Does developing an annual report for your library make you nervous? If so, you’re not alone. But, fear no more. On this show I talk with Patrick Bodily, Library Director of Independence Public Library in Oregon. He shares ways we can make an impact with our annual reports and gives pro tips on how to share our stories in ways that are eye-catching and understandable. There will be lots of impactful annual reports coming out for those who listen in.
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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.
Does developing an annual report for your library make you nervous? If so, you’re not alone. But, fear no more. On this show I talk with Patrick Bodily, Library Director of Independence Public Library in Oregon. He shares ways we can make an impact with our annual reports, and gives pro tips on how to share our stories in ways that are eye-catching, and understandable. There will be lots of impactful annual reports coming out for those who listen in. Enjoy the show. Patrick, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me.
Question #1: Thank you for talking with me today about annual reports. We all know how important it is to present library information in a way that makes an impact, why is this? 01:31
I think one of the biggest reasons that it is important is that everything we do is really broken down into three different areas. There’s what we did, how well we did it, and of course, is anybody better off. In the library world those are the three questions we’re trying to answer—what did we do; how well did we do it; and is anybody better off because of what we’ve done?
The way that we can express that—we want to show people the importance of what it is that we do to our stakeholders, funders, city council, library board, whoever we really want to, not just show them this is what we’ve done, and this is the change we’ve made, but we want to wow them with it.
So, that’s where the visual aspects or annual reports come into play. That’s where what we do really can pop in their eyes. If we hand them a flyer, or a bookmark, or whatever format you’ve got to say, Hey, look these are our highlights from the last year. This is our report from the last year, or two years, or five, or whatever it is that you’re creating. This is the way that we can make that impact.
If you just hand them a spreadsheet people are going to keel over. If you just hand them the document—typed up words that maybe describes every program you’ve done during the last year, it’s the same information but people aren’t going to digest it as well as if it was something presented in a way that makes that impact with different call-outs, and color, and font, all those things like that.
That is really what it is right there. The importance of explaining what we did, how well we did it, and is anybody better off because of what we’ve done.
Question #2: I like that. And, I like what you say about wowing people. So, you’re a self-described data nerd. As such, what would you tell us about how we can gather and use data about our library activity from year to year? 03:30
I think I’m a data nerd, in my mind, because it’s everywhere. We already have all the data, especially in the library world. Every transaction, every circulation you have, you already have how many patrons, number of check-outs that there were, and the time they were automatically renewed. Using our systems that information is populated and saved for us.
So, because we already have it all we don’t need to reinvent the wheel to get this done. If we look at what’s readily available we can look at what it tells us, right? If we can see, okay, last year we had X number of people show up. The year before was higher, or lower, or there’s trends of data everywhere, it’s just all around us. That’s the thing that’s amazing that we don’t have to just figure out, Okay, what could I possibly calculate? It’s already there.
Not only that, but it helps us to look at, Okay, last year we had this many programs, for example, and they were either a hit, or they weren’t. We had people come or they didn’t. So, are we going to continue down that path? It helps us with future-forecasting. It helps us as we write. As leadership we work in building and creating our strategic plan so we know where the library’s going to go in the future.
The data’s helpful for all of those things and it’s already there. We can gather the stuff that we already have. Public libraries across the country are already submitting an annual report to their State Library Agencies. So, you already have to gather the numbers to pass it on anyway. So, you might as well use that data to help build your case to help wow the funders, wow the supporters that you’re trying to impress with all the cool things that you’re already doing.
Question #3:Right, we do gather a lot of data in libraries. So, once we have it, how do we make it eye-catching, and also understandable? 05:31
There’s one thing I want to make sure everyone understands. You have tons of data, but you don’t have to put it all out there on one thing. The key is that KISS principle. Keep it simple sweetheart, one graph per story. Choose the theme that you want to build on. Are you specifically talking about your programs? That’s great, then stick with the program. Use color, or type-face, or bold, or different fonts to your advantage.
There are all these different things we can do once we have it to make those call-outs. That’s really what it is. So realistically, we’re going to have a combination of some type of text and some visual aspect, whatever it is that you’re creating. Stick with that. You want your highlights to actually be highlights. You don’t want to bury what it is you’re trying to tell them.
And then, of course, what we can do the most to make it eye-catching and understandable is to tell your audience what it is you want them to know. It could be as simple as if you’re creating a graph, and you want people to see that circulation has increased over the last five years, you title your graph, Circulation At the Public Library Has Increased Over the Last Five Years by such and such Percent. You just tell them the story you want them to know.
Question #4:You allude to telling a story with this. How can data tell a story in an annual report? 07:00
The annual report is just that, it is data. So everyone is clear, I know the annual report is used a lot of different ways, in this case I’m talking about some sort of something that you have printed up, or published online, that tells the highlights. But, remember the story that you do want to tell. That’s the key right there.
If the story you want to tell is that we’re growing, great. If that’s the story that you want to tell for this next year—I see in my crystal ball that a lot of annual reports are going to say, This is how COVID affected us. We had to shut-down for this many weeks. Our electronic circulation either went up or down, our physical circulation definitely went down. Programs dropped, but virtual programs rose, if we were doing online storytime. So, remember that story is the one you want to tell, and those three things: what did you do; how well did you do it; and is anyone better off because of what you did.
Pull those highlights. Is anyone better off? That’s the heartstring tugging section where people are going to say, Oh, I love my library because we had Joe from down the road who was able to come in and get a job interview because he used the on-line resources at the library to submit that job application, or whatever it is.
Pull out the highlights and keep your audience engaged that way with little stories, or little tidbits. Or, if you have a document and a little box with just big, bold, 95% Increase In Circulation, or whatever it is you’re trying to tell. That’s really what it is right there. Remember that your annual report is data, and remember the story that you want to tell.
Question #5:What are your top tips for sharing information in annual reports? 09:00
My very first tip is that I can do this so anyone else can, as well. Use the tools that you have. I don’t have a graphic design background. I’ve watched a dozen, no, I’ve watched more than that—youtube tutorials, or read books or anything like that. You don’t need to have an Adobe Illustrator or professional license, or professional graphic designer on staff. You can use the tools you have.
That being said, you also have to remember your audience. The story you’re going to tell, and the bookmark that you’re passing out say to the Storytime Moms is one hundred percent going to be a different story than the story that you give in your print-up, either tri-fold or single page that you’re passing out to the City Council, or the County Commissioners. The audience is different. The Storytime Moms just want to see the programs and the highlights, and the fun things. Whereas your funders, they want to know that their money is being used responsibly.
Also, it’s important that you remember just the basics of graphic design. Like I said, I’ve watched youtube, things like that. There’s a great series from gcflearnfree.org. They’ve actually posted them all onto youtube. You can go see the fundamentals of graphic design, or the fundamentals of color theory, or the fundamentals of font. It explains the different keys in creating something eye-catching.
My last tip, please, please, please—everyone can quote me on this forever, but plagiarize and localize. Find something that you like, that someone else has put out there, and see how you can tweak it to make it yours, especially in an annual report. If you found someone who does this awesome graphic, or tells the story of what they’ve done over the last year. Use it. That’s why we’re here. Librarians love to share. That’s why we go to conferences, to get ideas from other people that are already doing stuff.
That’s why we meet together for coffee mornings, or tea get-togethers. Why we’re part of consortiums is so that we can learn from other people and localize it to our individual situation. And, find it from everywhere. Just because you’re a small rural library in Oklahoma with a service area of 257, doesn’t mean that you can’t steal something from a much larger library, Los Angeles Public, or New York Public—there are good ideas out there everywhere.
And, it goes the other way as well, there are some small libraries that are doing amazing things. The larger libraries can localize those programs as well. Especially those graphic design principles and those annual reports that they’ve got going on.
Question #6: What tools do libraries need to create annual reports? 11:52
Really, what you have and are comfortable with is what you need to create a good annual report. If you have Microsoft Word, or Excel, great. If you are really comfortable and familiar with the Google Suite of docs and sheets, that’s great. If you know Illustrator, that’s great. If you have a Canva license, that’s great. Anything that you have, and have access to is what you need. You don’t need to go out and buy anything fancy. You don’t need to go and do anything one way or another.
I’ve seen libraries have tons of success with Canva and other specifically graphic designs, we make posters. But, the reason that they are successful is that they already have a license, and they’re already familiar with the software that they use to make their program flyers, or to make even their Dewey numbers on the side of their stacks, is what they’ve used that for. So, it’s just something they’re comfortable with. If you live in Microsoft Word, or live in Microsoft Excel, then that’s what you need to create a visual annual report because that’s what you’re comfortable with so it’s going to look a lot better.
Question #7: Use what you have, that’s good. Anything else you’d like to share? 13:08
Just remember when you’re creating an annual report that you’re the expert. This is your data, and your library, and your story, and you’re the one that knows it all. Back when I was in school I had a professor that told me, Whenever you’re in front of the class and you’re presenting your research, or whatever, you’re the one who did the research. The only reason I’m asking questions, or anyone in the class is asking questions is because they really don’t know, and they want you to tell them.
The same thing applies here. If you present this annual report to the City Council and they say, Oh, I didn’t know why this is. It’s not because they’re trying to stump you. It’s because they really didn’t know. You are the expert. This is your library, your data, and your story.
Question #8: Do you have a favorite management, or leadership book, and why?13:51
I have a couple of things—I love the book by Renee Evenson, Powerful Phrases for Effective Customer Service. It has just been great, not just for leadership and management but also, I read that to work with my director’s reports as they can bring it into their life as well.
And, the Ask a Manager book and blog, but most especially the blog. Allison Green is the one who runs it. It is great. I have my RSS feed set so I get the updates on that Ask a Manager every time something is posted, not just weekly, or daily. I get the update as soon as she’s posted something out there. Yes, Allison Green’s Ask a Manager, and Renee Evenson’s Powerful Phrases for Effective Customer Service.
Question #9: Patrick, in closing, what does being a librarian mean to you, personally? 14:45
I think that, for me, the best part about being a librarian is that we are trying to bring a quality across the board. We’re trying to bring the haves, and support them, as well as the have-nots. Everything from broadband equity to equality in information access and resources. We don’t care where you land on social issues, or political issues, or economic spectrums. We just want you to use the library. And, we want to help you use it better to find the answer to the questions or resources that people have or need.
That’s what it means to me, being that champion quality.
Patrick, thank you for being on the show with me today. It’s been fantastic learning from you and I can’t wait to see all of those amazing annual reports that are going to come after hearing from you. So, I appreciate it.
I’ve really been looking forward to it. Thank you so much for having me.
It’s been a pleasure.
You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Adriane Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. More episodes can be found at https://libraryleadershippodcast.com, where you can subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.
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