Sunday, March 12, 2017

FCPLEA President's Statement to Library Board March 8, 2017



 Deb Smith-Cohen, President
Fairfax County Public Library Employee Association 
Statement to Library Board of Trustees March 8, 2017


I had a really packed hour on the information desk the other day. A computer user was having trouble printing from Google Docs. A parent needed books on eclipses for a second grader.  A student was doing a report on the Navajo code talkers of WWII. A civic group representative came in to pick up the key to use our meeting room after hours. And that was just what I did.  My colleague at the desk was kept hopping too. Her questions included help finding tax assistance, registering someone for our 1:1 English conversation program, locating a multi-author children’s series, and instructing someone searching our catalog for historical novels set in a specific time period. Everyone waiting was eager but patient. It was the best kind of busy you can dream of.

On a quieter day, I was able to spend more time with someone looking for books on handling bereavement, someone doing research on Internet security issues, a preschooler looking for books about cavemen, and an avid mystery reader in need of a new detective. Each of these had a slower pace and required more fine-tuned listening. It was also a great way to be busy.

In each case, I felt the uncertainty that comes with facing questions you didn’t get in advance, but no sense of disorder or anxiety. Each person, staff or patron, was patient and present in the process.

My dream for staff and for our system as a whole is to continue to build a culture that sees uncertainty as opportunity, not as chaos or as frightening.  Uncertainty can be the best kind of motivator and the best laboratory for creativity.  And really, it’s just the way things are: permanence and certainty are illusions and yearning for them inevitably disappoints and creates unhappiness.

It takes work to build the resilience, operational and experiential agility, and mutual trust that enable us to function at our best in the midst of uncertainty. If youve ever had that kind of work experience, you will always remember it and yearn to reach it again.

When public movements face high odds but, undaunted by uncertainty, achieve small, substantive, and decisive progress toward their goals, they are succeeding. Some will encourage the false choice that we should either define the new reality as sufficient victory and stop fighting or reject it as insufficient and refuse to celebrate. Neither attitude serves us well.

That our situation is uncertain is neither new nor news. Our budget is flat at best.   Users’ expectations are growing. Our competition (by various definitions) is expanding. What we need is not so much to reverse those changes as to reverse their outcomes by leaning into uncertainty with shared confidence, fierce determination, and unity of purpose.

Let’s embrace uncertainty with the sense that there is no known limit to our potential, not merely that nothing is guaranteed. When you meet with our Supervisors and other stakeholders, please remind them that every success counts and that a track record of small, consistent successes has always been the hallmark of real progress. Thank you.




Thursday, December 15, 2016

FCPLEA President's Statement to Library Board, December 14, 2016

Deb Smith-Cohen
Fairfax County Public Library Employee Association President
Statement to Library Board of Trustees
December 14, 2016

I want to talk about curiosity, what it means to relationships and opportunities, and the potential implications of a culture of curiosity for FCPL.

This is an old story in my family. I have never loved pastels, ruffles, or lace and purchased clothes for my daughter based on those preferences. However, we inevitably were given some clothes in those categories. When my daughter was 3, one morning while I was trying to dress her by my preference and she was insisting on another outfit, she put her hands on her hips and announced, “Mommy, you and I are different.” It was an amazingly valuable piece of instruction, even if it was also obvious.

The results of the recent Presidential election were a surprise to many, regardless of whether they voted, how they voted, or what they preferred for an outcome.

One of the conversations that have come out of this surprise is about the need to listen to one another. Another is the premise that none of us has a complete understanding of “the truth”. A third is the blessing of genuine curiosity and empathy for the feelings, experience, and needs of others. Finally, there is an acknowledgement that the options for meeting diverse, even conflicting, expectations are not fixed or entirely known, but require intentional, consensual, and incremental effort. None of this is easy.

Fundamentally, libraries are about that best kind of deep curiosity. It is a curiosity that demands that we recognize the following opportunities:

 We all benefit when we detach from fixed positions (not values), and are open to differences.
 We love learning and sharing what we’ve learned, and resist exclusion and control.
 We collaborate to confront the ways that fear can kill creativity, courage, and connection.
 We acknowledge that we do not know it all, and cultivate partnerships for referrals as appropriate.

In the library, we deal every day with people whose interests, needs, knowledge, and abilities are different from ours. We succeed when we meet them where they are, ask with open curiosity and genuine respect what we can do to help them and, hearing an unexpected answer, strive to find an appropriate and satisfying outcome.

We are committed to creating a strategic plan and advancing budget priorities that celebrate (not suffice) those aspirations. My hope is that 2017 moves us all toward more skill, confidence, and curiosity.




Thursday, November 10, 2016

FCPLEA Statement to Library Board, November 9, 2016





Deb Smith-Cohen
Fairfax County Public Library Employee Association President
Statement to Library Board of Trustees
November 9, 2016

I’m back from vacation and thinking about Thanksgiving later this month.  It is inevitably a time for
gratitude, re-connection, and shared aspirations.  What are we thankful for?

·    We are thankful for our colleagues who can bring out the best in us, model the skills and behaviors we aspire to, teach us new strengths, point us to new opportunities, and change our minds and our hearts.
·    We are thankful for our patrons whose enthusiasm feeds our own, whose needs demand our commitment and courage, whose questions make us stretch, and whose support makes our days inestimably more meaningful.
·    We are thankful for our County leadership which can validate our aspirations with the policies, investments, and real commitments that ensure progress in meeting goals and exceeding expectations.
·    We are grateful for our families who inspire our ambitions and nurture our effectiveness.

What do we need to build the wholehearted engagement and creative performance necessary for both short-term and long-term success?  How can we model the courage we look for in others and move beyond narrowly safe” efforts to shape the larger success that could be our own and our county’s future reality?

How can WE change to embrace a culture of Yes” in a budget reality that is stagnant and so break out of that constraint?  How do we get to a space where we all imagine improved outcomes that could inspire, but are not premised on, more funds?  How do we develop a shared message that promotes and advances our value in the experience of all our patrons?

We need to challenge all proposals to do more with less” based on staffing efficiencies -- UNTIL we significantly increase investment in:

·    broadly expanded training on management skills, service skills, technical skills, planning skills, and coaching skills,
·    improvements in both customer-facing and staff-facing technology, and
·    a tolerant culture of innovation, experimentation, and candid community engagement.  


Finally, I wish you good eats, good company, and good times as we all celebrate what we have to be grateful for and what we can share when we work together.