2012 Eureka Fellow: Heather Cousin
When I first began as the City Librarian in Moorpark in 2011, I knew I was suddenly swimming in the deep end. Although in the past, I supervised staff, ran departments, worked with library boards and all the other regular librarian tasks, too numerous to mention, this was different. Now, I was the one responsible for doing those things. I had a steep learning curve and am still very much in the learning phase. Fortunately, I have some great experiences on which to draw.
I began my library career at Riverside Public Library in Children's Services where my supervisor was not only a great colleague but an outstanding mentor. Long before I heard of Raganathan's laws, she told me, when serving patrons, librarians are like shoe salesmen, you have to find the right fit for the customer. She led by example and I came away from the experience with a great appreciation for the idea of librarianship as a form of community service. Although earning my teaching credential at the time, she inspired me to pursue a degree in Library Science.
After a short teaching career, supplemented with part-time library work, I got my first professional position as the Children's Librarian for the new Biane Library at Victoria Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga. Being part of the team opening a new library was exciting, exhilarating and a little exhausting. Expectations were high but we more than exceeded them. We had an amazing team who was (and is) capable of anything. I gained much from the experience -- how to provide exceptional customer service, successfully work with stakeholders and community partners, manage a staff and how to provide guerrilla story times . It was in Rancho I discovered great service means being wherever someone needs you, whenever they need you with whatever they need from you -- and if you can't be, then find someone who can!
The best experience I had working in Rancho, was it was while working at the library I met my future husband. After relocating to Thousand Oaks, I made the very difficult decision to leave Rancho Cucamonga and accept the position of Children's Services Supervisor at the Arcadia Public Library. Like working in Rancho Cucamonga, what made the experience great was working with a wonderful Children's Services staff. Although I was not looking for a management position and never saw myself as a director, the position in Moorpark proved a challenge too good to ignore.
If anyone were to ask just what I do as a City Librarian, I would be hard pressed to narrow it down. In my first year and a half in Moorpark, I have done everything from fix toilets to create budgets to work the circulation desk to oversee the design of our new building. Being a library director, anywhere, means being there for your staff, the public and all the stakeholders. And, in a small library, it is all of those things, plus. Sometimes, it means making the difficult decisions and enforcing unpopular ideas with professionalism and poise. It requires you to watch for any and all opportunities to promote, partner and plan for your library's sustainable future. In short, like the old slogan says, "it's the toughest job, you'll ever love".
I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated my experience as a children's librarian -- now more than ever. Multitasking, public speaking, outreach, event planning, budgeting, supervising, these are all second nature to most children's librarians and they are all essential to the position of director, as well.
To gain a better understanding of the larger picture and where my library fits within it, I became a member of and work with several service organizations in Moorpark. I also serve on the executive board for our cooperative, the Southern California Library Cooperative and have held committee positions in CLA. Becoming involved in these local, regional and statewide organizations has informed my decisions and given me a better perspective.
My goal for the Eureka Institute is to expand my knowledge of just what it means to be a successful leader and begin to develop the skills and strategies that will help me get there. While I am becoming more confident with the "nuts and bolts" of my position, I am eager to take the next step -- planning for success. There are multiple projects, both big and small, in my library's future. How can I motivate my staff and better engage my community? What can I do to position myself and the library for the big changes that, hopefully lie ahead?