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Notes from the Executive Director – November/December 2018

It’s my last newsletter article. Come January, for the first time in 36 years, I won’t have any official affiliation with a library science program, a library, a library vendor, or a consortium. How odd is that?

My consortium director career started in August 1995 when I became Executive Director for the Michigan Library Consortium. It was a particularly low point for MLC. Member libraries were unhappy. The Board was jumpy. The staff was demoralized. Just the kind of new job everyone wants to walk into.

It was a hard first year. There were sleepless nights and anxiety-filled days. I remember one morning when I sat down to eat breakfast. I filled my bowl with Cheerios and poured in some milk. I picked up my spoon and realized there was no way I was going to eat those Cheerios. My stomach was too tightly wound into a knot. So into the garbage disposal they went. The upside? I managed to lose a few pounds.

We made it through that first year, however shakily, and by mid-1996, things were looking up. From there we were able to chart a path of dedicated service and action. Not that it was all smooth sailing, but we had demonstrated the importance of a statewide, multitype consortium and the value that we could bring to libraries everywhere in the state.

Now, it’s 23 years later, and in reflecting about how to sum it up, I found myself thinking about three buckets. The first has the accomplishments that I’m proud of. There are many, but three stand out.

  • Group licensing. Because of the Internet, access to electronic content exploded in the late-90s. MLC worked with public and academic libraries around the state to create our first group licenses for web-accessible resources. As a result, more libraries had more access to more information than they’d ever had before.
  • MeL. Working with state librarian George Needham in 1997 to craft those first statewide database contracts was exciting. Continuing that work with his successor, Christie Brandau, to bring up MeLCat in 2005 was a special treat. I still am tickled when I see that Michigan residents borrow more than 1,000,000 items a year through MeLCat. That is huge. It shows how much good can happen when libraries work with each other on big projects that matter.
  • Combining MLC and INCOLSA. This is still a work in progress. We’ve come far since we opened shop as MCLS in 2010 and have much more to accomplish. With Michelle Bradley and Pam Seabolt in place, our impact in Indiana is growing. We have plans to keep that growth happening.

The next bucket contains the characteristics that I think helped me achieve whatever measure of success I’ve had over the years.

  • Curiosity. The September/October 2018 issue of Harvard Business Review has an article entitled “The Business Case for Curiosity.” The authors discuss the positive effects of curiosity on organizations and explore ways to encourage employees to be curious. Everything in the article rang true. Many conversations at MCLS start with “What if…” or “Why not try…” These are powerful questions that lead to actions that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
  • Learn from failure. This is hard. While always difficult to live through, my failures provided great insight into the bad assumptions and faulty data collection that led to the effort in the first place. That, in turn, led to better decision-making in the future. Moral of the story: Yes, take the risk, knowing it might not work out. And do the learning when it doesn’t. You’ll be far better prepared for whatever comes next.
  • Self-awareness. It’s incumbent on leaders to have the courage to go inside and identify the unconscious biases and motivations that drive behavior. I re-discovered the importance of this when I began a regular meditation about ten years ago. I learned stuff about myself that transformed the way I reacted to events and personalities in the office. Not that I achieved perfect enlightenment and equanimity, but I was able to see how habits formed years ago hampered progress in the present. Because of that I was able to adjust emotional reactions and behaviors. Whether it’s meditation, yoga, psychotherapy, or something else, we leaders owe it to ourselves and our organizations to delve deeply into our inner lives.

My final bucket is filled with all the relationships that I’ve formed over the years. No organization achieves success because of one person. Without an enthusiastic staff, a visionary Board, and supportive member libraries, none of the good things that MCLS accomplished would have been possible. Many individuals who I now count as friends started out as employees, Board members, consultants, or committee participants, and a lot of these folks will be a part of my life going forward. For that I’m grateful. After all, it’s absolutely no fun going to brewpubs alone.

Thanks to all who have made these last 23 years great. None of it would have happened without your support and help along the way.

*Editor’s Note: Due to deadlines for newsletter articles, this article was written prior to the conclusion of the first round of the Executive Director search. As noted in the article “Executive Director Search Continues,” Randy will be remaining at MCLS through March 2019.