Valerie Gross

This is Circulating Ideas. I’m Steve Thomas. The guest today is Valerie J. Gross. She’s the president and CEO of Howard County Library System in Maryland. She’s a very large advocate of the Libraries Equal Education philosophy, and as part of her library living that out, they won the Library of the Year award in 2013 for Library Journal. Valerie is also the author of Transforming Our Image, Building Our Brand: The Education Advantage.

Valerie, welcome to the show.

Well, thank you very much.

I did notice, before we get into the main topic I want to talk to you about, I did notice in your bio that you have both a music degree and a law degree in addition to your MLS.

That is correct.

Do you think you take anything from those other two degrees that inform your work as a librarian?

Well, the music degree, interesting enough, in addition to sort of the logic and the mathematics that one tends to associate with music assigned to, just sort of other professions. The concept of preparation, I think, is what I take from it. So, for instance, Condoleeza Rice, I believe, studied music at some high level, maybe even a master’s degree in it. And she is a really successful leader, and there are plenty of others, too. In fact, the Christian Science Monitor did a study on this. But this notion that we musicians know that preparation is key to the delivery of a really professional presentation, whether it’s the performance of a piece that one has practiced or the delivery of a keynote address, so it’s that piece, I find. And from the law, well, I think the premise of the vocabulary, strategic vocabulary, really having an influence on the audience — as a lawyer, all you really have is words, whether you are writing, whether you are presenting your case in front of a judge or a jury, all you really have is words and the manner in which you deliver it. So, this appreciation for language, I think, and maybe some negotiating skills [laughs], perhaps, have contributed to what I do. So, there [laughs].

[laughs] OK. And that really does lead into what I wanted to most talk to you about was, and that’s — you sort of have a, you wrote an article recently for Marketing Library Services, called “Strategic Vocabulary.” And that’s something that I heard you speak about recently as well, and I think one of the keys to really helping out libraries in the current day, because it seems like our biggest problem is that people don’t understand exactly what we do.

Right. The unifying message that seems to be missing from our profession, it is, we’ve somehow diluted our mission and our vision. At the turn of the 20th century, we were established as the great equalizer. We were established as providing — providers of education, educational institutions, so that everyone and everyone had opportunity to improve their lives through education. And this vision that I talk about, that includes the strategic vocabulary, really takes us back to the beginning of why we were established. And strategic vocabulary is a key component of getting that vision back to, reclaiming that purpose and being very crystal-clear about it.

And a big part of that is that you point out, like you did this with, talking about your law degree, that words really do have power, that the way you describe things is really gonna push how people understand you.

Yes. The premise of this vision involves, really, exclusively, language. It doesn’t require that anybody change anything they do, simply what they say, how they talk about what they do. And the language part involves the educational institution piece, where you speak about yourselves as an educational institution, and library professionals, library staff, as educators — a team of educators and support staff that deliver on this educational mission. The second piece of this vision involves positioning everything the library does under an easy-to-remember concept. It’s three pillars. The first pillar is self-directed education, the second one is research assistance and instruction, and the third one is instructive and enlightening experiences. So, again, you’re using language in a really clear, succinct way to describe who we are, what we do, and why we matter. And then that third prong is the strategic vocabulary, in addition to the strongest word, which is “education,” which is what people understand and value and therefore fund. But that third piece of this vision is the strategic vocabulary, so you’re switching out words that really tend to trivialize our values, words like “story time,” which, to many people, means babysitting, it means really not very much. It means play, which is important, but it’s never gonna get you the same respect and funding as education does. The best kind of education is play and discovery, but you have to, we have to teach the one third of America that doesn’t know what we do, according to Pew Research, precisely what we do and what our true value is. And so capitalizing on the power of language to really harness that means we never again have to explain why we’re important. The words we use, the very words we use, will convey that.

And that’s kind of the strange thing, because the Pew reports always show, you know, that we have, like, 97 percent approval ratings, but then, like you said, a third don’t even know what we do. So, they know we’re important, but they’re not really sure why [laughs], almost.

That’s right. And I would assert that the rest of the two thirds think they know what we do, but they don’t. Internally . . .


. . .  we know why we’re important, but there’s somehow a disconnect with the people outside the profession. They think they know what we do. You know, the national symbol that is the person reading the book, that sends the wrong message, because that is only a small piece of the first pillar of what we do, self-directed education, that also includes all kinds of e-resources. It’s anything our experts make available to the general public, students of all ages, for them to access on their own. So, it’s e-resources. Then, there’s the whole, missing to that image, is the second and the third pillar — the second being research assistance and instruction. It’s our research specialists delivering personalized research assistant. Notice I didn’t call it “reference,” or even “information,” because there too, those are words that are somewhat meaningless to the general public, and therefore command less perceived value, and therefore less funding. But if you call it “research,” then suddenly, people understand precisely what it is and they say, “Oh, wow. Yes. We’ll fund that.” Then the instruction piece, I’ve been studying it, and calling it “programs” and “story time” — those are two words that really are, again, trivializing the value. To call that “classes,” “seminars,” “workshops,” and so, we’re teaching those classes. To actually use the word “teach” — our instructors teach classes. It sounds kind of foreign the first time you say it.


And it is precisely what we do. Then, that third pillar’s completely missing too, from that national symbol: the instructive, enlightening experiences. A lot of library systems talk about the community center, building community, cultural-center concept, bringing people together to discuss ideas, which is really what that third pillar is, which is even more important — the more technological this world becomes, the more important is to keep that human connection there, because that’s how we interact. And so, that third piece. So, missing from that national symbol is all three of those very important pillars, and everything we do falls under each of those, and so, again, back to the Pew research, which says one third don’t know what we do, I would assert to you that nearly the whole — well, it’s simply, we’re not communicating very well. Even the people who think they know what we do don’t. And so, it is just very easy to use this language that then, through the words themselves, convey the values. So, it’s a very easy teaching tool.

Right. I mean, all librarians have encountered people who are, “Oh, it must be nice to sit around and read all day.” It’s like, “Well, that’s . . . “


“That’s not really what I do, but lemme explain it,” and then you explain to them what you do, and they understand and think it’s a really cool thing. But that’s sort of the first impression of a lot of people, is that we sit around and read all day [laughs].

That’s absolutely right. The next time you’re on a plane, Steve, when you sit down next to somebody and they greet you and you chat a little bit, and they say, “Oh, what do you do?” — instead of saying you’re a librarian, which, just, as you just now said, the first thing they’re gonna think about is that you sit around and read books all day, and they’ll say, “Oh, that’s nice” — say, instead, that you’re an educator, and they will say to you, “Oh, college? University? School?” And you’ll say, “No, public library,” and they’ll look at you, and they’ll be kind of puzzled, and then you can say, “I conduct research, I teach classes, and I enable public education for everyone.” And so, it’s a completely different viewpoint that you’ll get from them, and it’s opportunity to teach the person sitting next to you. Or if you are, let’s say, a children’s instructor, most libraries would call them children’s librarians or children’s library associates. And again, you have the same thing. “Oh, that’s nice. You sit around and read books all day. What else do you do?” Well, if you tell them that you provide information and that you do story time, they’re still gonna say, “Oh, that’s nice. My son can get all the information he needs off the internet, and I read to my daughter all the time. That’s nice.” But they won’t necessarily think it’s something value-enhanced, or something that they need to go. Conversely, if you say, “I’m an instructor and research specialist, they’ll say, “Oh, what kind of research?” “Oh, specialized, personalized research, depending on what the need of the student is.” “Oh, and what do you teach?” “I teach children’s classes that teach of the foundations of reading, rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, sounds, and words, and any subject matter, including math and science, through children’s literature.” They’ll say, “Oh, what school system do you work for?” And you’ll say, “Oh, I don’t work in a school system. I work at a public library.” And they’ll say “Oh my goodness. I’d better take my kids to the library.” So, you’re putting yourselves on equal footing with the schools by implementing this vision, which, by the way, is a growing movement in the United States and beyond. So, it’s not just Howard County, and it’s been, actually — it’s an evolving vision that has been contributed to over the past decade by thousands of professionals just like you, Steve, and others, who have asked questions that are very good, and provided feedback that has really shaped just the whole — refined it. And it’s incredibly powerful.

Yeah, I know, and I think that’s really one of the reasons that I wanted to do this podcast in the first place, is ‘cuz I’m aware that I think 90 percent of — 95 percent — meaning even the people who listen who are librarians already, but I would love it for other people to listen so they can find out, actually, what librarians do and that we’re not just their stereotypes, and things like that. Because we’re all doing such great things to keep the library going into the future, and it’s not gonna die out like [laughs] all the articles like to say. We might, if we were what they thought we were, but we’re not, so.

Yeah. And so, to incorporate these pieces and to start injecting this vocabulary will make us first-class. We’re treated second-class quite a bit, and we are first-class. We’re better than first-class, and this vision can accomplish that. There’s another important piece that I think should be highlighted: this concept that as a profession, we tend to be humble. We tend to be — again, not necessarily able and willing to just stand up and assert, we are your highest priority. We are education, what you value most, and this is then, therefore, you need to fund us because we are the future. Actually, on NPR, there was a piece in August that I woke up to one morning, and it was a piece that was about Silicon Valley in California. And they were interviewing people who had moved away before Silicon Valley just blossomed and boomed, and it was, “OK, what, how, why — why did that happen? What’s the common denominator in all of the successful cities?” And the answer was — it was according to an economist, I think a Berkeley economist, he said, “There is no common denominator. The only known factor of the success of any community is an investment in education.” And so, if we can insinuate public libraries into the definition of education, people will then immediately place that value in what we do and we’ll never again have to explain that, and justify our inherent value. So, it’s that piece. So, this notion that, of course we have to do great things, and so it’s what we do and how we do it — libraries are terrific at that, so it’s talking about what we do so that we never again have to justify our very existence and talk about that we are essential. We need to eradicate that from our vocabulary. The schools, if the schools would say it, than it’s safe to say. If the schools would do it, it’s safe to do. If the schools wouldn’t say it — for instance, would the schools ever ask the question, “Are we relevant?” Or would the schools ever assert, “Oh, we have to remain relevant”? Well, investors flee from that kind of weak assertion, and it’s simply — it’s an unstable, uncertain future, and so no wonder our funders sometimes, inappropriately, slash our budgets. It’s because they don’t understand. But we are responsible for teaching them our value and so, this association with education will mean that never again will we ever have to explain why we’re important. Yes, we’ll still, like the schools, have to advertise just the quality that we are. And so, you then talk about the high-quality public education that you deliver, but you don’t ever again get that quizzical look that says, “Tell me again why you’re essential?” That will be completely eradicated if we, as a profession, embrace this Libraries Equal Education vision.

Yeah, and I was gonna get to that, talking about not being just relevant, because that really affected me personally. Because that’s how I sort of used to describe the show to people; I would say, “It’s libraries showing that libraries are still relevant.” And that’s really — I agree with you, now that I think about it, that it’s not a good term, and also, I’ve switched to now, it’s “librarians keeping libraries vibrant in the 21st century” [laughs], so . . .

Yes. And so, that’s very good. And I’m so pleased to hear that, because that is what we need to do. We need to assert that we are, that we design and deliver the very best in education, 21st-century style. We need to use strong terminology and assert that we deliver high-quality public education. We design and deliver a world-class curriculum. That’s another term that I didn’t mention earlier. Programs and services: a program, what’s that? It is computer-related, to most people, or it is passive, or it is something that you get when you go to a concert. A program at university level can mean an over-arching term under which you have projects and classes and a whole series of pieces. But as a profession, we tend to misuse that word, and it was somewhat — yet again, mostly when we say the word “program,” we mean classes, events, seminars. And then “services,” we tend to use as a profession, to mean not what the world understands when we say that word. A service is something that helps people. So, how much funding are you gonna get for that? Conversely, if you say the word “curriculum,” which, if you look it up, it means a transformative experience. It means inside, outside of school. It is a word that, once you understand that you’re an educational institution in everything we do, all three of those pillars comprises our curriculum. And it’s that, second only to the word “education,” “curriculum” is a very strong word. If you look at somebody, and they say, “Oh, what do you, what does the library do,” we say, “We deliver high-quality — we deliver education for everyone, through a curriculum that comprises three pillars,” and then you talk about the pillars. And they’ll just look at you and they’ll say, “Wow,” as opposed to if you say, “We provide information through programs and services,” the first thing that comes to their mind is maybe a community service or a social service — again, nothing wrong with that, but you’re never going to get the respect and the associated funding that accompanies education. In fact, at the federal level, at the state level, and the local level, in most jurisdictions, what gets the most funding is education. During the recession, I was just with — it was my privilege to attend the White House event ConnectED for the Future, on November 19, and I was there with IMLS director Susan Hildreth. And we were both kind of shaking our heads on the way out at the fact that once again, the president, in his remarks, didn’t mention libraries. Now, granted, we were invited to the event, which is a start. At the same time, the insinuation was that the schools and the school superintendents are the ones who are best situated to talk about bridging the digital divide and how crucial it is to have technology now as part of the education piece. Missing in all of that was how library CEOs — now that’s part of the problem — most libraries’ presidents and CEOs are still called “directors” or “city librarians” or “county librarians,” and so the president doesn’t fully appreciate that we are president and CEOs just like the superintendents — they know that those are the people who are the leaders. In the university setting, the president, you know that the president reports to the board. Well, in the business and the academic world, which is, by the way, what this vision is. It combines the best of the business world and also the academic world. So, we have to infuse words like “efficient” and “accountable” and “responsible” so that everybody knows that an investment in the libraries is a sound investment for a huge return on that investment. But back to my point about the understand. This is, again, useful words to convey accurately our true value. So, you’ll see that in Maryland alone now, Prince George’s County, the former director is now CEO. In Pratt [sounds like], the CEO there, they were perhaps the first in Maryland to switch to it. And then, my title switched to President and CEO. Now, in Hartford County, Mary Hassler is now CEO and Skip Auld in Anne Arundel County, CEO. So, you’re seeing more of these CEOs. And in Gina Milsap, CEO. The more we can move to accurate titles that describe, in a flash — in the business world and in the academic world, a director reports to maybe an executive director, who maybe reports to the vice-president or chief operating officer, who reports to either the president or the CEO, who then reports to the board. So, no wonder, at events, when I used to go there, 10-12 years ago, before my title change, I would go represent the community, and I would introduce myself, and they’d say, “Oh you’re the director of Howard County Library System. Which department?” And it occured to me that the reason I was asked that question is because, well, of course, a director — it shortchanges the value. It’s actually an inaccurate title for the position. And so, it is simply — our titles are a real opportunity and again, once you have a title at the high level that accurately conveys, then you can change the title of — many libraries have “assistant director,” which can be misconstrued as the “assistant to the director” [laughs] . . .


. . . and so, it shortchanges the value there. So, chief operating officer, vice president and chief operating officer are good titles for that level. Then you can take the head of PR and accurately call that “director of PR.”

Well, and I think that all ties in to your other thing about vocab, and that’s another vocabulary problem [laughs]. I mean, you’re calling that position the wrong thing, so.

Yes, and if I could also mention the circulation department — to most people, circulation, circulating, it means things that go around in circles, it means blood running through your veins, and I think to get the stronger, better, more respected piece to that department, too — consider calling it Customer Service. Customer-service specialists. Customer Service department, that’s really what we do, what we deliver. We all aim to deliver extraordinary customer service, so there’s that. Which takes me to just one more point, if I may, Steve.

[laughs] You may.

“Customer.” Most libraries, or many libraries still use the word “patron,” and I just wanted to set forth the rationale for the level of the best words to use to describe our customer base. And the best one, because it really aligns libraries with education quite easily, is the word “student. “Student” is easy to use for our customer base, which is K through 12, and our customers that are college-related, even the younger kids, to call them students. That’s kind of an easy thing to do. So, use when you can, the word “student.” A little bit harder is to use “student” for the adult customer base, and so, to say “students of all ages” when you can is terrific. Or, you deliver a curriculum for students of all ages. The next best term is “customer,” and that is because “customer” implies that — it associates the business component of the vision. It furthers that piece of it, and we all want to deliver extraordinary customer service. The third best one is “user,” and the reason is that it does no damage. Neither does it advance, either, of what we can benefit from advancing, which is the education and business. The worst one is “patron.” And the reason is, this vision we want to be, like the schools, viewed on equal footing with the schools so that we are publicly funded. Our operating and our capital. We shouldn’t be fundraising to build capital projects. We should not be fundraising to deliver our curriculum, because we are public education like the schools. So, if the schools wouldn’t use private funding for something, we should really think carefully about doing that. I’m remembering, during the recession, there were serious cuts. I mean, they won’t happen if we implement this vision, because — unless the schools are also being cut. But I’m remembering, in one jurisdiction, 50 percent of their budget was cut, and they were all proud about how they had raised funding so that they could keep the buildings open. Would the schools ever do that? Answer: no. It’s really dangerous to set that precent because it sends the message that it is OK to be privately funded for public education. And so, the word “patron” sends this dangerous message that it is OK, because “patron of the arts” is probably the most common phrase that comes to mind with that. But we want to be on equal footing with the schools, and so to use the word “students” when we can, “students of all ages,” teaching classes — that we are “educators,” and then our “customer base” is the next best thing, because of the business proposition.

But one thing I really like about this whole philosophy is that I think it also — also, I think it brings librarians of all different types together. Because, obviously, school librarians and academic librarians are already thinking in these terms of education. And it sort of brings public libraries into that fold. So, it kind of unites us as a profession, too.

That’s a very good point, and this is also a vision that can be embraced by the other library types. That’s any type, any library size. And what happens in the university setting and the school setting, is that the library department, if you will, becomes as important as the most important department at the university. In fact, I would argue that it is more important, ‘cuz without the library, everything else falls apart. That’s the goal for any school library or university library, that that is the nexus, that is the epicenter, for the success of the whole education program, of the whole university. So, equal footing with the other departments. The other piece that this vision does, is it crystallizes for internal staff the purpose. So, you’re no longer just working at a place where the goal is to remain relevant, which — how exciting would that be? You wonder whether you’re gonna be keeping your job. But if you’re working for an organization that knows exactly who it is, what it’s doing, and why it’s important, you are energized. You’re working for a cause. You are what the world values most, therefore you see yourself differently. The morale is different. I just went, on Monday this week, to welcome maybe 10 new staff members to Howard County Library System. We just hired some people, promoted a few. And to say to them, “We are a world-class organization for really only one reason. It’s quite simple: we hire world-class people who are committed to delivering on our educational mission with extraordinary customer service. Welcome to your library” — you know, it infuses them with, “Wow, I’m here, now, working for this organization with a crystal-clear purpose” — they stand up tall and proud from day one, and so you have the opportunity to just really bring your own staff together with this purpose, and it’s really very, very powerful. Then, of course, externally, it is the increased respect in the community, which then is an increase in perceived value, which then translates to the maximized funding that you receive. In Howard County during the recession, we were able to continue throughout to give our staff a three percent salary — they didn’t get cost-of-living, but we give merit increases to our full- and part-time staff each year if they are in good standing in the organization — and so, everybody got a three percent salary increase even during the recession. And it is because we lobbied — I lobbied the previous county executive, and then the one that is now just termina-, concluding his eight years in office — I lobbied to be moved from Community Services into Education, at the Education tab at the county level, which was symbolic and also, then, in reality, Community Services during the recession got cut 23 percent. We, along with the school system and the community college, which are in this tab, we were flat-funded, and so we moved things around internally to still fund the most important-valued component of our library system, which is the faces of Howard County, the people who are here. The people are our most valued asset. And so, the logic was, “OK, we’ll take a little bit from here so that we can then continue with the professional development of our most valued asset, because we want to have our staff continue with their, just their forward professional movement in their career paths.” And so, to be able to do that — but it’s because we were able to convince this county that we are their highest priority. And I think that’s the point where — because it does take time — this changing from saying “librarians” and “library associates” to “instructor” and “research specialist,” changing the words, the terminology from “programs and services” to “curriculum” through these three pillars, changing from saying “circulation department” and “information desk” to “customer service” and “research desk” does take time. And so, there were some people right away who said, “Wow, when can I change my title? It’s not official yet — can I start using it now” — to those who don’t really care one way or another and can be swayed. Then, there were probably a few who said, “This is not what I want to be part of at all.”


And so, it is simply — once you start, I think here in Howard County, when — unlike all the other jurisdictions around us that were being cut, 15 percent, 20 percent, 33 percent in one neighboring county — when we were flat-funded, I mean to flat-fund us, they had to cut elsewhere, and so, I think that was a key piece to this. Now, it didn’t hurt either that we were named Library of the Year for this vision by Library Journal in 2013. I think there too, if there were any stragglers in Howard County Library System wondering whether this was a vision that was going to be longtime, long-standing, I think at that point they said yes, this is great. And to be acknowledged so visibly, they took great pride in that. And also, I keep pressing upon them that others are seeing successes with this too. Delane James in Minnesota comes to mind. She wrote to me and she said, “All the other jurisdictions got dramatic funding cuts. We got the increases that we requested, and it was because of this Libraries Equal Education vision and the strategic vocabulary.” In Indiana this summer, Alexandria Public Library, they too saw some tremendous — they were stunned by the power of the “E” word, is how they put it. And so, to go and lobby for funding, you mention that you are education. People fund education. That’s what they value. And that’s what we are; regardless of whether you agree, that’s precisely what we are. So you might as well get credit for it. And the funding that accompanies it — call yourself what you are, because that is precisely what we do every day.

As the leader of a large organization, preferably maybe called a president or CEO, or whether you’re called director or whatever, do you have any advice to people, if they’re going through a big change like this, changing the way we talk about things — how you lead your staff through that? Because, like you said, there’s always gonna be that small part that don’t want to do it, and then there’s that middle part that is unsure; how do you lead them through that change in a positive way?

The first thing to do is to explain the entire piece to the staff. And this is not something that can be understood in five minutes. You really have to experience what it is, why it works, and so, to be exposed to the entire vision and why it is successful and why it works. What it is and why it works. So, that’s the first piece. Then, you just take it slowly, and you decide to stop calling the story times “story times,” and you say, “I’m going to call it . . . ” — Play Partners is actually a children’s class, so we’re gonna call these our children’s classes, they’re a drop-in class. And the community knows, the people who are already coming to the story time, know that it’s a children’s class. The people who aren’t coming think it’s a waste of their time, that it’s just play and babysitting, and so why would they want to do that? But as soon as those people also recognize that it is a class that teaches all of these foundations and subject matters, et cetera, they’ll start coming, too. And as you make one small change and then you experience the benefits of it, more then will want to come up [sounds like]. So, you do have to decide what you’re going to do in the beginning. You’re gonna stop calling the reference desk “Reference” or “Information,” because “information” is ubiquitous. “Information” is passive. “Research” is powerful. “Research” is active. “Research” gives the accurate credit to the research specialists, and so, to change the titles, to change the department, maybe, you start with “Circulation.” And maybe that’s the first one. You decide “Customer Service,” and you get the staff together, and you say, “Everybody’s gonna have, now, new titles. Here are your badges, and so now, you are now a Customer Service Specialist.” It’s the very same job, but this now accurately conveys to our customers precisely what you do every day, and the value that you provide to this organization. You enable the education that we deliver. And so, the leader of the organization can then write it: every communication is a teaching opportunity. So, you talk about this internally in your meetings and what you’re going to be doing. And it took about a decade in Howard County to do this, because the press used to write about us, and talk about our story times, and it took maybe a year or two before they started putting the headlines, “Library Classes for Preschoolers,” or just the classes that we teach for all ages. If we start speaking the language internally, others will too. We just had an election, right? And so, I sent out a congratulatory note to all of the people who were elected, and I said, “Congratulations, look forward to working with you, to continue delivering the very best in public education for all in Howard County.” And then, yeah, I didn’t say “the library,” I said precisely the words that I wanted to teaching them. Some of them have already been exposed those this; others, maybe, have been less so. So, the new people at the state level in particular, here was the first introduction to, “We are what you value most,” and perhaps that was the first time that they had heard it. So, every written piece, every annual report — look at the website — and you simply, you decide to do it a little bit at a time. Here’s what you do, you start talking about yourselves as an educational institution, your library staff members as a team of educators and support staff. So, the leadership has a very powerful opportunity to push out the message. Then you’ll get people in the positions that are actually — the instructor positions, and the customer service positions, who are just incredibly pleased to finally be appreciated for what they do. You can use the 20 percent of your staff members who get it right away to guide the others. And then as you have promotional opportunities within, or you hire from outside, you talk about the strategic vocabulary, put together a piece that says, “This is the expectation; we would like you to come in,” so, it’s an opportunity then to just continue with that. And the people who are very unhappy, who want to still be viewed as the traditional librarian — which, again, is causing — you’re never gonna get the funding for that anymore, and so, they will move to — if they move out or they retire, if they can, and it’s kind of unfortunate, but it is also a piece of reality. The bottom line is, it is imperative that we be fully appreciated and valued for who were are, what we do, and why we matter, because that is the key to being viewed, being part, being a key component of the education enterprise, not just today, but 100 years from now. 200 years from now. If we adopt this vision, like the schools, we are timeless. Things will change, like the schools. Online classes have changed the manner in which teachers and professors teach. Similarly, libraries. The second pillar of our educational mission: instruction. That’s going to evolve over time. But never again will we be questioned, will our inherent value be questioned: “Oh, with new technology, do we now need librarians? Can we get rid of libraries? Is it a waste of taxpayer money?” That will be completely forever eradicated and never again, if we adopt this unifying message, crystal-clear purpose, that accurately conveys. And staff, when thy understand that it’s job security, and you simply then have to continue pressing upon it and moving forward a little bit, recognizing that it’s a little bit like green olives and dry white wine and sharp cheddar cheese. You don’t necessarily love it right away. Some people do.


Most people have to acquire the taste.

I love that comparison [laughs].

[laughs] Did you just [sounds like] like all three of those, Steve, right away, when you tasted them?

I still don’t like olives, so [laughs].

You still don’t like olives, right. Well, obviously, I didn’t necessarily like right away, and now I absolutely love it, so.

Addicted. All right. For my last question, I actually wanna bring it back to something you mentioned at the beginning. You were talking about the way the national symbol of libraries, a little guy reading a book, is not really indicative of what we do. Not to put you on the spot, but do you have an idea of what that national symbol should be?

Well, yes. We’ve been talking about the three pillars. There’s an accompanying image of these three pillars that’s on Howard County Libraries’ website if you want to go there; just key in “three pillars” and they will come up. It is an image of a — it looks like an educational institution, really. Libraries Equal Education. It is three pillars and then there are various renderings of that image that actually either have Libraries Equals Education only, or it has self-directed education, research assistance and instruction, and instructive and enlightening experiences only, and there’s one more that has some explanation under each of the pillars. And you can use those effectively as you develop testimony to support your FY16 operating and capital budgets. You drop in the visual. You’re sending a letter to the FCC to support [inaudible]. You say “Libraries Equals Education.” In fact, the Urban Libraries Council did that quite effectively this summer. They didn’t use the image, but their headline was, “Public Libraries Equals Education.” Students; students for life. Educational institutions, educators — as important as schools. And so, they used that very effectively to lobby. So, you can use this locally, at the state level, and at the federal level — and if you drop in the visual, as you were talking about, how libraries are education, the visual speaks loudly and very effectively. And it looks blue, like the national symbol does, but it is that. It’s also on my website, at I have it there. if you remember the name of the book or my name, or Howard County Library, is our library’s website. You can go there, grab it, use it. It’s available, and it is incredibly effective.

All right, well, Valerie, thank you so much for coming to speak to me today. I really appreciate your inspirational message to really get libraries moving into the future.

Well, thanks, Steve. Appreciate the opportunity.

All right. Bye-bye.


All right, well, thank you so much!

Yup, have a good day!

Especially on your day off!

Oh, yes, thank you!

All right, thanks, bye bye!