Finding the Perfect Fit
Installation Speech of 2012–2013 President Karen Klapperstuck
[Klapperstuck originally gave this speech during the NJLA Annual Conference in June.]
Thank you. I hope that you are all en-joying your lunch. A lot of what I am going to say today will end up being a story and hopefully it will mean some-thing at the end of that story.
The first time Pat [Tumulty] and I ever presented together, we were with Con-nie Paul and we were in Boston for PLA in 2006 talking about the Emerging Leaders program that we started here in New Jersey. And before we began our presentation I had bought shoes I was very excited about, which is not a sur-prise to anyone who knows that I have been shoe shopping this whole last week, and Pat made me come to the front of the stage in front of about 200 people at PLA, the first time I had been speaking at a national conference, to show everyone my shoes. But I’m sure that we all know that feeling, when you go shopping for something, whether it’s shoes, or a dress, or a house, even a job, that you have this feeling that it is just right. That there isn’t anything else that you could really be looking for, that this is the perfect fit for you. In a way, that feeling is always somewhat magi-cal. You can’t replace it. And the first time you wear that dress, or you move into that house, or you drive that car, that’s magical. It’s something spectacu-lar when you find that fit.
And I think that feeling is something we’re all striving for in our libraries, to be a perfect fit in our communities, to serve the communities where we are, but also for us as professionals to find our fit within this association and this profession.
All libraries are the same only in that they are called libraries. I think that we all know that you go into every library and there is a unique flavor that comes with that library. Yes, we are all libraries but we are all positioned to offer some-thing to our community that no other library could offer. One size does not fit all. You can’t go from one place to an-other and offer the same exact service; it won’t work the same way.
For instance, in Monroe we’ve been making these ebook outreach visits to the 13 active adult communities we have in Monroe. We go to the communi-ties, we go to their clubhouses. We talk about ebooks and the library’s offerings and how to actually get those ebooks onto your device. And it works for us because we have a large senior popula-tion. When we go to these places, the seniors are always really happy that we have come to them with the service, showing them how to do something that maybe their friends and family and other people they know don’t have the knowledge or patience to help them with. But that’s not something that would work in a community that doesn’t have those active adult communities. You don’t have the luxury of a club-house to go to in every development, in every town or city in the state. So it works for us in Monroe but part of why it works is because it is so authentic; it’s so true to what Monroe does. We know that we have a senior population that is sizeable and so we do try and cater to that population.
And so I think that you have to be au-thentic in what you offer in your library. Is it personal? Do the people that you serve care about it? And is it believable? If we started offering, and we’ve tried, to offer things that are not necessarily geared toward the seniors and they don’t always go so well. You try things but no one buys that you are offering that, so we stop offering that. And that’s OK too. All of us select these things that we have, whether it’s brands or stores that we shop in, places that we go be-cause of how we feel when we are there. And that is what we want to do in our libraries. You want people to come to your library and feel welcome and [feel] like they can do the things thatthey need to do because who goes back to a store where you’ve had a really negative customer service experience? You might go back, but the whole time you’re thinking, “I can’t believe I’m coming back to this store. I don’t want to come here.” How many of us have not heard that story from somebody about their librarian when they were a kid that was mean to them or even as an adult that made them feel bad that they had overdue books and fines? We have to think about how people feel when they are in our libraries in order to help achieve this perfect fit in our communities.
Because of this, regardless of what community you’re serv-ing, whether it’s a school, a university, a small town, or a big city, even though we’re all libraries you really do have something unique you can offer your community. But, as I said, it has to be authentic and it has to match your mission and values of your organization.
The same can be said about finding your perfect fit in your career, in your library. I don’t think that as many people are as lucky as I have been in the places that I have worked. My first job out of library school, I went on an inter-view with four women I had never met before and I left there thinking, “This is absolutely the place that I want to work. This is where I can do the most good at this time.” And it has continued. I am also in such a good place now that I can’t imagine being someplace else.
Not everyone has that luxury of being able to work some-place where they feel they are a perfect fit for that institu-tion; that they have something that they can offer. So for a lot of people, that comes from your participation in NJLA. As Susan [O’Neal] was saying, sometimes you go to work and you have “work-work” that you can do or you have “NJLA work” that you can do, and usually the NJLA work, even though it’s work, is more fun. Or at least it is something that you can say, “I can do this and it will be done” or “It will affect this number of things,” whereas the tasks in our own libraries are not always the most pleasant things to deal with. So even in our libraries as we cross-train people, there are still those go-to people that you know you can count on for that particular thing, whether it’s the ebook training or it’s the person that always knows how to make sure the projector works properly in the meeting room. These are important skills for people to be able to offer.
As Susan was saying (and it’s appreciated), I have many talents to offer. It’s interesting that you really just have to find what those talents are. My mom, when I first became a librarian, told me, “It’s so interesting to think about you as a librarian, because it really is a calling for you.” And so it is one of the things I think about when I think about the asso-ciation, that being a librarian is a calling for a lot of us. Even if in your library there are budget cuts, staff cuts, there are a lot of other things you can do in this profession.
There are a number of reasons why NJLA has helped me find my perfect fit in this profession. One is that it is a good way to stay informed and up to date not only with what’s going on in the state but also in the country with ALA and other associations. It has developed a professional network for me. As Susan was saying, you don’t realize until things are
going wrong how much help that you really do need. When things are going well, it’s easy to say, “Oh yeah, I got that. I can take care of that too.” But it’s when things start to go really wrong that you say, “Oh I do need help.”
At one point in my last library, we had the police come and they were going to seize a computer and they didn’t have the proper documentation. I told them that but they weren’t listening. So on a Friday night in November, I think it might have been raining, it wasn’t a pleasant night, at about 7:00 I called the NJLA office and Pat answered the phone. On a Friday night. What I mean is there are not a lot of profes-sions with associations that, where if you need something after hours, you will find a person in that office who will ac-tually talk to you, not a recording that will say “Someone will be available to help you on Monday.” If something is hap-pening right now and I need help right now, this is [support] that this association really has provided.
The other thing is a personal network. It gives you an oppor-tunity to work with librarians you might not get to interact with in your regular library. In libraries, we’re all insulated with the staff that we work with; if you are in a small build-ing that is a handful of people. Sometimes you just need to talk to someone who doesn’t know the back story of that patron or that councilperson or that mayor. It does provide you with an opportunity. I feel very grateful that there are a lot of people in this room that I consider friends, even if it is not something related to work that I could call them and say “Hey, I need this” or “Could you please help me with this?”
So what does all this mean for the coming year when I am your president? I want you to think about this idea of being a perfect fit in a couple of different ways. First is to think about how to create a more perfect fit for your library in your community. Maybe offer new services or modify exist-ing services to better match your mission or vision. But I also want you to remember that each of you is uniquely qualified to offer something that no one else can offer in your library and in this association and that is you. As I tell the Emerging Leaders each year, you have the ability to change this association. Very rarely will someone on the Executive Board or Pat tell you “No.” If you come in and say “I have this idea and I’d really like to ...,” no one is going to say no to you, but you have to be willing to do the work. You can’t just come in and say, “I have this great idea and Norma [Blake] should do it.” I think we need to remember that this is our association and as your president, and as people on your executive board, we are your agents. So if there is something you think needs to be done, it’s fine that you make that suggestion but also be willing to be on that committee or taskforce to make sure that it gets done.
I’ve seen it in the years I’ve been in NJLA. I was in Emerging Leaders in 2002, which was the first year we offered Emerg-ing Leaders. We’ve also had numerous Academies of Library Leadership and other leadership training. There are a lot of people in this room that have been through those programs and have benefited from those programs, completely chang-ing the committees and sections of this association. So that you can’t go to a meeting without seeing somebody who has stepped up and said, “I want to be involved in this associa-tion.” Part of the strength of NJLA is all of you and all of us working together to try and find our perfect fit.
Thank you, everyone. Karen Klapperstuck