PLA 2014 Most Dangerous Idea of All

Most Dangerous Idea of All: Change from the Ground Up

with Rivkah Sass from Sacramento Public Library Director and Brian Auger from North Jersey. View resources and presentation.


  1. The air is not purer on the admin floors – make as many if not more mistakes. Own it, acknowledge, learn from it and move on.
  2. Good ideas come from everyone and everywhere.
  3. The chain of command can be used as an excuse to avoid taking action. Work together to fix things! Better off sharing information.
  4. We all have good intentions. Obligation to tell a story about the library system to everyone they contact: who are we, what do we do and why is it important? And a responsibility to come up with creative solutions. Reward that.
  5. We all want to do good work.
  6. We all want to be values for doing our jobs.
  7. Great libraries encourage ideas.
  8. We all look good when we all look good. – Lead from every position – learn from risk-taking – it’s recognition – no retaliation!

Building a Strategic Plan from the Ground up at the Somerset County Library System:

  • To build your future, look at your present and your past.
  • Dump SWAT, use Appreciative Inquiry method/approach.
  • Focus on What’s Working and What do we do well and enjoy? What motivates us? Gather Staff and community perspective.
  • Director found a consultant, named a facilitator to work with steering committee (all stratum) and got out of the way.
  • Facilitator captures, recorded and communicated back to staff all the ideas discussed. Director stayed out of the process on purpose.
  • Brian’s role: Help articulate a vision, find the resources to achieve the vision, and hold self and org. accountable for achieving that vision.
  • Mission and Vision statements – from the staff – ‘to connect, to explore, to communicate and to discover.’
  • They are DOING the Plan – ideas for what they are doing came from staff.
  • Goals are “Build partnership with this org.” “Get grant funding for mobile tech lab.”
  • Staff assigned to keep library on track. Fun to say, “But this is what you told me you wanted to do.”

Set Information Technology (Tech) Free

  • Listen to what all staff are saying about tech problems
  • Tech staff have the talent to find or create solutions: Give them TIME and RESOURCES to build solutions and Celebrate their successes
  • Example: Build a digital sign/slide show for the cost of the monitor. Raspberry Pi and dongle, using Google presentation slide shows. More cost effective. Put small screens on back of Circ monitors. (Directions available)
  • Getting the word out to staff about late openings: Text message at the same time the Web site is updated with an alert.
  • Connect Explore share Discover – IT staff created a quick graphic design in a pinch.

Rivkah Sass  Stories About Sacramento Library Think Tank:

  1. Good Intentions to create Engagement, Excitement, and ownership
  2. Idea: Library Think Tank for Library Services Assistants and Library Technology Assistants – front line staff who engage the most with patrons
    1. Asked: If you can improve a current service or invent a new one, what would it be? What motivates you?
    2. Responses from the original 12: Delivery suggestions, try new technology (like ipads in early literacy centers and Google voice). The Workers are thoughtful and Want to do a good job.

Think Tank:

  • Mission of the Think Tank “provides a voice to LSAs/LTAs and promotes SPL improvements.”
  • Forming | Storming | Norming | Performing – She didn’t want the conversation to change with her involvement. Interject regarding resources, politics, etc. Listen, provide guidance, offer tools and provide resources.
  • How to solve problems – what would help you do your job better? Usage growth: program attendance and use of e-resources. Example, set up Share Point to keep track of minutes and ideas and discussions “and now I have 12 front line staff who know sharepoint better than most managers because they use it.”


  • Teen cards – A way to get a card without a parental signature? Pay for lost items with Friends funds. 3 items at a time, without parental signature.
  • Library Newsletter Opt-out – How do you get more to sign up – sign up automatically with a new card and have an opt-out option.
  • Efficiency studies – How long does it take to check in? shelve? how can we be more efficient? Admin is looking at it and how staffing is needed at each location.
  • Best Practices – Group trusts the Director and she has accountability – so when training needs come out, she has to meet it.
  • New Welcome Brochure! Think Tank did a mock-up based on their perspective. “Treat your card like a credit card.” – Good bad and ugly of the library – fines is “uh oh…” section. “No fines for eBooks”
  • Otterby Reading – New mascot.
  • Trust
  • Training

Lessons Learned:

  • Threats to the status quo – Rivkah had to reinforce to the TT that they are contributing and helping the system.
  • Danger of insider/outsider
  • Perception – secret club (fight club) – Not her spies!
  • Debbie Downers – invite these folks to be ‘guest speakers’ – ask questions in a safe environment
  • Think Tank folks have the ear of their colleagues AND the Director – go-to people for ideas and frustrations

Ground Rules:

  • Safe environment
  • Trust
  • Sometimes things need to stay here – group decides what is public
  • Use alter-egos, not names
  • Respect the introvert
  • Assume good intent
  • Bring something to provoke discussion

Q&A –

  • How do you make time for this? Meet Friday mornings when they are closed to the public, paid. Wants to create a 2nd Think Tank that includes more staff, so there isn’t this feeling of being left out by middle. First step to focus on front-line staff.
  • Public Service Improvement Team – rotates, revolves. IDeas: customer apperciation day. How do you make time for new ideas and initiatives? Look at what we DON’T NEED TO DO anymore to make time for new ideas and projects. Volunteer projects, too
  • How do you repair trust between management and front-line staff when there’s been negative perception that staff are pawns? Create opportunities for people to make contact with Director. Idea forms – anonymous or not. Director wants to work together. Come for the job, stay out of love and loyalty. Requires an ongoing conversation, Director opens the door, but staff need to walk through. Brian: Lots of emails fromstaff. Phone call and build the relationship. Colleageus – we work together. Build relationships in both directions b/c we are all on the same team. Term “my staff” makes Rivkah uncomfortable – staff have free will, not chattle.
  • More interest now in the Think Tank? Rolling application process, so 3 new members, and apps on file. Change in perception and staff email TT members issues to bring up. All staff meeting – session on the Think Tank had standing room only.
  • Strategic Plan Question – How do you stay engaged and informed during a long process? Appreciative Inquiry requires involvement by everyone – made time available for all staff to participate. Commissioner on the steering committee helped keep the process going and plowed through the summer, ins pite of summer reading program.
  • Open Door a cliche but true – Brian has open calendar and shares it with everyone so they can make an appointment



Every Library Training to Craska (sp?) – When going out for a vote, librarian is the candidate at the library in the encumbant. Sell excellent customer service to the community.




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