Interview with Deborah Schmidle

Deborah Schmidle is currently the principal consultant at Schmidle Consulting Services. She has developed and taught numerous organizational development-related workshops and has facilitated strategic-planning processes for libraries and library organizations. She holds an M.L.I.S. from Syracuse University and a Certificate in Contemporary Leadership from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. Prior to retiring in March 2013, she was Director of Research & Learning Services at Cornell University Library (CUL). Deborah teaches the six courses in our Certificate in Library Management program. She has taught the full sequence a number of times now, and can say a lot about the experience. She agreed to do an interview here, to give people more of a sense of who she is and what her series of courses is like.

Deb, thanks for agreeing to do this interview.

Thanks for this opportunity Rory, I look forward to talking with you.

I’d like to start by asking you to tell us just a bit more about your background that has led you to do the teaching and consulting that you do.

My library background has been pretty varied! I have worked in and with libraries, for over 40 years now. I started out as a page in my local public library. After a few years there, I moved to an academic library. With the exception of a stint at Nylink (an OCLC network) and a local historical society, I have pretty much stayed with academia. Over the decades, I have done everything from cataloging, reference, collection development, circulation, special collections, instruction, and library management. I am sure I have forgotten a couple of things, as well!

I have always loved teaching and my original intent was to get my doctorate in History and go into academic teaching, However, partway through the process, I ran out of steam (and funding!) and I also decided I wanted a more assured job future. By this time, I had been at Cornell for several years and I really enjoyed reference and instruction. I am a natural extrovert and I get my energy from interacting with others. The instruction piece of my job also fed my desire to teach. At that point, I decided librarianship was a natural fit.

My first job post-MLIS was at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell where I developed and taught an Internet training program for labor unions. This was in the early days of the Internet and we traveled throughout New York State, training people on the basics of using the Internet for research and developing their local union websites. It was a great job and a lot of fun. It was also the first time I designed and taught day-long or multi-day workshops and I loved it. It was also at the ILR School that I became introduced to, and interested in, organizational development, including topics related to management, leadership, and conflict resolution.

When I moved to Albany and joined Nylink as their Director of Library and Educational Services, I decided to develop a management training program for librarians. As I said earlier, Nylink was an OCLC network so most of our training was centered around OCLC products. Our members included all library types of all sizes. Over the years I had seen many librarians and support staff promoted into supervisory roles with no mentorship or training. This was especially true in smaller libraries where in-house management training simply wasn’t feasible due to a lack of resources. Therefore, these individuals would suddenly find themselves in charge of supervising a department with no real support. Moving into a supervisory position for the first time is always daunting; it is even more so if you have had no training on how to handle the issues that arise in this arena. It was that gap in professional development that I wanted to address.

After leaving Nylink and retuning to Cornell, at the invitation of libraries and library organizations I continued to speak at library conferences and offer workshops on topics like communication strategies and change management. After retiring as Director of Research and Learning Services at the Cornell University Library, it seemed a natural fit to move into consulting. I also wanted to continue teaching and Library Juice Academy has been a great opportunity to do so.

Great, thanks for telling us about your background. Shifting gears, could you describe your certificate program in library management?

Sure. The program consists of six courses that are all somewhat inter-related. They can be taken in a six-month series, out of sequence, or as standalone courses. The series starts with Effective Communication Strategies. In my opinion, this is the foundation on which all of the other courses are built. It is also the running thread throughout the series. Effective communication is key every component of our lives, professionally and personally. I honestly believe that 90% of workplace problems can be addressed through communicating clearly, respectfully, and honestly. It is something about which I feel very passionate (as any of my students will attest 🙂 )

The series continues with Planning and Leading Effective Team Meetings. As librarians, we are often called upon to chair or lead meetings. Sometimes these meting are regularly-scheduled meeting within a department. Other times, these are more broadly-based meetings with shorter lifespans (such as committee or project meetings) that often involve participants from numerous departments or functional areas in the library. Therefore, this course looks not only at practical issues such as the steps necessary to set up and run a meeting, but also at how to build and lead a team of participants throughout this process. Again, effective communications play a large role in this process.

The third course, Strategic Planning, applies the lessons of the first two courses as we look at how the library is currently functioning and in what direction the library wishes to grow. We cover various strategic planning tools, as well as discussing how to consider the needs of library stakeholders (both internally and externally) in this process. We also touch on the concept of scenario planning, an important component of strategic planning.

Critical Strategies for Implementing and Managing Organizational Change is the fourth course in the series. I positioned this after Strategic Planning since (as most of us have experienced), change is the result of strategic planning. Change is also really challenging for most of us. It is also something all of us experience on a regular basis. We grow older, we may get married, we may have children, we may move or start new jobs. In this course, we examine several change models for helping organizations effectively move through change by helping staff understand, accept, and hopefully even embrace change. It is also a good course for self-reflection. How do we feel and respond to change? Being in tune with our own experiences often provides us with empathy for the emotional responses that others encounter during the change process.

Growing, Developing and Retaining Dynamic Staff is the fifth offering and again, overlaps with some of the other courses. Often strategic planning and/or change initiative result in new staff, reorganized staff, promoted staff, etc. Staff are our greatest assets. That is not just a platitude–it is true. Poor hires and high staff turnover is expensive, time-consuming, and detrimental to both library staff and library services. Therefore, it is essential that we hire smart. It is even more essential that once we have hired the best staff possible, we then nature and mentor them throughout their time in the library, for both the good of the library and for the professional fulfillment of our staff. As with the courses that came before it, this course is mixture of very practical advice (including sample interview questions) with a bit of theory thrown in for good measure.

The final course offering is Telling Your Story: Successful Marketing Strategies for Libraries. In an era of competing priorities and tight budgets, libraries are frequently fighting for resources. This course looks at various marketing strategies, including how to build and deliver effective messaging. It also emphasizes how to create collaborative
stakeholder partnerships in order to successfully highlight and demonstrate the library’s worth to its constituents. The ability to creatively “tell our story” as libraries is a skill that is not often taught.

I started out by saying that the common thread through all of these courses is communication. Another common component is the practical nature of these courses. While a discussion of theory is built into most of these courses, I wanted to develop resources and tools that participants could put into action immediately. Therefore, there is also a strong practice-based component to these courses. Because these courses are somewhat interrelated, I also go back and revisit concepts we discussed in earlier courses as a way of tying all of the pieces together.

Thanks for that thorough description. Now I’d like to switch gears and ask you to reflect a bit on your experience teaching this series through Library Juice Academy. What was the experience like, for you and the students?

When I started teaching for Library Juice Academy, I didn’t have much experience with online teaching. My goal was to make the experience as enriching as possible for the students and to keep them engaged throughout the courses. From the start, I knew I didn’t want to give them just transcripts to read. Different people have different learning styles and I thought a singular approach would not be the best one. Therefore, I write my lectures and then create PowerPoint slides to accompany them. I’ve attended a lot of deadly PowerPoint presentations so I use these slides as a jumping off point for the lecture, rather than read word for word from them. From there, I record my voice over the slides, upload the material to password-protected YouTube account (so the material is not accessible to the public) and then download the recording to Moodle.

In addition to the recording, I give students the full transcript so they have both options. The process is a lot of work but the students appreciate it. After each course, I survey students as to their learning preferences and it is an even split between those you prefer the recorded lectures, those who prefer the transcripts, and those who want both! I also include video clips and images for some visual stimulation. In addition, I try to include some funny video clips or anecdotes just to keep things lively. I also offer the occasional live chat meet up and I encourage them to participate in the weekly discussion forum assignments.

Initially, I missed the face-to-face interaction with students, but I feel that we have somewhat replicated that in our discussion forums. Although I have never met any of my students, I feel like I know some of them (particularly the ones who do take all six courses), quite well.

I can’t speak for the students, but based on the evaluations and direct feedback to me, I think most of them have found the experience a very good one. I have received many emails thanking me for the courses and often they will cite specific examples of how the courses are helping them in their work. To me, getting that feedback is as rewarding as teaching itself. I always encourage my students to stay in touch. I tell them that their relationship with me doesn’t have to end after the courses end and I am always happy to available to offer professional advice or talk them through a particularly tricky management problem, should the need arise. Despite having a consulting business, I also offer this for free since they were my students. I like keeping that connection and I take a great deal of fulfillment and satisfaction in helping them succeed and feel confident in their work.

I should also add that Library Juice Academy provides great support for me and my students. Whenever I have a technical question regarding the Moodle software, there is always someone there to help me out! Moodle also offers great flexility that allows me to share material in various formats with my students.

One final point on that last question. When I discuss encouraging the students to stay in touch, I would add that that I also encourage them to build a community of support amongst one another by actively engaging with each other in the discussion forum. I emphasize that they can often learn a lot from each other’s experiences. I think these relationships are particularly strong within the certificate program cohort.

Well, that sounds great. Final question. Is there anything else you’d like to say to readers?

This has been a very enriching experience for me and I look forward to meeting new students in the future. Also, if anyone has further questions about any of the courses, they should always fee free to contact me.

Thanks very much!

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