A Great Boss: Interview with Catherine Hakala-Ausperk, Certified Public Library Administrator(R) Program Graduate

Many libraries are tightening belts and conserving funds to preserve library services, and advanced librarian training often takes back seat to the quest for a sustainable budget. But professional development is even more important in lean economic times, according to Catherine Hakala-Ausperk. Hakala-Ausperk is Deputy Director of Cleveland Heights-University Heights Library in Cleveland Heights, OH, and recent Certified Public Library Administrator (CPLA) program graduate, and she insists that continued education and training are essential for the well-being of the library during financial crisis.

Like so many public library systems in the United States, the Ohio Public Library system has experienced severe fiscal challenges. But Hakala-Ausperk has turned to the CPLA program, a voluntary post-MLS certification program sponsored by ALA-APA, to increase her value to her library. As a result, she has reaped “the benefits that you can gain from learning new things and finding out how you can do what you’ve been doing better and more efficiently.” By all accounts, her efforts have paid off. Using her new learning, Hakala-Ausperk has made significant contributions that have helped her library cope with the unstable economy.

Already a savvy library administrator with a quarter century experience in the field, Hakala-Ausperk found significant value in the program she refers to as “primary, basic training for anybody who is in a management role.”

LW: Can you tell me a little about yourself?
CHA: I have been in libraries for almost 26 years. I had two little kids and was looking for a part-time job, so I started as a part-time circulation person. I absolutely fell in love with libraries, and I never left. So 26 years has flown by. I’ve held about every position you can hold. I have been here at Heights library for 7 years as the Deputy Director.

I also just wrote a book, which is being published this summer, called Be a Great Boss. I’m an adjunct faculty member at Kent State University’s School of Library and Information Science. I’m having lots of fun!

LW: Why did you participate in the CPLA program?

CHA: The CPLA program intrigued me because it offered a chance to take courses in subjects, and at a level, that I hadn’t before. It was kind of like going back to college without really going back to college. The classes had a lot of depth to them and were extremely applicable to my job. It was an opportunity to build my skills at a higher level than a traditional workshop offers.

LW:: What were some of the most beneficial topics that you covered in the CPLA courses?
CHA: The best class I took was the Grantsmanship class. In Ohio, we’ve had some pretty serious funding cuts, like everybody has, so that class was really very good. The project that was surrounding the course had to be a real, live grant application. Although that particular grant application was not accepted, the next one I wrote was.

I also learned a lot from the Facilities [Planning and Management of Buildings], the Personnel and Organizational Administration, and the Budget and Finance classes, all of which were areas where I had some knowledge but certainly room for improvement.

LW: You mentioned that you’ve learned a lot about other areas of responsibility in the library. Can you tell me more about insights you’ve had from these courses?

CHA: I don’t always have as much value to offer in areas that aren’t my primary responsibility, such as facilities, human resources or as a fiscal officer, for example. My background is librarianship, so I didn’t bring all of those skills and experiences with me. And yet at this level, I need to understand these roles, come up with solutions and be able to contribute to problem solving. That is what a lot of these classes have helped me to do. The best example I can give you relates to the budget cuts that we’ve had and the looming threat of another budget cut next year. I used a very specific example from the Budgets class for how to build the budget for next year. This was a method of putting our budget together that, in the 7 years that I’ve worked here, we’ve never used. Everyone was pleased with the results at a time when we have to share really tight budgets. It was a great method to try to bring everyone together. I wouldn’t have known about it had I not taken the class.

LW: It sounds like the classes have helped you adapt to the changing economy…

CHA: The Budget and Grantsmanship classes came along at a perfect time. As libraries just began facing all of those challenges, I was able to apply what I learned from both of these classes. Hopefully I did some good as far as helping everyone get through these times.

LW: What did you learn about yourself?

CHA: You’re always thinking, “Where am I going next? What might my next challenges be?” Learning things outside of my normal responsibilities has been very intriguing for me. I’ve learned that I look forward to working in new areas and having new responsibilities in the future. It showed me that I want to keep on learning and trying new things.

LW: How has your involvement in CPLA been received by your colleagues?

CHA: Very positively. People are still a little skeptical because it is such a new program, but I’ve talked to a lot of new bosses who are very interested in it. I explain that it is self-paced to some degree, meaning you don’t have to take the classes all at once. You can take one, and then take a few months off, and then take another one. That is encouraging to them because a lot of people don’t have time to just drop everything and go back to college.

LW: Who do you think should participate in this program?

CHA: Managers. People often move into management without adequate management training. I try to encourage people who have been put in charge of departments, put on management teams, or put in charge of branches to get into this program. You aren’t born learning how to plan a budget or to hire someone effectively. You really need to concentrate on learning how to do it. I consider CPLA to be primary, basic training for anybody who is in a management role. It is very important knowledge. If you don’t bring that knowledge to the job, you had better get it.

LW: Do you have any advice for someone that is thinking about going into this program?

CHA: Go into it. Stick with it. Get through it. These are the times when we really have to be at our best. Library leadership has to be as sharp as it can be. Learn as much as you can from the program and encourage as many people as you can to try it. We are facing some tough times, and it’s going to be up to us to get our libraries through.

It is really important for everyone to have a plan:  where they want to be in 5 years.  If being a library administrator is in your plan, then taking this group of courses would be a great way to achieve it.  

Catherine Hakala-Ausperk is a long-time advocate of advanced training. She is the author of the book Be a Great Boss, available at the ALA Online Store in November, and recently published an article in American Libraries, “Invest in Yourself.”