Jenifer Grady, MSLS, MBA, CAE, was recently Director of the American Library Association – Allied Professional Association for more than seven years. ALA-APA was established to fulfill two missions: to support salary and status improvement initiatives and to certify library workers in specializations beyond their initial degree, whether it is an MSLS or a high school diploma.
She managed certification programs for public library managers and public and academic support staff, conducted salary surveys, delivered conference programs in areas such as negotiation and affordable healthcare, and edited a monthly newsletter called Library Worklife.
Jenifer took her MSLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her MBA from the Weatherhead School of Case Western Reserve University. She has been on staff and as a manager at academic, medical, nonprofit, government and public libraries. In her personal life, Jenifer is always on the lookout for great bread pudding and a nearby trail to walk or bike off the calories.
What experience have you had working in libraries?
I have a recollection of being in the library a lot as a first grader, perhaps helping. Time passed, then I was a page at my local public library branch as a teen, which is when my subconscious decided to be a librarian. My conscious mind said I was to become a systems analyst.
I have been in non-traditional settings and roles in academic, medical, non-profit and government libraries, and my only stint in what my parents call “real librarianship” was a part-time reference position for a short time before I went back to graduate school for my MBA.
After that, I worked on behalf of librarians and support staff as Director of the American Library Association-Allied Professional Association (ala-apa.org), which collected data and taught library staff to advocate for their own better pay and developed the Certified Public Library Administrator and Library Support Staff Certification Programs.
Those programs provide a rigorous professional development opportunity to gain a broader understanding of candidates' roles and how they fit in the grand scheme of a library's success.
What are your duties as Executive Director of Tenn-Share?
I came into this position at a unique time in Tenn-Share's history. It had never had a full-time director. The first director retired, the first database coordinator resigned to pursue another career goal, and the first membership records coordinator passed away. So my first duty is to merge their legacies into an operational model that works for me and the future of the organization.
Beyond administration, managing Tenn-Share means that I monitor our services, which are primarily database discounts and our new state-wide Firefly courier service, scheduled to launch soon. I am very involved in the planning of our professional development events in the fall, from logistics to seeking sponsorships to public relations.
One duty I take very seriously is member cultivation and I hope to discover more ways besides email to let the staff of our almost 600 member libraries know how much we appreciate their membership.
What do you like best about the job?
For most of my career I have been the first or the only person doing what I do, and though that was not my plan, it works well for me. I like the variety and the freedom to take the best of what the previous staff and volunteers did and figure out how to make that part of the association's culture.
The Board, committees, volunteers and our Business Manager are all really friendly, dependable, thoughtful and “present,” which is critical since I work from home and could feel isolated.
I love the challenge of trying to get a vendor to give our members a larger discount. The other part of this work that is fun is figuring out from analyzing our survey data and what members tell me when they contact me via email or phone what they need within our scope and how I can offer it.
Do you feel that publishers and vendors are willing to work with Tenn-Share to reduce prices for members?
This is definitely an “it depends” question. Some publishers and vendors are willing to extend significant discounts, but it's also up to our members to participate. I can understand why the publishers would expect that more than 1 or 2 members subscribe or purchase in order to give a hefty discount.
But I also know that their business models incorporate the discounts so it's up to me and our Electronic Resources Committee to find wiggle room and to leverage our member strength for maximum cost savings. I am also learning that publishers that sell through aggregators have their own agendas and goals.
I am always thinking about and tweaking marketing and promotion and how to make an offer appeal to our members so that I can show the vendor that it is worth their effort to give us a better price.
What is your opinion of e-books?
As I just checked out the 498-page Patricia Cornwell novel, Red Mist and will be carrying it, another book and my laptop on my back to my car, which is parked 30 minutes away, I say that e-books are a good thing, and I wish I had [an e-reader]. I downloaded a couple of books to my smartphone but know that I won't be reading them because it will drain the battery and I just like having a book in my hand. I'm not anti e-book, but prefer a device with multiple uses so I'm holding out until I see one that fits the bill and has a palatable cost. Or Santa brings me one.
As Executive Director of Tenn-Share, my opinion is more global. We work with vendors that provide access to and sell e-books, and I am listening to members to discern how we can coordinate offers that fit the needs of one or multiple library types.
E-books is such a huge topic from a purchasing perspective: from licensing to platforms to what happens to books owned “in perpetuity” if a member decides not to pay a host or a vendor gets merged. I am grateful to the people on American Library Association's e-Books committees, our own members, and even the vendor representatives who are assisting me with making good choices and asking the right questions.
Do you own the latest devices? (smartphones, tablet computers, ebook readers)?
I use my smartphone, a Droid, incessantly. I own an ultrabook and Tenn-Share uses one as well. I love the light weight and the only disadvantage I've noticed was when I went to present at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL) conference and realized that I need to bring an adapter because the thin machines don't have a VGA port.
As mentioned earlier, I am eagerly anticipating a gift of an e-reader from some as yet unknown source.
What can libraries do to stay relevant in today’s Internet world?
Pay attention and do things the patrons' way. Actually, I think libraries are about as relevant as many corporations and associations and probably more so than some non-profits.
I have to give credit to the people working in the libraries and not the buildings. It is my impression that library staff are seeking and creating cost effective and user-focused ways to interact online.
Like many other service organizations, we have to listen to all the voices and not jump to appease those who are the loudest. And the majority, regardless of library type, have to define relevance for strikingly distinguishable patron populations who have and have not. The disparity is also present in human, technological and economical resources for libraries.
Either way, library staff cannot afford to be passive, reactionary, insulated, or short-sighted. We try to be informed, if not experts, before the first question comes about how to connect online.
What is your favorite movie? Steel Magnolias, both the Shirley MacLaine (1989) and Alfre Woodard (2012) versions.
Who has influenced you the most in your life? What book has influenced you the most?
My mother's strength and smarts, my father's intellect and craftiness with his hands, my step-mother’s love of color and Montessori methodology, my 97-year old Aunt's humility, her son's out-of-the-box thinking, Marian Wright Edelman's love for children and achievement of her purpose (though I could never be a children's librarian), my best friends who are living their dreams, and my 5-year old daughter's trust and delight in the world are those who come right to mind, but there are dozens and dozens of others. I'm influenced by each person I meet and most by those who stick around.
The only book that I open on a regular basis is the Bible. I'm a voracious reader and have a terrible memory so it's rare that any book settles with me.
I am haunted by a work of fiction that I read, by a faculty member at some Southern university. In it, one character said you knew Southern women because they said everything three times in three different ways. I have never found that book again but it so describes both of my mothers! I love reading about friendships and families, particularly Southern. I guess if I had an e-reader I could search for it once I downloaded all the digitized Southern women's books, but what if it's not available in that format? But I digress.
What is your vision for the future for Tenn-Share?
I want Tenn-Share to have a strong brand and identity, to be delivering services that are unmatched and irresistible, and to be a required part of a librarian's orientation, particularly if s/he is in collection development, electronic resources, acquisitions, or management.
In the near future, I will be ensuring that staff in member libraries know the economic and professional value of Tenn-Share. Further along, I look forward to Tenn-Share being able to truly and directly serve, in at least one way, all of its member libraries.
Whether it is through the Firefly courier service, a state-wide ILS, state-wide purchasing, or something we have yet to consider, I want Tenn-Share to nurture new innovations that resonate with our members.
What are the most challenging issues facing Tenn-Share in the next few years?
It could be wrangling with e-books, squeezing out another percentage point of discount, designing a conference with content that leaves the state's librarians' talking for years to come, or coming up with our “next big thing.” But to me, as budgets shrink or stagnate, Tenn-Share may have to re-define or re-direct its efforts so that it continues to bring value to its member libraries. Like most organizations, membership is a choice and members vote on how well we did the year before by renewing. We have to work to make membership a non-negotiable budget item.
Other challenges are intra-member consortia forming; shrinking budgets, diversity in Tenn-Share leadership (ethnic and library size), changing contracts and shorter subscription pay cycles, and building an infrastructure that can support consortial licensing.