Jami Munk Carter is the Director of the Tooele City Library, just west of Salt Lake City, Utah. On this program, Jami shares the organic path she took into library leadership and reflects on her own vulnerability. She demonstrates the way that she genuinely connects with people, supports her staff, and selflessly gives back to the library profession—even serving as President of her state’s library association.

You will have your heart opened as she shares stories about the people who have walked into her life in the heart of the community, the library. She is thankful every day for the gift she has been given through the trust of those she helps. Give yourself the gift of listening to her reflections on the way libraries can change lives.


Adrian Herrick Juarez: 

This podcast is all about library leadership—what leaders are doing in the field now, what up-and-coming leaders can look toward, a vision from people already doing the job. We just want to share some insights and thoughts for libraries.

We’re here with Jami Munk Carter, Director of the Tooele City  Public Library, a small community just west of Salt Lake City. She’s also immediate past president of the Utah Library Association. Jamie is a librarian who knocks down barriers, connects with people, and puts her whole self into her profession. She listens, makes people comfortable, and makes libraries a place of process learning. She supports her staff with self-directed achievement and gives back to her profession.

In this podcast we’re going to go deeper into self-directed achievement and how that works in her library as well as explore some of the amazing stories that Jamie has about serving the people in her community. 

Enjoy today’s podcast!

Jamie, welcome to the show.

Adrian Herrick Juarez:

Question #1: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey into libraries and what brought you into the role you’re in now?   01:14

Jami Munk Carter: 

Well, I am organically a librarian. This was not my plan. I was in school and in college and had an advisor who put me in a position, I was pre-med. He put me in a position as a TA, and one day asked me what I wanted to do and I said, I just can’t wait to work in a lab. I want to cure something. I love data. I love all of these things.

And, he stopped me and he said, I’ve literally almost seen you crawl into a cadaver showing people things. You love to show people things. You love to teach. You love this. I could never picture myself as a teacher.

So, diverted by life. I spent six years in HR—eight years in HR actually, and a year as an accountant for an engineering and surveying firm. Just briefly there, and an opening at a library came up. I had two job offers on the table and every night woke up thinking about all the things that could happen in that library. So, ultimately I ended up taking that position and it was entry level. I did everything that I possibly could and jumped right into as much training as possible and that was gosh, years ago.

Adrian Herrick Juarez:

Question #2: I was really excited to talk to you today about something I’ve admired in your organization for a long time, which is your process of self-directed achievement where you let staff members decide on their own learning goals and give them time each week to engage in those goals. Can you tell me a little bit about how that works? 02:43

Jami Munk Carter: 

Self-Directed achievement is a mechanism that approaches some of the gaps in our learning cultures as an organization. First of all, I have a very strong belief that libraries are a place of learning, and not learning, and not books and not stuff. Those things are not our products. The process of learning is what our product is. Engaging in that process, as a staff, is very very important. Engaging in a way that is the same as an individual user that comes into the library. That it’s so important for us to stay in touch with the vulnerability that comes with that, with some of the emotion, with just that trepidation of not being the smartest person in the room or believing that everyone but you knows this.

I think this is a lot of the reason why people don’t approach people in organizations to ask for help. Why users are a little nervous to ask is because they feel that they look vulnerable or less intelligent, that everyone should know it.

Self-directed achievement—it’s basically a mechanism that is an hour of learning time set aside for each staff member. That staff member has to direct their own learning. They commit to that learning with a one-on-one 15-minute meeting with their supervisor each week. It isn’t a spontaneous, necessarily, process.

Our staff members, we found, we’re all at different places. We want this diverse staff. We want these things, but we designed our learning to be a classroom setting, what we were used to. It wasn’t as effective as we wanted it to be. It certainly feels like drinking from a fire hose to have a staff development day once a year and then expect that everybody stays on top of trends, learning, and understanding how that feels.

So, each staff member has an hour that they know is dedicated and set aside for them to learn something that’s on the schedule. They decide what they want to learn and they pursue things that are important to them. It’s really been a culture-changing thing for our organization. 

We attended the Failure Conference that ULA put on.

I loved the conversations after that because we had been doing self-directed achievement for so long that it obviously was OK that we didn’t know things. It was OK to try things and not have them work out because there was learning at the center of all of that. We’re much more approachable for our patrons. We’re much more approachable and understand when somebody is frustrated with a piece of technology because we’ve been there and we have return visits because of that.

Adrian Herrick Juarez: 

Question #3: Jamie, as past president of the Utah Library Association, you were a volunteer in this place where librarians come together for conferences and learning, sharing, and growing of ideas. Tell me about how you got involved and what would you say to someone who might be interested in getting involved?  06:22

Jami Munk Carter:

First of all, I’ll be very vulnerable here and let you know that because I’m organically a librarian, I do not have my master’s degree, of any kind, let alone in MLS. This has become very important to me and an important piece of developing self-directed achievement, as well, with the Utah Library Association. Initially when I was approached and suggested, you really ought to run for this, immediately imposter syndrome, from the get-go.

I really had to tough through some of that. There’s a thought leader, Marie Forleo. She says the secret of success is to start before you’re ready. How poignant it was for me to read that at that time. I didn’t feel ready, nor would I ever feel ready.

Jumping in with both feet, knowing that we have support. Trying to live what I believe, about not knowing is OK. Learning is what we do. I have access to people who know more, who can do more. I was proud of what I was able to accomplish during that time. I can say that because it wasn’t simple, it wasn’t easy. And, I am so grateful for that learning opportunity that I had, and all of the people that I was able to reach out to and learn from as well.

Utah is a pretty incredible place when it comes to thought leaders. As libraries, we may be some of the quieter, the quieter, and most amazing people. I wish we would speak more.

Adrian Herrick Juarez: 

Question #4: Jamie, will you share something that means the most to you about libraries or about being a library leader?  08:44

Jami Munk Carter:

What I value most about being a librarian is that it’s such a compliment that someone that you don’t know would allow you to be part of a search. Not a Google search, not a search the catalog, but they are merely using our tools to get somewhere. That someone would extend that type of trust to an individual and that person could be me. It’s really such a gift. Watching somebody go through a process, learn something new, and then succeed, is one of the most addicting things that’s happened in my life.

Adrian Herrick Juarez: 

Question #5: Jamie do you have a favorite leadership book and if so, why?  09:37

Jami Munk Carter: 

It’s not necessarily written for leaders. It’s a very introspective book. The book Mindset by Carol Dweck has been extremely influential for me. The concept that we are both growth-minded and fixed-minded in different areas of our lives, applying that to myself, applying that understanding to staff that I work with to assist them to grow in ways that are meaningful to them.

In addition to our community as well, understanding how to approach somebody. It is uncomfortable. Often I speak quite a bit about self-directed achievement and learning cultures and in the process of learning in general. One of the things that comes up is we want a safe and comfortable environment to learn. That’s what’s very very important to us and if we had that we would absolutely do it. That’s what people tell me, and I contradict part of that.

As a leader, it’s important for us to make it a safe place to learn. That learning and failure are part of our processes. Your colleagues also have something to do with that safety. So, it has to start with leadership or leadership needs to adopt it. If you’re lucky enough to have a staff that is okay with that safety.

I propose that it will never feel comfortable to learn. It is not a place to know that you don’t know something to feel less than, to feel a lack of something is not a comfortable place to be. What I propose to people and what I try to live myself is that I get to use that trigger in my mind when I’m feeling vulnerable, or when I’m feeling imposter syndrome is creeping in. I have to recognize that, as an emotion that I can turn to—become excitement. Because, here’s the next thing I get to be good at. Here’s the next thing I get to learn. Here’s the next thing I get to fumble through and become a better person for it.

That takes some intentionality. It takes some practice, but the idea that being comfortable, I don’t feel is a reality, that we can really expect as a person. I worry that it becomes an excuse because we feel safe, but not comfortable. So, we don’t do it.

Adrian Herrick Juarez: 

Question #6: Libraries are the heart of our communities, and you’ve not only opened the doors of your library, you’ve opened the doors of your heart to your community. Can you tell us some of the stories about the people who’ve walked through those doors?  12:28

Jami Munk Carter:

When I first moved to Tooele, this was one of my favorite stories, and I sometimes get a little emotional. There was a gentleman on our library board named Jim. He was on the board when I moved there. He was a retired police officer from Los Angeles. He happened to be the father of someone who was then on the city council. At that time, he had Parkinson’s disease and used to come into the library and had a little rougher time getting around. So, of course, I liked to visit with him. He always had such a great perspective. As a former law enforcement officer in a rough area, there was some reality check that he gave me from time to time that I really needed. So, we bonded. We became very close and soon his Parkinson’s got the better of him and he passed away.

I went to his funeral and one of his children stood up and asked if I was there, over the pulpit. Of course, I’m already sad because this is my friend that I’ve lost. He said, We want you to know that you are one of our dad’s favorite people and that he requested this and we buried him with his library card. Talking about melting in the back row.

Adrian Herrick Juarez: 

Question #7: What a touching story. Is there another one you can share?  14:13

Jami Munk Carter: 

One of my favorite people is a gal that used to come into the library growing up through elementary school, and junior high, and is now in high school. She has younger sisters and they’d come into the library. As she hit her seventh-grade year, she needed to have a Job Shadow Day. She was released from school and she needed a place to go. She felt comfortable enough with the library to sheepishly ask me if this was a place she could do that. She didn’t have many options within her own family to shadow someone. I felt pretty honored. I knew that I would arm wrestle with the whole staff to spend time with this young lady. I set the day up that she and I could start the day together. We could have lunch together and we would close the day together and then all of that in between, she was basically passed around with everyone so that everyone could have a great time with her.

At the end of the day we spoke a little bit and I asked some of her perspectives, and the conversation turned to goal setting. I spoke with her a little bit about some of the goals that I had set, setting my goals high, things that I didn’t think that I would be able to achieve. And, the times that I surprised myself being able to achieve something when I’d set it to be unachievable.

The next day she rushed in after school. Ran right past the front desk into my office and said, I set a goal. I set my first goal. I asked her to sit down and I was waiting for something great. She was going to be valedictorian or she was going to try out for the soccer team or something like that. Her goal was this: I’m going to be the first girl in my family to graduate high school before I’m a mom.

Trying not to get emotional when I’m looking at this person who obviously we all care about so much. I thought how did I miss this part of your story? What perspective I was able to gain from that experience. That would not have been on my radar at any point in my life.

She’s a junior in high school now and she still pops her head into my office. She’s busy these days. She pops her head into my office and says, I still like food more than boys. She’s a great girl and I think she’s going to achieve that goal. I’m so proud of her. We try to read the same books together and talk about them when we can. But, again, she’s got a life of her own now.

Our lives, every day we have the opportunity to have our lives changed through these perspectives. It’s a gift. It is a huge gift to be able to be there. I’m glad that there are times when I recognize I haven’t squandered that gift being too busy doing the work.

Adrian Herrick Juarez: 

Jamie, thank you for coming in today and sharing your stories about your time as the Utah Library Association President, about self-directed achievement for your staff, and about the stories that make all of our jobs so special as librarians. 

This is Adrian Herrick Juarez. You’ve been listening to library leadership podcast. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.