Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Three Wise Women and Libraries

In the early 2000's, unknown to most library folks in Alberta, secret meetings were being held. None of the participants was sworn to secrecy but everyone knew that what was happening was not an approved way of operating for a public servant.

I was the "Library Guy" (Stan Woloshyn)  Alberta Public Library Service (1996-2009)

A former President of the Alberta Library Trustees Association called to ask me if I was interested in having tea with a small group that was interested in public libraries.

I was very interested because during this President's term with the Trustees Association we had had a super working relationship, accomplishing a great deal and building a very good working relationship with Trustees across the Province.

I was quite intrigued by the request and any help we could get with supporting libraries would be welcome.

After agreeing to meet I was given the date, time and told the gathering would be in a restaurant in St. Albert.

On the appointed day I drove up to St. Albert, found the restaurant and went in. The restaurant had booths with high back so I couldn't see the group. I gave the name of the President, who had made the reservation and was led to a booth.

As I arrived at the booth I was greeted by my host Mary Totman (Past President of ALTA), MaryO'Neil (MLA for St. Albert), and Her Honour Lois Hole.

Mary Totman did the introductions and Mary O'Neil put me on the spot right away with the question "what can we do for Alberta's Public Libraries".

Seeing that I was still in shock HH Lois Hole began talking about the importance of public libraries. I can't remember her exact words so I'm cribbing from her book "Lois Hole Speaks".

"Libraries are, I believe, the most important institution in our country, because everything else that's good in our society must flow from knowledge. Librarians are the guardians of wisdom and progress, but they don't hoard their treasure; they do their best to see that it is distributed far and wide." (page 139) It could just as easily been her famous story of the sweater in the chest of drawers...

With those few words the meetings with the Three Wise Women (my code) set off on a wonderful journey. Each time we would meet we would compare notes on what was happening in the library community, examine the political issues and look at the ongoing positioning of libraries.

Between meetings I provided all three with email updates and library quotes. For the two Mary's the emails were direct but to HH information that could be used in speeches was sent to her speech writer.

I attended many of the events where HH spoke of libraries and I was never disappointed with any of her messages. I especially looked forward to the annual AUMA Conference kick offs as HH rarely missed the opportunity to move out from behind the podium and with great elegance wag her finger at Premier Klein and remind him of the importance of libraries, literacy and education.

Mary O'Neil carried the library messages into caucus and with tremendous skill sowed the library messages into coffee conversations whenever appropriate.

Mary Totman carried the messages of her life long love of libraries into the community she lived in and to the many not for profit organizations she touched.

Their efforts, over a number of years, significantly contributed to raising awareness of the value of public libraries. They often talked about how libraries were changing. The messages of how libraries were using the internet and Supernet were highlighted.

The Three Wise Women were certainly Library Champions with HH Lois Hole often referred to in the library community as "the Patron saint of Libraries".

The help received was much appreciated and added to the momentum of telling the library story to decision makers, raising their understanding where libraries fit and how they were changing to be a vital 21st century institution.

Not every Minister responsible for public libraries is a "CHAMPION" but Shirley McClellan and Ray Danyluk must certainly be honoured along with Mary Lemessurier and Horst Schmidt.




So many stories; with The Three Wise Women I was never sure if my Deputy Bill Byrne or ADM Hugh Tadman knew of the meetings but if they did they never batted an eye....in fact they were probably just looking the other way. Old style public servants.......both incredible gentlemen!!

Lois Hole Speaks words that Matter, Lois Hole Edited by Mark Lisac, University of Alberta Press 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Snakes and Ladders: Reflecting on the need for careful and critical dialogue in the recreation sector




Today's blog is one written by a young professional in the Recreation Sector and expresses some of her very personal feelings & insights and some learnings. If you have reactions or thoughts you would like to share please use the Comment section. 

Lisa Tink is a courageous young professional from Alberta who blends diverse experience in research, policy and practice with a take no prisoners’ attitude.  Having worked in the provincial government, not-for-profit sector and with post-secondary institutions she is highly skilled and knowledgeable about all things recreation.  Lisa is passionate about bringing theory and policy to life and recognizes the value and role of relationships in doing so.


"As a 31 year old, I regularly seek career advice. After only 11 years in the sector it is a way for me to learn from those who have done more, seen more, and know more. It is also a way for me to connect with individuals who share a passion for recreation, who have fought for change, and who have an amazing ability to challenge me to think, reflect, and do better.

Despite the invaluable insights I have received over my years in the sector, I recently received some unsolicited career advice that left me feeling frustrated, sad, angry, and, ultimately, deflated. This particular piece of advice came from someone in a position of power. As I listened to the words of advice being put forward, I became frustrated by the lack of care in the choice of words being used as well as the lack of understanding and respect for the privilege and responsibility inherent in such a position.

My frustration quickly turned to sadness as I realized the intellectual discipline of critical thinking is no longer an asset that is celebrated or valued. Being ‘critical’ has become synonymous with being ‘argumentative’, ‘bitchy’, or ‘difficult’, rather than being recognized as a set of universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions, question assumptions, and provide reason, depth, breadth, fairness, consequences and alternative viewpoints.  Nor is it viewed as something that challenges norms in an attempt to develop alternatives to generally accepted beliefs, values, and power structures.

I felt angry because as I sat there and dissected those words of advice it became apparent that so many individuals in positions of power have lost sight of the fact that people are impacted by every decision they make: people with lives, families, passions, ideas, values, and voices. People who, for the most part, want to see leaders succeed as much as the leaders themselves want to succeed.

By the time I got home I felt completely deflated. I was deflated because I have given everything: my time, my ideas, my passion, my friendship, my voice… my life… to recreation. Yet this has only been visible to a fraction of people.

Questioning how I could shake these feelings I decided to share what I have learned during my time working in research, policy, and practice and outline my own top 10 pieces of ‘advice’ for those who would like to engage with them.  

1. Think critically, challenge assumptions, and strive for change. Remember that every one of us has the ability to influence political and social change by challenging norms and providing alternatives to generally accepted beliefs, values, and power structures. And, “if history shows us anything it’s that the world does yield change – surprising and sometimes radical change does happen” (Wesley, Zimmerman, Quinn Patton, 2006).

2. Read. Familiarize yourself with those who have influenced, examined, and shaped the destiny and minds of the leisure and recreation system across Canada. Read the 1987 Recreation Statement, read Dr. Tim Burton, read Ruben Nelson, read The Elora Prescription, read Ken Balmer, read the 2011 National Recreation Summit Proceedings and commissioned papers. Read anything and everything that will allow you to think critically, challenge assumptions, and strive for change!

3. Develop allies with those who possess similar values. Our values, principles, and standards of behaviour are a reflection of what we believe to be important in life and work. When surrounded by those who possess different values, principles, and standards of behaviour it can damage relationships, productivity, and job satisfaction. Choose your allies wisely.

4. Remember that leaders come in all ages, genders, and positions of power. Having a fancy title or supervising staff does not make you a leader.  Leaders take risks, make sacrifices, and make decisions with the greater good in mind. They listen effectively, know their strengths and weaknesses, and have the ability to be self-reflective. Leaders can, and do, exist at every level of an organizational chart and are most definitely not determined by age or gender.

5. Embrace complexity. Social change is not the result of a framework, a policy, or a strategic plan. Social change is the result of people who are able to embrace the complexity and messiness of individual, organizational and institutional relationships; individuals who can turn words into actions for the benefit of the masses. Social change is not a simple task like baking a cake; it is not a complicated task like building a rocket ship; it is a messy, terrifying and exciting journey just like raising a child (Getting to Maybe, 2006).

6. Ask and invite questions. Asking questions and inviting questions are the simplest and most effective way of learning. Both are a sign of leadership, intelligence and strength - not a sign of uncertainty or weakness.

7. Exercise your integrity, your voice, and your backbone. Unethical things happen. Often you do not have the ability to prevent them from happening - but you can and should try.  By exercising your integrity, your voice and your backbone you are demonstrating your values, priorities and beliefs. This can be a lonely and frustrating place but that is alright because sometimes you have to “stand up for what you believe in even if you are standing alone.”

8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help makes you a stronger leader and is the key to solving complex problems.  Those who ask for and openly receive support demonstrate an awareness of their strengths and weaknesses, their desire to grow professionally and personally, their confidence, and their concern for the greater good.
9. Be kind and honest. Remember that your individual acts of kindness and honesty will be remembered and reflected upon often.

10. Be yourself. There is only one you, embrace and celebrate who you are!"