Building community assets

The value of a library lies in its ability to develop community assets, says library educator Ken Haycock. And the future of libraries depends on our ability to share that vision with community leaders.

For libraries, says Ken Haycock, the key to the future isn’t digital; it’s human. Continued relevance depends on effective leadership, a broad perspective, and a clear sense of purpose.

Haycock has seen civic leadership from all sides. Over the course of a career, he’s been a library educator and consultant, school board member, city councilor, and library trustee. Today, among other things, he’s a research professor of management and organization in the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California (USC), where he develops and coordinates graduate programs in library and information management. Strong leaders, he believes, can make the difference in libraries’ continued relevance and sustainability.

We talked about all this in between panel discussions and plane flights at a recent library conference.

Many conversations about the future of libraries come around to a discussion about the library’s core purpose. What do today’s libraries offer?

“I really believe that what libraries bring to the table is the ability to develop the assets of a community,” says Haycock. “We bring the ability to connect people with information and ideas—including conversations—that improve their lives, in ways that are unique to themselves or important for the community.

“When we look at community assets, there are positive things that we add value to. But there are also limitations—Is it economic development? Is it low literacy? Is it school readiness? Well, libraries have expertise in information and how people access information, and in using information to build knowledge to make a difference to the community. We have physical space; we have knowledge resources; we have flexibility; we have stability.

“So, more than anything, libraries need to develop as learning agencies, informal learning agencies that help build a sense of identity and community. We want people to engage their imaginations or their information or ideas. We want to become a place where people discuss and debate issues as well as find resources that are going to help them build knowledge and contribute to their communities.”

How can we do that most effectively? People, culture, and business—they’re all community assets a library can nourish.

“I think we need a lot more consultation with decision makers,” says Haycock. “Not in terms of, What do you see as the library of the future? But more, What do you see as the issues for communities in the future? How are people going to spend their time? What are the issues for the schools? Then we can figure out how libraries fit with all of that.

“People need to have a larger sense of what libraries are doing.”

Haycock believes that library schools can instill this mindset in future leaders by helping them see their libraries as part of a broader community agenda—whether the library’s community is a city, a school, a business, or a university. “Leadership in the academy, for example, becomes a question of how the library can help build a community of scholars, how we develop a community of learners, and how we leverage our resources to contribute to the academic community,” says Haycock. Whatever the environment, library leadership is about community building.

Communication with community leaders seems critical, then.

“It’s interesting to me that everyone you talk to says that the most important thing we need to do is advocacy,” says Haycock. “Well, there isn’t a single [library and information science degree] program in North America that requires a course in advocacy. As far as I know, there are only two universities that even offer a course in advocacy.”

Library leaders, he says, must be effective communicators who understand “building influence and persuasion, being visible, learning how to develop relationships with people, and the importance of connecting agendas—making sure you’re aligned with the decision maker’s agenda, knowing how to talk their language, and being able to demonstrate how investing in you advances their agenda. It’s not just about what you’re looking for.”

Leadership and advocacy courses need to be built into the core curriculum of library schools, believes Haycock, and continuing education for working librarians is equally important. “I really think that the schools could be doing a lot more continuing education around management, leadership, and advocacy—in-depth institutes on the skills necessary to provide leadership,” he says.

What else could we be doing to move libraries forward?

The opportunities for librarians today are “unbelievable,” says Haycock. “Yes! This is the career of the future! Yes! It is exciting!” But to fulfill that promise, he believes, librarians need to take the lead in promoting their true skills.

“What I think we’re not doing enough is demonstrating expertise,” says Haycock. We can do that, he believes, by doing more of the work that requires expertise, extends the librarian’s skills beyond the library, and differentiates libraries in a world filling fast with information providers. For many librarians, this might mean focusing more on consulting and training services: offering more in-depth, personalized research services, teaching information literacy skills, or coaching community members who want to lead book clubs, for example.

“One trend that I would like to see change,” says Haycock, “is that I don’t think we should be offering book clubs in libraries so much as we should be offering to train people in the community who want to have a book club: Here’s how you set it up, here’s how it works. Have a couple of people talk about their successful examples of book clubs. Tell us your demographic and we’ll give you some titles that seem to be popular with that group and some trigger questions for these books. That way, as a librarian, you’re spreading your influence. You’re demonstrating your expertise.

“The information marketplace is a crowded space, and if there is any scarcity it is in articulating and leveraging our unique expertise.”

How can we become better strategic thinkers and more effective leaders?

Haycock’s advice draws on his personal experience over a career of leadership—inside and outside of libraries.

Connect agendas, focus on the long term, and develop relationships. Library leaders need to understand how their goals link to those of their community leaders—often those who make funding decisions. “Early in my career,” says Haycock, “I learned that you connect agendas with other leaders. Have your eye on what you want to accomplish in the long term and the partnerships that are necessary to get you there.”

Identify a personal board of directors. “I think that everyone should have—I wouldn’t call them mentors, but—everyone should have a personal board of directors. They should have 8 to 12 people they respect, who have their best interests at heart, who they can talk to in confidence and get feedback from so they can make better decisions. That’s pretty strategic in terms of testing things—whether you’re going to make a proposal, change jobs, or whatever.”

Practice the art of influence. Says Haycock, “I’m a great believer now in the work of Robert Cialdini,” who has written several books on persuasion and influence. “He’s got six principles of influence that make eminent good sense—they’re what we should be doing.”

Learn from the world beyond libraries. “It’s not just what you read,” says Haycock. “It’s when you’re reading something, thinking about what are the implications for libraries. It’s that kind of attitude. Even reading the newspaper, I think, Oh, I wonder what the possibilities are here. Why aren’t we doing this? When I go to USC, they provide free wireless in the whole area—no sign in, no password, no ID required—and I think, Why isn’t the public library doing this? If a maternity store is offering storytelling programs, I’d be thinking, How is what I’m doing better or different from this?

“It’s just keeping abreast of what other people are doing, and thinking, Gosh they’re doing what we normally do. What does that mean for libraries? You have to always be looking at what’s happening around you.”


Haycock recommends the works of Robert Cialdini and his colleagues, including Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.

For an overview of Cialdini’s principles of persuasion, check out “The Six Things You Must Know About the Science of Persuasion” from Katya Andresen’s Non-Profit Marketing blog (November 28, 2012). Andresen summarizes Cialdini’s principles of persuasion, which are described in a 12-minute video from Influence at Work.

To learn more about the concept of a personal board of directors, see “Mentorship” (May 2, 2011) from Ken Haycock’s Library Leadership blog.

Photo of Ken Haycock by Alison van Buuren.































“I really believe that what libraries bring to the table is the ability to develop the assets of a community.” —Ken Haycock




















“I think we need a lot more consultation with decision makers.
Not in terms of, What do you see
as the library of the future? but more, What do you see as the issues for communities in the future?”

—Ken Haycock

8 Responses to Building community assets

  1. Leigh Cassell February 26, 2013 at 1:23 pm #


    A friend of mine shared this post with me and I thought you might be interested in some of the work I’m doing. I hope you will take some time to visit my website to learn about how I am making a difference in education with a new kind of library designed for the 21st century!

    Best Regards,

    Leigh Cassell
    Elementary Educator, AMDSB
    Founder of the Digital Human Library

  2. Laurie Putnam February 26, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

    Sounds like an interesting project, Leigh. I’ll check it out. Thanks for sharing the link!


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