Just Do It
Way back in the ancient times of 2009, I met Tara Lannen-Stanton when we were part of an ALA Emerging Leaders group. She immediately stood out by taking charge of group work, voicing her opinions, and listening to people around her. Everyone in that group was in the infancy of their library careers, but it was clear from watching how Tara conducted herself that she was eventually going to be a leader in this profession. Ten years later, Tara is that and more, having just started a new role as the library director of the Long Beach Public Library in New York. The best is yet to come from this amazing library leader.
WHAT ARE SOME THINGS YOU HAVE READ OR LEARNED AS YOU PREPARE FOR THIS NEW ROLE?
I’ve learned a lot about leadership, management, and supervision from mentors and previous roles, so what was important to me was beginning to develop my understanding of the library and the community. I talked to people who were or are Long Beach residents. I talked to library colleagues on Long Island and elsewhere. I spent some time driving and walking around the community and going to local businesses. I’m also really big on learning and using the vocabulary of a place, but that’s really something that comes with time when you’re actually in a role or a place.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS WHO ARE LOOKING TO MAKE THE JUMP TO BECOMING A PUBLIC LIBRARY DIRECTOR?
Talk to a wide range of library directors to see what their day-to-day job is like, attend board meetings for a few different libraries, figure out what your leadership style is, and get familiar with budgeting and accounting. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have wonderful mentors and colleagues who have talked me through a variety of situations and helped me on the path to becoming a public library director. Network, find your people, and stay in touch with them. I don’t really subscribe to the idea that there’s a perfect job out there. Regardless of how great your institution is or how great your colleagues or patrons are, there are going to be days of struggle and frustration. I do think it’s important to try and get a sense of what workplace culture is like to assess whether it’s going to be the right fit for you. You can get a sense of that by asking specific questions during interviews and assessing what is and isn’t said.
THERE’S A LOT OF TALK ABOUT HOW TO BEST SERVE DIVERSE POPULATIONS. WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT HAVE WORKED AT YOUR LIBRARY?
You need to understand the diversity of your community and then get out into it. Understanding of diversity goes beyond census and American Community Survey data to really getting outside the walls of the library and interacting with community groups, community-based organizations, and individuals. I highly recommend cultural programming: music, dance, literature, food, etc. Cultural programming serves two purposes at the very least. First is to celebrate the culture of populations that may be represented in your area. This can help people feel that their culture, contribution, and place in the community are valued. Second is to help all population groups develop their understanding and appreciation of the culture and contributions of a specific group. This has been the strategy of the New Americans Program at QPL for more than 40 years to great and lasting effect. You can always add informational and educational programs later, but it helps to start with something fun!
I also feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention providing programs and services for diverse populations. When thinking about programming and services, knowing community needs is critical: the community as a whole or a specific segment of the population, regardless of whether they use the library or not. Don’t feel like you have to understand everything, though. Test out a program based on what you’re hearing and learning. If it doesn’t work, gather feedback, learn from it, and try something different. It’s like testing out any new program idea regardless of target population—the important thing is just to do it.
Seeking Patience and Balance
For this issue, Justin Hoenke took a break from interviewing library leaders so I could talk to him about his recent move from Benson Memorial Library in Pennsylvania to Wellington City Libraries in New Zealand. Here’s what he had to say about this big transition.
WHAT DOES YOUR NEW JOB ENTAIL? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE FOR YOU NOW?
My role is team leader, Libraries and Community Spaces, North Cluster. I manage two libraries and four community centers in the north part of the city of Wellington. I have two coaches on my team, who do a tremendous job of handling the day-to-day activities, and also a staff of around 30 library customer service team members and community center advocates. At this moment, I don’t think I really have a typical day, but I’m trying to find out what that looks like. I want it to be a balance of something that works for me as a team leader and for the rest of my team. I want to be able to do the work I need to do but also be as visible to them as possible.
I find myself visiting the different locations I lead as much as I can and then also checking in at our main office in downtown Wellington to work with the rest of the library’s leadership team. I don’t think there’s a typical day for me yet, but I am getting there! Right now, it is all about learning, connecting with my new team members, and figuring out where I can fit in and do the best work.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU FACED MOVING TO A DIFFERENT COUNTRY? WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED SO FAR?
I think the biggest thing is just getting adjusted to a completely new way of life. We have no home that we own here. We don’t own a car. And most of our stuff was either sold when we left the U.S. or we are still in the process of shipping it over to New Zealand. One day, we lived a pretty settled life in the U.S., and the next day, we started over in New Zealand. Cue the John Lennon song “(Just Like) Starting Over.” It really feels like a reboot. With that comes a lot of emotions big and small and a need for patience over everything we do. As a family, we are taking it one day at a time, adjusting to what we can, when we can. Personally, I learned even more that I am just a human being and that I have my limits. I can’t do everything, and I have to have a greater amount of patience. This move showed me that. The biggest challenge has been learning that I have my limits. Back in the States, I knew I needed to learn this. I guess it took moving across the world to put that into action.
On a fun note, I learned that New Zealand has great Indian and Chinese food available at what seems like every corner, and that is something I am very happy transitioning into.
HOW DO YOU BALANCE ALL OF THE THINGS YOU HAVE TO REMEMBER AND LEARN FOR YOUR NEW JOB WITH LEARNING ABOUT A NEW CITY AND SETTING UP A NEW LIFE? HAS IT BEEN EASIER OR MORE DIFFICULT THAN YOU EXPECTED?
Balance has been on my mind a lot because right now I really don’t feel a great balance in my life. I know I’ll achieve that balance with a lot of patience and more time spent in my new role at work and in the daily things I do in this country. Right now, I do what I can, when I can, to help myself and my family find a stability that allows us to be the best versions of ourselves. At 1 month into this adventure, I thought I’d be fully settled and ready to go, but here I am just getting to the point where I am settling into the first step. I didn’t expect it to go that way. But it did, and yes, it was hard. However, I always remember that from hard times come growth. Growth is good. If we’re not growing, we’re dying, and for sure I ain’t there yet.