would say that we have changed the image of our library, and of the library staff. If people see librarians as intellectual people who only ready Dostoevsky, they hopefully have a different image these days. When they see us as normal people they also find it easier to ask us about different things, and they don’t feel like they have to know something before they enter the library. 

For my coworkers and me, working with this approach, or method, has meant that we have gotten to know each other better. Having a good working climate is also good in the way that it makes it easier to recruit the best staff. So, when librarians hear positive things about working at the library, naturally many of them want to work there, too.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #5: How has staff, and the public responded to this action method of 

service provision?  06:24 

Anya Feltreuter:

Well, it has been easier for some coworkers than for others, or course. But, it is important to remember that we all have different strengths and weaknesses, and that is a good thing. So, by getting to know each other better, and start trusting each other, we can better see where we can help each other.

It’s also important to create a work environment where failure is accepted. If we never fail, we can never make progress. For coworkers to dare to take the risk to fail—it is vital that the working environment in the library is positive, and non-judging.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #6: Is there anything else you’d like to share?  07:05  

Anya Feltreuter:

Yes, so it all starts with the boss, as the leader sets the tone for the coworkers and the working environment. If you want the coworkers to try new things—and sometimes fail, you have to allow yourself to fail sometimes, and learn from it. The leaders don’t always have to be in absolute control. To obtain employee motivation, encourage individuals, as well as team development, and boosting job satisfaction, it is essential to allow—and even inspire coworkers to take initiative, and personal responsibility for the library’s activities, and goals.

I think a leader’s role is to get the coworkers to come up with crazy ideas—let them try some of them and gather them when they’re too far away from the library’s mission. I think it is important that leaders don’t serve solutions to problems, but instead focus on coaching as a method for encouraging ideas, solutions, and enabling the coworkers to solve her, or his, problems on their own.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #7:  Do you have any favorite management, or leadership books, or resources, and why?  08:12 

Anya Feltreuter:

I do read management books occasionally, but mostly I like to talk to other managers, or listen to them speak about their work. Trust management is a leadership style that I can relate to. I also like to refer to my own leadership style—humor leader, after making a lot of things, but of course not all things fun.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #8: In closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally?  08:40 

Anya Feltreuter:

For me, libraries are not about the books, it’s about the people and the meetings. It sounds a bit pretentious, but for me the library is a place where you can change your life through education and access to free information. The access to free information, and the freedom of speech is vital to the library and to our democracy. However, libraries are not the same as access to free information, and freedom of speech in every country. So, it can never be taken for granted. We must remind ourselves, constantly, about these—even those of us who live in democratic countries.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Anya, your approach to less planning and more action in libraries sounds like it has made an incredible impact in your community. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts today. I’ve enjoyed it, and really appreciate you being here.

Anya Feltreuter:

Thank you, it’s been a pleasure for me, too.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes tune into LibraryLeadershipPodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to get episodes delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

We would like to thank the Park City Library for their dedicated support of this show. The opinions expressed on this show are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of Library Leadership Podcast, or our sponsors.

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