Thanks to a chance encounter, I got an invitation from the Cleveland Public Library’s deputy director, Dr. Cindy Lombardo, for a personal, behind-the-scenes tour of the United States’ third largest research library. Given her status and the value of her time, I expected maybe a half-hour experience — I got TWO WHOLE HOURS in which Cindy (that’s how she prefers to be addressed) introduced me to colleague after colleague responsible for world-class collections of maps, photographs, business/industrial records, architectural drawings and ephemera, rare books and — believe it or not — the world’s biggest archive of chess sets and chess-related books and artifacts. But wait! There’s more! I got sneak previews of the library’s new young adult lounge and a new art studio, plus tours of its TechCentral digital lab, its book archives and its newly retooled interlibrary loan logistics system.
But in addition to seeing amazing things and meeting terrific (brilliant, passionate, committed) people, I got something I didn’t expect: lessons in leadership. I don’t think Cindy planned on giving me these lessons, but frankly, watching her at work, I couldn’t help but learn something (and I’m usually very good at avoiding an education). Here’s a summary of a few things I observed:
Seize organic opportunities
I have no doubt that Cindy was sincerely interested in giving me a tour. But I also suspect that it was a natural opportunity for “surveying” the library and reconnecting with colleagues without looking awkward. Even if it wasn’t her initial intention, she seized the opportunity to casually and inconspicuously talk with her staff, exchanging inquiries in a completely non-threatening way.
Know your peeps
Cindy introduced me to everyone from the experts in rare collections to the people who pick-and-packed books destined for other libraries. She demonstrated a deep and appreciative grasp of their work, and remembered relevant details in their private lives, from hip-replacement recoveries to volunteer work at a notable Cleveland home/museum.
Address details without micromanaging
From paint colors to archival techniques to distribution strategies, Cindy had cogent things to say to her folks at every stop. But it was never in a “fix this, do that” kind of way. Instead, she solicited their opinions, listened carefully, and made suggestions about what “we” might do “together.” And she always asked if they had everything they needed to do their jobs or meet their goals.
Build espirit de corps
Everywhere we went, Cindy reinforced among her staff a sense of shared ownership for the library and its mission. She applauded their efforts to date and encouraged them to think about next steps. She asked for their volunteer time at the phone bank, and thanked them for things, big and small, they were doing to make the library an even better place.
I think Cleveland is fortunate, not just to have a great library, but to have great library leadership that bodes well for the future.
I didn’t get pictures of everyone, but I want to at least give a shout-out to the wonderful people I met on the tour, including: Joe Parnell, Kelly Ross Brown, Annisha Jeffries, Dan Oreskovic, Dave Reilly, Deman Deng, Sarah Flinn and last, but not least, the director of the library, Felton Thomas, Jr. If Cleveland rocks, a lot of the reason why has to do with your work!