Steve Thomas: This is Circulating Ideas. I’m Steve Thomas. My guests today are Stephanie Chase and Hillary Ostlund, executive director and library manager, respectively, at the Hillsboro Public Library in Oregon. Circulating Ideas is brought to you with support from listeners just like you. Go to circulatingideas.com/support to find out how you can help support the show.
Steve Thomas: Stephanie, Hillary, welcome to the show.
Stephanie Chase: Hi Steve.
Hillary Ostlund: Hi Steve. Thanks for having us.
Steve Thomas: I’ve wanted to have you guys on for a long time, especially Stephanie who I followed on Twitter forever. But then we met in person at ALA and I just went to a couple of your sessions and I want to talk about the stuff you talked about there. But first I want to hear about your backgrounds and how you came to work at Hillsboro in the first place.
Hillary Ostlund: Sure. Do you want to start, Stephanie?
Stephanie Chase: I guess. So I’ve been in libraries for about 20 years. I started out on the east coast. I worked at the New York Public Library and was a library director in various towns in Vermont, rural, small, rural towns, also for about a decade, and then when my husband and I both realized at the same time we actually didn’t really like winter and we were living in northern Vermont where you have snow six months of the year. We decided to move to the west coast. I started out at Multnomah. I did various jobs at Multnomah County library, worked up at Seattle Public Library, and then when this job came open in Hillsboro, it was really what I had hoped – and what had turned out to be true – is this really wonderful kind of combination of what I loved about being in a smaller library in terms of where, you know, staff know you, you know staff, people have to wear multiple hats. You get really creative, really deep connections with the community. Everybody is responsible for doing that. But that also what I really loved about the big systems I worked at and that you have a lot of resource so you’re able to do things. So we’re really fortunate in Hillsboro to be in a community that loves the library, uses the library extremely heavily, and also supports the library with a really good budget. You know, so it’s this really wonderful kind of combination of, you know, still being kind of small and scrappy, but also having the ability to access resource to do what we want to do.
Hillary Ostlund: Yeah, and I’ve been at Hillsboro for 12 years. I went to school out in Massachusetts. I went to Simmons College, so shout out to anybody who’s at Simmons, and I was in Western Mass and I worked in North Hampton, Massachusetts. That’s where I started really in libraries, I guess, in my professional side of my career. But I did start in libraries when I was 16 as my high school intern with Mrs. Allstot, who I’m still friends with today. In college I worked in libraries. I’ve just always loved people and being there for people and it’s just kinda led to a great career. I’ve been lucky to stay in Hillsboro for as long as I have. I moved back to Oregon, I think it was 2006. I’m originally from Washington state, so the northwest was always where I thought I would land, but Hillsboro is really special. Since Stephanie’s been there, I’ve had I think four different jobs, which is great, I feel like it changes a lot, you know, your roles and responsibilities. So it keeps it interesting and it doesn’t feel stagnant, which I think is really all I seek in my career and staying up on things. I don’t want to be doing the same thing. So we’ve been able to cultivate that in our workplace without needing to always be looking for something new and exciting elsewhere. We’re creating it internally, which is great for morale and I think retention.
Stephanie Chase: So eloquent, Hillary!
Steve Thomas: Yeah, I think it’s really important to keep that energy going in your workplace and keeping it dynamic so that people have room to grow where they are if they don’t feel like they have to go somewhere else and just plateau where they are and go somewhere else to find that energy that they’re missing in their current workplace.
Hillary Ostlund: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it a lot because I’m just, I mean, I’m asked frequently like, when are you gonna do something else or you know, when are you going to go somewhere else? And it’s sort of like, well, I really like it here. I don’t know. You know, and I think because I’ve had different chances, it’s felt like something else a lot, which is what, not everybody wants in libraries, but I do think, you know, it’s the career trajectory, it’s really important to think about. Creating pathways is something that I am really passionate about and luckily get to do in my new role. We call it “cultivate” at the library, like hiring and staff development. So that’s been a really good fit. Thank you, Stephanie!
Steve Thomas: Can you tell me a little bit about the community that you serve?
Stephanie Chase: Sure. Yeah, so Hillsboro is about a hundred thousand residents. It’s in Washington County, which is the county that is just west of Multnomah County, where Portland is located. Washington County, I believe, is the most diverse county in the state of Oregon. And Hillsboro is the most diverse large city in the state of Oregon. So we’re at almost 40% non-white, 25% Latino, and we have a really interesting mix in Hillsboro because it’s also really the epicenter of the so-called Silicon Forest. So we have a lot of high tech in Hillsboro. So Intel has its largest R & D facility in Hillsboro. So we have the opportunity to serve a community that is diverse across so many dimensions of diversity. So not just ethnic, but also socioeconomic, education, all of that. And so, it’s one of the few full service cities in Washington County, in that the city is providing all of the services. So parks is a city department. The library is a city department, fire, police. In a lot of Oregon and in a lot of the rest of Washington County, some of those services are provided by, you know, cross-municipality districts, and a lot of Washington County is actually unincorporated, so there’s no municipal body to collect taxes or to provide service. So Hillsboro is also really unique in that it’s seeking to provide all of those services to its community locally.
Hillary Ostlund: Yeah, that mix of like urban and rural and agricultural is really an amazing blend in Hillsboro and makes the fabric so interesting for thinking about service. And we’re not Portland. So just being very clear, we’re not Portland.
Steve Thomas: Do you guys find that providing services for diverse community opens up a lot of new opportunities for you all?
Stephanie Chase: We do. You know, we just re we just completed our most recent strategic plan, and we had worked really hard to diversify our library board kind of separately from that. And so then having this really diverse group of people help talk about the role the libraries play in the community has really allowed us to do some different things. And so one of the things that came out of our strategic plan was just a very clear mandate from the board to focus on outreach and more specifically to focus on outreach not in a way, I think a traditional way where it’s about driving people into the library, but really about providing service, you know, not just at the point of need, but at a point of interest. So how do we really just engage with the community where they’re at, and more importantly with what it is that they want to do. You know, so we have a van, the Library on the Loose, and we take that around and we’ve done some traditional outreach, you know, for a long time. So we have migrant camps in Hillsboro in the summer. We’ve provided service, usually in partnership with the county to those camps for some time. And we’ve always been partners with the summer lunch sites, but have really made a commitment to really support the summer lunch sites that don’t have other kind of activity engagement. And then we do a lot of stuff with, again, with our parks and where we just kind of do drop-in popup programming, and what happens there is really just driven by who’s in attendance. And so what it might look, you know, what might happen one week might be even different from what might happen the next week. And we’re just always really looking for the public, I think, to really tell us what it is that they’re interested in doing. So for us, it’s not about, you know, here’s this thing we want to make sure that you know about or that you can do. It’s, I think a lot more open and collaborative. And, Hillary wrote down a quote that I said about how it’s, you know, this is… we’re just looking for all that gets added in to, I said, the soup of the service we provide. You know, I’ve never really thought about it before, but I think a lot of the way that we’re really engaging with the community is almost, it’s like stone soup, right? Like everybody’s just bringing their ingredients so we make something really cool and the next time it’s something really different, you know? So I think if people were really looking for something that was like, you know, program in a box and replicable, they’d probably be frustrated. But if you’re just looking for kind of joy and something that celebrates, again, I think the real diverse perspectives in a community, which also differ right from time to time. I think that’s how we’re really looking, you know, to engage our services. We really strive, I think, to have a structure that allows for that kind of freedom, and that kind of exploration and that kind of engagement.
Hillary Ostlund: Well, and I would add, I think the hardest part in this has been just answering the questions from this new library board who are really interested in, like, measuring impact and outcomes and getting away from like traditional ways of marking statistical success. And so we’ve had really great conversations, like a lot of libraries doing this impact work, and thinking about how can staff actually measure the joy that Stephanie’s talking about because it’s a little harder to measure joy and feelings than it is to measure gate count and circulation numbers and questions answered and all those traditional metrics we use in libraries. So, you know, we can definitely say that we are busier in different ways competently, but we’re looking at all these different ways of analyzing, I think, like stories and you know, pictures and photos that are used. And like, if you know, just yesterday we had so many great stories shared. We use Slack in the workplace. So we have a great channel, we named Word on the Floor and it’s just a way to share like what you’re doing that’s joyous basically, and I love seeing the photos coming in from the outreach visits and there might be just 6, 10, 15 people there, but they’re all super engaged and active. And then the stories they get with little smiley faces on the surveys. You know, we’re just trying to find different ways to show that diversifying our services is working. But that’s still kind of an ongoing conversation.
Steve Thomas: And are you seeing that… we’ll talk kind of use this kind of as a way to transition to talking about some of the big changes you guys have done over the last few years… but are you seeing that diversity getting into your staff as well? I mean, are the people that you’re hiring, are you using that as a tool you’re trying to reflect your community?
Hillary Ostlund: Absolutely. I think it’s the most imperative thing, honestly, we and others should be doing. It’s hard because it means really breaking out of the mold of often job descriptions that have been barriers and held a lot of people back, including hiring managers. So you have to take that time on the front end to really work with your HR department. And if anyone from my HR department is listening in Hillsboro, I mean I’m so grateful to have people who are willing to be creative and let us think outside the box with what we’re saying in our job ads, videos we’ve made sometimes for recruitment, and just trying to get out the word in other places than just traditional like library-siloed listservs for jobs that are open. Because people have to even find those jobs or see themselves in them to apply. And then you have to have a process that like allows them in. And last summer we had a recruitment for library assistant, that’s what we call our general sort of entry level customer service position, and really intentionally went out all over the place with this job ad. And we had our biggest recruitment. It was almost 750 people applied. We had one full time position and several part time that we were hiring for. And we really did screen, like, all of them and we made, I mean, it took a long time, but it was so worth it. In the end. We hired a total of 13, somewhere in our on-call pool, our substitute pool. But everybody speaks a different language other than English, mostly Spanish because that’s our main target language, but also Vietnamese. And we’ve added services like a Vietnamese story time we didn’t have before because of this staffer, and most, most of them are bi-cultural and are really happy to share that with the community. So none of them had library experience except for a couple, and that was interesting because they had customer service experience, which we prioritize and we’re teaching that library stuff on the back end. But as anyone in libraries know, what we do is complicated. So it takes a lot of time, more time to train them up on everything, but they have the right attitude and that they want to serve and they want to be there for people. And that’s what we’re prioritizing. But it does take a different lens for hiring and honestly just more time and effort from the hiring team.
Steve Thomas: And I think that that’s a good way to approach this is I know you’ve talked before about all the changes that you’ve done, which we’ll talk about in a little more detail in a second, but it came from not thinking about it from a staff perspective, but from a community perspective of what does the community need from the library and make the library into that, whereas so many traditional things are “I’m a reference person. So this is what this job does.” and “I’m a circulation person.” It’s, you know, break it all apart and put it back together in a way that better serves the community.
Hillary Ostlund: Right? We’ve done such a good job in libraries of like defining our services over the years. People know those terms and I just think it’s so interesting to be working so deliberately to just unpack it for what the community wants. And so when we reorganized, and I’m sure we’ll talk a little bit more about this with you, but that’s where we really started was how would the community describe our services? And it certainly wouldn’t be reference, circulation or other words that we use to sort of define basically, “help.” And I think my favorite story is that came out of last summer is hiring that I mentioned was, one of our library assistants Caty. She had a friend who works at a neighboring library and her friend was like, “I’m so glad you got that job. Are you working in circulation or reference?” And Caty had been with us I think about two weeks at that time, and she’s like, “I have no idea.” And she told us that at like our little meet and greet. And I was like, that’s such a beautiful story because she told her friend, she’s like, I’ll let you know, but I’m just learning like how to help people, I guess. I guess I’ll learn more. But it was just interesting that they’d been hired at almost the same time, but two different neighboring libraries. But just that subtle difference in how we’re serving up philosophy.
Stephanie Chase: Yeah, and I think she had gone back and said, I don’t get to help just one like you do, I get to help everybody.
Steve Thomas: So where did all these big changes that you’ve done – which again, we’ll talk about in detail in just a second, and I keep teasing it – where did it all come from? Was it, I mean, was this something, Stephanie, that you saw when you first came into the role that you really want to reshape things, or what was the kind of the impetus for starting these changes?
Stephanie Chase: I mean, I guess I’ve been fortunate or unfortunate, I don’t know, to be repeatedly hired specifically to be a change agent, and so when I was, you know, going through the process in Hillsboro, it was made really clear to me, both through the way that the process was set up and kind of in the kind of very direct language that the city manager was using at the time, but also just the vibe from the staff that people were ready to do something new. You know, there was not anything broken about Hillsboro. Hillsboro was great when I got there, you know, and again, in the Pacific northwest, I think we’re really fortunate to be very heavily used. So it wasn’t about kind of, you know, you know, rescuing anything, but it was made really clear to me by the city manager who hired me, one, that he expected the library to be more integrated in the city, which we’ve already talked about, and two, that he wanted things to be different, but he had zero direction about what that was. So it’s like, well, what’s your endgoal for the library? Like, what am I striving for? And he said, I want the library to be the best library in the universe. And we have like, great, what does that look like? If he’s like, I don’t know. That’s why I hired you!
Steve Thomas: Allow me to delegate that to you!
Stephanie Chase: And so, I think that it really just started very organically. I mean, I feel I’ve been really, I was really fortunate to be put in that situation where like my interest and my willingness to lead change and break things open and support staff through that, were really well aligned with a staff that was interested in and exploring some new things too. I mean, I would say Hillsboro was very hierarchical when I got there, and that is like, so not me at all. And I think that that’s where we really started. And some of it, again, I think like a lot of things in libraries, it was really driven by finance, you know, and by budget, you know, again, like we’re very well supported. But when I got there, the number of desks that we had and the number of staff that we had on those desks, I had to prep my first budget within a couple of months of starting and I just said like, we literally cannot afford to provide this service. Like, we literally can’t afford it. And so, you know, I think we really started out of necessity, but that in a lot of people are in that position. But I think we, it was just the perspective that we use to answer that question. So rather than thinking about that as like a loss or a challenge, it was really an opportunity. Hillary and I, I think we didn’t know about this book at the time, but there’s this book called Beautiful Constraint by Mark Barden and Adam Morgan. And they just talk about, you create a propelling question for yourself where you take a significant constraint and you pair it with a bold ambition. That idea that, and the whole book is about really the idea that constraints can really spark, you know, intense creativity if you are really viewing it from a position of abundance. So when we were really just like, well this is what we’ve got, we’ve got a lot of resource but what can we do differently about it? And so I think that perspective and then we involved staff from the get-go. I think a lot of what we’ve done has been driven by staff. We might’ve been doing the timeline right or we might have been prompting, but a lot of the direction we’ve gone has come out of staff interest or you know, from staff prompting. And so once we got started, I think it was just like, I mean I like to work like Hillary does too. I’ve moved around a lot, but I think like that idea of just like having something fresh, like, you know, nothing’s ever done. Right? And like really changing staff perspective about change. Like, this is not like a thing that gets done. It’s something that is evolving and it’s iterative and you have to keep doing it. And I think we just continually gave staff and continue to give staff the message that when, you know, when you work for a rapidly growing, very diverse community, like your services literally cannot stay the same. They have to be adjusting and they have to be changing. And so what does that look like and how do we take a lot of little pivot points? I think we’re at the point now with, we’ve done some big terms, right? And that a lot of what we do now about making these just pivoting in the moment, like little micro changes, that just keep things going all the time.
Hillary Ostlund: Well, and just to speak a little bit to Stephanie’s ambition and success as a change agent. I mean, like I said earlier, I had been there when she started. I’d been there for a total of 12 years in multiple jobs – on-call librarian, supervisor, branch manager – like, I got all these different opportunities. And there was opportunity to be creative, but it was only within your like group of 10, like in your “department.” And just like upon meeting her, it was so clear that everything was an opportunity. And I think that slight shift even for me, like that always made sense in my brain, but it wasn’t like, and I’ll just be honest, it’s not usually how librarians tend to think, usually I think you’re surrounded by, “Oh well we can’t do this.” And if the budget news was delivered, it’s delivered in a, “Well, we’re getting budget cuts or you can’t afford to keep this many people at the desk, what are you going to do about it?” Stephanie’s always framed it in this like, well, “How are we going to do it? How can we do it?” So, I mean, design thinking principles without even using fancy terms and design thinking at all or just how you operate. And that unlocked for me personally, just massive creativity and it’s just been fun. Every time we have meetings, every time we have discussions, whether it’s with our leadership team of managers or down to our supervisory teams or with all staff, there has to be a tone of positivity. So it doesn’t come from any place of “Well, this change is coming from the city and this is what we’re going to have to do.” It’s like “What an opportunity the city’s given us tp revision our services and think about our rapidly changing community.” We use more post-it notes and white sheets and flip charts, and Mr Sketch Markers. I mean, really, maybe than any other organization, I swear. But it’s, and you know, I love seeing our boards, our whiteboards fill up in the hallway with ideas from people, and so changing that script, it’s hard to pinpoint, but is maybe one of the hardest things I think we’ve done. Because again, you’re dealing with a profession of tenured people who usually love what they do, but they like what they do because they tend to bunker down and be perfectionist. And what we’re asking them to do is to not be perfectionist and to be adaptable and nimble, and honestly I give credit all the time. I think about this with our staff. We have had such a resilient bunch of people. There’ve been some hard conversations for sure, but people have really thought and dug deeply to keep with us and to stay with us and to be on this ride. So I’m insanely proud of what we’ve done, but it’s definitely hard work. But to change that tone from, “Well, we’re going to have to do this because so-and-so said” to “How are we going to get to do this?” is where I would encourage people, anyone thinking about this massive shift to start. And that Beautiful Constraint book really unlocked a lot of potential for us.
Steve Thomas: Well, it’s great that you’re so open and collaborative about it. I mean, I think that’s an important part of it is being open and transparent as much as you can. And so people understand how processes that were made, how processes were set up, how decisions were made. Even if you don’t agree with it, this is why we made the decision, this is the decision we made. Sometimes you just have to accept it and move on. We will listen to you, obviously, and to your input, and we will take it into advisement and maybe it will affect things, how things go. But, even if you disagree with something, here’s how we came to that. So you’re not just getting this order from on high of, now we’re doing this.
Stephanie Chase: And I think a lot of our really foundational documents are from staff. So that they, you know, we have a set of quality service standards. So, you know, again, as this process has been really iterative, we’ve really looked at like, how do we help staff at every level really feel empowered. So we started with, we had sent Hillary and another staff person to the Disney institute to learn about their quality service standards.
Hillary Ostlund: I highly recommend that to people.
Stephanie Chase: And that is a great idea of just, you know, and it’s not like a hierarchy, it’s a flow. So when you’re helping, you know, serving your customer, you know, what’s this flow that you go through, like where you’re making sure these things happen. And what are the blocks, right. So where do you stop, you know, and, and a great example that I love from the Disney Institute is safety is their number one, and the guy who was driving – it was like the safari thing I guess at one of the parks? – and he had, you’re supposed to sit in the car and keep your arms in the car. But this guy kept standing up and like leaning out to take photos. And the driver I think, you know, very nicely like repeatedly reminded him. And then, you know, I think finally the driver’s just like, “If you don’t basically like if you don’t sit down and keep your arms in the car, like we all have to turn around and go back.” Some people are afraid like that’s not good service. Like you’re not, the customer is not right in that. But safety is number one and that guy was putting everybody else really at risk with his behavior. So like you can’t, you have to stop there. So I mean we go back to that document a lot and then we have a set of great expectations. We’re really kind of, for multiple levels within the organization. So like I have a set of expectations. The managers, the supervisors and all staff and they build their nesting, they build upon each other. And staff were really fundamental in creating those expectations and, and sharing with each other about how those expectations are lived. So we’re going back with a lot of things to just like almost basically be like, “Do you remember when you said this was important?” And a lot of staff also just know, they know that that’s where we’re coming from.
Hillary Ostlund: Well, and I think those documents help for the staff to feel supported by, again, like the said supervisor and leadership teams, so that if they’re making a decision, because the goal is that you are still making that person, you’re helping as happy as possible. You know, it’s not Disneyland all the time, but we want you to give people a great experience, but sometimes you are going to have to be firm and we understand that, so if you’ve made that call or you want to waive more fines, we want to empower you to make that decision based on all these expectations we’ve set forth. And if you go back and ask for help or guidance from a supervisor that they’re not going to just go out and do it for you, right? They will, “Well, what do you want to do? What would be fair for you in this situation?” and to help get them there. And that does take time and training because again, it’s kind of a retuning of a lot of traditional library staff’s brains.
Steve Thomas: I know you’re still kind of in process with all of this and I mean it’s a constant re-tweaking of things and seeing what works and things like that, and you talked about breaking down the hierarchy. Can you talk about what your new organizational structure looks like?
Stephanie Chase: It’s so funny, we don’t actually have really like an org chart. People keep asking us for one and maybe we’ll get there someday. But I think we were really, we were working on something else, I think, and we were prompted by a library superfan and she said, “What if your org chart looked like, how people actually use the library instead of how you instead of being for you, you know, what if you actually had an org chart that reflected the public, as opposed to your internal processes?” And it was just such a light bulb moment for us, right, because like, even with all of this work we had done, we had reorganized once already by then, you know, and we’re just like, oh, like is still really about resource allocation for us. And it’s really about, you know, structures for us. This doesn’t reflect how people use the library, and so, and I think, I’ll see if I can find the picture, Steve, so that you can include it if you can, but she asked us to go through this process where you make five different org charts and you couldn’t use anything from the previous drawing. I think like each time it had to be different. So it was really funny cause going through multiple times is really important because certainly like the first few who are really still very traditional looking when I look at them now. But I finally ended up with one where I was just like, what do people want to do when they come to the library? And it’s like they want to like do stuff. They want to learn stuff, right? They want to like talk to people. I can’t remember but it was like really basic. I think four things on the chart and it was, it just really created such a conversation cause we’re like people do not care about circulation or reference or like who processes the books or who puts them on the shelf or any of that stuff. They care about what they want to do with the library, they can do.
Hillary Ostlund: And that anyone they choose to approach or however they choose to use the library service models, whether it’s self service or talking to someone or engaging virtually, I mean that they’re going to just get someone who can do that or find out that everybody knows how to tell you about an event rather than going to like one set service point who can look up that said calendar with the event that wasn’t for everybody. So we’ve just been really deliberate about unpacking as much as possible to, you know, train our staff to just really help people at the point of need.
Stephanie Chase: And I think what we’re really thinking about, well what does the structure look like to support that? We had gone on an inspiration trip to Zappos. So we’ve done this multiple times; when we get to the end of the fiscal year, if we have a little bit of money left, it’s amazing how inexpensively you can often get a group of people somewhere. And so we went to see Zappos in particular because of their structures. So they’re really well known. I mean, they’re very well known for their customer service, which is part of why we wanted to go, but they’re also really well known for their use of holacracy, which is a form of self management, and so as we were sitting there listening to how they kind of organized staff and empower staff, in order to provide great customer service, I think most of us were like, well, we kind of do this. This is kind of like what we do in libraries, you know, and because we like Zappos, right? You have no idea what somebody who’s going to ask you about, and so we started looking a little bit more into holacracy and it was definitely, there’s a real structure and like a real philosophy behind it that was too heavyweight for us. But what was really inspirational was, I think one of the foundational concepts is that you separate the organization of the people from the organization of the work, and some of what we had found, again, like we’re in this county where staff move around a lot. We had staff who would get promoted staff who would change, you know, responsibilities. So on one hand we were really feeling like staff were getting new supervisors kind of too often for, we wanted to have more stability there. And so that concept of organizing the people separately from the work just really appealed. So in our structure, like in holacracy, your supervisor stays consistent and that’s true no matter what you’re working on. And your supervisor is responsible for all of those things you do, your time sheets and your time off requests and all of that stuff. But your supervisor’s really dedicated to your personal professional development. So your supervisor is like, Hillary likes to say, it’s like your homeroom teacher, it’s like coming back to touch base and that’s consistent. And then the work, you may then have 10 different people who are, you know, your quote unquote supervisor for work that you’re doing depending on the work that you’re doing.
Hillary Ostlund: And that can be peers or you know, librarians who aren’t technically supervisors.
Stephanie Chase: And so that’s how we’re really structuring things. And when we did a lot of work to try to match staff with supervisor based on kind of communication styles and strengths, it’s time to probably do that again.
Hillary Ostlund: It is.
Stephanie Chase: But then what we emphasize to all of the staff is that you work for the library so you don’t work for a department or you don’t work for an area, you work for the library, and so on the other side, right, really about the structure that we have to organize the work, we have a system we call the quadrant system. I think we’re getting ready to kind of like, by the time this podcast comes out, it will be changed because we’re at a point where talking about making some changes now, but that’s, you know, when we developed this, each quadrant had a manager, there were four managers, and we really talked about making sure those quadrants were expressions of kind of what we wanted people to feel and be able to do with the library. So there’s Connect, which I mean feels really obvious, right? We want people to connect with each other, with their community, with resource. Explore because we really want people to like learn new things and engage in creativity. Innovate, where we want people to try new things and be able to have a way to do new things like Cultivate because we really want people to grow. And those reflect internally too so that we have an emphasis on process improvement and innovation work. Hillary’s quadrant where it was really focusing on again that personal professional development and then recruitment and hiring and staff culture, and so each manager has a set of supervisors that reports to them and those supervisors are really kind of like the subject experts, or the leaders in an area, and they’re the only staff who are assigned to a quadrant because everybody else again works for the library. And so a great example we have is one of our library assistants is actually in retiring on Wednesday. She, when I got to the library, worked at technical services and she was great, super efficient. She had to put all the labels on our AV. And so she, but she always had a lot of ideas and she had a lot of questions. So in an earlier reorg where we created staff-led teams, so that were teams that were led by staff. They had a management sponsor, but the management sponsor was only there to essentially provide resource or do a resource check-in, it wasn’t about leading the group. So one of our first groups was the Innovation Team. And so the staff member Lynn was on the Innovation Team, and she just got really excited about things and as we started to reorganize, she admitted that she really wanted to do some public service time, and so then she, eventually, when we still had traditional departments, she switched out of technical services to public services so she could have public service time, but she still knew she was the only person who knew how to do some things. So she was still doing some technical services work, but then as time went on, she wanted to learn how to do story times. So she started doing story times and she just kept adding skills and interests, and she, I think is one of the great examples of someone who works for the library because she does public service time. She helps with materials, get materials out on the shelves, she does story time, she does programming. She was an active participant in a staff-led team, you know, just all of this stuff. And so for most staff, I think, sometimes if you’re looking for your place, like in a chart, it’s like a big circle that’s like the library. Everybody’s just in it, you know. But I think it’s been really rewarding because we’re so committed to connecting staff interests and staff strengths, with what the feedback that we’re getting from the public.
Hillary Ostlund: And that’s really, I think like just the only thing I would really add. And it was an awesome, amazing recap, Stephanie. I feel like is that the staff strengths is what this has really been about. And even in the beginning we maybe didn’t have the language or the tools to even define it and it’s actually moved more quickly than maybe even we thought it would because the staff just really respond well to this. I mean, they like being able to be on different project teams, and we call it work circles for some of the things that have to happen all the time, like cataloging and interlibrary loan. So before it would be, like, one or two people really did those things. And you know, I like to just also add and share that we had people who came to us to say, this is so freeing for me because I never could go on vacation. I could never leave because I was the only one person that did this. So anytime you can build resiliency into tasks and daily work or anything that people are doing, it’s better for the organization but also for the health of your employees. That was just sort of a side note tip that I learned and I just, I think again that strengths piece can’t be touted enough when you ask people what they really like doing and if you can tap that into your strategic plan and organizational need. I mean, good things are bound to happen, but it does take that time to step back and invest in people at the individual level and then matching them to the best supervisor you can. It’s not always perfect. I mean, we’ll be perfectly honest with you if you have other questions anytime, let us know. I mean like it’s definitely hard cause it takes a different type of performance management and the supervisors have been really great at trying to kind of learn this new style of supervision, too, because they are not the expert at every task anymore. They used to supervise one work area. Right now they’re supervising a group of people who may have a style that works best for them, matched to the supervisor and so they have to be okay with like, you know what? I don’t actually know what goes on in the cataloging work circle. Let’s check in with the person who does and that that’s okay. It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to not be perfect. And again, that’s a shift in a lot of, I think, tenured library staffs’ thinking.
Steve Thomas: It sounds like a lot of overlapping Venn diagrams.
Hillary Ostlund: Yes it is. Like venn diagram galore.
Steve Thomas: So I think both of the sessions that you guys did it ALA (I don’t know if you did more than two, but I went to two of them) and they were both packed and people were, and I got there a little bit late for the second one I had to sit on the floor, which was challenging because I was trying to livetweet and stuff. It was a little difficult. One of the reasons people were drawn to, particularly one of them was, you were talked about the desk-less model and I think that’s kind of, my library has done that. And I know we get a lot of questions about it all the time and that’s kind of a trend in libraries now where you’re looking at that. It’s one of those things that’s kind of a hot take kind of thing in the library world, going desk-less or going Dewey-less and all this stuff. It’s sacred cows that we’ve gotten rid of. Can you talk about the challenges of going desk-less and then the positives of that, of what led you to do that in the first place?
Hillary Ostlund: Well, we’ve been talking about this in libraries for as long as I’ve been, you know, in libraries, so 20 years of how to change your service model. And I think like that’s really what it was for us at its core. But we knew that going desk-less would grab attention.
Stephanie Chase: But it wasn’t even our intention really, you know. So I wrote an article in the May / June Public Libraries that talks about kind of our whole process bccause it’s like where we ended up being desk-less was this whole evolution that it wasn’t our end goal, you know, so when we were kind of back at that one same place where like while we have reclassified a lot of our staff so everybody could answer, you know, at least basic questions. We had told all the librarians, so we have the expectation to be able to do account work, and we moved to a single service point and so I think one of the things, that’s just important to know about Hillsboro is, we see between 2500 – 3000 people a day, in our libraries and our big location, we see on average about 2000 people. And so it’s a lot, a lot of people. And so when we had staff behind the single service point, staff were really excited to do it. But, it was the first time I think that any of us realized how busy the library was.
Hillary Ostlund: We’d created a clog almost inadvertently by combining service at one point instead of having it spread out across the floor.
Stephanie Chase: Yeah. So the lines were really intense and staff hated it. The public hated it, of course, but the staff hated it. And so I remember staff just saying like how guilty they felt, like when they would leave to go walk and help somebody with something and everybody in the line would just be giving them dagger eyes as they walked by. And that also then when they got away from the desk, how hard it was to get back to the desk. And so we had to wait a long time to get the big desk removed from that busy location. And you know, through this whole time we were kind of talking about like how do we get to a smaller footprint? We had done some design thinking work and some prototyping and really had gotten feedback from our users that they wanted more self service options. Like people didn’t know they could do it for themselves and they want it to do it for themselves. So we’re just kind of going through all of this kind of stuff. And we were really held back by not being able to remove the desks because of the kind of domino effect of like, we need new carpet, this needed to be repaired and all of this. And so we actually… staff got really tired of it. So we abandoned the desk actually and moved to this like just this little desk that we bought as just a like a demo.
Hillary Ostlund: Yeah. It’s like that Demco one that you can get.
Stephanie Chase: And we’re just like we just wanted to try something. And so staff just really liked being free I guess. And so by the time the desk got ripped up and we were at a point where we could kind of say, well, what is the new little service point look like? Staff were just like, well, what if we just didn’t have one? What if we just didn’t have service points? We had been on another one of those kind of exploration trips. We had been to Anythink, the Anythink system just outside of Denver and we were really inspired by a setup that they have where they have staff perches. So you have a staff client kind of, they’re sprinkled throughout the library and so we did that. We would pair a staff client with a catalog. So you are never too far away from the staff client if you needed it. And again, this was a whole process that was really, really driven by staff. You know, staff didn’t want to have this, they didn’t want to carry a thing. They didn’t want a desk back. They didn’t like the little demo desks. I mean just all of this stuff. And I wish I could remember who was just like, well what if we just didn’t have one?
Hillary Ostlund: Well I think it came out on a lot of the design thinking. We even did some prototyping with a lot of our volunteers who participated and members of the Innovation Team that Stephanie mentioned. And that was our first, like we did many different models. So we tried kind of like the Apple Store model, would that work? And we got feedback from people who really engage with our services and really it came down to like, they want to find you on the floor and they want you to help them. And they like to know that you’re going to help them. And that led to things like the staff coming up with I think is the most amazing dress code. Ever, because it is staff-driven and they wanted to wear what they call a service layer. So we have beautiful aprons and we have name badges and buttons that say “Ask Me” in English and Spanish and we have logo t-shirts, and like having that brand has really helped because then people feel confident on the floor. We still get patrons who are like, but where do I go? And that’s understandable. Because again, we’ve trained people who know libraries and have used libraries over the years to go to a certain desk. So some of that is helping them learn that you can grab any of us now and we’ll help you, you know, look for these clues. So we did a lot of marketing around that. We had signage up at that vacant desk that Stephanie mentioned. We took it as an opportunity to be like, here’s what you’re going to see now as our service model. Did everybody love it from the public? No. Are we still handling comments? Sure. But I think like people recognize like, oh, so like you can, you can help me? It’s okay that you’re helping me instead of like looking for that right person. It just takes some time and some reeducation again. But for new users and even my husband and the other day came into the library – I forgot to tell you this – he hadn’t been in a long time and he was just like, it’s looking amazing in here. It’s so open and welcoming and like everybody was so friendly. And I think some of that’s just, we’re walking around, right? We’re looking for you. We’re not trying to, you know, like bug you, right? Like, we’re looking, we’re really making it clear that we’re there for you. And that became the goal more than just even going desk-less and it was very staff-driven. It’s just been iterative over years. My best advice I’d say for people looking to do this in their libraries is it doesn’t have to all be planned out perfectly. You’re never going, by the time you get a plan up perfectly with facilities and everybody involved, you’re going to want to change it anyway. So like if you can take those small steps and do some trials and be okay with a temporary desk that isn’t like the best furniture ever, you know, and just say, this is a trial and do a lot of beta, you’re going to be better for it. And your staff will appreciate it because they can participate and then be nimble.
Stephanie Chase: Yeah. And I think it’s really important to have someone who is an advocate. I remember what the little demo desks that we ended up using. People kept trying to want to add things to it and I would just be like, “No, no, no, no. You can’t add a piece of furniture. No, you can’t have a shelf.” Because the point wasn’t to make it permanent. So you also need that backbone too, but I think some is like, as this was going on too, and we were through going through that strategic planning process that we also developed a new mission statement. So, our mission statement is “For Everyone, Para Todos.” And so some of what we were really looking at, what does the desk represent? And we covered this in that going desk-less session, you know, good service, quote unquote, looks like a person behind the desk, only to a certain portion of the public, you know, and we just kind of went through like here, you know, and it’s service really geared toward our super user. Right. And when you think about the typical library super-user that person doesn’t look like actually the majority of the people who are coming into our libraries. And so we just really challenged people to think like, what does really good service look like for everyone? Right? And so we’re going to have to stop putting all of our resources in this one bucket so that we can also put some resource in some other buckets. And, you know, so I think we’re still trying to figure out, I think, how to capture some of that impact. But I think, you know, from our staff, again, we know that combined with a staff where we have that, as we’ve talked about earlier, that real dedication to having a staff that is really reflective of our community. I think when we talk to our diverse staff, the feedback that we get is that our diverse public feel a lot more comfortable engaging with staff. You know, cause like you can walk up to the person you want to walk up to. And you don’t have to wait in line and you don’t have to worry about people overhearing your question and you don’t have to worry about who’s going to answer that. You know, you don’t have to do any of that. You can really choose who you want to talk to and usually that could be a person you can engage with that person in your preferred language, all of those things. So I think we also just really challenged people to think like of course like your typical, I mean like, I mean I’ll put myself there, right? Like as someone like mid forties white lady, super reader use the library for a long time, right, knows what I want when I come to the desk to ask. Right? Like we’re really building service for that person, right? I’m not like most people coming into the library and like I also could use the library on my own, right? Like the service that I’ve been able to access for my lifetime has meant I can use the library on my own. Most people don’t have that opportunity and it will mean you have to serve me quote unquote less in order to make sure that other people can have the ability to connect with the library.
Hillary Ostlund: And every librarian I know… I mean, you too, probably, Steve, is always asking, how do we get to the patrons we’re not serving? How do we get to the community that’s underserved? And I mean, in order to do that you’ve got to take a look at these really important issues. It’s not always happening in the traditional ways and it’s hard because it takes that planning time on the back end. And what was the analogy our friend Matt Finch, who I would encourage all listeners to look up, he does amazing work and facilitation for innovation and like creative thinking and not just in libraries, but he’ll work with libraries. He said that great quote about like, if you don’t take the time to put the gas in your car… do you remember? Like, you know, you get to the point where you’re like always on empty and you’ve got to get gas. And that’s how I feel like we were operating at like before. That’s me actually all the time with my gas tank, still, sadly. But at work, I feel like more of the like, okay, we don’t want to get to that point, we’re gonna have to step back and if that means like unpeeling all these layers of traditional barriers, systematic barriers, being honest about what we’ve been doing as a disservice to people over the years, even in libraries, as much as we care. It’s pretty painful, and that “For Everyone, Para Todos” line has been so powerful with our staff because it’s like, okay, I understand you want to do one more Book Babies session, you know, this week, but is Book Babies really the thing we need to spend extra time on or would it be better to get out to that park in the van we mentioned and do like a popup program? And I think like having them kind of see that change and impact right, has been so powerful for every staff member.
Steve Thomas: So the last thing that I wanted to talk about, which is a little off of that, is more your outreach kind of stuff. I know I just read something recently (it’ll be a few weeks ago now when this episode comes out) but you talked about the Tiny Branches that you have opening at the parks. Can you talk about that program a little bit and how that helps your community?
Hillary Ostlund: It’s great, I love that we’re ending with this because we started out by talking about how collaborative we are in this city and that it’s not Parks and Rec, the show, with us because, I think it was just, was it last summer or was it only a year ago? I think it was that two members of our parks and rec maintenance staff who Stephanie and I just know came and said, you know, we’re having problems with our tiny branches, our Little Free Libraries. We didn’t even know they had them in the parks, I don’t think.
Stephanie Chase: Right, they had had an Eagle Scout project and another kind of student project that had installed Little Free Libraries in some parks. But that was it.
Hillary Ostlund: And maintenance was like, “It’s really a problem. Like, people are leaving stuff we don’t want in there. And like, we don’t know what to do. Like, could the library help?” And of course we’re just like, “Um, yeah!”
Stephanie Chase: I think they were, like, “What should we do?” And we were like, we can help.
Hillary Ostlund: And it led to, you know, I think they were hoping for just, you know, maybe picking up some books occasionally and we were like, “Oh no, oh no, no, no, we’re going to go big!” And a couple of our staff were really excited to lead the project and it led to a very cool branding campaign. We now have them in seven libraries, or seven parks, to start and we’re calling them Tiny Branches because there’s obviously copyright and things to think about when you’re doing Little Free Libraries officially, but it’s that same concept. And so Tiny Branches in Hillsboro are now all painted the same color and, like, have a really welcoming feel to them and they’re in parks. And we took it as an opportunity to really expand our services and provide access and hope that people kind of have some fun in a different way in parks, and it was a great collaboration with our parks department who were so thrilled that now they can take care of them maintenance-wise. But we have volunteers who became Tiny Branch Librarians and the name tags are so cute.
Stephanie Chase: They are, I put one on Twitter.
Hillary Ostlund: They’re so cute, and it’s a family opportunity to volunteer. You can do it by yourself if you’d like to, as well, but we had a real call, or a real interest from families. So the first Tiny Branch librarians yesterday who adopted it is a mom with her two sons and they were there to do the tiny ribbon cutting with the mayor. So it was really special.
Stephanie Chase: It was, you know, and I think there’s always, I think, whenever we talk about some of this, too, like we also have a book vending machine or you talk about unstaffed library access or any of these things. I think a lot of people in our profession get really worked up about it. You know, and I think like of course a Tiny Branch in a park is not going to replace a library. That’s not the point. You know, the point for us is just like, how do we remind people about the library? How do we connect people to the, how do we strengthen our collaborative partnerships? How do we find volunteer opportunities for families? Just all of these things, and while at the same time, like if you’re in a gorgeous park, like maybe you’ll pick a book up and read it while you lay on the grass or sit at a picnic table or, you know, I think there’s a lot about Little Free Libraries, you know, where, they take a lot of upkeep, you know, and that they tend to then be placed in areas where they’re not really serving a literacy need. And you know, here we were really deliberate about placing them in parks, where they’re in areas and neighborhoods in our community that had some literacy need, and then really just pairing it again with somebody who’s going to do that work. Like collection maintenance work is collection maintenance, right? And our Friends of the Library are supplying the Tiny Branch librarians with their materials, you know, so that there’s just always good stuff, right? So it’s not about like replacing going to the library, it’s about all this other stuff, right? It’s about connecting. It’s about again, joy, like when you find a great book that you were looking for the opportunity to share things. You know, our mayor brought a book, he was the one who put the first book in to contribute. He brought a book by a Hillsboro resident who was a Holocaust survivor who had passed away at the end of last year. You know, he got kind of like choked up talking about it, you know what I mean? That’s what these programs are about. You know? And I think for me, whenever we can just increase access, right, and increase connection with the library with books and with reading, that’s so important. You know? And it’s okay. It’s also okay if somebody reads books out of a Tiny Branch and doesn’t come to the library, like that’s okay. Cause really what we’re here for, right, is to connect the community and help people connect with readings.
Hillary Ostlund: And as anybody knows in libraries, volunteers make such a difference in what we do and to give them meaningful opportunities like this, I mean, it’s just been amazing. We have a waiting list already of 45 people who wants to be Tiny Branch librarians because they care about their neighborhood and their community. And I think, who better to tap into than those ambassadors who then we can connect with like materials and kind of a procedure, right? Cause it does take upkeep, but we have that structure. We just need the help and the bodies. And so we found that by just social media call-outs and yeah, now we need 45 more.
Steve Thomas: And I agreed the Tiny Branches, the unstaffed library hours, the vending machines, things like that, these are supplemental services to what we’re already offering. It’s not a replacement. And I know, like you said, people get freaked out about it cause I think they’re looking at how things have worked in Great Britain, but America is not Great Britain. It’s not the same thing, and we’re not dealing with the same issues that they are, so that’s not… not to say it could never happen here, but that’s not what we’re doing. And that’s not how it’s being sold. And that’s not how we’re pushing it. And I don’t think it’s a good way to push it like this as cause you know, libraries are not going to be open until 10:00 at night, but if you can have an unstaffed thing, then that’s great. And that provides more access for our communities.
Stephanie Chase: I think it’s so important to remember. But again, if you’re truly patron-centric and you’re truly patron-driven, you know, we have to recognize that people will help determine what that service looks like. And we have to acknowledge that we have a lot of people who live in our communities who do not want to talk to us. And you know what I mean? Like, a librarian is not something for them. Right? And so if we can provide them with a way to connect with a resource where they don’t have to deal with something they don’t want to deal with, you know, I mean, librarians are great, right? Library people are great. Not everybody thinks so, and sometimes there’s really good reason, right? And sometimes it’s time and sometimes it’s lifestyle, whatever. Why are we saying there’s only one way to use the library?
Steve Thomas: So thank you so much for coming on and sharing, especially about your new… or lack of org structure and all the great things that you’re doing for your Hillsboro community.
Hillary Ostlund: Thanks. Thank you so much, Steve.
Steve Thomas: If people want to get back in touch with you to ask follow-up questions, how could they do that?
Hillary Ostlund: I think the easiest is honestly, we’re so active on Twitter. So I’m @libraryhillary.
Stephanie Chase: And I’m @acornsandnuts.
Hillary Ostlund: And if you want to link to our ALA presentations, too, you’re more than welcome. I think you have the links to those slides on the episode.
Steve Thomas: Yes, I will. I’ll do that so people can click over and look at those and get more detail on both those, cause you did, you did one presentation basically on the desk-less model and the other one was more on, how would you describe it? Like how you transitioned your staff?
Hillary Ostlund: Yeah, blowing up the silos of library work.
Steve Thomas: Lots of good stuff for the people who are asking questions of, “Yeah, but how did staff react?” Well, that’s the presentation for you.
Hillary Ostlund: Thank you again for having us.