Cognotes 2019 Annual Conference Highlights - 12




Building an Organizational Culture
By Chris Heckman, Student to ALA

The Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA) hosted
a panel of leaders from a wide array of
libraries who spoke about issues of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) on
June 22. Specifically, the panel members
discussed how to build an organizational
culture where inclusion is emphasized and
valued, as well as how to address EDIrelated conflicts when they arise.
Throughout the discussion, the panel
members emphasized that culture cannot
be built from the top down - all employees must be engaged. Collaborative
culture-building emerged as the dominant
theme for the discussion. As the panelists
explained, EDI is a complex area and there
is not a quick fix.
The panel was introduced by Jon E.
Cawthorne, PhD, dean of Wayne State
University's Library System and School
of Information Sciences. Cawthorne discussed his experience as a leader, allowing
employees from throughout the library
system to develop innovative ideas and
bring them to fruition.
Nicole A. Cooke, PhD, associate professor and program director for the MLIS
program of the School of Information

Sciences at the University of Illinois at
Urbana Champaign, said library science programs are working to instill
the values of EDI in a new generation
of librarians.
Skye Patrick, director of the Los Angeles County Library, brought the focus
of the discussion to proactive culturebuilding rather than reactionary crisis
Derrick Jefferson, associate librarian
at American University of Washington
DC, made it clear from his experience
that someone without a formal leadership
position can be a leader and a force for
positive change in an organization.
Jason Kucsma, acting director and
fiscal officer at Toledo Lucas County Library, emphasized the value of an effective
and proactive HR team to the construction of an inclusive library culture.
Other speakers included Deb Sica,
deputy county librarian at Alameda
County Public Library, Cyndee Landrum, a PhD candidate at Simmons
University and former CEO/director of
Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library;
and moderator Don Crankshaw, equity
and well-being officer at the Evansville
Vanderburgh Public Library.

Matt de la Peña on Life
and the Importance of
By Marley Kalt, University of Michigan

Award-winning author Matt de la
Peña headlined the American Association
of School Librarians (AASL) President's
Program on June 22. de la Peña shared
personal stories about growing up in a
working-class community in San Diego,
his journey from struggling in school to
being the first in his family to attend college, and how his experiences influenced
his writing.
Though de la Peña struggled in school
early on, he found both passion and success in playing basketball. He knew his
family could not afford college, but found
sports to be a potential pathway to higher
"Having a goal can change everything
for a kid," said de la Peña, explaining
how his goal of attending college helped
him focus on basketball, improved his
grades, and stopped him from becoming
While in college, he also fell in love
with literature, calling books his "secret
place to feel." He wrote poems about
what it was like to be mixed race, and his
experience of being poor in comparison to
his peers in San Diego - while at the same
time seen as rich by his family in Mexico.
de la Peña also spoke about his father
and his uncle, sharing the examples they
set for him about masculinity and what it

"Having a goal can
change everything
for a kid," said de la
Peña, explaining how
his goal of attending
college helped him
focus on basketball,
improved his grades,
and stopped him
from becoming
means to be a man. Over time, his father
helped him understand the importance
of literacy. de la Peña shared his father's
story, from dropping out of school when
de la Peña was born, to reading all of the
same books de la Peña read in graduate
school, and ultimately completing a
college degree and becoming a teacher.
At the end of the program, de la Peña
read from his picture book, Love, which
depicts the journey to understanding
love, starting with the love given to a
child and showing how one must find
and define love for oneself in times of
adversity. He wrote the book to be "as
inclusive as possible" - racially, ideologically, and emotionally.
"When you give someone a book,
you're not just giving them a book, [but]
a new way to navigate the world," de la
Peña said.


Social Workers in Public
Libraries: Lessons Learned
By Sara Zettervall, Hennepin County Library

San Francisco Public Library hired Leah
Esguerra to be the first-ever library social
worker 10 years ago. On June 23, she offered
lessons learned from her unique journey as
part of a PLA-sponsored panel. She was
joined by her co-chairs from the new PLA
Social Work Task Force, Jean Badalamenti,
DC Public Library; Elissa Hardy, Denver
Public Library; and Nick Higgins, Brooklyn
Public Library.
The panelists chose to focus on conversation and forego a formal presentation. They
began by taking turns to outline what each
of them considered important lessons learned
in their cumulative 23 years of experience.
They then encouraged the audience to bring
forward their own questions about this rapidly-expanding, but still young and sometimes
unfamiliar trend in public library services.
Esguerra's top recommendation for libraries with new social workers was good communication, which her colleagues reinforced
throughout the discussion. Her situation,
which has served as a model for many other
programs, began with twice-monthly meetings between her and her supervisors. That
level of communication was crucial because
her work crossed from the library into the
city's department of public health. She also
attended all the library staff meetings she
could in order to be visible as a resource. She
counseled patience, noting that SFPL began
discussions to create her position six years
before she was hired, but she also encouraged librarians to see this as an opportunity
for them and their social workers to learn
together. She said collaborators should be
open to possibilities and expect great things,
saying, "You're going to see lives being transformed and changed."
Agreeing, Badalamenti said, "There are
many opportunities and ways social workers
can serve your system." She noted that while
she was brought on board to work with patrons experiencing homelessness, she quickly
took on other roles, a development that her
fellow panelists echoed. She described the
evolution of her role over time to encompass the establishment of a library in a local
correctional facility, work as a liaison to the
district's department of disability services,
and supervision of a growing staff. As a result,
she said libraries that bring social workers to
staff should "think broadly about what some
of the possibilities might be," such as her
own hopes for a future where public health
services like HIV testing and childhood
vaccines can be offered in a library setting.
Badalamenti pointed out that "one social
worker cannot do the job alone." Higgins
said that his experience with one social
worker and two part-time peer navigators
backed up this assertion. "The risk is they're
going to shoulder all sorts of responsibilities," he said, and "burnout is a real thing."
These lessons have informed recent contract
renegotiations, which included adding
more peer navigators, a case manager, and
a policymaking-level supervisor. He also
agreed with Esguerra's recommendation

of patience, saying he worked for several
years before getting approval for his initial
contract, and "it's still an unusual concept
to merge two professions, especially in a
public library."
Higgins also introduced the idea that
libraries need to engage in a cultural shift. He
emphasized, "We always like to tell ourselves
we're one of the last remaining democratic
spaces, but we need to be a little more courageous in backing that up." He recommended
working alongside community members to
dismantle unjust systems of power, which
he recognized challenges the traditional notion of a "neutral" library. This is something
Hardy wholeheartedly supports as well, and
she began by pointing out that the presence
of social workers in libraries reflects the
policy failure of our country as a whole. She
pointed out that social workers can't solve
the problems library patrons experience
daily, but "what we can do is come in and
talk about inclusiveness and how we make
everyone feel welcome." She, too, was hired
to work with patrons experiencing homelessness, but she sees library social workers taking
on a much larger role.
One recommendation Hardy added was
to work with grant writers if possible. She
was able to expand from her lone position
into supervising three other social workers
and six peer navigators by bringing in grant
funding, then using outcomes to demonstrate the need for permanent positions. She
also recommended that library managers take
a lesson from social workers and incorporate
"supervision" for all staff. Librarians may not
be familiar with "supervision" in this context,
which for social workers is time for reflection with a colleague in which they discuss,
dissect, and release challenging workplace
experiences. At the very least, Hardy said,
libraries should be prepared to build in time
for this type of supervision with a partner for
any social services staff members.
All of the panelists emphasized the importance of their relationships with partnering organizations. Some use those partners
as employers for social workers embedded
in the library, while others use them for
support and referrals. Esguerra described
the importance of a "warm hand-off," where
a librarian uses their personal relationship
to connect her with patrons. Hardy reinforced this by pointing out the library is
a place of safety, and the warm hand-off
helps extend that safety to organizations
that might otherwise feel intimidating to
the patron. Badalamenti added that social
workers have access to systems library staff
do not, so they can learn more about a
patron's situation once that warm hand-off
takes place. The hand-off also serves as an
important boundary between library and
social worker responsibilities.
Although the panel didn't have time to
delve into the work libraries without social
workers on staff can do, they did offer examples of their own community relationships
as models librarians can follow. Also, the
new Social Work Interest Group sponsored
by PLA is open to any ALA member to join.

Cognotes 2019 Annual Conference Highlights

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