Eugene Public Library Director Connie Bennett recently attended the national Public Library Association conference. Here, she shares some of the information and ideas she found most meaningful.
KEYNOTE: BRYAN STEVENSON: Bryan Stevenson, Founder and Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, delivered a compelling speech that challenged the packed house of approximately 7,000 to work against injustice as agents of social change. Stevenson began his talk by recalling how he used the public library as a child to read the stories of people he wasn’t learning about in his segregated elementary school.
Stevenson centered his talk on four principles: Proximity, Changing the Narrative, Hope, and Doing Things that are Uncomfortable, and he argued that libraries plan an important role in each category.
- Proximity: The public library’s role as a community center places staff in contact with community leaders, not only the visible ones, but those in the margins as well. Being there – access – is the first step to building community.
- Changing the narrative: Stevenson discussed how libraries already help change the narrative about who deserves justice and who does not, citing their work on bridging the digital divide, and challenging them to make sure all members of their community are being served.
- Hope: An attitude of persistent hopelessness allows injustice to persist. Libraries provide access to resources and opportunities that impoverished community members would not otherwise have. He talked about libraries as a witness and portal for a hopeful orientation to the future.
- Doing Things That Are Uncomfortable: Stevenson shared many personal experiences from his own life where he gained insight into personal issues by committing himself to a new and unfamiliar experience.
Stevenson talked about coming to the realization that, “My life is filled with brokenness. I do what I do because I’m broken, too.” He concluded his speech with a call to action, noting that “the opposite of poverty is not wealth, but justice.” His inspiring message received a standing ovation. See Stevenson’s TED talk: "We Need to Talk About an Injustice".
NEW PEW REPORT ON LIBRARY USERS: The PEW Internet Project released a new reported on library users in coordination with PLA. In the last three years, the project has intensively studied the changing world of libraries. The first stage of research explored the growing role of e-books, including their impact on Americans’ reading and library habits. The second stage examined the full universe of library services, as well as what library services Americans most value and what they might want from libraries in the future. The third and final research report looked at the role of public libraries in people’s lives and in broader American culture – how libraries are perceived, how they are valued, and how people rely on them.
The headlines are that people love libraries, especially for the role they play in their communities. Find the full report here: ”PEW Report: From Distant Admirers to Library Lovers”.
HOW TO MEASURE LIBRARY PERFORMANCE: While many people still associate public libraries with books, studies have shown that a large majority of adults are also aware that public libraries are also places to use a computer or get an answer to a question. However, most to not realize that public libraries play a major role in early childhood literacy, digital learning, and discovery through content creation.
In part, this is because the statistics we use to tell our story focus on circulation, door count, reference questions, and program attendance – increasingly this provides an incomplete picture of what the library is doing for the community. In addition, as virtual use of the library and other information resources increases, some of these traditional library use measures may decline.
In Spring of 2013, PLA appointed a three-year Performance Measurement Task Force to develop outcome measures that will better provide the data to demonstrate how individuals and communities are impacted by public library services.
SIMON SINEK: Simon Sinek is interested in exploring how we create an environment that encourages this willingness to invest in success of the group others even at a risk to oneself. Speaking to a packed house of almost 4,000 people, Sinek began with a story – a story of a hero in Afghanistan who was willing to risk his life, not for credit but rather because he felt connected to his team. As social animals we know there are dangers in the outside world over which we have no control. “If we don’t trust each other we have to stay awake at night and worry,” said Sinek. “When we feel safe among each other we trust and succeed.”
He went on to explain how the culture inside the organization determines whether we feel safe or threatened, stating that we build a safe work culture by building on the internal incentive system, in which good feelings reward our behaviors. He described these internal, “feel good” incentives, which are four chemicals in the body:
- Endorphins: “These mask physical pain…they keep us going.”
- Dopamine: The feeling you get when you cross something off of your “to do” list. “This chemical keeps us focused on our goals. We are visual creatures, and that is why writing down our goals works.”
- Serotonin: The leadership chemical. “We get a feeling of pride when we are publically recognized because of serotonin. It also reinforces relationships between parent and child; boss and employee; coach and athlete.”
- Oxytocin: “Gives us the feeling of friendship and trust. We get this from human contact. Oxytocin is the reason we touch. It helps our immune systems and makes us better problem solvers.”
He then told the audience that we put a premium on time and energy. “We have all sat in meetings thinking, ‘I will never get this time back.’” We can more easily give up money, because we can make more money, but not more time. “It’s why a handwritten note makes us feel better than an email. Email is too easy; it’s a terrible medium for human emotion.”
He emphasized that the practice of leadership is not just something we should do at work. It is showing acts of kindness outside of work as well. “The more we do for others, the better we feel and the better the tribe. When we are willing to look after others we get love and loyalty in return.” When we work in unhealthy environments our immune systems are shut down, closing off access to these internal incentives.
Our responsibility as human beings and as leaders is “to make sure that everyone comes to work believing they can achieve more. Isn’t that the world you want to live in?” concluded Sinek. Sinek is author of “Start with Why.” See his TED talk: “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”.
MEGAN MCARDLE, DAVID MCRANEY, & CLIVE THOMPSON: Megan McArdle, author of “The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success” and a special correspondent for Newsweek/The Daily Beast, talked about how fear of failure leads to a fixed mindset. By repeating cycles of iteration and failure, and by giving ourselves “permission to suck,” we ultimately harness the power of failure by adopting a growth mindset. One example of this cycle is a writer’s ability to get past procrastination – “you can rewrite garbage but you cannot rewrite nothing.”
David McRaney, author of “You Are Not So Smart and You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself,” shared discoveries about self-delusion and biases that lead to irrational thinking, such as confirmation bias, confabulation, and serial position effect. “You are the unreliable narrator of the story of your life.” It’s only by recognizing that we are biased and seeking disconfirming evidence that we can get beyond the normal limiting self-deception that is built into our brains.
Clive Thompson, author of “Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better,” acknowledges that many feel apprehension about the increasing reliance on digital tools and their ubiquity in our lives, but he debunks the idea that the Internet, search engines, and social media are negatively impacting our ability to think for ourselves, communicate clearly, and socialize with others. He argues that the opposite is true: modern technology is actually making us smarter, better at solving problems, and more personally connected than ever.