Executive Director's Blog: Introductions

Dear NC LIVE Community,

I’m Rob Ross, the new Executive Director of NC LIVE.  I could not be happier to join an organization as impactful as NC LIVE and to serve a library community as revered as that of North Carolina.  I want to use this space to tell you a little about myself.

Who I am

My professional bio can be found online, so I won’t duplicate that here.  Instead, I’ll share a few personal tidbits so that, when you see me in person, you’ll have no shortage of conversation starters--

  • I am from Akron, Ohio and am the youngest of four children. 
  • My wife and I own and spoil three tiny dogs (Italian Greyhound, Miniature Pinscher and Mutt). 
  • I am food-obsessed, planning most weekends around where to eat.
  • I love to travel, a few favorite spots being Sintra, Portugal, Lyon, France and Taos, New Mexico.
  • I am in the process of (slowly) restoring my second vintage car, a 1960 Jaguar MK2.
  • I am a soccer nerd, so much so that I take scouting notes while watching matches to record each player’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • I have something of an obsession with a properly made old-fashioned cocktail.  If you know where I can get one in the Triangle, please let me know.

Where I come from

I began my career working in academic libraries, where I focused on Resource Sharing.  But for the past 8+ years I worked at OCLC, where I had the privilege to learn how a 20,000+ library membership organization operates.  During that time I was lucky enough to have some wonderful mentors who provided me opportunities to learn a broad array of business skills that I am now utilizing in my work on behalf of NC LIVE member libraries.

At OCLC I built programs to help libraries of all types successfully implement new technologies.  I especially enjoyed this role because working with libraries during an implementation provides a window into their culture, management style and attitudes toward change.  Implementations - even well-intentioned and well-planned ones - are stressors and, as such, bring to the surface all sorts of interesting dynamics.  I felt incredibly fortunate, in my position, to be able to see the inner workings of so many libraries.  My role as “outsider” provided me a unique vantage point from which to spot common trends in libraries, both good and bad.

One lesson I learned is that libraries are far more similar than they are different, even when they serve different user communities.  Patrons seek information and librarians, among many other things, help them find information as well as make their own.  This fundamental role transcends all nuances.  What’s more, libraries often utilize the same systems, content and services in helping patrons, giving them yet more in common.  While it’s easy to get hung up on the idiosyncrasies that make each of our libraries different, we have far more in common than not.

Another lesson I learned is that libraries can accomplish more together than they can alone.  It was our practice at OCLC to place implementing libraries into cohorts so that they could capitalize on the expertise and generosity of their peers to find the best solutions for their library.  Initially, libraries of different stripes expressed doubt as to whether or not they could learn (or teach) much from their new cohort-mates.  Inevitably, over the course of their implementation, these libraries found common ground, discovered resident expertise across the cohort, and formed mutually beneficial and sometimes unlikely partnerships with other libraries.  When a cohort jelled, it demonstrated how the power of individual libraries can be exponentially amplified through collaboration.

Why NC LIVE?

One of the first observations I made during the interview process was that NC LIVE’s members are incredibly engaged in its day-to-day operations.  I was able to meet several members of the working committees, who were kind enough to provide brief synopses of their current projects, and I was bowled over not only by the talent on display, but the level of commitment and sense of ownership committee members demonstrated.  It was evident that NC LIVE depends upon its members not only to set strategic direction, but also to carry out the work required to execute that strategy.  No doubt this grassroots approach ensures that NC LIVE acts in the best interests of its members.  For if we strayed, you all would quickly notice and set us straight!

While most other consortia are bound by the demographic they serve, limiting the efficiencies of scale they can realize, NC LIVE consists of four distinct Communities of Interest (COIs), yet acts as one entity in order to provide the broadest array of e-resources at the best cost for North Carolinians.  But operating as one entity across the state has other advantages as well.  Consider the lifecycle of a North Carolinian patron.  A grade school student discovers NC LIVE resources at her public library while working on a school science project about how rockets work.  Years later, as a community college student, she uses Occupational Outlook via NC LIVE to select a major.  A few years later at university she again relies on NC LIVE content to finish her senior capstone on urban renewal.  As an adult, this same woman returns to NC LIVE resources to research a medical condition, start a business, and plan for retirement.  It is truly powerful to work on behalf of an organization that enriches the lives of so many people at every stage of their development.

During the interview process, I took a closer look at the mission statement of NC LIVE:  “NC LIVE helps member libraries to better support education, enhance economic development, and improve the quality of life of all North Carolinians.”  I was struck by the enormous potential of NC LIVE to build on its accomplishments over the past 17 years of bringing e-resources to the citizens of North Carolina.  What more can NC LIVE do to fulfill its mission?  What programs, resources, services, partnerships, initiatives, etc. can NC LIVE and its members launch to make an even more significant impact on its communities?

What to expect

I’ve learned from other leaders that the wisest course in the first months in a new role is to ask questions, listen, and learn.  With this in mind, in the coming months I have three priorities:

    To engage with NC LIVE member libraries.  I want to meet NC LIVE member libraries so I can begin to understand your library’s most pressing challenges, what you value about NC LIVE today, and what you feel NC LIVE can help you accomplish in the future.

    To help tell the story of NC LIVE with you.  What the members of NC LIVE have accomplished over the past 17 years is incredible and inspiring.  Telling the stories of how NC LIVE has impacted the citizens of North Carolina is a critical means of sustaining (and increasing) support for NC LIVE.

    To grow NC LIVE.  The achievements of NC LIVE in the area of e-resources are impressive.  But libraries have many other areas of need and, as a library membership organization with a broad mission, NC LIVE is well-positioned to help meet those needs.  Growth could take the form of new or expanded services, membership growth, or new strategic partnerships.  Ultimately, how NC LIVE grows will be up to its members - you all. 

Watch this space

My intention is to use this space to engage with the NC LIVE community.  I can’t predict exactly what I will write about, but it’s safe to say that I’ll be sharing my observations as I get to know you all, I’ll be soliciting your input on ideas for new initiatives, and I’ll be discussing library leadership topics of interest.  I’ll also be taking requests.  If you have a topic you’d like my thoughts on, please let me know.

IMPORTANT:  Going forward, this blog will be opt-in only.  So, if you are interested in following along, please sign-up to receive an email notification when a new post is published. 

Final thoughts

I look forward to meeting you, learning more about your library and its challenges, and identifying what NC LIVE can do to help.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me at rob@nclive.org, LinkIn with me, or, if you see me at an event, please introduce yourself.  For those attending the NCLA Conference, I hope to see you there!

We are more similar than we are different, and we can continue to accomplish more together than alone.