Preparing for the Future: Interview with Barb Brattin, Certified Public Library Administrator Program Graduate

Barb Brattin

While many library administrators are struggling to find funding to maintain basic services, Barb Brattin is enjoying a rarity: a high per capita spending budget. As the director of Wilkinson Public Library in Telluride, Colorado, a small, well-funded ski resort town, Brattin has the freedom to explore new ways to engage her community and advance the library.

But even bounty presents challenges. Faced with need to best utilize the budget by serving her highly affluent patrons in innovative ways, Brattin must stay current with the trends and events that are shaping patron expectations. One way she has accomplished this is by completing the Certified Public Library Administrator (CPLA) program. Lured by the promise of another impressive bullet on her resume, Brattin soon discovered that the wealth of knowledge offered in the CPLA program would be instrumental in helping her meet the exciting challenges facing her library.

LW: Tell us about yourself.
BB: I formerly worked in a suburban library north of Chicago and before that I started my career in Ohio, where I grew up. I’m now the library director in Telluride, Colorado, which is a ski resort town. We are in a very unusual situation in comparison to most tiny libraries.  We have about 6000 people who we actually serve but about 11,000 card holders. As you can imagine, the rest of the card holders are either second-home owners or tourists, so we revolve around the guests here.

We are also one of the most well-funded libraries per capita in the United States. It is extraordinarily expensive to live here, but that translates into significant money per person to spend. Being a director is fun, because I get to figure out how to spend the money!

LW: Why did you participate with the CPLA program?

BB: I wanted the certification itself. I thought that the title was something that would look great on my resume.

LW: What were some of the most beneficial classes or topics?
BB: George Needham’s Current Events was an awesome class. Also, Wayne Piper’s Marketing class was very good. The classes out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were top notch, and they made the online experience valuable. We had to meet at a certain time, which forced us to be online together. This was kind of cool because everyone was commenting while the instructor was speaking. And the instructor knew his stuff. That was the HR class, and it was beneficial. It had a lot of stuff that you don’t learn in library school, like law topics.

When I think of people who haven’t been in the director’s chair yet, I think, “Wow, this is the kind of stuff they aren’t getting in library school.” It has to be overwhelming for them to hear all of that at once.

LW: Have you had a chance to apply anything that you have learned in the classes?
BB: Absolutely. The Current Events class was like going to an intensive 2-day conference about the future and how to survey the community. We took all of what I learned and applied it to our next long-range planning process: things like who to survey in the community, who are the key players and how to figure out where we are going to be in the next two years. And discussion of how user behavior is changing and how it applies to the long-range planning process was  invaluable.

I took the Marketing class at the same time we wanted to expand services to one of our satellite locations. One assignment was to create a marketing plan for a new service. A lot of people choose to do hypothetical situations, but the assignment coincided with the Telluride’s plans for a new automated book vending machine service. The library had been wondering how we were going to market it, so I wrote out the marketing plan during that class. It was perfect timing.

LW: What is the best way to select courses for the CPLA program?
BB: Learning style has a lot to do with it. Do you need to be inside a classroom? Do you need to have that “assigned time” online as a group? Or is a more passive structure okay for you?

LW: What sort of insights have you gained from the courses?
BB: The more you take these classes, the more confident you will feel. You will be a better thinker and more in tune with the expectations of your role in the organization. You just feel like a more competent leader the more you master the day-to-day stuff. I’ve been fortunate to have some great mentors throughout my career. The more you hang around with the big thinkers, the more you become a big thinker.
The courses also teach practical skills. When you master those skills, you can spend more time on ‘big-picture’ visioning because you aren’t spending all your time worrying about whether the day-to-day stuff is going well.

LW: How has your experience with the program been received by your colleagues?
BB: The Board of Directors is very impressed that I did this program. It has helped me prove that I know what I know. That might sound a little bit weird, but my performance review is partially based on particular skills. These classes help to prove that I have these skills.

LW: Do you have any advice for anyone considering enrolling in this program?
BB: I don’t know what library schools are teaching right now, but any master’s program dwells in the theoretical. When I came out of school, I had to learn the job. I thought I would know the job, but I had to learn it. The CPLA program gives you some of the practical skills you might not have learned in library school.

The program is easy to do: one class at a time. It is really, really manageable.

The Peer Perspective: Interview with Nancy Talmey, President of the Board of Trustees

LW: What is your impression of Barb’s experience with the CPLA program?
NT: Barb had nothing but good things to say about it. I wish that everyone who wanted to get the same certification could do that.

LW: What did she do for your library as a result of this program?
NT: She did a magnificent marketing plan for the installation of the automated book vending machines. The installation of those machines and the work that she did was outstanding, and part of it was because of the marketing plan that she did.

LW: How has Barb’s involvement in the program helped to handle the unique financial situation that has resulted from being in an affluent, well-funded community?
NT: Just because we have money doesn’t take away the responsibility for making the right decisions and for showing our residents that we are investing in our community. Barb has been great with helping us understand how to spend our money wisely.

Also, in Colorado there are several issues on the ballot this year that could dramatically change the funding for all libraries in the state. Barb’s training is going to help us if any those ballot issues pass.
Barb is the greatest asset the library has. She is a tremendous leader, and I am so grateful that she continues in her education and her development.