Library Leadership

3. Peter Bromberg, Director of the Salt Lake City Public Library System

Peter Bromberg is the Director of the Salt Lake City Public Library System. His office resides in a stunning downtown location, with soaring views and spaces that inspire entry into a world of knowledge and exploration. Peter was encouraged by library leaders before him to participate in the 1998 Snowbird Library Leadership Institute in Utah, where he developed a great admiration for the Salt Lake City Public Library as the founding institution. When he was selected to take over the helm, he held deep appreciation for the institutional history of the Salt Lake Library. He leads in a way that gives people influence and the ability to change the world in which they operate. In 2017, Peter eliminated all library fines, based on the core values of the library profession for equitable access. This elimination of barriers-to-service increased the number of borrowers, card registrations, and checkouts – and earned positive feedback from both the staff and public.

As an EveryLibrary (http://everylibrary.org/) leader since 2012, he’s been helping libraries across the nation ensure stable funding through campaigns to win bonding and tax referendum. For Peter, strategic planning is really road-mapping that is responsive to rapid change; it takes people out of organizational boxes and puts them into something more like clouds with borders that overlap. He encourages staff to fulfill the needs of ‘customer journeys’ in which a request for a résumé book may be understood as the human desire for security and stability. He gets out of bed every day with an intention to enrich the lives of people and to bring out the potential of all human beings to learn, grow, and create a better world. Find yourself enriched by listening to Peter’s inspiring vision!

Full Transcript

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:00:01]

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.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:00:20]

We’re here today at the beautiful Salt Lake City Public Library with Executive Director Peter Bromberg. Today’s show is going to highlight an initiative by Peter Bromberg to get rid of all library fines, providing innovation and access to patrons. You’re not going to want to miss this show. Peter thanks for being on the show today. First of all, tell me a little bit about yourself and about your organization.

Peter Bromberg: [00:00:49]

Sure, well about me, I’ve been in the library biz for about 25 years in a variety of positions: public libraries; special libraries; federal; team librarians – have worn a lot of different hats over the years. Moved here to Salt Lake from New Jersey about three and a half years ago, love it here. This job that I’m in now, as Director of the Salt Lake City Library is a dream job, and perhaps we can get into a little bit of some of why that is, in the conversation.

Peter Bromberg: [00:01:21]

The organization itself – we serve the city of Salt Lake. It’s about 190,000 people. We have a few hundred employees. I think our FT’s about 190 now, budget of about $22,000,000 – eight locations. Our flagship branch downtown is about 240,000 square feet. These are the things – I’m thinking about the audience, might give them some context with these stats. It’s an organization that’s 137 years old. We’ve been around for a while, it’s a very mature organization and we’re very lucky to have the great support of the community.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:02:00]

It’s a beautiful library we’re sitting here in the central location now. It’s stunning. If you haven’t been here, you absolutely have to visit. First of all Peter let’s talk about leadership. What brought you to library leadership? It’s a big calling.

Peter Bromberg: [00:02:14]

Answering that question will also answer the question partly, about why this is a dream job for me. Going back to 1998, I’d been a librarian at that point for about five years and I was working as the head of a reference department at the Cape May County Library in New Jersey. I absolutely did not perceive myself as a leader. I think like many librarians, I got into the job to help people and was relatively shy, and didn’t think of myself as someone who had leadership abilities. That had never come up in my life previously. My director at the time Claudia Sumler said, There’s this Snowbird Leadership thing and I think I’d like to nominate you to go.

Peter Bromberg: [00:02:56]

I didn’t know what Snowbird Leadership was and I said, OK. So Claudia, and I believe the state librarian, wrote some letters of recommendation and I wrote essays and did the application package. I got accepted. I came to Snowbird right here in Utah, in 1998, that summer for a Residential Leadership Institute. It was about five or six days and it was it was a life-changing experience.

Peter Bromberg: [00:03:27]

It was the first time I even thought to myself about, not just what I have to offer, but what is my responsibility to take what I have to develop myself so that I can offer something back to, not just the community that I serve as a librarian, but to the profession. Through that experience and it was very much a lot of self-analysis and learning. We did Enneagram and Myers-Briggs and those types of things. Really, it was experiential learning where we were put in situations, oftentimes uncomfortable situations to see how we behaved with other people in-group settings etc.

Peter Bromberg: [00:04:02]

We really got to know where our leadership strengths were and where our weaknesses were. The Salt Lake City Public Library was very involved in that. So, Nancy Tessman, I got to know, Bobby Bowman and Anne Menzies and a number of people who were very involved. The fact that the Salt Lake City Library was very involved in the Snowbird Leadership Institute; I formed some bonds with individual people but with this institution. It really found a place in my heart. I came back in 2001. I’m looking over my shoulder. There’s a picture of me and the Snowbird cohort from 2001 over your shoulder, there.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:04:35]

Incredible.

Peter Bromberg: [00:04:36]

That was an opportunity. They called that the ‘recall.’ You had to apply to come back, but it was more of a planning for the future of Snowbird. So again, it was a way to reconnect, come back to Utah, spend another few days here, and reconnect with the city library and with the Snowbird experience. As I said, that was a life-changing experience for me. I feel a debt of gratitude, as well as a strong bond of affection with this institution. The fact that 20 years later I’m here and have the honor to help lead the institution, I really do sometimes pinch myself.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:05:16]

Right.

Peter Bromberg: [00:05:16]

It’s like, this isn’t real, is it?

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:05:18]

What a great journey and so full circle, that’s really amazing. As library leaders, as you say sometimes people are shy, they don’t see themselves as leaders. How do we inspire vision and engagement from followers as well as encourage them to push themselves into areas they might not have previously considered?

Peter Bromberg: [00:05:38]

Over the years I’ve tried to educate myself and develop myself as much as I can around leadership and do presenting around that as well. One of the things that I found is that in talking to people about leadership people often have that experience, maybe especially in librarianship. That, Oh, I’m not a leader. We think we go right from leadership to being a leader, which are not necessarily the same things. People sometimes think a leader is this binary thing, either you are or you aren’t?

Peter Bromberg: [00:06:10] Also in our culture, there’s cultural biases around who is a leader. If you word associated leader, there’s a bias towards being male, there’s a bias towards – you think of generals…

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:06:23]

Sure…

Peter Bromberg: [00:06:24]

You think of all the people who have positions of organizational authority. Over the last so many years, I’ve really tried to talk less about leadership and more about influence. This comes from some coaching, training that I got through an IMLS grant. The idea that in any given moment we all have choices that we can make, it doesn’t matter what our title is or what office we’re in, or how much experience we have, if we’re just new on the job, or we’ve been here for ten years. That each of us has a choice and we can each think about what is our vision if everything was really how it should be in our organization or in our personal life? What would that look like? Then we can ask ourselves, what are some things I can do to move the needle a little bit in that direction?

Peter Bromberg: [00:07:12]

Sit down and ideate. Generate ideas, either alone or with others, whether it’s personal or organizational that we’re talking about. Then choose something and try it – get into action. If you think, Well, I really want this to happen to my organization and here’s 10 things that might influence that. I’m going to try this, I’m going to send an email to this person and set up a lunch to talk about my idea. So, you get into action, then you reflect on what happened.

Peter Bromberg: [00:07:38]

So, I tried that. Did it work, a little bit? Did it not work? You have new data now that you can assess and say, Well it either worked or it didn’t. I’ll do more of it, or I’ll do less of it, or I’ll try something else. We always have those choices and we can always make the decision about what would the world look like if it was perfect from my perspective? What is it within my realm of agency? What action can I take to make that happen?

Peter Bromberg: [00:08:01]

That’s about influence and that’s about personal choice. I strongly believe that in any given moment each of us can make those decisions and can get into action and try something, even if it’s small, to move the world in the direction that we want it to move in. What I find is when we talk about influence as opposed to leadership it’s a way of bypassing all the cultural baggage, all of that. I’m not a leader; it’s not my responsibility to be a leader. Really engage people in a way of saying, but, you have options.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:08:32]

That’s right. Everyone can have influence and be a part of the bigger picture, which we all hope for.

Peter Bromberg: [00:08:38] I agree.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:08:38]

That’s fantastic. I love to hear that, and I know that you’re doing a lot of very big initiatives here at Salt Lake City Public Library, one of them being getting rid of fines altogether. So, not only advocating for the people in your organization, but your whole community and what they need. What’s that all about?

Peter Bromberg: [00:08:55]

First and foremost, it’s very much just a values-based decision, and it’s a reality-based decision. What do I mean by that? We have core values as librarians about access to information, and access to service, and equitable access as well. If you look at how fines play out, they create these inequitable barriers of service. People who can least afford to pay for fines are barred from using the library and I can give you a specific example, but my staff off-cuff could give you 100 more anecdotes. People listening could probably have them.

Peter Bromberg: [00:09:33]

I was in a Lyft in Atlanta, back in January, whenever ALA was last in Atlanta. I always do this thing when I’m in a cab or a Lyft, or an Uber, and say, Oh, I’m in town for the Library conference. Then just be silent to see what people say about libraries. They say either, Oh, I love the library, or oh, they still have those things – I didn’t realize.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:09:54]

That’s a great way to engage.

Peter Bromberg: [00:09:57]

But, it’s interesting. My driver said, Oh, libraries. She said, I grew up walking distance to this branch library of the Atlanta Fulton County. I used to walk with my brothers and sisters, oh, we loved the library… She went on, very typical, that nostalgia that we bring out in people. Then she paused and she says, Yeah, I have three kids but, I don’t let them use the library because I can’t afford it. Well, I said, how old are your kids? She said Seven, 11, and 15. So, why don’t you let your kids use the library?

Peter Bromberg: [00:10:24]

She said, Because of those, she paused, because of those deadlines that you have. She called them the deadlines. She said, It’s like having an extra credit card bill that I can’t afford at the end of every month.

Peter Bromberg: [00:10:36]

So, the variation on that anecdote you can hear again, in every library across the country. Then if you look at libraries that have gotten rid of fines what you often see is that not only does usage go up, and card registrations go up, but they go up disproportionately in the poorer areas that are being served.

Peter Bromberg: [00:10:56]

In one of the branches that served one of the poorer neighborhoods… I apologize, I forget which branch this was, I believe it was in California, almost a 100% increase in card registrations.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:11:09]

Wow.

Peter Bromberg: [00:11:10]

People come back and say, I can use the library again. I looked at how much money we were pulling in from fines and I looked at the research that other libraries have done, and the experience of other libraries. I started having one-on-one conversations with our board members and our council members. I was also going into budget where I was most likely going to be asking for about a 25% budget increase.

Peter Bromberg: [00:11:34]

In those conversations about justifying our budget increase usually at the end of the conversation I’d say, I just want to throw out this other thing. I really didn’t think it was going to happen this year but I wanted to start planting seeds and getting feedback from people. I was getting a positive response from the council members, from the board members. As a bit of a surprise, at one of my presentations to the board when I actually presented our budget – our council chair said, Well if you want to do this no fine thing I want you to do it now with this budget.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:12:07]

Good Timing.

Peter Bromberg: [00:12:08]

I ended up having to write up a recommendation. I was still kind of in research mode and trying to workshop the messaging on it. I was asked by the city council chair to fast track it. So, I did. I wrote up that proposal and luckily, there’s been lots of great work that other libraries have done. I want to give a shout out to Sarah Houghton who did some great work and shared some of her research with me that was helpful. The state of Colorado has done some great stuff, some white papers. By the way, I’ve been sharing and I’m happy to share all the work that I’ve done as well, which is really synthesizing and building on the work that came before me.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:12:46]

That’s great and so inspirational for so many of us who would love to see those access barriers come down as much as possible. So, fabulous. I bet you’re getting all kinds of, like you say, great stories from staff about people coming back to the library.

Peter Bromberg: [00:13:01]

Getting great stories. I spent last week… I tried to hit as many service desks as I could here and I was out at some of the branches. I would just chat with people, Say, so what’s happening with fines? What are you hearing from people? I really want to hear if there’s been negative comments. Across the board, they were saying, No, no negative comments. People are happy. People are thrilled. Staff are happy. They’re not having to – it’s saving them time. Someone said, Oh, I haven’t had to open the cash drawer for two weeks.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:13:27]

That’s a nice feeling.

Peter Bromberg: [00:13:28]

That reduction, of not just that labor but what can often be negative interactions.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:13:34]

Right.

Peter Bromberg: [00:13:34]

So, we’re saving that on both sides for the staff and the patrons.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:13:37]

It sounds like it’s going well all around.

Peter Bromberg: [00:13:39]

It is.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:13:40]

Congratulations.

Peter Bromberg: [00:13:41]

We’ve only been in for a month but our statistics are showing the number of borrowers are up, number of card registrations are up, number of checkouts are up, which is reversing the trend from 2015 through 2016. If we’re doing a year look-back, all those trends were reversed now. Which is what we expected to see based on the experience of other libraries. As those statistics gather over the next few quarters and at the end of the year. I’m happy also to share those out as well.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:14:06]

Can’t wait to see them. That’s outstanding Peter. Thank you. Well, I know as well as during this impressive work in your community here you advocate for libraries across the nation with every library. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Peter Bromberg: [00:14:20]

Every library is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that was founded in 2012. We’re actually about to celebrate our five year anniversary beginning next week. What we do, primarily, is help libraries advocate for themselves to win at the ballot box. John Chrastka, who’s our Executive Director, former Membership Director for ALA, from his position in ALA, saw that libraries across the country were losing these elections and that there was, in any given year, maybe a quarter of a billion dollars, $250,000,000 at stake at just local zip code level elections. Libraries don’t necessarily know how to mount an information-only campaign, don’t really know how to activate their friend’s group or other support in the community to form a Get Out the Vote group, and really didn’t know the legalities. Oftentimes libraries felt like well, We can’t really do anything because we’re a public institution so we can’t advocate. Libraries are losing these elections and it’s about twice as much money as all federal money. As you know, LSTA was about 125,000,000 at the time. Now it’s up to about 150.

Peter Bromberg: [00:15:32]

So, libraries were losing this and John had the vision of no one’s paying attention to this no one’s helping libraries win at the ballot box. So, he formed EveryLibrary, that’s primarily what we do. We’ve done 63 campaigns to date. We have 46 wins. We’ve helped libraries raise over $220,000,000 in stable tax money. We have seven more libraries on the ballot this November, and everything we do is pro bono. We don’t charge the libraries for our consulting and training services, in fact, we often seed them with money. We’ll give them a few thousand dollars to buy yard signs or run a social media campaign, etc.

Peter Bromberg: [00:16:07] Then, we work with their Get Out the Vote group too. With the libraries, we train them on how to do an information-only campaign. You can’t say, Vote yes. We teach them how to say, Here’s plan A and Plan B. Plan A is we win the money. You vote yes for us and this is what we’ll do with it. Plan B is we don’t win it and this is what will happen if we don’t. We have to shut a library branch, reduce hours, or we’ll do layoffs. It’s just information. It’s not advocacy.

Peter Bromberg: [00:16:35]

Then we work with the citizen groups to actually do the voter canvassing, the yard signs, the knocking door to door, all the stuff that goes with a typical campaign. We’ve been very successful in that regard and we’re all donor-supported, I should mention. Go to everylibrary.org, and if the spirit moves you. It’s individual donations. We average about $45, and we have corporate donors as well. That’s how we’re able to go pro bono is through those small and larger donations.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:17:08]

I can only imagine how much this means to those libraries who may not have ever had to do anything like this before and suddenly had this wealth of information and people to help them get through this process. I can only imagine that’s just huge for them.

Peter Bromberg: [00:17:22]

It’s lifesaving for these libraries. Sometimes, literally, they would close otherwise. If I ever want a good cry, I can just read through some of the thank you notes we’ve gotten from those libraries.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:17:34]

Absolutely.

Peter Bromberg: [00:17:35]

We’re also doing work with SafeSchool librarians. We put up a website, safeschool librarians.org, really focusing in Florida, Washington, Illinois and partnering with Follett on that. School libraries are under attack across the country too. We do some other work; helping to save IMLS etc., but the bread and butter is really working one on one with these libraries on their campaigns.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:17:58]

That’s such a great work. Thank you, Peter, for doing that. Is there anything else you want to talk about in terms of library leadership, or the work you’ve got going right now?

Peter Bromberg: [00:18:08]

Before we went on the air here I was saying I have to reset my brain, it already feels like 10 hours of stuff has happened this morning. We’re deep into our strategic planning, which we’re taking a little bit of a different approach with it. It might be worth talking about a little bit. We’re actually calling it a strategic roadmap, and I’m trying to deemphasize the planning part and really emphasize more capacity building. We’re really trying to use the methodologies and the philosophies of service design thinking. We’ve hired Patrick Quattlebaum and Margaret Sullivan to be our facilitators of our strategic planning process, of our road mapping process.

Peter Bromberg: [00:18:53]

The idea for me is that a strategic plan, with a capital ‘P’ made more sense in a world that wasn’t changing as rapidly. If we go back 30 years and you ask, What was the purpose of doing a strategic plan? Well, the idea is, we want to check out the world, see what’s happening with our customers and with trends etc., look at our mission and then come up with a plan. Maybe it’s a three-year plan or a five-year plan, and here are these specific things that if we do these things we will be successful.

Peter Bromberg: [00:19:26]

I think in a world that didn’t change very much that probably did correlate with success for an organization. We’re now living in a world that is changing so rapidly. I’d like to quote Michael Edson, who was previously the head of Strategy at the Smithsonian and is now at the U.N. He saw this pace of change a few years ago and he said Things are about to get deeply weird. That was in 2012 and now we can all experience, or sense in one way or another, things are getting deeply weird.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:19:59]

We’re in it, here we are.

Peter Bromberg: [00:20:02]

So, my question is what correlates with success for an organization in a deeply weird world?

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:20:08] Sure.

Peter Bromberg: [00:20:08]

My answer is not a 37 point strategic plan that we’re going to execute over the next three or five years. What correlates with success is to have an organization that is paying attention in a different way. That is not just looking out at the world every three years or five years, but every week. Who is our community today? What are their needs today? What are the aspirations and challenges for our community as a whole today? Our community partners, the organizations or government agencies, what are their goals? What are their challenges? And, really paying attention to that in a much more continual way, looking back at our core values.

Peter Bromberg: [00:20:45]

My philosophy, I do the Venn Diagram in my head, that overlap of our values and the needs of our community, becomes the ‘what’s most important’ right now. To continually do that and respond to it in a way that’s meaningful means that we need to be more adaptable both as an organization, which means we need to look at our organizational structures, but also our individual staff members – perhaps need to be less specialized and develop those skill sets of adaptability and being more nimble. Increasing communication, the more communication loops we have… I keep thinking about organizational charts where people’s positions are in boxes and I started thinking how we can’t have those boxes anymore. They need to be dotted lines and then I start to think they really need to be clouds that are overlapping. So, we have these cloud-like areas of responsibility that overlap with five other peoples’.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:21:40]

Sure.

Peter Bromberg: [00:21:40]

We have to be able to flex across those boundaries, those traditional boundaries. Our strategic roadmapping process is really about, partly reaching out into the community, and we’re doing one on one in-depth interviews with people across the community, as well as bringing in our community partners and leaders of the organizations, to ask them explicitly what are your goals? What are your challenges? What are your barriers? Where might we be well positioned to help? And, really using that time to help those organizations connect with each other so they’re answering that question with each other, as well.

Peter Bromberg: [00:22:15]

That’s part of it. The other part is building capacity internally. We’re doing a lot of learning. Our staff, do you use service design methodologies to do interviews, to understand the customer journey. To understand larger outcomes, like the idea that someone’s not coming here for a book, they’re coming here for a resume book, and they’re not coming here for resume book, they’re coming because they want a job. They don’t want a job; they want to be able to put food on the table for their family.

Peter Bromberg: [00:22:42]

What are the journeys behind the journeys, understanding that larger context? One of my goals is to, over this year and continuing on to build that capacity organizationally for us to use that service design thinking skill set to understand what’s happening in the world, what the needs are in our community, and then be able to flex and execute an experiment, prototype and learn very quickly about how we can meaningfully address those issues.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:23:11]

That sounds like an incredible process. I can’t wait to see it when it’s done.

Peter Bromberg: [00:23:15]

Yeah, me too.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:23:16]

Yeah, you too, great when it’s all pulled together. I love that cloud concept with almost circling back to how we started out talking giving people different influence. If your clouds are intermingled with other peoples’, that gives everyone a lot more influence and ability to adapt and change. That’s really exciting. In closing, perhaps you’d share something that means the most to you about libraries or library leadership?

Peter Bromberg: [00:23:43]

It’s like one of those questions that’s simple and challenging at the same time. …means the most. I’ll just say, as part of our strategic roadmap process we surveyed staff and we asked them to identify their personal values and a personal value statement, and then our shared organizational values, and some shared organizational value statements. I read through recently and cross-posted for the whole staff like 170 or so responses to that question. In reading through the consistency of people who are attracted to librarianship because they want to make a difference in other people’s lives, that calling of – we only have so many years on Earth, we don’t know how many years that’s going to be.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:24:33]

Right.

Peter Bromberg: [00:24:34]

And, what are we going to do with our time while we’re here? My personal answer to that question has always been to use my time to enrich my life and the lives of others. That’s why I get up out of bed in the morning. Personally, I have a mindfulness meditation practice that I’ve been doing for years and so it’s a very intentional setting in the morning of an intention of how I want to move through the world today, what impact I want to have – asking for, perhaps, some guidance. That my time here and these interactions that we’re having right here now are used to, not just benefit myself, but to be enriching for all. When I look through the comments from staff, it’s just variations on that theme, sometimes very explicitly.

Peter Bromberg: [00:25:17]

The people who are here in my library, and I believe in libraries across the country, are here because we do want to make a difference. Because, we believe in the potential of all human beings and we want to use our time to help other people maximize that potential to create meaningful connections to learn, to grow and ultimately to create a better world for ourselves, our families, our communities.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:25:41]

I don’t think I’ve ever heard it better stated. It’s so true. I think that’s how so many of us in libraries feel and why we get out of bed, like you say. Well, Peter, thank you so much for being with us today on Library Leadership Podcast. It’s been great to talk to you. Thank you for your leadership and for all that you do.

Peter Bromberg: [00:25:57]

Thank you so much for making some time for me to talk to you. It’s always a pleasure to see you, Adrian.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:26:02]

This is Adrian Herrick Juarez. You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. Thank you for listening.

Adriane Herrick Juarez: [00:26:07]

We’ll see you next time.

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