We are rebuilding from Covid-19. Given all that we have been through, how do we prepare for the future together with our Friends of the Library? On this show I speak with Krista Riggs, Director of the Madera County Library in California. She shares the ways we can create a sense of alignment between the Library and the Friends of the Library, and how being intentional in the development of this relationship let’s us all play for the same team.
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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.
We are rebuilding from COVID-19. Given all that we’ve been through, how do we prepare for the future together with our Friends of the Library? On this show I speak with Krista Riggs, Director of the Madera County Library in California. She shares the ways we can create a sense of alignment between the library and the Friends of the Library, and how to be intentional in development of this relationship to let us all play for the same team. Enjoy the show!
Krista, welcome to the show.
Oh, thanks so much for having me.
Question #1: Well, thank you for being here today to talk with me about renewing vows with our Friends groups. We are rebuilding from COVID-19, and this is a great time to be intentional in working with our Friends. Given that all we’ve been through, how do we prepare for the future together with our Friends of the Library? 01:24
Yeah, great questions. With so many libraries closed during the pandemic, this time, we’re really now reopening. So, it’s a great opportunity to renew our sense of purpose, our values, and our priorities going forward—and not just internally as the library, but also with our partners in the community, and with our stakeholders, including our Friends of the Library group.
I think the starting point can be as simple as just an informal conversation with our Friends, asking what are our hopes for the future? What are our hopes for the library, for our Friends group, and for the community? How can setting priorities help us accomplish these hopes?
It can be as formal as a strategic plan, but it doesn’t have to be. Each library system, each situation, and each community is unique, especially as we’re all rebounding from COVID at different paces. It’s not a competition. You don’t compare your system to another library system, or another Friends group. It’s just a matter of finding the best means of having these conversations, and really latching onto any opportunity to have them often within your own specific situation.
Question #2: And, our Friends groups benefit our libraries so much. How can communication transparency and trust help in this process? 02:49
I think the key factor is what you mentioned at the beginning of the question, really, for library administrators to communicate often, both formally and informally—just how much our Friends groups are valued for their support and contributions to the library.
It’s been a difficult year for everyone, especially for nonprofits and fundraisers. And, I think it’s really important now, as well as always, but especially now for our Friends to feel appreciated and motivated.
The second key factor, I would say, would be to listen deeply to our Friends to better understand their own sense of purpose and intent. Listening is really the primary way to build trust, and strength in communication.
Then a third key point is to develop a mindset of an infinite game, which borrows the title of Simon Sinek’s new book. As he describes in the book, this mindset recognizes that we’re all playing for the same team—we’re playing an infinite game, which is based on purpose and sustainability, rather than a finite game, which would be opposing sides with winners and losers.
So it means really, viewing relationships and operations more like a marathon, rather than a sprint. Really pacing ourselves. Keeping an eye on the big picture of things, and being in it for the long haul, not a quick win. But, really the long, infinite game. So, this means considering all interactions with a lens of how the outcome might potentially affect relationships long-term, rather than being concerned about who’s right or wrong, having a personal agenda, or getting our way over somebody else’s way.
Sinek encourages leaders to be honest, but not mean—with radical condor, but still with compassion. To see disagreement as an opportunity for conversation, rather than confrontation, or conflict.
To do this he sees a clear vision and sense of purpose as sort of the driving force, aligning organizations and their work. To that extent, [laughter] having conversations about a shared purpose, and vision for the future include much listening. As I said before, from the library side, to gather input from our Friends. And, that all helps build transparency and trust—the belief that we’re all in this for the same reasons, that we share the same sense of purpose, and that our compasses are all pointed in the same direction for moving forward.
In her book The Good, the Great, and the Unfriendly, Sally Gardner Reed cautions that challenges can arise when Friends groups become overly cliquish, or secretive, or if they fail to invite library administrators to their meetings. My advice here would be to show up, [laughter] whether or not you’re invited, show up. Take a seat at the table, and speak up. Communicate about what’s going on in the library. Be transparent from your side and that will build trust and lead to transparency from the other side.
I have a benefit that as a library director it’s actually written into my job description, that I will attend the Friends of the Library meetings and maintain a professional relationship with each group. I’m very lucky that my groups are wonderful. I haven’t encountered any cliquishness, or secretiveness. But, it does help to have that written directly into my job duties if I had to ever point to it. Hopefully, it would also be in the bylaws for the Friends to invite administrators to their meetings.
I think along that line, just understanding the background of cliques and secretiveness—it often comes from feelings of insecurity and mistrust. So, communicating often how much the support and dedication of our Friends are valued and appreciated, keeping our Friends involved and invested in the planning within our libraries should ideally help alleviate those symptoms, and create more transparency and trust between both sides of the relationship. We both need to be an open book about our own operations and intentions, and also about our expectations for each other.
Question #3: They are valued, and I really like what you say about playing for the same team. We all have the same wonderful, ultimate goal of supporting our libraries. So, when it comes to vision and purpose, how can we create a sense of alignment? 07:05
Right, it’s a great question. As you know, one potentially tricky aspect of working with our Friends group is that they’re usually a separate 501(c)(3) organization and not under the purview of a library director, or a library administration, or a library board. So, they might already have their own mission and vision statements that may have been created years ago, and might have been created in isolation, without input from the library.
We can encourage our Friends to revisit these, but we really can’t give directive since we’re not directly over the Friends. They’re a separate entity. But what we can control is ourselves. We can control our communications from the library side of things to help bridge that alignment with our own planning.
One example, using my library as an example—we’re using this time, right now, as we’re reopening from COVID to create a new strategic plan for our system to give us a renewed sense of purpose and vision for moving beyond COVID. We started with community conversations from all across our county—I’m in a county system, to gain that public knowledge of current needs and hopes. But, we also started with separate conversations with each of our five Friends of the Library groups. So, they were included and welcome, and sharing their input right from the beginning. And, that led definitely to support and investment from each group in the process.
To carry our end of the bargain we’re also sharing where we are in each step of the process so that when we’re ready to share the actual plan it’s not going to be a surprise. Everyone will be aware and involved from each step.
So, one of the questions that we asked in the conversations that we had with our Friends group and the community was, What is the purpose of the library in the community? This helped us to see how our Friends and community members view our role and what they see as our priority. We took recurring key words from all of those conversations and we plugged them into a word cloud generator for a nice visual, and then we used the bigger ones, the more recurring words to come up with our new mission statement.
I had all of my staff vote on their favorites, and the winner was pretty simple—but I like it, it was just, Madera County Library strengthens communities by providing a place for everyone to connect, learn, and grow. And so that, right there, creates our sense of purpose as an organization. And, our Friends are already invested because they were part of those conversations that created that mission statement for us.
Beyond that we’re also asking tough questions in the conversation, such as: Who are we reaching well? Who are we not reaching? What are we doing well? And, What can we do better? …to get a sense from our stakeholders and from the community of how well we’re reaching everybody and serving their needs. But, also in areas that if maybe we’re already doing something, and it’s popping up as what can we do better, that we either need to reevaluate how we’re doing it, or we need to reassess how we’re marketing and promoting that service so that we can increase awareness that, Hey, we’re already doing this.
And so, since our Friend’s groups have been part of these conversations all along, you know, they’re already onboard and invested. And from the conversations, we’ve had areas of focus emerge within our unique communities. We’ve also had some areas of priority come across countywide. The top three for that were reaching more of our rural areas; better serving our teams; and having a more accessible online presence. And again, since our Friends have been in this with us from the beginning, now they’re aware of our priorities—countywide, and they can see how their fundraising and their advocacy will help fit within those countywide priorities for our organization.
So, that really helps us align our mission and vision with the efforts of our Friends, and it helps them to see how all of their hard work and dedication is helping us getting closer to obtaining those goals.
Question #4: I like that inclusion. It makes a lot of sense. How do we establish a sweet spot when it comes to developing and maintaining mutually supportive and amiable relationships between the Friends and the Library? 11:42
This is such an important question. In my recent Best Practices column for Public Libraries Magazine, I mentioned that the sweet spot does exist from having clearly stated and regularly reviewed expectations, roles, and responsibilities—for both sides of the relationship. We have two autonomous organizations working together, hopefully mutually supportive organizations, that we need to be clear upfront about what each side expects and the roles and responsibilities each one will take on.
Doing this work ahead of time, when everyone’s getting along and the relationship is amiable, allows both sides to have a really honest and proactive conversation without any emotionally charged approaches. And, being proactive also helps prevent future misunderstanding. Having clearly defined roles and expectations helps keep both organizations in their own lane and headed in the same direction, so to speak.
In the column I quote Beth Burns, who’s the President of the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, in emphasizing that Friends groups must understand and embrace the needs of the library, but they must also trust that the library director, or administrators, or staff are best equipped to identify these needs and decide how best to serve their patrons, and communities.
We need to really recognize that it’s our job as the library, to gain that public knowledge, and talk with our community, and find out what they need, and then translate that into how can the Friends help us attain those goals. Having those clear roles and expectations also include clearly stating how the funds will be used to support the library. Ideally the library’s budget will be secure enough to cover all operational expenses and the support from the Friends can just be the icing on the cake that supports bonus projects.
That’s not always the case. Sometimes out of necessity for survival, a library might be dependent on the Friend’s budget for basic operational expenses. There may be a power shift and the Friends may feel—they may expect more of a say and control over how those funds are being used. This can be a big red flag and warning signal. ALA’s United for Libraries suggests that a typical mission statement for Friends groups is to support the library through fundraising and advocacy. But that support should not be, typically, acting in a decision-making capacity for the library.
If there is a power shift, this can usually be overcome—it might not be easy but, it can usually be overcome through conversation and planning. Reed suggests that library directors include Friends in conversations about budget constraints, being very open and honest about our own organizational capacities and limitations. Then also, including the Friends in related planning—not just strategic planning, but also short-term planning. We really need a new book drop. How can we make that happen? Which side will contribute what, and what is fair? What is an organizational need? What can the Friends contribute to help?
United for Libraries encourages libraries to provide a wishlist to their Friends group, also based on need, so that the Friends have some guidelines that they can still maintain some sense of decision-making from within the list. Then, that leads to purchasing decisions that are well informed, but also based on organizational priorities and needs.
Question #5: And, you say there are eight roles between the library and the Friends of the Library, what are those? 15:37
So, the eight roles that I mention in my column—I did not come up with those, I’ll give credit where credit’s due. They’re from the Wisconsin Handbook for Library Trustees. As I mentioned at the beginning, each community is different. Each library system is different. Here in California I work for a county library. So, I don’t have a library board. I report to the Board of Supervisors for the county. So, what works in Wisconsin may work in your organization. It might not. But, these are nice suggestions and conversation starters—things to think about as you approach things with your Friends of the Library.
From the Wisconsin Handbook, the roles that they describe are: that Friends should recognize that they don’t perform a decision-making role for the library. Just like what we were talking about a moment ago. The library board, or director, or liaison, whatever fits your situation, definitely values input and opinions from the Friends. We don’t want the Friends to feel like we’re just handing them a shopping list and saying, Here’s what we need. But, that we do value their input and opinions of library users, as stakeholders and as members of the community. They bring a lot of valuable input to the conversation.
And the third one is that the library board will appoint a liaison to the Friends, which is often the library director, or staff member. Again in California here, not having a library board, that role just falls on me directly—either that I will attend the meetings or, if I can’t, I will designate a staff member to be there in my place.
The fourth one is the Friends decide how to spend their funds after conferring with the library director, and/or library board. So, that’s like what we were saying earlier, too. It does help sometimes if the library can provide a wishlist. Maybe even a wishlist with levels of priority for the Friends, to help give them some guidelines. But then, to let the Friends have some autonomy also—so they’re not feeling like they’re just fulfilling a shopping list.
The fifth one is that the board, or director provides—oh, this is what we were just talking about—provides the Friends with a wishlist of items, to give an idea of needs, not included in the library budget.
The sixth one is that the Friend’s activities support the library’s strategic plan and policies.
Number seven is that the library expresses appreciation for the Friends and their support and service. And, I love that this is explicitly outlined in the role. That’s very important. We of course, all intend to show gratitude and appreciation, but to have that really set out as a responsibility for the library to do—that is important.
And then the eighth one is that the library board invites and welcomes Friends to their board meetings, especially when discussing issues that may be of interest to the organization. So, that is the reverse of the expectation that the Friends will invite the library administration to their meetings. But, it’s that same open door transparency. The library will also invite the Friends to meetings where it’s relevant to things that they are interested in.
And again, these are from a document called, Trustee Essentials: A Handbook for Wisconsin Public Library Trustees—from what they’ve found to be best practices in their own system. They’re not one size fits all for every situation. But, it might be a good starting point for conversations and for starting to establish roles and expectations between two organizations.
Question #6: A definite, good place to start. How can we plan for sustainability in coordination with Friends? 19:20
Yeah, that’s a great question, definitely something we’re all thinking about coming out of a pandemic. One common trend I’ve seen in working with—I’ve worked with ten different Friends groups [laughter] through different, various positions over the years. One thing that I’ve seen common in almost all of them is that there’s often a lack of diversity in demographics, including age and background of Friends members—and especially of board members. As we continue striving to increase diversity and inclusion in our own libraries, through our own staffing, I think it’s equally important to encourage our Friends to seek diverse membership that is reflective of the community that we serve. That diversity then will bring fresh perspective and new ideas, which helps us create innovative approaches, especially around increasing membership for our Friends groups and gaining support—which all can lead to sustainability.
I really also like the idea of encouraging an informal mentoring program, or opportunity within our Friends groups, to help our current board members to see the importance of developing new local leadership within our community. And also, to give them a hand in carrying on their legacy beyond their individual term limits. And hopefully to create smooth transitions then, among incoming and outgoing board members.
Question #7: What does moving forward together look like, especially in changing times? 20:49
That’s a great question. In his keynote speech for the United for Libraries virtual conference in 2020, Simon Sinek noted that, While the public libraries role in the community hasn’t changed, but the medium in which we share information has evolved— we’re moving more and more away from print resources in many communities, and seeing more of a demand for electronic resources. And he boldly states in his speech that Libraries clinging to old business models deserve to go out of business.
I think the same could be said of our Friends of the Library groups—that the Friends of the Library groups that are still clinging to old fundraising models, and business models, might not deserve to go out of business, but they might have a harder time moving forward.
Beth Burns, and Stu Wilson both agree that Friends groups still centered on book sales as primary fundraisers might have difficulty sustaining that business model moving into the future. And, this all depends on your community. I have seen communities where book sales are still extremely popular. So, it’s not a one-size-fits-all suggestion. Of course, this is what they’re seeing as a trend that book sales might decline in popularity, both because of that declining interest in print materials, and also what they found to be a declining interest in that type of volunteer activity. The volunteers maybe, not as excited about spending time in a book sale anymore, donating their time that way. Wilson points to innovative alternatives such as online book sales, and online auctions as possible fundraisers—also special events, annual campaigns, mailers, and eNewsletters to expand the reach of potential donors and volunteers.
Question #8: Is there anything else you would like to share? 22:42
One thing that has come up in various meetings and conversations, as we’re all under stress to open our libraries, especially now—my library reopens on Monday [laughter], has just been the importance of reminding ourselves, this year, that we’ve all been through a traumatic time and just to be kind and patient with ourselves and others, and especially our Friends group. Some Friends groups have been on hiatus for a long time. Some have been operating, but they’ve been learning new platforms for meetings. They’ve been trying to find innovative ways to raise funds. And so—just to be kind and patient and to remind ourselves that we all have positive intentions at heart. And, we’re all doing the best we can in the moment, often under extreme circumstances. And then also, just explaining the why behind decisions can help alleviate some tensions, sometimes.
For example, I have very dedicated Friends groups that really wanted to meet in-person when we had a local mandate that said we couldn’t have in-person meetings. We had so many very dedicated volunteers who really struggled with not being able to come into the buildings and volunteer. And so, in explaining in the moment the reasons why those tough decisions have to be made, whether it’s through the public health guidelines, local mandates, or whatever the reason, that helps add to that trust and transparency that ultimately leads to understanding. And to go along with that [laughter], as my team hears me say all the time—is not just saying no, but framing it maybe as: not yet; or not right now; instead of not ever, so that everyone can stay motivated and focused and forward thinking.
Question #9: Do you have a favorite management or leadership book, and why? 24:29
I love that question. Usually my favorite book is whatever I’m reading at the moment. But, if you haven’t guessed from the many times I’ve mentioned him already, I do especially love Simon Sinek’s writing—both his Finding Your Why series, his Ted Talks, and his new book, The Infinite Game.
I’ll confess also—my dad, Don Riggs, wrote one of the very first books specifically about library leadership, way back in 1982. I was five years old [laughter], it’s called Library Leadership: Visualizing the Future. And I’ll confess, I never read it growing up. But now that he’s passed away, and I’m a librarian, I have cracked it open. And, I’m amazed to see how much of the content is still relevant to library leadership today
Question #10: Thank you for sharing that. And, actually, Don Riggs—I’m familiar with his name. So, I am impressed that he’s your father. In closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally? 25:18
Well, that’s a great question. Like we just found out, I definitely grew up in a library-oriented family. My sister also has her library degree. Our regular trips to our public library were just such a part of our childhood routines. But, I especially love that sense of ownership that people have over their public libraries. We are their space to do what they want to do to connect to free access to information, and experiences, and other people, of course. But especially, I have a background as a children’s librarian. And so, my true love is creating those positive experiences for young children with libraries and books so that they’ll always think of the library as somewhere they’re welcome, and they’ll feel that sense of ownership over it.
We’re not in the book business. We’re in the people business, as public libraries. I think that’s why Simon Sinek’s writing resonates so well with me, especially the Infinite Game of finding opportunities to strengthen that role in our communities—to strengthen our relationships, and our partnerships. And then to hopefully leave the organization, and the community a little stronger and better off after we move on.
That’s fantastic, Krista. Thank you so much for being on the show. It has been wonderful talking to you today about renewing our vows with our Friends of the Library. I know that so many of us value the work and the contributions that they do. So, I’m hoping we’ve got some Friends of the Library listeners out there, as well. So thanks again, and it’s been great having you.
Well, thank you so much.
You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes tune into https://libraryleadershippodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have monthly updates delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
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