Thursday, February 13, 2014

I’m with the Board: On Becoming a Trustee, by Amanda Viana

"Slightly Different Perspective"

On the first day of my first class in my MLIS program I learned something about myself: Im a bit of an oddball librarian. As we went around the room introducing ourselves everyone had a unique story; some were recent college grads, others had built careers in several different industries before coming to librarianship, one person had just retired from a long career before deciding to become a librarian. But I was the only person in the room who said that being a librarian was my childhood dream.

I started in libraries as an almost daily patron. As a pre-teen I volunteered to help the childrens librarian at my local library with the summer reading program, and in high school I was hired as a part-time page. I stayed on all through college and after graduation I took a position as a full-time paraprofessional working the circulation and reference departments. For two years I immersed myself in the library experience: I worked in different departments, went to workshops, took webinars, experimented, asked questions, and soaked up as much experience as I could get. By the time I entered library school I had seen the library world from many different perspectives. Public librarianship was everything I wanted in a career.

In library school I was exposed to even more viewpoints. I surprised myself by falling in love with information literacy instruction. I toyed with the idea of becoming a YA librarian; I even ran the librarys first YA summer reading program as my Professional Field Experience (University of Rhode Island’s version of an internship). In classes we were constantly looking at things from different perspectives. Learning to serve teens, seniors, recent immigrants, minority populations—all required examining  the library in a different way. It was a sort of constant secret shopping, but one perspective we never explored was that of a member of a librarys governing body.

On the list of things I thought Id add to my resume “local politician” was way down on the list (probably somewhere between international hip hop phenomena and princess). Which is why I was surprised to find myself, this time last year, pulling nomination papers to run for the board of library trustees at my local library. By this time I had graduated from library school and was working as an information services librarian in another town. I missed my local library and looking for a way to be of service. When I found out one the board members had decided not to run for re-election I approached the director to ask if she thought it was feasible for me to run. She was positive and supportive, as were family and friends, so I took the plunge.

I really did not know what I was getting into. I only knew one other librarian who had served on a board (one of my amazing professors from URI) and quite frankly had never thought of the board of trustees as a place for a young librarian. I got my paperwork and commenced soliciting fifty signatures from registered voters. It was hard for me; even though I work in a service profession, Im a natural introvert, but it was important to me, so I approached people in the pharmacy, local coffee shop, even the bowling alley. Each time I said, “My name is Amanda Viana and Id like to run for the Board of Library Trustees, would you please sign my nomination papers?” it reaffirmed my decision to run. By March I was relieved to find out that I was running unopposed; in May I giddily snapped a forbidden picture of the ballot with my name on it.

The board of library trustees is charged with guiding the library and making decisions that support the librarys mission. They make big decisions that affect the way the library functions and can have a huge impact on the staff. As a librarian, Ive accepted these decisions with various levels of enthusiasm but Ive never truly understood how the process works. Before becoming a trustee I never attended a board meeting; I had never even read the meeting minutes and I dont think that I was a rarity among young librarians.

My months on the board have taught me how information is presented, how different opinions are expressed, the types of priorities a governing body can have, and how matters are debated. This knowledge has helped me understand better how to approach the Board of Trustees at the library where I work. It has also given me a brand new perspective on library administration. And I like to believe that I have been a positive addition as a trustee. I bring with me all those other perspectives I learned in library school, as well as that of a library employee. I like to think my viewpoint is unique and fresh, and that sometimes I can change the way others think about the library. Recently the board was able to speak directly with a town selectman about the library budget, staffing, and priorities. I was able to advocate for the library in a whole new way. I had the perspective of a librarian and the authority of a member of the governing board.

Every young librarian should take the time to explore their librarys governing body. This doesnt have to mean becoming a member. It can be as simple as reading their bylaws, reviewing meeting minutes, or even attending a meeting. Discovering the mission and the priorities of the librarys governing body can help you better fulfill the librarys mission. Giving input can help board members better understand what its like to work for the institution. Being a library trustee has given me an invaluable perspective on libraries and its one of the best things Ive done for my career.

Amanda Viana is the Information Services Librarian and Assistant Director at the Norton Public Library in Massachusetts. She is also a member of the Board of Library Trustees at the Somerset Public Library and the Head Editor of INALJ Massachusetts. She has over ten years of experience in public libraries and graduated with her MLIS and Certificate in Information Literacy Instruction from the University of Rhode Island in 2011. In her free time she enjoys knitting, reading, and Netflix bingeing. You can find her on Twitter @NrdyLkARockstar.

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