The Columbus Metropolitan Library turns the page to better serve customers

Losinski says the library was helped by the fact that it was able to inform the community when its 2010 levy came up. By educating the stakeholders on how the funding was going to be used, it got buy-in.

It also looked at reprioritizing resources and evolving essential services.

The CML had to determine where it could use technology to handle the transaction side of the business, so it could devote its people to the most important work — the relationships and human interactions, he says.

If you can get people away from checking out books, and instead talking to children about books, that’s a quantum leap forward, Losinski says.

“Now you go into our buildings and it’s understood and accepted by all that self-checkout really is the only option,” he says. “And so all of our customers check out materials, which has enabled us to repurpose staffing resources.”

The CML also has 100 fewer full-time equivalent positions than it had back in 2003, a result of the revamped purpose.

By thinking in new ways, the CML found a new mission, and Losinski says they’ve now had five to seven years of real success. But it’s no time to rest on their laurels.

“The one thing I think about as we’re building these new buildings is: Are we spending enough time thinking about the next strategy,” he says, “and how we need to rethink where we are today to maintain or to deliver even a higher degree of relevancy to our community.”

 

Takeaways:

  • As a leader, it’s your job to connect the dots.
  • Use pilot programs to find the right direction.
  • Reprioritize resources by knowing your strengths and weaknesses.

 

Thanks for lunch, with a side of advice

When Losinski moved to Ohio from Colorado more than a decade ago, he set out to get to know the CEOs of Columbus.

For the first three to five years, he had an average of two lunches with CEOs per week in his office.

“My standing joke was that I ate more turkey sandwiches than anybody else,” he says.

“But what that did was it created a connection with me personally to many of the CEOs in town who, as you can imagine, were not shy with sharing their advice on what we ought to do,” Losinski says. “And the wealth of talent in the community was really instrumental in helping me become a better CEO of the library just by tapping into the wisdom of those meetings.”

As a business leader, especially if you’re running a nonprofit, running the organization is only part of your role, he says. Talking about it, selling the organization and connecting with your current stakeholders, while developing new ones, is equally important.

The CEO community is very supportive, open and willing to lend a hand, if asked, and Losinski says you can benefit from a number of Harvard consulting sessions for the cost of lunch.

“I’m guessing that that probably works to a lesser degree in the for-profit world, but in the nonprofit world it is absolutely a tactic that I would tell people to attempt,” he says.

 

The Losinski File:

Name: Patrick Losinski
Title: CEO
Company: Columbus Metropolitan Library

Born: Stevens Point, Wisconsin
Education: Communications degree, University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point; master’s degree in library science, University of Wisconsin–Madison

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I worked on the farm that I grew up on, but I also flipped hamburgers for Hardee’s and loaded trucks at the United Parcel Service.

When you have those kinds of jobs you’re influenced by the leaders, both positive and negative. I try to remember those that seemed to be the most successful and I watched how they connected with people.

I remember a manager at UPS saying, ‘This is going to be a hard job, but I always want you to think that you’re working with me, not for me.’ And here I am 35 years later and I can still remember that conversation.

When you first came to Columbus to lead the library, you met with area business leaders. What was the best advice you received? During those turkey sandwich lunches, we looked at the strategy of the library, and I remember one CEO in particular said to me, ‘Don’t try to do all of these things because you’re going to be below average on a lot of things and I’m not going to pay any attention to you. I’m much more interested if you’re going come to me and say,

“We’re going to try to be great at three things.”’

Yes, the library is open to all, but if you try to do everything you’re going to dissipate your resources.

If you weren’t the CEO of a library, is there another career you’d like to try? Well, I’d probably be the president and CEO of the Green Bay Packers.

Are you a stock holder? I am.

When my son was 6 weeks old, I put him on the list for season tickets. And he’s now 21, and every year we get a postcard — he’s moved up from 18,000 to 6,000. So in maybe another 20 years he’ll have his season tickets.