Archived Story

Leaders are readers

Published 10:34pm Thursday, March 24, 2011

MeL, the Michigan Electronic Library (www.mel.org) puts a world of information at the fingertips of anyone with a Dowagiac District Library card.

The Daily News/John Eby  Kathy Johnson became Dowagiac District Library director last March after nine years at Union High  School.
The Daily News/John Eby Kathy Johnson became Dowagiac District Library director last March after nine years at Union High School.

From any computer with Internet access at any time, patrons can find millions of full-text articles, books, CDs and DVDs, even practice tests and homework help for students.
Free to Michigan residents 24/7, MeL’s resources can help you start or build a business, chart family history, boost hobbies, borrow from other libraries, explore historical photographs, videos, diary pages and documents and tap databases.
MeL promotes classroom excellence with MORE, Michigan Online Resources for Educators, where teachers can enrich the experience they provide when they track down lesson plans, interactive Web sites, videos and podcasts.
“Our library can’t own every good book that’s published,” Dowagiac District Library Director Katherine Johnson told Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889, “but our patrons can borrow any book in the state of Michigan, with the exception of the Troy library, through MeL. Anyone with an Internet connection and a library card. What an incredible boon this is for people who want to gather information. It’s changed our library and the type of customer we have to be able to borrow any title.”
Johnson mentioned a friend who belongs to the Dowagiac library book club.
“She’s in Florida and downloaded the title we’re going to be doing in May.”
The library has pamphlets detailing how to download audiobooks and e-books and the mel.org site.
Asked about MeL cuts by retired superintendent Larry Crandall, Johnson said, “(Gov. Rick Snyder) is reacting to federal legislators. MeL is basically funded through the federal government, LSTA — the Library Services and Technology Act. LSTA is some of those discretionary funds we hear about that the legislators have threatened to cut. That’s what MeL runs on, what the state library runs on. The governor’s right. If those funds are cut, district libraries will try to fund MeL some other way. There are several parts to MeL. The first to be eliminated would be reference databases, which cost millions of dollars. The very last to go would be interlibrary loans.”
“We’re small potatoes,” Johnson said.
“This is not a big chunk of the federal budget for the incredible good it does for little towns in areas like this. Eliminating it would be devastating. MeL runs beautifully and there’s no graft or dirty-dealing.”
Johnson, introduced by fellow Marcellus graduate Barbara Groner, spoke for Rotary Literacy Month in March, although “every month is literacy month for libraries.”
She retired from a 35-year career in education (she has a master’s degree in teaching reading) after working in school media centers at Dowagiac High School (nine years), Niles Brandywine and Southwestern Michigan College.
Titling her program “Literacy, Leadership and Library,” Johnson succeeded Mike Shamalla as Dowagiac District Library last March 1.
“We can all breathe a huge sigh of relief,” Johnson said. “Most of us realize that to be literate, a person doesn’t need to know everything. In the middle ages, literate leaders had to know everything in their fields. If you were going to build a cathedral, you knew Euclid’s book, cover to cover, and that was it, that was all you needed to know. Everything’s a lot bigger now and we all sense that, so if anybody claims they know everything, we know they’re not telling the truth, and those people are kind of scary anyway.”
Literacy “is not just reading, it’s the ability to learn, to sort and to assimilate what we’ve discovered and then to evaluate. Literacy is a lot more complicated than just reading,” she said. “This presentation started with the idea that libraries and literacy have a direct connection. With leadership, I need to know what works in this economy in this part of Michigan. Those of us that are public entities are faced with lots of challenges. To be a good leader in our world right now, I need information.”
Arrayed before her were leadership books published in the past decade and available at the public library at 211 Commercial St., including “The Disney Way” by Dowagiac visitor Bill Capodagli.
She downloaded the “fascinating book” from the digital collection and read it on an e-reader.
“My two favorites are Rudy Giuliani’s book on leadership and ‘Leading from the Middle.’ I didn’t know much about Giuliani and, in fact, I kind of didn’t like him. But I learned a lot about leadership from reading his book. He was the mayor of New York City and took it from high crime, debt and inefficiency to vast improvements in those areas. His leadership was really tested on 9/11. It’s a fascinating read.”
Giuliani advocates literacy through his previous disdain for golf.
“He hated golf,” Johnson said, “but his son loved it and was always asking him to play. He could not understand what anyone saw in golf. Then it occurred to him that golf was just like anything else. If you don’t really know about it, you can’t appreciate it, so he made it a point to find everything he could get his hands on about the lore, the jokes, the personalities, the skills involved in golf. Finally, it dawned on him that golf was supposed to be fun and it changed his life. He loves golf so much he can’t get enough of it!”
“Leading from the Middle” is a “really good book on leadership, and let me tell you why,” Johnson said. “There’s a restaurant in San Francisco with excellent food and service beyond compare. It’s not fancy, but the ambience is comfortable and it’s a really wonderful establishment. He asked the waiter to talk to the boss to tell him what a wonderful restaurant it was and the waiter said, ‘I’m the boss. Thank you for your compliment.’
“The guy thought the waiter was being flip and was slightly annoyed by the comment, but he came to realize that they did a lot of training. Every person in the restaurant knows that to the public dealing with that person, he was the restaurant, just like in the library when you go to the desk, that clerk is the library. Leading from the Middle is giving employees that feeling that they have a stake in the whole picture. They are the boss and they have a valuable role to play, which is very similar to a theme in The Disney Way.”
“Digital books are happening right now in a big way,” she said. “Dowagiac District Library is very much involved in digital books — both audio and regular text. They can be downloaded to a mobile device. An audio book you can listen to on your iPod while you go for a walk. Or, it could be on an e-reader, an iPad. There are all kinds of mobile devices and we have a very nice collection of digital books. All you need to do is go to our Web site and click on overdrive. Yes, we can borrow any print book in Michigan, but we’re no longer dependent on print. You can download a book for free and either listen to it or read it anywhere on your mobile device. You’re given 14 days before it disappears. There’s no overdues or dog-eaten damaged books. It’s a great deal for everybody.”
Of one of those mobile devices, Kindle, Johnson said, “It will only allow you to buy books from Amazon. It will not let you borrow books for free from libraries.”

Leadership Reading List

1.) The Disney Way, Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson, 2007.
2.) Good to Great, Jim Collins, 2001.
3.) Leadership is an Art, Max DePree, 2004.
4.) Leadership, Rudolph Giuliani, 2002.
5.) Leading from the Middle, John Lubans, 2010.
6.) In Search of Excellence, Thomas Peters, 2004.
7.) The Knowing-Doing Gap, Jeffrey Pfeffer, 2000.
8.) Partnering: The New Face of Leadership, 2003.

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