As you read the interview in this edition of Meet the Librarian, you will have no doubt as to why Linda was chosen to receive this honor. Her wealth of experience shines through her answers, offering profound advice and wisdom for anyone interested in librarianship (and even those who aren’t). It is a clear representation as to why the Edmonton Public Library was also chosen as the Library Journal 2014 Library of the Year; EPL is the first Canadian library to win the award.
Describe how you feel about receiving the honor as this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Service to Librarianship Award.
Honored is exactly how I feel, especially when I review the names of past recipients. That CLA felt I belonged in their company is very humbling. As a proud CLA member for the last 39 years, I am especially happy to be acknowledged in this way.
What inspired you to pursue a career in library and information science?
I wish I could say that it was my dream from the time I was a young girl to become a librarian. However, after I completed my Bachelor of Arts in English, I did not feel very employable, so I undertook a Bachelor of Library Science, mostly because it was only for one year and I felt there would be specific jobs available for which I could apply. I therefore did not fall in love with my profession until I was in it, so to speak. When I returned to the University of Alberta to pursue my Master’s degree, it was because I was so passionate about my profession.
Would you share some of your professional background and how you came to be Chief Executive Officer of EPL?
In high school, my ambition was to be a “secretary and travel”; therefore, I did not take matriculation courses that would prepare me for university. Instead, I took typing and shorthand and ended up working for Bruce Peel, the former Head of the University of Alberta Library system. After a couple of years, I felt the need for something more and took an evening English Novel class in the evenings. I continued taking courses and finally left the security of my secretarial position so that I could first go back to high school to obtain my matriculation, and then to university full time.
My first professional position was as a special librarian at the Weinlos Library, Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton. I was a newly minted librarian and thrilled to be in charge of this teaching hospital’s library. From there, I worked in two other special libraries – Alberta Consumer & Corporate Affairs, and Alberta Economic Development. I eventually came to be the CEO of the Yellowhead Regional Library System in Spruce Grove, Alberta, and I really thought that job would end in retirement as I loved it so much.
However, when the Edmonton Public Library advertised for their CEO, I took a chance and applied, as I could not imagine a better situation – working in a profession that I was passionate about and being a leader in the city where I was born.
What do you see as the main issues facing public libraries today?
Even though technology has changed, in so many respects, how libraries are viewed and used today, I do not believe this to be an ongoing "issue." Technology has made it easier for libraries to provide their services and for customers to access services. The main issue, as I see it, is maintaining relevancy to our growing, diverse communities. Change used to be something we encountered from time to time in libraries; today, it is almost a daily occurrence. Finding adaptable staff and immersing them in the library’s business plan and values is imperative, in order to remain relevant to library customers.
Your list of accomplishments at the library is quite lengthy. Tell us a little about the impact you have made for both the library staff and the community.
The impact has not been done on my own! For EPL, it has been a combination of vision, municipal support, proud and willing followers, and a little risk-taking that have enabled us to be at the top of our game.
Our community-led philosophy, which we have embraced whole-heartedly, has allowed us to be proactive for community members, rather than reactive. As a result, the library is in the transformation business because we believe that the foundation of our work must align with the needs of our communities. This philosophy, more than anything else, has had a major impact on the library and how it provides services. As long as there are communities, there will always be libraries.
What advice do you have for a fellow CEO looking to elevate the role of the library in the community?
To elevate the role of the library in the community, it is imperative that the CEO be involved in the community. More than just at library events, the CEO, as the “face” of the library, must be seen at business, political, and social community gatherings. Being appointed to a variety of boards is also very helpful. Getting to know the library funders, both private and governmental, well in advance of any fundraising activities or formal budget presentations, is imperative. It is the whole notion of building relationships, nurturing and maintaining them, that will enable the library to become an essential part and high profile member of the community.
What are some of the next plans or ideas to advance the Edmonton Public Library in the community?
We are currently undertaking a feasibility study to determine the level of private support we might generate to completely revitalize the main, downtown branch. Built in 1967 as the City’s Centennial project, the library is in need of a complete exterior overhaul, as well as mechanical and electrical upgrades.
We are also looking at viable alternatives to provide library services to newly developed, but underserved, areas of the city. Edmonton is growing rapidly and it is impossible to keep up with all of the necessary amenities required in new communities. As a result, EPL is establishing eplGO sites, smaller operations in leased spaces that will provide an array of services depending on the demographics of the communities. These sites are smaller than the average-sized library and contain basic collections, holds pick-up services, and some programming. They are meant as an interim measure until municipal funding catches up with growth.
We are also launching epl2Go literacy vans, which will make it possible for more people to connect with EPL services and staff outside our walls. One for each quadrant of the city, the vans will contain a variety of fun and educational tools, including puppets, a stage, story time kits, digital discovery tools such as Lego Robotics and electronic circuit-making kits, games and gaming equipment, and iPads and e-readers.
What do you find most exciting about the future role of librarians?
I would say it is the unknown that is most exciting. I don’t think anyone could have predicted how the role of librarians would change over the past 10 years. What we were doing and the manner in which our services were provided a decade ago are almost unrecognizable today. At one time, we thought we knew what the future held, but we had no idea how technology would revolutionize the very basic of transactions, or how social media would become integral in determining how and what would be communicated.
I believe libraries that have embraced technology and seen it as a valuable tool to provide services are much more relevant to their communities now than they were some years ago. Who knows what the coming decade will bring and how fast things will change again? That is the exciting part!
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
There are actually two pieces of advice I received that had an enormous impact on me and how I proceeded with my career. The first occurred in library school when I was completing my Master’s degree. I had played it pretty safe up to that point in my life. When I came up against a person who said “no” to something new or different that I wanted to try because that was “not how it is done," or because it was a little risky, I looked for another route. This attitude was forever changed by advice I was given by Dr. Sheila Bertram, then Dean of the Library School. While never flouting the rules that guided the larger institution, she nevertheless had a philosophy that made her a true leader – “If there is no rule that says you can, then that means there is no rule that says you can’t.” For me, this was a fundamental change in thinking and forever altered my attitude to “closed doors," enabling me to become a leader who was willing to take risks.
The second piece of advice that altered my leadership path occurred during the first week as the new CEO of EPL. I met with a long-time benefactor, Stanley A. Milner, at his request, who wanted an opportunity to meet the new CEO. After discussing the latest fundraising efforts, I asked him if he had any advice to give me as I began this new leadership journey. He told me that the first thing I should do was to make lunch or coffee appointments with all the City Councillors. Feeling quite smug, I told him that this had been on my to-do list as well. However, he stated that at these meetings, I should not ask for money or any kind of support, but rather speak in generalities as people do when they are getting to know each other: “Build a genuine relationship first, get them to trust you, become their respected friend, and the rest will follow.” I followed that piece of advice and I believe it has resulted in consistent support from our municipal authority. City Councillors know the library will not ask for more than they need and will use the funds exactly as they said they would. There is mutual trust and respect.
What can you tell us about yourself that we might never guess?
People are always surprised to learn that the first section I turn to in a newspaper is Sports. I am an avid Edmonton Eskimo and Oilers fan!