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Library Leadership Initiatives

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By Rebecca Hamilton, State Librarian/Assistant Secretary

From its very inception, the State Library of Louisiana has exercised a strong commitment to ensuring that the people of our state have the best library service possible. Beginning in the 1920’s, when the State Library was created, that commitment meant that staff went out to every parish and set up public libraries, lobbied for local funding to support those libraries, and finally, continuing to this day, supporting Louisiana’s public libraries by providing the best advice and training to everyone who works within them.

I was appointed State Librarian on July 1, 2005, a mere 60 days before Hurricane Katrina, the nation’s largest natural disaster. This challenge also presented a unique opportunity for me to take a top to bottom look at what the State Library was doing and to identify streamlining opportunities and efficiencies. I also looked at Louisiana’s public libraries in terms of their current status and future possibilities.

I realized that with the aging of baby boomers, Louisiana would see a mass retirement and exodus of the state’s public library leadership and support staff, with not enough library professionals ready to step in to fill the void. Coupled with the trend of recent college graduates leaving the state to find better work, our public libraries faced a daunting task: the necessity of keeping a strong public library system fully operational while dealing with fewer trained librarians to run them.

With that unhappy scenario in mind, upon my appointment I began taking steps to forestall these potential problems before they became critical issues. As we saw it, the best solution would be to address the issue on three training and education fronts: public library professional staff, public library support staff and public library trustees.

To train our future directors and public library leaders, the State Library has made terrific inroads. In 2008 we received a $155,946 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and matched it with $160,222 so that we could begin a new leadership program. The Executive Leadership Training for Louisiana Public Librarians program is the first such programs in Louisiana to provide a statewide training program specifically tailored to public library leaders and potential leaders. Although we received a grant to develop this program, we now own the coursework and are able to duplicate this year-round.  

During Phase 1, State Library staff and selected directors from small, medium and large libraries met to map out training needs for library directors. Phase 2 includes a series of one-day workshops throughout the state on various library management topics. Phase 3 will be a five day institute for a carefully selected 30 participants. Finally, we will complete the program with Phase 4, which will be an evaluation of the Executive Leadership Training program.

In one of our most far reaching efforts to prepare the next generation of library support staff, early last year, the State Library requested to be a pilot site for the American Library Association’s Library Support Staff Certification Program. The goal of the ALA-APA program is to improve public and academic library service by offering library support staff a national voluntary certification program endorsed by the ALA, ALA-APA and participating units of ALA and which is accepted by the library community. This certification will also help graduates secure promotions and have credibility in the library world.  They can put this credential on their resume.

The State Library then became the first of five field test sites to have its course approved by the American Library Association – Allied Professional Association ALA-APA. Last fall, 17 students from across Louisiana enrolled in our Supervision and Management course.

Not only were we the only state library to be chosen to participate in the pilot program, we were also one of only five entities to be chosen at all. To then become the first of the test sites to have its course approved has set Louisiana on the fast track to having a well trained public library support staff who will offer citizens the best that librarianship has to offer.

Our Supervision and Management course included sessions on staffing and human resources topics, policies, planning, budgeting, ethics and interpersonal relationships. Participants met in all-day sessions at the State Library on September 9 and October 14, and also participated in 90 minute-long web-based seminars.

Finally, we turn to the trustees of public libraries. It is imperative that public libraries have in place a well-informed, proactive team at this level. With this in mind, we created the Louisiana Library Trustee Training program, a training workshop for Louisiana’s library trustees. In 2009 we invited board members of one of the largest public library systems in Louisiana to attend a training workshop that we held here at the State Library. Information was presented on a variety of topics, including trustee and director responsibilities, governance vs. management and advocacy, strategic planning, including a lively group discussion on the value and need for planning.

We now offer this workshop to any parish library board, tailoring it to the specific needs of each parish. In personally traveling the state and meeting with library board members to provide this workshop for library trustees, I reach new library board members and existing board members with a half a day course on how to be a good library board member. My consultants and I continue to meet with new library directors as they come on board to provide a Louisiana Library Director Orientation that lasts several days.

In addition, each semester I or my staff go to the LSU School of Library and Information Science to meet with each graduating student receiving their Master’s Degree.  

The State Library of Louisiana has been diligent in offering and encouraging our future library workforce to take advantage of the unique comprehensive training that we are providing. This enables us to grow our own library leaders and deal with the fact that it is getting harder to find good library staff. All together, these programs give us the opportunity to meet with and train appropriately each individual connected to libraries in Louisiana from the bottom up. They help us ensure that the people responsible for library service throughout the state have the appropriate training to do a good job. This is rare for a state library agency to do this range of training that touches all involved in public libraries from students, to support staff, to directors, and to governing boards. It is also the first ever time at the State Library of Louisiana that all of this across the board training is happening all at once and has been incorporated into our Continuing Education Program.