Library Leadership

1. Valerie Maginnis, Executive Director of the Teton County Public Library System

Valerie Maginnis, Executive Director of the Teton County Public Library System. She shares valuable thoughts on ways in which libraries can provide responsive community services and play roles in the economic and political dynamics that affect our communities. We hear her vision for providing free and open neutral spaces and ways in which libraries can maintain relevancy.

She shares personal insights on the role of libraries as collaborators and ways in which she gets her message out to stakeholders. After listening, you will be ready to inspire your followers, to work collaboratively with library foundations, and to think about what libraries mean to you. Like a breath of fresh air from the Teton Mountains, this podcast will leave you refreshed and inspired.

Full Transcript

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:00:02]

Library leaders need a voice today. In our podcast, we talk with top leaders in the field about what inspires them, their challenges, and their successes. These are real voices that provide real solutions to our toughest issues. It is my hope that through this podcast we can best communicate the irreplaceable role that libraries, as a whole, provide to our communities – and support each other in the process.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:00:43]

Today we’re here at the Teton County Library with Director Valerie Maginnis. Valerie has worked in libraries for almost 40 years with 20 years in director’s roles. She also has a master’s degree in Public Administration, now as Executive Director of the Teton County Library System. Her office is in beautiful Jackson, Wyoming. This stunning facility boasts a large auditorium, a cutting-edge technology lab, a robust youth services program with after-school programming, and special programming such as tech tutoring, and literacy programs.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:01:21]

Valerie, welcome to the show.

Valerie Maginnis: [00:01:22]

Great, thank you, Adrian.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:01:23]

What brought you to library leadership, and what are your thoughts on the ways in which your career advanced? I know you have a master’s degree in Public Administration.

Valerie Maginnis: [00:01:32]

Well, as I reflect back I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Throughout my career, which is as you say there’s some breath to it, I fell into leadership because I sought out opportunities to improve and perform at my very best. I love libraries, and I believe in libraries, and feel that I need to share that message and that vision and the best way to do that is to take a leadership role and to inspire others who may have the same feelings that I do. So, I believe that it’s all about, again, being in the right place at the right time and being inspired.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:02:20]

And, also developing your skills, as you say, with an MPA.

Valerie Maginnis: [00:02:24]

Correct, the two – being a library director and having a degree of that type allows you to understand organizations and to understand politics, communication, organizational design, and how to be effective in working with communities and sparking, and implementing change.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:02:52]

It’s fantastic. Very good. Library leaders are always looking toward the future to provide the best service possible. What trends or changes do you see right now that might be most useful for advancing our services?

Valerie Maginnis: [00:03:05]

I certainly can see very clearly that today’s 21st-century libraries are havens for many communities and serve as gathering places, especially in our area in Teton County. The Teton County Library does provide very much needed space for people who don’t have that space on their own. It’s a place for convening and for exploration. That’s been very important and very evident. We also, as a today’s 21st-century library, we need to be anticipatory and able to respond quickly to community needs and changes. That can be somewhat of a challenge at times, but I find that being open-minded and resilient, and understanding that we’re not going to fail at anything, we’re going to succeed. That’s been something I’ve been very much aware of.

Valerie Maginnis: [00:04:17]

We also need to think about, as a public entity, the economic and political factors affecting our community and where the library fits in to represent that free and open neutral space. That has been very important here in Teton County. One last thing is libraries are in a wonderful position to represent their community. We always want to present and represent our community in the best possible light. We do that by doing our best.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:04:52]

Definitely, those are great ways of looking at things. And, with so much change happening in the information profession, this conversation of relevancy always comes up, and sometimes can pose threats to either the understanding of what we do or the way people perceive our services. Do you see some things that might pose threats or that you work toward overcoming in the field?

Valerie Maginnis: [00:05:18]

It’s important to be aware of the opportunities that we can provide within our organizations for career development and upward mobility. We need to be a little more open-minded about skills and talent. It is entirely possible to operate a public library without every employee having a master’s in library science because that’s just not realistic. So, how can a library director create and foster opportunities for upward mobility and career advancement? That’s really important for libraries to thrive.

Valerie Maginnis: [00:06:03]

I also think that we need to make sure that we are responsive to the community and that we don’t presume to tell the community something that they really don’t want. We have to be very open to what needs are. I also think that we need to really enforce our role as collaborators and that we do have great value. Perhaps it’s not in leading but, in being part of a team. And that, I think, plays well at least in this community. We need to take it out of the box a little bit.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:06:49]


Valerie Maginnis: [00:06:49]

And, be a little bit more responsive and understanding.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:06:53]

That’s great. And, as a leader, I’m sure you advocate for this all the time and advocate for your library. Do you have any strategies that you employ to get the message out to your stakeholders or constituents?

Valerie Maginnis: [00:07:05]

It is a great opportunity for me, as the director, to be involved in a number of community organizations, and collaboratives here. Sometimes that takes you a little out of your comfort zone but, you’re doing this for the good of the order if you will. So, I find myself at every opportunity promoting the library, attending events, offering the library services whether it’s as a venue, or we can help train your staff come and use our tech lab. So, it’s always having that antenna up to say, Well, here’s how the public library can help you, and oh, by the way, we’re free. I think it’s important to let your community know the value that the library provides taxpayers, of course at the end of the day, are our supporters.

Valerie Maginnis: [00:08:04]

So, each year we present to our community a report that shares this information, what that return on investment is, and how we are here to help at every turn. So, it’s an awareness and it’s, I don’t want to say being a cheerleader, but in many respects, that’s our role. I certainly appreciate the chance to talk with the community. It’s about people.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:08:38]

It is about people, and I know the community must appreciate all your work in this area. As library leaders, you are clearly an advocate for your library, advocate for an up and coming people in the field. Do you have a way that you inspire engagement from the people who you lead in your organization?

Valerie Maginnis: [00:08:59]

I’ve always felt, and I know through my own experiences, that you lead by example. The library director or the library leader who is out and participating shoulder to shoulder with staff, volunteers – that’s inspiring, and can only lead to that behavior sort of cascading throughout the organization. I stand by that fully. I also believe that it is my role to, as you say, catch people doing something right and encouraging, and inspiring, and ensuring that there’s no wrong way to do something there are just different ways to do things. Creating opportunities for staff to thrive and grow, and allowing them to come up with the methodologies and the techniques. I’m not a detail person. I’m a big picture person. So, I respect that and appreciate it when my supervisors or my managers would show that same courtesy to me. I believe it’s all about creating opportunities and then thinking about what’s possible, what’s always possible.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:10:13]

That’s fantastic. Sounds like a place anybody would want to work. I know you, in addition to the staff and the volunteers, you’ve got an outstanding Foundation here. Can you tell us a little bit about how that works and what they do for your library?

Valerie Maginnis: [00:10:27]

Oh, absolutely, I’d be delighted to. We’re very fortunate to work very collaboratively with the Teton County Library Foundation and also the Teton County Library Friends. It’s a very symbiotic relationship in a very positive way. The Foundation raises money for the library’s needs. In our community, we find that our public is very active and engaged and very much appreciates and values programming, whether it’s on programming for children, for adults, for Latinos, it’s just a very well respected and coveted – something that people want.

Valerie Maginnis: [00:11:08]

So, we work closely with the Foundation to, again, ensure that they’re aware of what our requirements are so that their fundraising campaigns can be in alignment with that. We have a great communication track in that the Foundation’s office and director is here in our building and attends meetings and participates in team efforts to put programs on and also to evaluate our services. I find that it’s the best of both worlds and, we are very fortunate to be able to share that support and realize the support.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:11:52]

Wonderful resources, sounds like a great relationship. So, in closing will you share something with us that means the most to you about libraries, or about being a library leader that you want to share with other leaders?

Valerie Maginnis: [00:12:04]

I am very, and this is a question that I love to be asked, and my answer may be a little out of the ordinary, but libraries to me are the only free institution or entity that is for everyone, regardless. The services and programs and activities that we provide are designed to help people have their best life and to live their best life. And, that is what I believe libraries are all about, we’re instrumental in helping our communities to be vibrant, robust, successful and sustainable. Also, libraries are a very positive environment, and we thrive in a positive environment.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:12:57]

It’s a great thing to be a part of. Thank you for sharing that. Well, it’s been great to be here with you today. Valerie. Thank you so much. You’re an inspiring leader and we’re so glad we could have you on the podcast today.

Valerie Maginnis: [00:13:09]

Adrian, thank you it’s been my pleasure and my honor.

Adriane Herrick Juarez : [00:13:12]

This is Adrian Herrick Juarez. Thanks for listening.

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