The OLC had the opportunity to speak with Lance Werner ahead of his keynote presentation, Better Libraries and Stronger Communities Through Kindness, Empathy & Love, Thurs., Oct. 4, at the Convention and Expo at the Kalahari Resort and Convention Center in Sandusky.
Werner is the Executive Director of the Kent District Library (KDL) in Michigan and was named the top librarian in the nation by Library Journal
earlier this year. He also recently announced his candidacy for the president of the American Library Association.
OLC: How do you encourage staff members to share information, concerns, and ideas with you?
Werner: My whole goal is to develop a level of trust that is high enough where people feel comfortable coming to me. I encourage people to get right to the point, whatever the issue or idea is, straight away. My only rule is that they have to be succinct with that concern or idea. If you provide a safe environment, all of that circling around the issue really becomes unnecessary. A lot of the time organizational hierarchy gets in the way of good work. I feel that it shouldn’t. Anyone is cable of being brilliant and anyone’s ideas or problems are important to them.
OLC: Tell us about the best hires at your library. What skills have they brought with them?
Werner: We hire certain folks for skill set, but just having that skill set is never enough. We really try to hone in on people that share our values of kindness, empathy & love. We want them to feel upbeat about the work we do here at KDL. We call it the KDL family because this is their home away from home.We all have this incredible gift to be able to spend our lives making the world a better place. All of us in libraries want to leave the world a better place than where we found it. And so friendliness, kindness and empathy that is genuine and authentic are all things we really value around here. Everybody has their good days and bad days, but even on their bad days, they are trying. I believe comfort is a close cousin to complacency. And when you are too comfortable, you are sliding backwards. It’s good to push yourself a little bit each day, and it keeps the work fun and challenging.
OLC: You seem very upbeat and high energy. Is there anything about your job that drains your energy?
Werner: When people are afraid to act, lose their motivation, and the work gets monotonous, I find it hugely draining. I really enjoy being in an active place and not being governed by fear in our decision making. When people get bogged down in their fear of failure, I find it uninspiring. It is expected at KDL to reach and fail. If you are not failing, you’re not reaching. And if you’re not reaching, you’re not growing. I believe you have to be willing to upset the apple cart if it needs to be upset.
OLC: What is the best advice anyone ever gave you, and did you follow it?
Werner: My first job was working in an academic law library. I did almost every job there from the circulation desk to collection development to technical services. When I was about to take a big jump in my career, I asked my boss at the time, Charles Ten Brink if he had any advice for me. He said, “Do great things.” And that’s what I’ve tried to do and in fact, I’m still trying. I’m going to give it hell to the very end.
OLC: Why did you decide to run for ALA president?
Werner: This an exciting time for libraries because their role has never been more important than it is now. I’m running against Julius Jefferson who works at the Library of Congress. I support him and I’m happy that he is my opponent. We plan to have a good, upbeat campaign that will focus on the issues. It will be good for the profession. I told him that he and I are now connected and we will always remember each other, so let’s make this campaign a great experience.
Learn more about the keynotes at the 2018 Convention and Expo.