On upcoming sabbatical, Lawrence Public Library director is hoping to ‘bring some energy’ back to the library

photo by: File

The Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St., and Library Executive Director Brad Allen.

The leader of the Lawrence Public Library will soon be spending a few months out of the office, and he hopes that time away will ultimately help him bring some energy back to the organization.

Starting after this week’s Lawrence Public Library Board of Trustees meeting, Library Executive Director Brad Allen is going on a 12-week sabbatical. He’ll return in time for the board’s mid-December meeting. Director of Development and Community Partnerships Kathleen Morgan will serve as acting director while Allen’s away and will earn the entry-level executive director pay rate; the total cost estimate for that pay increase plus payroll tax expenses comes in at around $4,600. Allen will also continue to be paid during the duration of his leave.

Allen spoke with the Journal-World in late August about his upcoming sabbatical, which is a first for the library. The idea emerged last year as Allen hit the 10-year mark in his role as library director. During his annual evaluation, the library board asked him to present a plan for what he might do with the time away.

“The board thought that it might be a good time for me to take some time to get away from day-to-day operations to really spend some time thinking more deeply about our future as a library and how we move forward, and give me some space to really think deeply about our future and where we’re headed, what libraries are and how libraries might serve our community,” Allen told the Journal-World.

Those big ideas typically don’t get as much room to breathe when balanced against running an organization like the library, and Allen said he’s grateful the board saw value in him taking the leave.

Because the library is a public entity funded by tax dollars, Allen said he doesn’t want to take any action that community members might see as “wasteful.” He said he thinks the experience of the next three months is likely to pay dividends down the line.

That’s because while he’s gone, Allen won’t just be on vacation. He said one major component of his sabbatical will be working on a project with the library’s website and online catalog partner, BiblioCommons. He’ll be part of a project team that’s in the early stages of developing a patron engagement and management product for public libraries.

Allen said he’s excited for the opportunity to help shape the project, with hopes that it will become a tool that will help the library better serve the community. In part, that work seems like it’ll also focus on helping libraries decide how valuable the metrics they’re measuring are, such as raw data on the number of times a book is checked out.

But that’s not all Allen will be doing from now until December. He said he also plans to spend some time studying leadership and management, which will include making some in-person visits to other libraries in the area. Allen said he’s hoping those visits will give him some knowledge that Lawrence’s library can build off of.

Allen said there may be other benefits to stepping away for a while that he can’t predict in advance, and he’s curious to see whether having the time to “daydream a bit and think” might result in some unexpected new ideas or innovations.

“I will tell you that while I believe that we have a really strong organization here, I do believe that whoever is the director of this place really needs to do a great job — I need to do a great job,” Allen said. “My hope is that this is something that will help me continue on and do a great job for this community.”

Allen also acknowledged that sabbaticals are more traditionally associated with jobs in research and academia. But the idea is picking up more steam outside of university circles, he said, and they’re even becoming a popular trend.

“I think it is pretty unique in public libraries; I’m not really aware of a lot of libraries that have done something like this,” Allen said. “… I think sometimes this nod into trying to really figure out how we can be our best might look different than traditionally how we view work.”

Allen said the library is always looking to improve upon its human resources practices, especially as other organizations — from for-profit, private-sector companies to nonprofits — start making sabbatical leave an option for their entire staffs.

The sabbatical’s length aligns with the library’s current parental leave benefit, Allen said, which ended up feeling like a “reasonable” window of time away that he doesn’t anticipate will be disruptive. Another part of the reason for the length of Allen’s leave is because it’s functioning as something of a trial run. In academia, sabbaticals often last for a semester or even a full year, but the library’s hoping this first stab will help in figuring out what feels like the right amount of time for its own needs.

Allen said he has no concerns about how well things will run while he’s away, citing the library’s “deep bench” and mutual trust among staff members. He said he’s never felt like he has to be the only one in the group with ideas; instead, he thinks of the library as a team, where decision-making is shared and nobody’s waiting on him to make all the decisions unilaterally.

“… A good leader is able to be gone for a while and know that a place is going to run well because we all work as a team,” Allen said.


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