The following post was submitted by CMLE scholarship recipient Jake Grussing, Regional Coordinator-Collection Development, Great River Regional Library
The unquestionable highlight of my ALA Midwinter experience was meeting with Pat Losinski, Chief Executive Officer of Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML). I am grateful to have had the opportunity to initiate an informal mentoring relationship with him. The most striking conversation we had was about how libraries measure success. Pat suggested that if libraries continue to hold up traditional metrics (circulation, holds filled, etc.) as the standards by which they hope to be measured, their hands will be forced to keep those numbers up. More revealing indicators might include kindergarten readiness, 3rd grade reading, ELL/ESL progress, high school graduation, post-secondary enrollment, and unemployment rates. A library cannot measure those outputs without help from other organizations, nor can a library claim to be solely responsible for improvements in those areas; a library is one among many organizations doing meaningful work in the community.
If not the focus of every session I attended, community engagement was at least mentioned in every one. In a session on the future of ebooks in libraries, Jamie LaRue urged libraries to deepen the connections with their communities by becoming the gatherers, curators, and distributors of local content; in a session on library technology an audience member asked if libraries could be platforms for networks around community objectives; and over coffee a colleague said it’s not about the stuff we maintain but the improvements we facilitate. Those ideas get at an unstated theme of ALA Midwinter 2013, one that will inform my work over the coming year: libraries should measure their success not by traditional stats but by the success of their communities.