When writing a grant or award application, wouldn’t it be helpful to have advice from someone who’s already done it successfully? On this show, I talk with Ed Garcia, Director of the Cranston Public Library in Rhode Island. His organization won the 2020 Jerry Kline Community Impact Award that comes with a $250,000 prize. He talks with me about the award application process, ways to empower staff to create impacts that translate into recognition, and what goes into applying for opportunities that bring attention and support to libraries.
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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.
When writing a grant or award application, wouldn’t it be helpful to have advice from someone who’s already done it successfully? On this show I talk with Ed Garcia, Director of the Cranston Public Library in Rhode Island. His organization won the 2020 Jerry Kline Community Impact Award that comes with a $250,000 prize. He talks with me about the award application process, ways to empower staff to create impacts that translate into recognition, and what goes into applying for opportunities that bring attention and support to libraries. Enjoy the show!
Ed, welcome to the show.
Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Your library recently received national recognition, winning the Jerry Kline Community Impact Prize for its role as a vital community asset, which includes a $250,000 financial award. First of all, congratulations!
Thank you, thank you very much. We’re really honored to have been chosen for the award.
Question #1: Will you tell us about this award and its implications? 01:49
The Jerry Kline Community Impact Prize—this is the second year that they’ve given it out. It’s a partnership with Library Journal and the Kline Family Foundation. Last year, the first year, the Sacramento Public Library was the recipient. We were honored this year to be chosen. For my staff, my team, and I we were really so excited to be acknowledged for all the work that we’ve done here in our community by a national award. It just shows all the work that we’ve done here is having an impact.
We were really excited because our mayor, Mayor Allan Fung, was the one who nominated us for the award. Everyone here was so giddy about being able to win the award to show what we’ve done in our community.
Question #2: How does your organization plan to utilize the award monies? 02:46
We still have to make a few decisions with our board of trustees, but the current thinking is that we have a non-profit foundation, the Cranston Public Library Association, that works with the library to fundraise and apply for grants. The thought is that we’re going to put the prize money with the CPLA, some of which would be used to start an endowment so that we can continue to have funds to do innovative programming for a long time in the future.
Some of the funding might be used just for a short-term fund for innovative projects and programs that we have already thought of. We’re currently doing our strategic plan, our new five year strategic plan. We anticipate that there will be things that come from our community surveys, our community feedback that my staff will want to then follow up on with some new ideas. We want to have some of the funding available to use immediately for that. But, the thinking is that most of it will be invested for long-term use so we can continue to have money to do a lot of the innovative things that we do.
Question #3: Tell us about your community and what went into winning this award, Ed. 04:00
We’re a city of 83,000 people—the City of Cranston, in Rhode Island. Over my time here at the library, I’ve been the director for eight years, but the past eleven years working here. We’ve seen a lot of change in our community. We’ve seen the demographics of our city change with a really large and increasing Latino and Southeast Asian community. We’ve also seen a lot of economic divide amongst certain parts of the city. We have our eastern side of the city that is very congested, and our western side is more rural and has new and expensive housing developments. There’s definitely that divide throughout the city, and then just changing demographics.
We’ve tried to address that by doing community outreach and partnerships with many organizations, whether it’s a city agency, or non-profit throughout our community to try to make sure we’re reaching out to underserved populations, but also new members of our community, to make sure that they understand what the library has to offer and make sure that we can offer to them what the community needs.
Question #4: And I know that you place a lot of trust in your staff to develop extraordinary services. For other leaders, how would you say you empower those that you work with to create this kind of impetus that was needed for winning this award? 05:27
We have an amazing, an amazing, amazing team here at CPL that we’ve been building over time. I always think that I want to empower them to be able to think about innovative ideas and things that the community would really get behind—the needs that they see in the community. I always feel that my job is to be out in the community advocating for them, advocating for the resources that our staff needs to do the amazing work that they do. Because, they’re the ones that work directly with the public. I’m in the office. It’s not that I don’t see the public, but the staff are the ones that work directly with the public. I always feel that my job is to make sure they have what they need. I’m always advocating for the library whether it’s politicians, or decision-makers, or non-profits, or other community partners.
For me, that’s what I focus a lot on. I want to give my staff the freedom to work together, to work with other partners, and really look at community needs, and come up with a lot of the innovative things that we do, and be able to run with things.
For example, we did something recently called, School Tools, where we noticed that we had an increase in our city in homeschooled children. Definitely during the pandemic people were keeping kids at home to do digital school, or home schooling just for their safety. My youth services department decided, Hey, we’ve seen a lot of this. We should do these kits where parents can borrow these kits, if they’re homeschooling their children and actually have activities to do with them at home.
There’s been telescopes, astronomy sets, there’s dinosaur sets. There’s about twenty or thirty of them at this point. I thought it was such an amazing idea. I didn’t actually know where the book money was going to come from yet, because we hadn’t actually won the Kline Award at that point.
I said, Go with it, and we’ll figure it out later. And we did it. And, it’s been extremely successful. It was all for our youth services department. My Youth Services Coordinator, Emily Brown and a few of our other staff came up with this idea. It’s just an example for us. We just want our staff to be able to come up with their own ideas and be empowered to do that.
Question #5: That sounds like a great program. And can I just ask you, what kinds of things, when the application went in for this grant, what kinds of things did you focus on as talking points for what your library is doing to make the kind of impact that you’re having right now? 07:55
The application was definitely a very lengthy process. Once our outgoing mayor nominated us, I was thankfully able to put the application together with a woman named Lisa Kirshenbaum, who’s our city grant writer. The award is not just what you did this last year, but takes a length of time, like five years of what you’ve done for the community. We talked a lot about what we’ve done for outreach with our new diverse population in the city, whether it was with ESL classes, or citizenship classes, or we did some really specific programming outreach to our Cambodian community.
The library decided to go fine free. We talked a little bit about that, and some of our programs we’ve done to bring new technology into the community, with 3D printing, and virtual reality programming. But we also talked a lot about what we’ve been doing during the pandemic, because as most libraries, we had to close. There were stay-at-home orders. Our staff was able to, literally within a week, switch over to doing virtual programming, which none of us had ever done before.
They worked so hard. I have to say I’ve been so proud of the work that the staff had done to be able to go in this different direction. Then when we were able to reopen the library the staff had complete buy-in. We had a lot of meetings with staff input about how we were going to safely open.
For us, it was just one of those things. You just don’t give up. We’re constantly looking here at CPL for various grants, or awards, and things to try and further our mission. At the same time as we were applying for Kline, we put in an IMSL grant, for example, to hire a three-year position for a career counselor here at the library, because our unemployment rate was so high due to COVID.
We did not get that particular grant. We have other grants that we’re still waiting to hear from. We’re always putting things out. The biggest thing is never give up because we applied one year for Kline and didn’t get it. We applied again and were fortunate to get it this year. I think perseverance in a lot of those things is also really important.
Question #6: Never give up, that’s great advice. I know a lot of us apply for grants and recognitions, and all kinds of things—anything else besides, don’t give up? What advice—I know most of us could use someone to guide us through these processes. Did you have people that you relied on for that? Can you tell us a little bit about it? 11:12
It was interesting because it was a very long, detailed application, but also with word limits so that was also very challenging—trying to tell your story and still have limitations on how much you can actually put in there.
I was lucky enough to have, again, a partner with the city grant writer. We were able to bounce things off each other. I would say, Okay here are some things that we did, I think we qualify, write them down. She would look at it, edit it, and we would be able to come up with a good application.
If you’re a director trying to put one of these things together, having a team to help you, whether it’s a grant writer or just somebody else to go through and make sure things—not only just, I don’t want to say just make sense, but to make sure that you’re telling the story in the proper way is really important.
I certainly had some staff around the library also help—help our recollection of some of the programs that they might have had more to do with than I would know. Other members of the staff wrote other sections.
One of the great things about the award is that it talks about building community partnerships. We do that quite a bit here. We had to have some input from some of our community partners with letters of recommendation. They actually called the community partners, unbeknownst to me—they actually, in the process of deciding, called the community partners, called our mayor, called the head of our library union, the president of the union here. All without me knowing to get their input on things as well.
Being able to tell that story of community outreach, having strong community partners, who believe the library is an asset to the city is a really important thing for any of these types of awards or grants.
Question #7: How do recognitions such as this bring attention to all libraries? And, how does this particular award, perhaps, draw additional recognition from your own stakeholders? 13:33
We’ve definitely tried to get the word out here in Cranston through our Rhode Island media about this award, in case our local people don’t see it because they don’t read Library Journal, for example. When libraries can win an award like this, and you can also get this communication in the community about the award, it really goes a long way for support.
For us, thankfully, we had some definite local press about it with our newspaper. One of the TV stations covered it. The word got out a lot through the mayor and some of the community partners. It really helped us. We just had the elections, our mayor is out-going. He was term limited so we have a new mayor and a majority of a new city council. It’s actually really great to have won this at this time because it’s a way to tell the story of what we’ve done over the last five years—maybe from a different lens than we would have been able to do if it was just coming from the library showing that there was some national recognition of what we have done.
Also, locally, when you’re trying to advocate for funding for the library, whether it’s to increase funding or maintaining funding, the current realities around the country, such as our fiscal year 2022, you just might be trying to maintain where you are, not necessarily getting any increases. It’s important to have an award like this that shows what the library can do as far as outreach into the community, but also the community partnerships that you can build. Because when we built those partnerships it just shows that we are trying to stretch the resources that were given as much as possible to address the needs of the community.
Political stakeholders, especially those that have control of finances really appreciate the fact that we do that—that we try to stretch the funding that we get by going after other grants, or making community partnerships to address needs that we might not be able to address if we just relied on our operating budget. That would be the same for libraries in the same situation across the country. I think it’s really important.
Question #8: Anything else you’d like to share? 16:04
I was just talking a little bit about advocating locally. That’s another thing that’s really important for librarians around the country—library directors, is just being willing to advocate for your library, whether it’s locally, on a statewide basis, or nationally. I actually am involved in all three of those phases. Thankfully we have the best congressional delegation in the country, as far as we’re concerned in congress, with Senator Jack Reed, and the others. We work quite closely with them on a lot of federal library issues. That’s just so important to be able to lead in the community and advocate for your staff, your team, and your library. It’s one of the cornerstones, in my mind, of being a leader.
Question #9: Do you have a favorite management, or leadership resource, and why? 17:03
My favorite management, or leadership resource is talking to other leaders. I was fortunate enough, back in 2010, to have been accepted into the American Library Association Emerging Leaders Program. At that time, the program had one of the facilitators, his name is Peter Bromberg. He’s the director of the Salt Lake City Public Library—was one of the people running that program. I was lucky enough to meet Peter there, and started a friendship between us that goes to this day. And, I know that I tend to speak with him quite often. When we were able to actually meet in person, before the pandemic, we would meet and have dinner and chat about leadership issues, or management things—various things going on at our various libraries, kind of bounce ideas off each other.
There are other people I do that with as well on a local level here in Rhode Island and other parts of the country. I find that to be, for me, the best way to improve my management or leadership—to talk through things, and hear from people that I have a lot of respect for.
Which is why we do this show. I’m so glad you’re on here talking about that. I know a lot of us have these conversations with other leaders or colleagues, and those are the things that we rely on to help us make decisions and get through given situations. I’m glad you mentioned that, no one else has done that on this show. That’s really great.
Question #10: Ed, in closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally? 18:51
Well, that’s a good question. Libraries are actually a new career for me. I’ve been a librarian now for, I say new—it’s been about twelve years. Before that I worked in the music industry for a little over a decade. Then I worked in nonprofits. I had a background of doing marketing, and promotions, and communications.
When I decided to change careers, I was tired of just doing work that helped the corporate bottom line. I was more interested in seeing if I could use the skills that I had in helping people. I did a little bit of that in the nonprofit world, but when I became a librarian is when it really coalesced for me. I thought that I was going to be a reference librarian, which is what I started out doing. I was fortunate enough to be moved into a director role about two and a half years into my career. But, just the satisfaction that I got from helping people at the reference desk, which I started in the middle of the last economic downturn. I would probably spend about two-thirds of my day helping people with resumes and job applications because they had been laid off, and they had never had to do a resume, and had no clue how to apply for a job online. Just the personal satisfaction I got out of being able to help somebody really coalesced for me the importance of libraries and librarianship.
We are—for any group in the community the community equalizer. That it doesn’t matter how much money you make, or what your background is, you’re welcome in the library. You can use the library. So many different people have so many different—when you ask what the library means to them, it’s borrowing books, or it’s, Oh, I go to this ESL class, or, Hey I went to this program, or I went to a storytime.
There are so many different ways people can answer that question. For me, it’s really coalesced the passion I had for public service. For me, the biggest part of my job is to always be out advocating for my amazing staff, and my team here who are the ones who actually do that work now with the public. If I can support them by making sure they have the resources that they need—that’s satisfying for me. That’s what libraries mean to me, personally—wasn’t a career that I had anticipated getting into by any means.
Well, well done. You’re getting it right, obviously, as the winner of the Jerry Kline Community Impact Prize for this last year. Your work and your dedication to this profession has paid off. It’s been great having you on the show. I think your advice for all of us is going to help us with those applications we put forward all the time. I’m glad we could talk today.
Thank you for having me, I really appreciate it.
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 now 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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