Diversity & Outreach Columns ALA's Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services


Be Engaged, Set an Example, Be Enthused, Embrace Community: Rural Librarian Leadership Qualities

John D. "Danny" Hales

John D. "Danny" Hales, Jr.

By John D. “Danny” Hales, Jr.

This post is the first in a series from the ALA Committee on Rural, Native, and Tribal Libraries of All Kinds and the Association for Rural & Small Libraries exploring qualities of leadership in rural and tribal libraries.

There are literally hundreds of articles and books on being a leader. Many persons are just born leaders, but just about anyone can become one, if they are really committed.

I think being committed to rural librarianship is significantly important to being a good leader.

In my 35 years as a library director of a multi-county rural library system, I believe the following four words, can somewhat encapsulate, a guide to becoming a rural library leader. Being engaged, setting an example, being enthused, and embracing the community are all key elements of being a successful library leader.

Being engaged means a total acceptance of the full objectives of being a library director. In small towns, a vast majority of the public knows or knows of the library director. One must engage and accept, even relish that position. I personally am extremely proud of that position and take pride when I walk into a meeting and someone I do not know, says,”Hello, I know you; you’re the library director, right?” Anywhere I go or any meeting I attend I want that persona to be out front. I believe when people know you are engaged, even consumed by the service or product one provides, that acceptance, understanding, and even respect are given. That acceptance can go a long way in successful librarianship.

Similar to being engaged is setting an example. I had over 45 staffers, none of whom initially had any formal training as library workers, not undergrad or graduate level. I believe setting an example for them, in professional behavior, dress, and demeanor, allowed them to absorb the message a library seeks in its community. That is, we are smart, have abilities, want to serve, and are organized. We also are continually seeking ways to improve library activities, and to improve our own knowledge to better provide services to the taxpayers. It is that example set by the director that will consciously or subconsciously help mold the staff into the type of employees that make good library service and witness to the public that the library is here to serve. By setting an example of learning, being professional, listening to staff and the public’s ideas, and implementing thoughtful improvements, one is most probably on the path to being an effective leader.

I cannot say enough about enthusiasm. An enthusiastic director will be energetic, engaged, and will set good examples. When I speak at Rotary, Kiwanis, before the county commission, or just to someone in the aisle at the grocery store, I make sure my enthusiasm comes through, even on mundane, routine topics. I am animated, I smile, I joke, but most of all I let them know how much enthusiasm we  have for wanting to make their library the best it can be under the constraints provided.  I want them to know that constraints will not dampen our desire to improve constantly, to listen to ideas, and to implement better strategies for service. I want them to know that we will embrace their help if they wish to be engaged in providing a high quality library system.

Lastly, I believe in small or rural librarianship one can more easily embrace many segments of the community. By that, I mean being involved in community activities that are not necessarily just library oriented. Be a member, or be active in the chamber, school advisory committees, 4-H councilor, boy/girl scouts, Kiwanis/Altrusa, art guild, community theatre, historical commission, etc. Find ways for staff to participate in community projects as well. By embracing the community and its varied needs, some outside of the traditional library activities, one becomes part of the community as a whole, and not just the paid library director. Most library directors  will not have grown up in the community in which they direct and embracing the community goes a long way in substantiating that the library director cares, not just about the library but our community as a whole. One also can get a better understanding of the community needs when being involved providing opportunities for the library to expand or improve.

There is so much pride, self satisfaction and success that one can derive from being a good leader. Directing an important part of the communities services such as the library, gave me great joy. These criteria above served me and my community well, and I trust that your engagement, example, enthusiasm and embracement in some way will do the same.

John D. “Danny” Hales, Jr. is the retired director of the multi-county Suwannee River Regional Library System in Live Oak, Florida. Mr. Hales has been an active voice in the profession throughout his 39-year-long career, including serving on the Board of Directors of the Public Library Association, two terms as ALA Councilor, and Past President of the Florida Library Association, in addition to hundreds of state, regional, and national library committees. In 2010, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Florida Library Association. He currently serves on the ALA Committee on Rural, Native, and Tribal Libraries of All Kinds.

The ALA Committee on Rural, Native, and Tribal Libraries of All Kinds addresses issues and challenges facing rural, native and tribal libraries of all kinds. It collaborates with other ALA units addressing the needs of rural communities, and serves as an advocate and partner with libraries serving rural, tribal, and native populations.

The Association for Rural & Small Libraries, Inc. (ARSL) is a network of persons throughout the country dedicated to the positive growth and development of libraries. ARSL believes in the value of rural and small libraries and strives to create resources and services that address national, state, and local priorities for libraries situated in rural communities. To learn more, please visit www.arsl.info.


James Bartleman, Noted Canadian Diplomat and Author, To Speak on Youth, Literacy and Libraries

CHICAGO – The Honorable James K. Bartleman, former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and author of numerous books, including the recently published “As Long as the Rivers Flow,” will join the Committee on Rural, Native and Tribal Libraries of All Kinds for their program “Raisin’ Readers: Improving Literacy for Rural Children and Youth,” on Sunday, June 26 from 1:30 to 3:30 pm.

Rural, Native, and tribal libraries provide essential support to their communities through reading programs and initiatives for teens and their families. Bartleman, a diplomat, author, literacy advocate, and member of the Mnjikaning First Nation, will reflect on his extensive experiences, including initiating the Lieutenant Governor’s Book Program in 2004, which collected over 1.2 million books to stock school libraries in First Nations communities, launching a program pairing Native and non-Native schools in Ontario and Nunavut, and setting up literacy camps in five northern First Nations communities.

Mr. Bartleman will read from his young adult novel, “As Long as the Rivers Flow,” (Knopf Canada, 2011) a young adult novel that follows a girl from the Cat Lake First Nation in Northern Ontario who is stolen from her family and forced into a faraway residential school, where she is punished for speaking her native language.

Raisin’ Readers is open to all ALA Annual Conference attendees. For more information, please visit www.ala.org/annual.  The session is co-sponsored by the ALA Committee on Literacy.

The Committee on Rural, Native, and Tribal Libraries of All Kids reviews issues and challenges facing rural, native and tribal libraries of all kinds. Additionally, it collaborates with other ALA units addressing the needs of rural communities; and to serve as an advocate for and partner with libraries serving rural, tribal and native populations.

The Committee on Literacy develops and recommends the Association’s policies related to the promotion of literacy; the development of programs, educational opportunities, and other resources that assist librarians and libraries in promoting literacy. It also raises the awareness of literacy within the Association, works cooperatively with the Literacy Assembly, the Office for Literacy and Outreach Services and its Advisory Committee, and other ALA units, including the Washington Office, on efforts that have a literacy focus and maintains partnerships with national literacy organizations.

Special thanks to Alfred A. Knopf Canada and Random House, Inc., for their support of Mr. Bartleman’s participation in this program.


Rural, Native, and Tribal Libraries—Of All Kinds!

Dr. Loriene Roy, Professor
School of Information, University of Texas at Austin

There’s plenty of evidence nationally—and even internationally—that points to an awakening in interest and activity focusing on rural libraries, including those that serve Native and tribal communities. This evidence is seen in successful recent and planned gatherings. The Association of Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) and the Association of Bookmobiles and Outreach Services (ABOS) held a joint conference in Denver from 13-16 October 2010. Four hundred and fifty individuals attended the conference, 80 percent of whom appeared to be joining the event for the first time. Over the past four years, ARSL has grown to include 500 members from 47 states and ARSL is making steps toward gaining status as a 503c nonprofit organization. Heavily attended conference workshops covered library boards, books by mail, customer service models, advocacy and public relations, technology, green vehicle technologies, and services for preschoolers, teens, immigrants, and refugees, and the un- or under- employed. As a keynote speaker, I was treated with small town kindness and attention and made many new friends and colleagues. Attendees now count the days until the 2011 ARSL conference in Frisco, Texas and the 2011 ABOS conference in Cleveland.

Among the ARSL-ABOS conference attendees were those interested in and involved with tribal librarians. Tribal and Native library issues are of special interest to two ALA committees. 

Like ARSL, ALA’s Rural, Native, and Tribal Libraries of All Kinds Committee is young in age, having been officially established in 2005, but sincere in its commitment to advance issues and work toward the betterment of the libraries it represents. The eleven members of the Committee include representations appointed by the American Indian Library Association, the American Association of School Libraries, the Public Library Association, the OLOS (Office of Literacy and Outreach Services) Advisory Committee, and ALA’s Legislative Committee along with six members appointed by the ALA President. The Committee is currently involved with revising content on its website and in planning programs for the 2011 ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans. Committee members invited librarians in rural area to commemorate Banned Books Week 2011 by reading Sherman Alexie’s young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Members are currently in discussion with WebJunction on promoting WebJunction resources, especially continuing education opportunities, to those working in rural libraries.

The other ALA unit involved with tribal libraries is the ALA OLOS Subcommittee on Library Services to Native Americans, chaired by the immediate past President of the American Indian Library Association (AILA), one of five ethnic library associations affiliated with ALA. AILA meets at each ALA Midwinter Meeting and ALA Annual Conference. 

Those interested in Native library issues may be members of other communities. Those working at tribal college librarians may participate in the annual Tribal College Librarians Professional Development Institute that has taken place, usually on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman, over the past fifteen years. Tribal librarians in Arizona hold an annual meeting and those in Arizona have frequent meetings and participate in NALSIG, the Native American Libraries Special Interest Group of the New Mexico Library Association. The Oklahoma Library Association has a Tribal Libraries, Archives & American Indian Collections Ad Hoc Committee . The Alaska Library Association has an Alaska Native Issues Roundtable. Nationally, a National Archives, Libraries, and Museums organization is under consideration, building on national conferences held since 2003. Meanwhile, those involved in tribal information settings in Wisconsin have held their first of three years of Convening Culture Keepers and the Alaska State Library is hosting anAlaska Native Libraries, Archives, and Museums Summit in April 2011.

Outside of the United States the two most well known national indigenous library organizations are Te Ropu Whakahau (Maori in Libraries and Information Management) in Aotearoa/New Zealand and the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Library and Information Resource Network (ATSILIRN) in Australia. Since 1999, indigenous librarians from around the world have met at the International Indigenous Librarians Forum (IILF); the next IILF will take place in April 2011 in Karaskjok, Norway. An international forum for discussing indigenous library issues is the Special Interest Group on Indigenous Matters  of the International Federation of Library Associations and Organizations (IFLA). Anyone can join the IFLA SIG; only the convener is required to be a personal member of IFLA and other members of the IFLA SIG need not be members of IFLA.

The IFLA SIG has formed several task forces that are addressing issues of interest to indigenous librarianship around the world. These deal with key issues (including definitions), an international outreach plan to locate and include other indigenous librarians, identification of key protocol documents, a task force to review IFLA documents, and a task force to explore the role of libraries and information settings in strengthening indigenous languages.

These organizations illustrate the wide ranging communities that are and can be impacted by rural, Native, and tribal libraries. Challenges exist as these libraries are typically underfunded and have needs for staff development and resources. As associations develop and more gatherings are organized, these needs will be broadcasted more widely. Those working in these settings will have opportunities to learn from others and to share their unique experiences with the greater library world.

Dr. Roy is the current chair of the ALA Committee on Rural, Native, and Tribal Libraries of All Kinds (RNTLOAK), and is a Past President of ALA (2007-2008).