Cara Potter

As director of Defiance Public Library System, which encompasses 34 employees and three buildings in the county, I am also the HR director (with support from the library system’s chief fiscal officer, labor lawyer, and the DPLS Board of Trustees). I just finished filling four empty positions. Barring any resignations in the next two weeks, at the end of October, we’ll be fully staffed for the first time in years.

Running recruitments this fall was much different than it was even last spring. Instead of 25+ applicants for each position, we received 10 or fewer. My mantra was, “We just need the one right person to apply.” Happily, we did have good candidates for each position, sometimes more than one right person, and I had to make tough decisions.

When hiring for the library, education and experience are considerations, and sometimes requirements, but primarily, I look for applicants who are emotionally mature, smart, enthusiastic, have good people skills, and are excited about learning. We can train people to work at the library, but we can’t train them to have the vital soft skills that make them a good employee.

My first library job was at the Boston Public Library. I was 22 years old and applied to shelve books because I loved the library building (in retrospect, not a great reason to apply for a job). The ancient hiring manager, named Rosalie Lange, offered me a job on the condition I got a graduate degree in library science and went through the Boston Public Library’s training program. Miss Lange saw something in me, gave me that opportunity, and started my career working in public libraries.

Earlier this month, I made offers to four candidates and filled our empty positions. All the new employees are within a few years of my age when I started my career at Boston Public Library. I’m really excited about the energy and ideas they’ll bring to the library, and am looking forward to mentoring them and offering them opportunities to grow. I think I brought the average age of DPLS employees down by about a decade with the new hires.

Challenges when hiring for the library system include the impact COVID-19 and related misinformation are having on the labor market and employee choices, the lack of mid-range rental housing near the library, that most adults living in Defiance County don’t have a college education, and that the pay rates the library is able to offer are below market. The Defiance Public Library System has been operating with the same State Public Library Fund and County levy income for almost 15 years. This and other past choices have resulted in the current library pay rates being far below what other employers are offering in our local economy. Addressing this issue and any expanded services at the libraries will involve a plan.

This leads me to ask you to please fill out the county-wide community survey about the Defiance Public Library and its branches in Sherwood and Hicksville. The survey is part of the library’s strategic planning process. After collecting the survey results and feedback from focus groups, we will create a strategic plan for the libraries for the next three to five years.

I’m very interested in what you think — community input is essential for this process, so that we can align library service areas and goals with community needs. To access the brief survey, visit defiancelibrary.info/survey, or visit defiancelibrary.org and click the community survey button near the top of the page.

Paper copies of the survey are also available inside each library and can be returned either in the drop boxes provided, in the book drops, or at the libraries’ main desks. There are 15 questions, and surveys can be submitted anonymously, unless respondents would like to enter a raffle prize drawing or participate in a focus group.

We hope to hear from you!

(Cara Potter is Director of the Defiance Public Library System. She may be contacted at cpotter@defiancelibrary.org. To see what the library has to offer, visit: www.defiancelibrary.org.)

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