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Special Interest Group Archive: Leadership SIG 12/1/2021

These are the notes from meetings dating back to 2015.

December 1, 2021

The Leadership and Management Skills SIG was facilitated by Joanna Goldfarb of RCLS and held via Zoom on Tuesday, December 1, 2021


Brief discussion of Community Agreements to consider as meeting norms:

Focus last time - talk about different companies we thought were successful and what makes them effective. The common link we identified was communication - all the companies we identified excel at varied channels of communication with employees. 

After our last session-

Did anyone make any changes in their own management/leadership communication style?  If so, how did staff respond? If you already do a good job of communicating- how do you prefer to communicate? 

  • I try to make sure that I use the right channel - sometimes there is a need for a paper trail (via email) so there are persistent reminders of conversations.  When able, having a phone call or in-person conversation to check in helps to connect/nurture relationships.   It reminds people that you are here and supportive. 
  • I definitely default to written - text and email- but aware that I avoid conversations so I try to have them more.  I try to get conversations started with an email and follow up in person. 
  • I’m the opposite - I go right to the person and talk to them.  If something needs to be documented I will be specific in a follow up email reiterating the conversation, next moves, expectation. 
  • Remember: we all communicate differently. 

Today we discuss censorship and book banning and our role as library leaders. Has anyone spoken to their staff about book challenges and procedures? 

  • I made sure that at our meeting we had conversations, and reminded librarians to have written policies in place to refer back to.  In the meeting I reiterated our position and let staff know that if they have an issue they should reach out for support throughout the process.  It’s important to be proactive. 

Other than talking to staff, what are other ways that we can work through a book challenge? 

  • If a book challenge comes up - know it doesn’t need to be resolved immediately at that moment.  It’s important to be understanding - don’t rush to overtalk. Hear what the patron is really saying and objecting to. 

How can we support staff and help prepare them for any tough challenges that may come our way?  If you have experienced a challenge - what do you wish you had known before? 

  • Don’t overtalk, don’t spend an hour digging into it.  We try to give an answer in the moment because it’s our job to defend the right to read- but there is a specific procedure to engage with.
  • No matter what challenge, have the person leave with something- feeling they were heard or giving them a resource.  Sometimes this is a matter of redirecting to find what a person is looking for versus what they are looking to get rid of. 

How do challenges work where you are? 

  • School - a few factors, if a parent has an issue usually it’s in elementary school.  Several elementary school teachers are in the position of school librarian - have no library certification or experience with challenges- dept of ed does not require certification. **This may be an advocacy issue!**.  I often have to recommend they defer to their principal or administrator.  Often there isn't strong support in administration to keep this going.  It’s often decided by a building administrator who typically defers to appeasing the challenger.   Some parents give us guidelines for what their children can read- this is handled with a note in their profile. 
  • Academic - don’t have this issue so much - strong support from administration and long relationships on campus. 
  • Public Children’s librarian - I engage positively - telling them “great job pre-reading!”   Framing their concern as positive intent helps to connect.  You can tell the parent they are doing a good job to keep those lines of communication open and continue to build rapport.

How can different types of libraries help each other with book challenges?  

  • Open communication is good - if something is striking a chord with parents you can share that knowledge with colleagues at other libraries.   An early heads-up can make a big difference. 

How do we think administrators/school boards would react?  How can we communicate with boards and educate them on policies and procedures? 


Have there been books in elementary school libraries that may not have been challenged but maybe the age group isn’t right?  Do we separately make these distinctions? 

  • When Hunger Games came out - elementary school reading level for some, but subject and content deemed not appropriate for elementary school kids.  If a student got permission from parents, then we got the book from the middle school.  We were often tasked with making those decisions - is this book right for our collection?  Not just what the reviews say about a book.  
  • At a school we established content boundaries -- sexual content does not belong in an elementary school. Guns?  May be contextually appropriate as in a book about World War II   
  • An example- one book, ‘Unwind - surprising content- made sure parents were aware of sections that might seem objectionable to some but not all parents/readers.
  • It’s important to recognize two very different conversations - “maybe this book shouldn’t be in the kids section” versus “I want this book out of here!” .    Sometimes the former might be right!  For example - if all the graphic novels are kept together, you might have ‘Walking Dead’ in with kids graphic novels.  Definitely something to engage with.  These conversations can help us evaluate how we categorize and separate materials - children vs adults vs teens.  

Closing thoughts-

Make sure the staff is educated about the policies and can react when they have challenges.  

There’s always an ongoing battle- what will be the new challenge? 

  • Be nice - let a person be heard, take the information and contact information to follow up.  Make sure that someone gets back to them about their concern.  If they object and no one responds - this can be a problem.  Remember our customer service skills!   If it means enough to the person to say something, you should be respectful in listening to them.  
  • For this wave of challenges - books being targeted are diverse authors and stories heavy on LGBTQ+ community - check in with your staff and make sure they are okay.  It’s not easy. 
  • Any requests for planned activities, topics, speakers?  Do we talk more about general leadership or specific management questions? Hot topics like unionizing? 

Share ideas with Carolyn as soon as possible.   SIG needs a new facilitator after the February meeting- think about it!

Southeastern NY Library Resources Council
21 South Elting Corners Road | Highland, NY 12528
Phone: (845) 883-9065