When I was offered my job, I remember the Board Vice President telling me that I was essentially being hired as the CEO of a large organization. My loyalty should be with the library and the community. I totally agree. However, I think I may be in the minority when it comes to the other members of our library system.
Unlike many library systems, ours is a membership organization. We are not consolidated so we all have our own boards, our own rules and our own culture. When I make a decision, my primary consideration is that of my local community and my library. Considering a library that is 45 minutes away enters my mind, but has nothing to do with my decision. That fact means I'm not a "team player," according to some other library directors. These are usually the same library directors who are struggling to keep their doors open. Coincidence? I think not.
Recently I had lunch with a system employee who told me that I am just too polarizing. I was just another blip on the radar - because I'm used to being criticized for my strong opinions. I *think* that others have the false belief that I'm anti-system but I'm not. I actually think there is an important place in the big picture for a library system. However, when I disagree with something the system does, I am polarizing. If I was a "yes person" and just agreed with everything they did, I would not be polarizing, I would be a team player. It is an elementary school playground mentality that I really don't have time to deal with. In fact, according to Dictionary.com, polarizing means "to divide into sharply opposing factions, political groups, etc." I am not polarizing. Nobody agrees with me.
I think it all comes back to the argument between consolidated versus federated library systems. We are federated. Many library directors think consolidation would be a better way. However, in order to have a good consolidated library system, there are things that need to be put into place. First, you need a library system that offers superior service in every aspect of their service to libraries. In my polarizing opinion, that's not happening. Second, you need local communities that will get on board with the idea of losing the identity the local public library. In my polarizing opinion, that's not happening. The question really comes down to this: how do libraries consolidate without become cookie cutter entities? Consolidation would certainly cut down on work at a local level. Perhaps that's why the smaller, underfunded libraries are chomping at the bit to make that happen. However, if you have a community that truly supports their local library, consolidation would be a disaster. For many of them, countywide services is unimportant. They want THEIR library to be awesome and they also don't care about what's happening 45 minutes away. This might be selfish, but it is the mindset, especially in Lancaster County. We've limped along for decades and have the reputation of constant strife.
The truth is that I like and respect nearly every library director in my county. Most of them are smart and creative when it comes to keeping the doors open. I don't think I'm any better than them. In fact, I often call them for advice. But I also know that the expectations of my community is quite different from the ones that are competing with their time. I know I'm lucky. I also know that in order to keep things running I have to work my butt off on a daily basis.
Perhaps being polarizing isn't so bad. As I told the person who I lunched with - put something that makes sense on the table and my vote is yours. Perhaps it all comes down to expectations. I'm not happy with "good enough." I am tired of hearing how bad things are. I know that every day, no matter what the politics are, patrons leave my library feeling good about their public library. That is my job - so, polarizing or not - I will continue to make the decisions that assure this happens.