Fall 2001

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Editorial: Let's Develop Some Workable Solutions

by Edwin M. Field, TRUSTEE Editor, NYSALB Director

Fall 2001 issue of Trustee

A fellow board member recently penned an e-mail to members of our board.  He was annoyed and rightly disturbed about the poor response to a System wide invitation to a rather important annual meeting that also included a luncheon. My friend sent the following e-mail to members of the board who were equally upset about the low attendance numbers: "It is," he said, "a puzzlement! We provide good speakers, good food, a smashing view and venue and good parking. We subsidize the cost of the luncheon, and in spite of all that, we end up with a so-so turnout."

Experience has shown that it's not that unusual to see the same scenario played out at trustee learning and informational programs that are offered. This example is merely a symptom requiring a remedy. Consider for a moment the old adage: "You can bring a horse to water but you can't make it drink."  This time-tested saying apparently may still have relevance, at least with some library trustees. When, for example, a great deal of time, energy and funding goes into planning a program or a vital learning experience and the attendance, or interest response regularly doesn't meet expectations, a problem exists.

Now, many will fault the program planners. Some will place the blame on personal time constraints.  Others will lay the problem off to poor date selection and possibly dozens of other similar excuses. The fact is we knew when we took on the board responsibility that it came with certain obligations.

Like many of you, I've been involved with the world of libraries and library trustees for quite awhile, and at various interesting levels.  My local library, the regional Library System and the New York State Association of Library Boards. Perhaps we should place a portion of the blame on a lack of strong fellowship or bonding on the part of many trustees. This, however, may be too broad a brush stroke. The problem requires a great deal of additional thought, investigation and discussion.

If we were to do a survey, we would probably determine that the majority of attendees at many of our events and learning experiences are repeats with a limited number in the way of new participants or learners.  The former are the individuals who volunteer when asked and can be counted on to attend vital programs.

In response to the original attendance question some e-mails received suggested various "incentives" to build up the attendance numbers.   I don't believe, for example, that we should be in the position of feeling that we have to bribe people just to develop an audience, especially to an annual luncheon or a learning experience.  Bribe them with words that promise their participation in an outstanding, respected community organization.  Bribe them with required trustee training programs like former NYSALB president Parry Teasdale has suggested. Forget about a full range of perks like an extra large number of desserts served with the meal, free transportation to the event or cut rate charges for guests.

My take on the subject is that many of our library trustees in leadership positions, statewide, suffer from similar attendance maladies. A number of us would appreciate some sound suggestions with potential solutions to this participation problem.  It doesn't matter how far out or different the suggested solution. It may work and it's worth the investigative effort. We will be happy to make room in TRUSTEE for your letters with ideas on this subject.

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