Amplified! Speaking the Language of Management

YALSA President Shannon Peterson and I have been talking about her presidential theme of Amplified: Speaking Up for Teens and Libraries, and we were discussing the effort to build strong ties between YALSA and our members and library administrators. In May and June, I wrote a six-part series for this blog on how to work with library managers and administrators. Those posts were based partly on a survey that YALSA conducted of members who identified as supervisors and managers. One of the things we asked was what were some of the buzz words, lingo, and hot topics that made managers prick up their ears and listen. So here are some of those terms and ways you might incorporate them into your conversations with your managers:

ROI. This is manager-speak for “return on investment.” It’s really pretty straightforward. Managers want to know that if the library invests time, money, personnel, and equipment on a service, program, or collection, there will be some return on that investment. What kind of return? Maybe you can demonstrate that the effort you invested in putting on a dynamite program resulted in increased circulation in a particular area or from a particular demographic. Maybe adding a service, like homework help, resulted in reaching a previously under-served segment of the community. The more you can collect data (track circulation before and after the program; keep count of the number of new cards that were issued to participants in a new program or service, etc.), the easier it will be for you to show your managers how much return you got from your investment.

Sustainability. This is a big one for managers. They want to know that any new (or existing) program, service, or collection is sustainable. Doing a program or creating a collection with one-time funds, like a grant or gift, is fine as far as it goes, but what happens next year and the year after? If you start a grant-funded homework center, for example, how are you going to pay for it in future years? Will you have to continue to seek grants or raise funds every year, or will it become part of the library’s budget? If it becomes part of the budget, will something else have to go? Who will be responsible for deciding? Sustainability requires long-term thinking.

Community Engagement, Community Health, Fostering Community. Managers have to see the library as part of the larger community. Your library director may sit on various community-wide committees or boards, or work closely with other city or county department heads. It is important to them that the library be seen as part of the community, not as something off to the side. This is especially true if the library is in effect competing for funds with these other departments. So the more your programs and services can demonstrate that the library is engaging the community and helping to create and sustain a healthy, enlivened community, the better. When you report on your teen volunteer program, for example, don’t just say how many teens volunteered for how many hours; talk about how the program helps teens be engaged in their community, and take pride and ownership in it.

Workforce Development; College and Career Readiness. These topics are related to community engagement. The library is excellently placed to be part of the greater local effort to ensure that community members are able to be productive members of society. Just be sure that your manager knows how your programs are helping teens get jobs, get into college, and prepare for careers. Highlight the skills your teen volunteers are learning. Promote any programs you do for SAT prep or college application writing. Be sure your director is aware when teen volunteers move on to become paid library workers.

Output Measures. Output measures tell how the library is being used: circulation, visits, reference questions, program attendance—as opposed to input measures, which tell you what you have to work with: collection size, budget, cardholders, etc. Output measures are often of great interest to library boards and administrators, so the more output measures you can supply to your director, the better. Some of these are simple counts; others can be calculated, like circulation per capita. So, for example, if you know how many teens are in your service area, and how many teen items are circulated (or how many items are checked out by teens), you can calculate teen circulation per capita. If you can show that this number is growing, as a result of your programs or collection decisions, this will get the attention of the people who make the decisions in your library.

Value-Added. This is pretty much what it sounds like: the “extras” of your services, programs, and collections, the things that go beyond expectations and make a positive contribution to the library and the community. Maybe you can show that your program not only entertained the teens, but brought in new users, and also recruited new volunteers for the library or other organization in the community: that’s value-add!

Organizational Culture. Every organization has its own culture, meaning its own values, vision, norms, systems, even language. Making sure that what you do fits into that organizational culture is a good way to be heard in the organization. Of course, sometimes we think our organizational culture needs to change: to be more positive about teens, for instance. It’s all right to strive to change organizational culture, but it is wise to do it gradually and, as much as possible, within the norms of the organization. And if you can show that something you want to do fits in with the vision and strategic plan of your library, you are more likely to be successful.

These are just a few terms that came up. You have probably heard others—maybe you have even wondered what they mean, or how you can fit into your manager’s view of the library. If you have questions, comments, or other examples to share, please do so in the comments. We all benefit when we understand one another!

Sarah Flowers

YALSA Past President

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