I walked down Coburg Rd, which turns into Spring Garden Rd in Halifax NS. If you have lived in this town for any amount of time, you know that walking down Coburg Rd on the day after Labour Day means you are going to meet Shinerama folks — new college kids on every corner asking you for a donation to the Cystic Fybrosis Foundation.
I always give to Shinerama — usually a loonie or a toonie or so. But this day was different. I had two 10s in my pocket. 10 bucks was too much to give, so I intended to visit the local coffee shop to buy a coffee and make change. As I walked past, a young woman looked at me.
“Look guys,” she said to the group of volunteers. “We’re missing all these people.”
I spoke up and pointed to the coffee shop nearby. “I’m going there and then I’m coming right back here.”
“I’m staying here until you get back!” A young man interjected.
“It’s a deal!” I said. I came back with a $5 bill and a half-dozen cookies for the volunteers.
The volunteers were really surprised and thankful. I didn’t think it was that big a deal. It’s a little shameful when charity volunteers are surprised by such a small donation. But something they did “upped” me to double-plus the donation I usually give. I’m not completely sure, but I thought some reflection could be relevant to leadership in libraries.
What sold me on this transaction?
- The Cause? Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I don’t think CF was important in my decision. I think the cause would have mattered for a larger donation, but in this “sell” situation, the cause could have been anything.
- “Because They Were There?” Time and Place are definitely a factor. As my wife always says, “80 per cent of success is just showing up.” But “showing up” normally gets people a twoonie (a 2-dollar coin), not a fiver and cookies.
- Marketing? I think this played a big factor as well. Not only did I know that Shinerama happens after labour day, but I passed by a couple of Shineramers before I met these guys. Being aware of who they are and how they operate was a definite plus to the decision.
- Enthusiasm and Dedication? Also a factor, but again just worth a twoonie. Shineramers are always enthusiastic and fun — they have their faces painted, funny costumes and the like and they really get into the project. I think the enthusiasm is targetted at getting attention from friends, but it’s going to be win-win if it gets them donations.
- The Guy who Said “I’m staying here. . .?” This one was the clincher, but the real question is “why?” Upon reflection, I think this is the answer: his reply said two important things essential to good leadership. 1) I hold you accountable for your promise and 2) I’m going to put my neck out for it. In a short phrase he turned a giver-receiver relationship into a team relationship. We were now partners in the Cystic Fybrosis cause, and I brought cookies to show that I cared for the team members. My responsibility for the rest of the day was to show my donor sticker proudly and cheer on the rest of the volunteers.
Why should this matter to libraries? Well, while working in a library, you get the feeling that you are providing service for customers. They pay the taxes, you provide the goods and the deal is done and finished.
I wonder if there are little phrases that we can put into our customers heads that say “no no, wait, we are a team for the life-learning cause.” I think this is a big deal. Reading , learning, using a computer or doing research does more than bring numbers to the library.
Using a library for whatever reason makes a person happier, healthier, and more knowledgable. It sets a model for others to follow. This has a positive benefit on society, not just on the individual. It is one enjoyable thing in the world that does not have to be work.
Sometimes I think we are stuck in a dichotomy between “are we an obligation (like a public service) or a transaction (like a business)”? The truth is that public libraries may be neither. Maybe Library 2.0 says “libraries are not a benefit to society — library users [in all their many manifestations] are.”
The Library 2.0 funding strategy: We don’t need more funding for libraries — we need more funding for library users!