What the Heck (Part 2)

This is the second installment of “What the Heck Is an Innovation Leadership Resident?”

In my first post, I described a bit about my background and what I did before coming to LAPL to work with the Innovation Leadership Program. If you’d like to know some more about my fellow resident, Jacquie Welsh, see her post here. I imagine that a lot of people wonder how Jacquie and I spend our time and how a residency program runs in a large, urban public library. When I first explain that I’m a librarian-in-residence, most people give me a blank look. It’s not a job title that we immediately understand, so I usually reference medical residencies, which is a concept that most people get.

The basic idea of the ILP is to 1) attract promising, recent library school graduates to public libraries, namely LAPL, 2) pair them with experienced and passionate seasoned library managers, who will be given the opportunity to improve their leadership and mentoring skills, and 3) provide them with the tools, skills, and experience they need to plan, implement, and evaluate an innovative library program or service.

Nuts and bolts: The ILP is a two-year residency. After a one-month orientation to LAPL, Jacquie and I split up to start the first of four, three-month rotations. I am currently paired with Fellow Joyce Cooper, Senior Librarian in the International Languages Department at Central Library and Jacquie is at the Studio City Branch with her Fellow, Karen Pickard-Four, who is the Senior Librarian there. We’ve been at our current deployments since late February and at the end of this month, we’ll switch rotation sites. After a year of rotations, we’ll begin work on our special project.

Working at the Central Library is incredible. If you haven’t visited us before, you really should come by. Our beautiful, historic building is chock-full of beautiful things like sphinxes, murals, a really cool globe chandelier and, of course, millions of books, DVDs, CDs, computers, study carrels, and friendly library staff. The collection here is more akin to what you might find in an academic library than your local branch. We have rare materials, reference materials, and special collections including maps, photographs, and menus. I’m not just listing these things for my health, but to give you a sense of the enormity of the materials and expertise at the Central Library.

Much of my time at Central Library has been spent in various departments, getting a feel for what they do. Which is difficult, considering that it is generally accepted that it takes roughly two years to even begin to understand all the resources located in a single department and to start to get really good at reference questions in that department. And that is not an exaggeration. When I started at Central, Joyce was working in the Social Sciences Department, so I got a feel for the diversity of subjects and the enormous range of questions you might get in a department with materials about astrology, religion, test preparation, self-help, and social movements. And that barely scratches the surface.

I’ve spent time with all of the departments in the Central Library at this point, but most of my time has been spent in the International Languages Department. The idea of the rotation is to give us a feel for what it would be like to work in a certain department or branch, and to help us understand the demographics and information needs of the community we serve. I have regular shifts on the reference desk, I’ve handled security situations with disruptive patrons, created displays, told more patrons than I can count where the restrooms are, and selected items to be purchased. However, being a Resident, I also have the benefit of being partnered with the manager, so I get to participate in the bigger-picture tasks, too. I’ve had the opportunity to create schedules, prepare a presentation to the Board of Library Commissioners, rethink how our collection is developed and organized, attend management meetings, participate in conversations about how to serve our patrons better, and ask, constantly, why we do things the way we do.

For me, this is a dream job. Though I’ve focused on a few areas of librarianship in more depth than others, my interests, education, and passion haven’t led me to commit to a particular type of public librarianship. That is, I don’t know if I would have succeeded in my first library job if I’d had to narrow myself to one particular job or service demographic (i.e. adults, teens, children). But in this role, I have the opportunity to explore all of my interests, volunteer to work on a variety of projects throughout the system, and refine my skills. All while meeting and working with library staff from throughout the system. It doesn’t get any better than this!

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