Let’s start this discussion with a question:
Is library staff important?
Your first response may be along the lines of “Of course they’re important! Staff is the most important resource a library has to offer its community. Much of the value of a library is lost without its trained staff to assist patrons!”
Don’t worry; I’m not arguing with you. I’d agree with that assessment completely. To be honest, it’s sort of a rhetorical question, for the purposes of this conversation. I’d expect no less from anyone who knows anything about libraries. Without staff, libraries would be a chaotic collection of oft-meaningless materials and services would be non-existent. Library staff do an amazing number of things to make collections, services and programs happen…often with limited budgets.
Speaking of those budgets, what is usually the largest part of those budgets? Where does the most money typically go? If you answered staff, right again! In most organizations, personnel is often the biggest budget item. Clearly, library budgets confirm economically what we already know: that library staff is, indeed, very important. So…why am I even asking this question?
Here’s why: because your library’s website probably doesn’t convey how important these people are.
On the one hand, our budgets and our convictions unquestionably tell the world that library staff is invaluable. On the other, many library websites fail to uphold that viewpoint. Does your library’s site have a staff directory? Are administrators at least listed, with contact information? Many sites don’t have any of this. Staff are hidden away as individuals.
I do get it, to some extent. It’s likely the same reason that some staff don’t like to wear name tags that display their names…and, to be fair, I’m not sure if I’d be as comfortable these days with that particular idea as I might have been when I first started working in libraries. However, if you’re any kind of administrator, you have to be at least somewhat comfortable with public exposure. When I walk into any CVS drugstore, there is a sign right at the front door that tells me who is in charge of that store–sometimes, there is even a photograph. When I check into a hotel, there is often a sign telling me immediately who the manager on duty is. These businesses recognize that the people in charge exist as an interface between the business and the customer and don’t try to hide that.
Ideally, I’d love to see every library website have a full staff directory with contact information. But, I recognize that may not be a comfortable idea for every person. But what about the department heads? The branch managers? I think libraries need to get a little more comfortable with promoting the idea that staff is important (and available) and not only the services and collections they provide have value.