Saturday, March 14, 2009

Taming the Elephant, Kicking the Donkey: A Lesson in Politics 101

Vivian McCain started by talking about two indispensible publications which every Library Director should have at his/her fingertips, should use notes, highlights: Louisiana Library Laws, and the Library Director’s Handbook. The first comes from the State Library; the second is published by the Public Library Section of LLA. Louisiana Library Laws is being revised, and while the Handbook was last revised in 1995, and has some outdated information, it is in the process of being revised. The Handbook for Trustees is as critical as the Library Director’s Handbook.

If your library is not fiscally emancipated, the police jury controls the budget and budget categories. Told a story about when she first arrived in Lincoln and the Police Jury tried to control the raises that the Board of Control wanted to give. She joked that politics is “poly” = many; “tics” = blood-sucking parasites.

The Handbook includes ethics, duties of the Board, Police Jury, and Director.

In the Handbook, it says that one of the first things to do as a new director is to get to know your staff. Politics are about relationships and communications. It is important to know the strengths of your staff. Five personality types:

-Lobbyist is a person who has an agenda, energy, and a drive. They can be so focused on one thing that they do not see the big picture.

- Big talker makes big promises but never keeps them. They have great ideas, but never deliver.

- Negotiator maneuvers behind the scenes. Often they are sneaky and underhanded. They can get stuff done.

- Loyalist always wants to work with their friends or group.

-Pollsters “drift with the wind.” They give very limited feedback.

This can help you understand your staff, Board and Police Jury. You need to find out for yourself the strengths and weaknesses of your library staff.

Former Illinois State Librarian said that “we never talked about politics in library school.” Your success in politics determines your success as a library director.

Franklin Library is in an renovated Albertson’s grocery store which opened in 2004. There is 22,000 square feet of undeveloped space. Since Vivian arrived, programming became more important. They need to, and are ready to build a new meeting room. A police juror arrived at a meeting unannounced, and that the police jury wanted to build a convention center for the CVB. The deed states that only a library can be in the building or the previous owners can take the building back at $1.99 per square foot. The 3-year battle took its toll, including on the juror, who was voted out of office. The compromise is that there will be a library events center which includes displays, dividable meeting room and genealogy room. There is also a catering kitchen. Lesson learned is not to be complacent. Director will attend every police jury meeting and every police jury committee meeting. Whenever a meeting was missed, the library wound up on the agenda, or had an action taken which affects the library. [There is no such thing as a “retired politician.” There is no way of telling who they are allied with and who they are advising.]

Personal integrity is critical; honesty is the best policy. However, it is also important to be kind, and at other times, you just need to be quiet. Concentrate on what you can control. You can sometimes influence with all of the information gathered and well presented. There are some people out there who are just plain mean and nasty, don’t take it personally.

Toot your own horn. Let them know what you do, and how well you do it. Let the Police Jury take credit for whatever they want – as long as they leave the library alone.

Pick your battles. Some are more important than others are. Decide which is which.

Keep your sense of humor.

You need to know your peers, the other library directors. Read the electronic discussion lists, read the professional literature. Ask your colleagues for advice and help. The State Library is invaluable as well. They provide assistance. The State Library knows who else may be in the same situation, and there is a great deal of moral support available from both colleagues and the State Library.

There are also some very good people in politics, unfortunately, the “bad apples” often overshadow the good ones.

Politics are everywhere. Unless you are so rich that you never have to work for anyone else in life, you will have to deal with politics.

The media can make you or break you. It is possible that the paper is looking for something to exaggerate. It sells papers. Never say anything aloud that you do not want to see in print, and never say “off the record.” That is just a red flag to a reporter.

Thank you notes are a big political thing. It is worth it in the long run to write a personal, handwritten thank you note go a very long way. Get to know the local reporters. Be social and personal so you can talk with them about something other than the library. The thank you notes should be not just to the media, but to whomever has done something for the library and for you. Vivian sends personally written Christmas cards to every single person who comes to a library program (she starts in July).

Get involved in your community.

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