The Exchange Has Concluded!

Day 3 addressed collaborations and cooperative endeavors, and concluded the Exchange. Recordings of the presentations, plus the presenters’ slides and a transcription of the presentations, are available on the Exchange website.  We encourage you to continue the conversation with the presenters by submitting comments and questions to their presentation pages on the website. The following summary is provided courtesy of Exchange Working Group member Marlee Givens.

Exchange Day 3: May 8, 2020. Collaborations and Cooperative Endeavors

Keynote: Keynote - Sustainable Thinking for the Future of Libraries: presented by Rebekkah Smith Aldrich

Described by Exchange Working Group Chair Kristin Martin as “uplifting,” this keynote celebrated the strengths of libraries as places of camaraderie, as catalysts for social engagement and change, and as conveners who bring the community together to act. Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, author of Sustainable Thinking: Ensuring Your Library’s Future in an Uncertain World, opened her keynote by talking about the world. During this time of disruption, complexity, and uncertainty on a global scale, she reminded attendees that we can respond through kindness and (in the words of her grandfather) taking care of each other.

Smith Aldrich urged attendees to consider “The Long Now,” and that the decisions made in this moment in time will impact generations to come. Quoting both Greta Thunberg and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Smith Aldrich enumerated ways in which we can have the confidence to act, starting at the local level and taking a social approach. It is significant that ALA has adopted sustainability as one of its core values, and libraries have a role to play in the sustainability of their own communities. For example, the West Vancouver Memorial Library has adopted sustainability as a core value in its strategic plan, and the Santa Monica Public Library is a key player in that city’s Wellbeing Project.

We can embrace the concepts of “hopepunk” and the triple bottom line as we take care of our library workers, increase practices of sustainability, and demand a kinder world. Smith Aldrich called on attendees to broaden our cultural competence and focus on inclusivity. She invited them to “library science the shit out of this.” As the executive director of a network of sixty-six public libraries, she shared stories from these and other libraries that are responding to their communities in novel ways, both before and during the current Covid-19 pandemic. Initiatives range from on-site efforts like 3D printing of PPE, repair cafes, and self-sufficiency programs, to community outreach like block parties and picnics. They include social media outreach and offline outreach like calling community members to check on them. One innovative library added local experts (like beekeepers) to its catalog. Another allowed local youth to take over their youth programming after a group of young people asked for a space “to make the world suck less.”

Lastly, during the Q&A, Smith Aldrich reminded us that while libraries are non-partisan, we are not neutral. We must be politically aware, but we can also reach both sides of an issue and find common ground. She concluded by encouraging us to learn more about sustainable buildings.

Using Project Management Principles to Ensure Successful Collaboration: presented by Jami Yazdani

Experienced project manager and Founder and Chief Strategist of Yazdani Consulting and Facilitation, Jami Yazdani explained the principles of project management as a framework for creating and working toward a shared vision, and to address the question “what does success look like?” Project management principles of scope, deliverables, schedule and communication can contribute to a shared vision and help a project team complete its work and measure its success.

Scope gives the project team its purpose and focus, and Yazdani recommended that teams use a well-defined scope to achieve buy-in and consensus. Consensus is a shared vision of success, reached through a shared agreement and willingness to accept the plan to move forward. Deliverables define what the team wants to accomplish and guide the team’s work through actionable tasks. Scope and deliverables should be documented for transparency and trust. A schedule sets realistic and specific, though flexible, expectations for when deliverables are due and when the project will have achieved success. Communications define what internal and external stakeholders need to know and when. Successful project teams set clear expectations about communication and allow for feedback.

Yazdani offered suggestions for using project management principles for committee work and meetings. Committees can set goals and use agendas and timelines to set expectations. They can manage scope by using a parking lot or idea board to save ideas for another time. They can also document accomplishments. Meeting agendas should define the purpose (even something as simple as discuss X, decide on Y) and goals of the meeting. Attendees can manage meetings without agenda or scope by asking questions, using key phrases like “just to make sure I’m clear” when summarizing decisions and recording action items, and asking for deadlines.

The presentation ended with recommendations for collaborating during the pandemic, when many of us are working remotely. This may be a time to think broadly about the collaboration, review the scope and deliverables, reconsider the vision of success, and revise the project as necessary. It’s also a time to focus on the quality of communication, allow for discussion, invite feedback and inquiry through tough questions, and to feel okay with asking for more time.

Making Connections through Campus Collections: presented by Susan Ponishchil

Susan Ponishchil was the new Metadata & Resource Discovery librarian at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Libraries, when she was presented with a problem: managing the inventory of small focused collections belonging to campus partners outside the library, which are indexed in the library catalog. She learned about practices, identified contacts, and developed a plan to prioritize solutions to the issues she uncovered. She wrote a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining the responsibilities of the library and the campus partners in tracking inventory for these collections. She also worked with her colleagues to more adequately describe the location of items in these collections.

Due to Ponishchil’s success, as she defined it, “word got out,” and new partners approached the library to add their collections. She’s currently working on additional refinements to the management of these small, unique collections, including ensuring that these items circulate in their locations and are not lent through interlibrary loan, and using templates to streamline transportation of items through campus mail. She’s also investigating an inventory tool provided by Institutional Marketing at GVSU that could potentially track use counts. She finished her presentation with an interactive sequencing exercise to help participants consider what steps they might take to pursue a similar project.

Cultivating Tolerance through Conversation: Creating an Inclusive Community at Your Library: presented by Caroline Dulworth

Unfortunately, this presentation did not take place during the live event, and will be recorded and available on the Exchange website.

Beyond "OK, Boomer": Understanding Today's Intergenerational Workplace Cultures in the Library: presented by Raymond Pun, with panelists Sarah Dallas, Eboni Henry and Jahala Simuel

The panelists provided their perspective in response to several provocative questions about the different generations (Traditionalist, Baby Boomer, Generation X, Millennial and Generation Z) who are employed in or use our libraries. They engaged the audience through polls to ask what words come to mind when we hear these labels. Pun then shared word clouds that showed characteristics from recent publications about the generations.

Following question prompts from moderator Pun, panelists considered several aspects of generational differences and divides, and offered their experience and advice as supervisors in libraries. Staff in all generations can play a role in reviewing library services, cross-training and team building, and offering creativity, skills and strengths. Supervisors can offer a safe space for dealing with conflict, listen with respect, lead by example, recognize the value of staff, and put people first. The ideal intergenerational workplace provides professional development opportunities, transparency in communications, data-based decision-making, and especially at this time, making the mental and physical health of its staff a priority. Some particular recommendations included celebrating staff, setting norms for virtual meetings, having fun activities and sharing pictures, and (when in the office) having food-based events where people can share about their culture.

The chat was lively and also multigenerational. Some questions and answers included recommendations on how to get to know staff and to treat everyone as an individual, to move away from using labels and to strengthen cultural competence, and to focus on the strengths and skills that each person brings to work rather than stereotyping based on generation. Pun summarized the conversation by stating that there’s not one right way of doing things.

This was the final session of the Exchange, and session moderator Susan Davis thanked participants for sticking through to the end. She also thanked Mike Morneau from LearningTimes, who handled technical arrangements. In closing, Davis reminded attendees about the upcoming CORE Virtual Forum, which will take place November 18 and 20, 2020. She added that attendees would receive an evaluation, and the discussion forums will remain open through next week.

Sustainable Thinking: A Conversation with Keynote Speaker Rebekkah Smith Aldrich

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich
Rebekkah Smith Aldrich
is the Executive Director, Mid-Hudson Library System (New York), a cooperative library system chartered by the New York Board of Regents. She's also one of the keynote speakers for the Exchange, and her address is titled "Sustainable Thinking for the Future of Libraries." That keynote will take place on Friday, May 8, 2020, at 12:10 p.m. EDT.

The following is a Q & A with Ms. Smith Aldrich.


1. How did you become involved with sustainability and libraries?

RSA: Much of my career has been focused on the need to inspire taxpayers, government officials and private donors to invest in libraries. Passing budget votes, referendum for capital projects, designing capital campaigns and smaller fundraising efforts puts a microscope on whether or not an institution is worthy of investment from members of our communities. Are we worthy? Working backwards from that question next led me to think about our values as a profession. We’re a noble profession doing good work that makes a difference in people’s lives. That should be enough, but often isn’t. We need to live our values out loud in everything we do. Our values must be infused in our polices, procedures, facilities, service and program design. If we truly care about those who work in our institutions and those we serve, that should be evident down to the bones of our work. That means we need to start at the beginning, every choice we make tells a story about who we are as professionals and as important community assets that have immense influence over those we serve. How we build buildings, what materials we choose to furnish our facilities with, where do our office products come from, where do they go when we are done with them are just as important as how we treat our staff and patrons, what books we put in our collection, and what programs we develop for our constituents.

Environmental sustainability should be evidenced in our work, alongside a commitment to social equity and fiscal stewardship. This is the “triple bottom line” by which we can create libraries that are focused on the right things, that produce working and learning environments that are healthy for people and a place from which to embed our service design philosophy so that we are focused on the right things – helping those we serve thrive in today’s world.

There’s no bigger shared interest than the health and well-being of our world. It impacts us all and library leaders should take responsibility for caring enough to prioritize the Earth if they truly want to live their professional values out loud.

2. You co-chaired ALA’s Special Task Force on Sustainability. The Task Force’s final report includes this quote, “When considering the urgent environmental threats – air and water quality, food insecurity, depletion of natural resources, rising sea levels, more frequent severe weather and the multitude of economic, political, technological and social disruptions that are evolving concurrently with these life-threatening developments, what the world needs now is more empathy, respect and understanding so that people can pull together to find shared solutions to the issues that affect us all.” Can you elaborate on this statement, which by the way, is so relevant to our current circumstances? What steps can library professionals take to help others thrive in the face of adversity and challenge?

RSA: In my opinion, the most critical element to deal with the climate crisis is social cohesion. The very nature of crisis and disruption is that it has unpredictable elements to it, otherwise we’d have a clear plan and know just what to do to minimize damage to our society. When you don’t have a clear plan, you need smart people who can come together to figure things out and both draw on existing assets of a community as well as source new assets – whether they be physical or intellectual – to solve a particular issue.

As we watch our world leaders tackle the COVID-19 crisis, we can see that the communities that came together to care for one another, to support those who were more vulnerable, to create face masks when a local hospital’s PPE supply was running low – these are the communities that will have less people who die from the virus. Communities that are in denial, who circle the wagons and hoard needed supplies and let the more vulnerable in our communities fend for themselves exacerbate the problem, increasing infection rates and depleting the support system that wasn’t designed for such a catastrophe. If we focus – long-term – on generating empathy, respect and understanding, we’ll bolster a community’s resilience in the face of what’s to come – whatever that may be.

To do this, we need to focus on both the social connectivity and the practical aspects of resilience. Social connectivity can be strengthened in so many ways through library programs and services – choosing titles for a community read that tell stories of compassion, empathy, and a broader understanding of those not like yourself; children’s programs that infuse good citizenship, kindness – as well as through a library’s policies – how we treat staff and patrons through our institutional choices. The practical aspects of resilience – access to food, shelter, clean water, and safety can be addressed through a library’s own facility design and planning – renewable energy sources, greywater systems, generators that enable the facility to serve as a refuge or cooling center; as well as through the programs and partnerships they seek out – programs on self-sufficiency like food production, preserving and canning; repair cafes and fix-it programs; partnerships with first responders for disaster preparedness thinking and training – a focus on local – how will we communicate locally should traditional means of communication break down, how will food supplies be addressed if supply lines are compromised, how will kids be educated if they cannot enter school facilities for a long period of time? Many of these things, which once seemed very farfetched, have come into sharp focus during the COVID-19 crisis; it has greatly tested our business continuity planning and revealed areas that need attention for the future.

3. When people see or hear the term “sustainable,” they tend think in solely in terms of the environment. What are some ways that people can be encouraged to think differently so that they may develop sustainable solutions for their facilities as well as funding and leadership?

RSA: The definition of sustainability has been one of the most important messages to convey throughout our work on this topic. To help people understand that nothing exists in a vacuum, it’s all connected, means we need to deploy a whole-systems thinking strategy to truly produce libraries and communities that are sustainable. This is represented by the “three-legged stool” or triple bottom line definition of sustainability:

• Environmentally Sound
• Socially Equitable
• Fiscal Stewardship

If one of these elements is missing in a decision, facility design, product or policy, it’s highly likely it’s not sustainable. It’s through the balance of these three things that we design sustainable paths forward in our world.

I think we can encourage people to think differently by helping them see how things are connected: how a choice in the business office about copy paper isn’t just about the bottom line of how much it costs, but also about from where that paper came, what resources it took to create it, and where it will go at the end of its useful life. Just thinking through that one product can be incredibly eye opening. Very cool things can emerge, such as realizing you can make a better choice for the environment and actually pay less for the same outcome; it could result in realizing that we use way too much paper and find ways to cut down on that. This same step-by-step thinking can be applied to much larger systems such as paying a living wage, supporting local businesses, building facilities that are human-centric. Basic eco-literacy can go a long way.

4. Please discuss sustainability leadership and what it means. How can sustainability leadership become part of change management?

RSA: Sustainability leadership is a holistic, long-term approach to understanding how to create institutions built to withstand what’s coming. Change is always happening, sometimes on a short or small scale, sometimes on a long or large scale, but usually in between. Sustainability leadership asks us to take a very long view, to keep our eye on a horizon point rather than a calendar and to adopt a mindset of continuous improvement using the triple bottom line as our guiding light. Rather than change management, I see sustainability leadership as framing change as evolution - as a living organism, our institutions are evolving to not only respond or react but to lead the future.

5. What are some immediate steps that library professionals can take to initiate change and bring about sustainability in their libraries?

RSA: Start talking, find others who feel like you do. Institute policy at the governance and administration level of the organization to embed sustainable thinking and convert it to practice. It’s a big lift and one that will take buy-in at every level. What I’ve seen be effective is a champion who can help make the case, teams that can then translate vision into action and then thoughtful leadership that can align their library with community partners who have similar vision. That’s when true collective impact that makes a large-scale difference starts to happen.

6. The Mid-Hudson Library System is enormous, with sixty-six member libraries. The system’s website has a section devoted to sustainable libraries. How is sustainability practiced/instituted among the system’s members?

RSA: Each of our member libraries’ is autonomous with a locally appointed or elected board – that board of trustees is critical to the sustainability of the library. Trustee education and support for our member library directors is a huge focus for us to help them devise policy, programs and services that translate to supporting the needs and aspirations of those they serve. Many of our conversations are kicked off by the pursuit of sustainable funding, meaning voter-designated revenue that’s not compromised by the whim of a new administration. Direct relationships with taxpayers/voters is a way for a community to decide what kind of community they want to be, one that invests in the education infrastructure like the library or one that de-invests in itself. Building credibility, trust, respect and good financial stewardship are the building blocks of helping our libraries be sustainable for the future so they can be co-creators of resilient communities.

7. How can libraries become involved in the Sustainable Library Certification Program?

RSA: The Sustainable Library Certification Program is currently working with fifty libraries in New York State and will be available nationally later this year. There’s no exam or worthiness test to start. We’re interested in working with libraries that have buy-in from the governance and administrative level who understand the importance of the work and want to approach it methodically to aid in a comprehensive look at a library’s policies and practices while positioning themselves as critical allies in their community, in their school or on their campus to address sustainable, resilient and regenerative approaches to the future. Visit to learn more.

Visit the Exchange website for a full schedule and registration information.

Documenting Library Work: Lessons We Can Learn from Technical Writers

Session Description

Have you ever tried to write a how-to manual or other documentation for your library’s processes? Have you gotten overwhelmed trying to figure out where to start, or too busy keeping up with your day-to-day work to take a step back and document it? Most of us know that documentation is important to continuity and sustainability of processes in library work, but it’s a very easy thing to write off as too hard, or to mentally set aside for a “slow period” that never comes. Lessons from the field of technical writing can help us prioritize these important tasks. While most librarians are not trained technical writers, we can incorporate some tips from technical writers into our work to make our documentation creation easier.


Emily Nimsakont, Cataloging and Metadata Trainer, Amigos Library Services

Emily Nimsakont
Emily Nimsakont is the Cataloging and Metadata Trainer at Amigos Library Services. She has over ten years of experience in cataloging and the organization of information, including managing digital assets for a technology company, supervising the technical services department of an academic law library, and training on cataloging topics for the Nebraska Library Commission. She holds an MLS from the University of Missouri-Columbia and an MA in Museum Studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Emily lives in Ashland, Nebraska, with her husband, son, and cat.