12.06.2018

training continues: another perspective on the lovely island

I've decided to stop referring to my new employer by its full name. The communications director already casually mentioned that he read one of my recent blog posts, because it came up in his daily media sweep. It was a very positive post, and he kept the conversation very light and jokey. But I can read between the lines. I'd rather not continue to come up in searches. And I'd rather not censor myself.

I've heard from senior management that this system has been, for a long time, a story of haves and have-nots. Big shiny libraries with all the bells and whistles in the more populous -- and prosperous -- areas; long-neglected, run-down libraries in the more remote areas. They want to address this -- my hiring is part of that effort -- and I believe their intentions are genuine. But it's going to take a long time, and to some extent, the gap will never be fully bridged.

Today I met with my manager for the first time. Most of the branches he is responsible for are in remote areas, so he sees the need, and he works with the limited resources, every day. He talked about the problems that are burgeoning on the Island, driven by income inequality, spiraling housing costs, and the opioid crisis.

Tent cities have sprung up all over the Island. Councils are rushing through vagrancy laws, as people from rural communities stream into the cities in search of services. I already knew there had been an overdose death at one of the branches. Today I met the librarian who tried to save the customer's life and watched him die.

This manager's branches are tiny and under-served. One town, formerly a robust community of 4,000 people, has been shrinking since the pulp and paper mill closed down 15 years ago. Now it's home to barely 500. Another library is accessible only by a 90-minute drive on an unpaved logging road. When the regular staff is absent, no one wants to fill in -- using their own vehicle, unreimbursed. So the library is open only part-time.

Sometimes some of the fancy tech from the more prosperous branches goes on the road, and the northern libraries will promote special events. Hundreds of people queued up in the pouring rain for the opportunity to try the virtual reality equipment. During a community consultation about a library renovation, in the more prosperous communities, maybe 5 or 6 people will show up. In the northern branches, 35 people -- from a town of 300 -- will attend.

My manager works in a tiny space shared with two other librarians. He absolutely agrees with me that professional librarians need an office in order to properly do their jobs. Yet all the branches in our zone, including the newly renovated ones, were built without any office space. Meanwhile, I spent three days this week in the shiny new admin offices, with adjustable ergonomic chairs and state-of-the-art everything.

So there are challenges.

The good news is that my manager and I come from similar perspectives about library services and the potential of libraries to impact lives. He's committed not to bolstering "the numbers" -- the statistics that library boards everywhere are obsessed with -- but to delivering quality programs that make a difference. I was hired to make a difference, and he's going to support that.

Friends have asked me how often I'll travel to the other branches in my area. It looks like at first I will visit them all. This is exciting! I didn't know if he would support that, but he definitely expects it.

After that, I'll be in contact with all the branches by phone every day. For the big picture, I'll be responsible for all five branches. For service delivery, the library worker currently there and I will divide the branches geographically. I wondered if she would feel resentful or threatened by my arrival, but apparently it's very much the opposite. They're all looking forward to more support.

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