Making Libraries Better: Speaks with Daisy Porter, Manager of Innovation

By Megan Driscoll

daisy porter, san jose public library What's your educational background, and what did you do before joining the San Jose Public Library?

Daisy Porter: I have a B.A. in Linguistics and Women's Studies from Northwestern (1998) and an MLS (Master of Library Science) from the University of Illinois (2003). Right after getting my master's, I moved to New Orleans to work for the public library there. I left the day before Katrina hit, and returned to my hometown of Chicago, where I applied for some Katrina fellowships that opened up especially for librarians! I ended up at Northern Illinois University for six months doing the fantastically fun job of selecting rare and valuable children's materials from their circulating collection to place in the Rare Book Room. What does a 'Manager of Innovation' do?

DP: My elevator speech has it as 'leading SJPL's efforts at continuous improvement, focusing on customer experience and staff efficiency.' What this means in practice is that I look at how the library does our work and try to think of it from a customer point of view as well as a cost-savings perspective. Right now, my biggest project is centralizing programming among our 19 locations. We've been doing this since September and have been learning and tweaking along the way. Is this a position unique to libraries? If not, in what other environments could a Manager of Innovation work?

DP: I don't know of anyone else with my job title, library or not! Some places might call it Director of User Experience or something similar. I think nearly any organization can improve its processes to make them lower in cost while also maintaining high quality for the customers. Doing just one or the other is easy - it's doing them in combination that's the tough part. What advice would you give someone who would like to someday have the title Manager of Innovation? Are there specific degree programs or entry-level careers that would put someone on that track?

DP: I took on my job after having been a branch manager at SJPL for three years. Working on the front lines and learning what staff do is critical for this kind of position. You have to be intimately familiar with the work you're trying to improve. For a beginner, I would recommend reading books about change management and the Lean process. It's also important to be really proactive and not fear improvement. If you like tradition and the status quo, this is not the job for you. You also write a blog reviewing fiction of interest to GLBTQ youth, Queer YA. How did you become interested in this field, and what constitutes a good queer YA book to you?

DP: I've always read teen books - before, during and after my own teenage years. As a librarian, I saw a niche when I realized no one was blogging about gay teen books specifically and evaluating them on how they handle gay content. Traditional coming-out stories are fewer and fewer, reflecting that gay kids today often come out into more welcoming worlds than kids did in the seventies. That's not to deny the real problems that some kids have with gay bashing at school, but it's not necessarily the norm, the center, anymore. What I like to see in a queer YA novel is some awareness of this - a character who has more going on than just being gay. David Levithan pioneered this with Boy Meets Boy, which really improved the variety of queer YA stories being published. Your bio notes that you're working on a forthcoming middle-grade nonfiction book. Can you tell us more about the project?

DP: That was a contract book I wrote in late 2008 about magnets! The publishing industry took a nosedive right around then, and they didn't put it out in 2009 as they hoped. As the months tick away, it seems less and less likely that it will ever be published. I'm still crossing my fingers, though. In what ways do your interests in innovation intersect with your interests in middle-grade and young adult literature?

DP: On the job, they don't, really. I don't work directly with teens any longer. But I think the kind of people who are interested in pushing the envelope with regard to innovative library services would also be the kind of people who read the edgier side of teen lit. Finally, I'd like to give you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about your work at the San Jose Public Library and your work as a writer and lit reviewer.

DP: I do consulting work as well. If any libraries out there are interested in our service model, please visit our website, the San Jose Way for more info. Also please check out my personal blog. Thanks!

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