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What's in a portfolio? How about this?
By Michael Harkovitch
September 28, 2002

The gang together for a group photo after the parade: (l-r) Michael, Teri,
Mary, Amy, Bonita, and Jill. Photo by Rachael Bohn

The following is a work in progress, a portfolio write-up I did for the leadership section of my portfolio. I am including it here, slightly modified, because of its human interest angle.

Shortly before I started library school, I had a conversation with one of my mentors at Seattle Public Library. Because of a string of unfortunate circumstances, SPL had not participated in the Seattle Gay Pride festivities for two years, missing -- based on my previous involvement -- a satisfying and valuable outreach experience. I mentioned to my mentor, Bonita Corliss, that in the absence of our previous organizer, somebody in the system should pick up the torch. Bonita looked at me and said, "Why don't you do it, Michael? It's never too early to begin your first outreach project as a librarian."

So I did!

I began working with another librarian, Mary Douglass, who was involved in Pride during previous years, in January, shortly after assuming my Student Librarian position at SPL. Every detail had to be worked out to make this project successful, so we had to begin months ahead of time, employing both persistence and patience in dealing with both SPL's internal structure and with the Pride Committee (staffed exclusively by volunteers).While the majority of my time was spent raising interest among the SPL community in participating in the parade and in staffing the library's booth in Volunteer Park, Mary spent much of her time burrowing through the layers of internal bureaucracy: Requisitions through the business office to pay for SPL's participation, internal permission-seeking from various managers, etc.

I felt that in previous years, SPL had gone about its participation in Pride in a disturbingly silent manner. Now, taking the lead, I was just beginning to learn that participation in most outreach activities is often extracurricular, motivated by staff's personal interest rather than by core service protocol, as in the case with literacy programs. I attempted to bring fresh energy and motivation to this project, making my primary role one of internal promotion. I sent out periodic system-wide emails, visited staff meetings, and asked the administration to print news of our participation in SPL literature both before and after the event. I made it clear that I intended to make the library not only a participant in Pride, but a presence as well. I accomplished this, in part, by successfully recruiting City Librarian Deborah Jacobs and Central Library Manager Jill Jean to march in the parade alongside the library's bookmobile. Both jumped at the chance join in the fun.

Other key players in the library system soon followed, such as David Wright in the library's Fiction Department, who I asked for help in developing a reading list featuring recent gay and lesbian materials owned by SPL. He threw himself into the reading list with all the excitement and enthusiasm that I had been putting into the rest of this outreach project. David immediately organized a meeting with several staff members to help choose materials to include and write 35-word-or-less annotations. David handled the overall management of the list, taking on the tasks of editing and preparing it for publication. We completed this excellent resource in less than two months, producing SPL's first group-generated book list in a short amount of time. And while the entire Pride project was successful, this one activity involved more regular staff than the Pride Day events themselves.

The big day, Sunday, June 30, was fabulous. SPL was a hit on all counts. Parade- and festival-goers welcomed the library with support, appreciation, and enthusiasm. Over the course of the day (both in the parade and the park), we gave away more than 300 copies of the new reading list, and hundreds of SPL magnets, bookmarks, and post-it pads, as well as other SPL literature and a few limited edition Seattle Public Library beach balls (a veritable hit with the kids, both young and young at heart). We also issued several new library cards, and engaged in dozens of verbal interactions with people about the library and its services.

Deborah, Jill, Bonita, and Amy Walter (another SPL librarian) marched in the parade while Mary and I, along with three other student librarians (yes, we really ARE taking over the world) -- Amanda Hirst, Rachael Bohn, and Teri Tada -- tended to the booth in the park. We had a blast interacting with visitors and passers-by. But, of course, not content to wait for others to come to us, we took our reading lists and souvenirs with us, promoting the library as we took turns visiting the other booths.

The success of this outreach project has inspired more SPL employees to volunteer their help in creating, as Jill Jean put it, "more of a wilder presence next year" for Pride 2003. I received two dozen email messages from staff asking to participate next year, some offering ideas and suggestions, including a book truck brigade for next year's parade. I also received several inquiries from staff organizing other outreach projects soliciting techniques and advice for making their projects successful.

I learned more from this wonderful experience than I am able to assimilate. This project's success is a testament to the power of persistence and enthusiasm. I believe that SPL's participation in Pride should not be quiet and discreet; our involvement with the gay community and other populations we serve should be loud and proud. Even so, our participation in this event came about by staff motivating the institution rather than the other way around. With all of the internal promotion I did, the booth was staffed by only one regular employee (Mary) in addition to the four student librarians. And while we were all smiles at the booth and in the parade, getting there in the first place took a lot of work and jumping through hoops on Mary's part. This, in my opinion, emphasizes the importance of staff that are passionate enough to make outreach activities part of their personal service mission. Clearly the profession needs people with initiative and drive.

I look forward to Pride 2003, even though the extent of our participation remains unsure with drastic budget cuts requiring the library to reduce its programs, which are needed most in times of flailing economies. Libraries today are slowly moving uphill, undoing damage done by library culture that historically has been less than user friendly. Now more than ever, we are finding a need to go out into our communities to make our presence known and promote our services while we reinvent ourselves. But we often have to be as aggressive in promoting and fighting for our service opportunities internally as well. I am sad to say that while this profession attracts some wonderful people, others would prefer to sit back and do nothing while they coast silently into retirement. We cannot afford to be silent and passive as a profession; we must be proactive and reach out to people. In order to do this, we need librarians who are passionate about their dedication to serving humanity. As evidenced by this experience, communities will respond positively to those of us who show an interest. I would also dare to say that when one leads from the heart as well as the head, great things result.

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Edited by Michael Harkovitch

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