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#OnTheRoadULC: Interview with ULC President & CEO Susan Benton // Two Librarians & A Microphone Podcast

Tune in as we interview the President and CEO of the Urban Libraries Council, Susan Benton, on the powerful library innovations that are raising up communities and impacting lives.

Learn how Susan Benton sees the ULC leading forward and how the organization is encouraging libraries to do the same for their communities. 


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Jim Heuer [00:00:17] Good morning, everybody. We are once again coming to you live from the Urban Libraries Council annual forum in Baltimore, Maryland. We are so pleased to have with us the CEO of the Urban Libraries Council, Susan Benton, who is going to talk to us a little bit about the forum this year, the theme behind Leading Forward, what we've thought so far, and what we're kind of looking forward to in the future. Susan, first of all, thank you for joining us, and for letting us record here with your innovating librarians.

Susan Benton [00:00:48] Well, it's our pleasure, Jim. Thank you.

Jim Heuer [00:00:51] We've had some really great conversations talking to some of your folks. This is one of our favorite events to go to from Ingram Library Services... getting so many of the town library leaders in a room together. Your topic this year was Leading Forward. Do you want to talk to us about the way you see the ULC in that role, and kind of leading libraries as they lead their communities forward?

Susan Benton [00:01:16] Sure, happy to do so. The Urban Libraries Council is a very, very fortunate organization because we have the opportunity to bring together truly the most progressive public libraries in the United States and Canada. These are people who are just completely committed to the individuals who live in their cities and their counties and helping each of those persons reach their highest aspiration. That's an amazing job to have, and I would guess that probably most of the people that are here at the conference really don't see it as a job as much as they see it as a privilege to be able to have an opportunity to positively impact people's lives, and in doing so, really raise up the entire city or the county that they're working in. It's having the opportunity to really make an impact at the individual level, but also to have a city-wide or jurisdiction-wide impact as well. That's an amazing opportunity that we each have every day.

Donna George [00:02:25] Susan, we've heard so many stories doing these interviews, the podcasts for the winners and the honorable mentions for the Innovation Awards. It's been truly inspiring, and I'm wondering if, as the Executive Director, do you have time to partake in all of the wonderful programming that's going on and just really feel what's going on in there? It's really amazing and I hope you get time to do that.

Susan Benton [00:02:47] I do, thank you. That's a great question to ask, actually. In fact, not only have I had the opportunity to do that, but I've also been encouraging my ULC colleagues to make sure they're taking time to be able to be in the room at this conference, too, to be able to hear the conversations and to be part of the conversations. It is a privilege for us to work with these leading libraries, and actually, the whole Innovations Initiative came about because, as we're talking with our library executives and their staff throughout the year, we're hearing about the wonderful work that they do. It's so inspiring, just as you've said. We want to make sure that, we wanted to make sure that we could remember all of the stories that we would hear throughout the visits that we were having with our member libraries. It's just impossible to keep track of it all. So, we wanted to make sure that we were able to create something that would not only enable us, as ULC staff to keep track of it, but it would be able to be shared with all of our leaders across ULC. So, we created the Innovations Initiative. Once a year we would put in place a process to collect those wonderful stories and then catalog them, if you will, create a database of them so that we could all share with one another what was being done. We could keep a record of it year over year over year. So now, on the ULC website, we have… gracious I'm sure we have well over 2000, 3000 wonderful library stories, actually, of amazing work that's being done,

Susan Benton [00:04:26] so that we can each one of us can go and look on the website. This year we can now also look at the copy of a book, which Ingram was wonderful enough to publish for us this year, and see and be inspired by one another, and replicate, adapt, adopt, as it makes sense in our own community.

Jim Heuer [00:04:46] As we sit here in the library, they're sitting across the table talking to us in so many different facets and fascinating ways, whether it was training their own employees or the people from Hartford who decided that they were going to work with their local schools in food preparation as kind of an incubator. I'm sitting here thinking this is amazing stuff! The power of the people that you've harnessed here, really to do positive change for each of their communities, but in so many different ways. The freedom that they have to kind of see a problem and tackle it.

Susan Benton [00:05:21] Right.

Jim Heuer [00:05:22] Totally inspirational.

Susan Benton [00:05:24] It is, it is amazing. I'm delighted you used the word power because there's tremendous power in what libraries are doing today. That aspect of constantly looking at what the needs are in the community, and being nimble, and thoughtful, and intentional... and creating a program and will address a challenge... see it as an opportunity to create positive change? That's amazing, it is amazing what our libraries are doing. And it has, it does have a real impact in changing the course of someone's life.

Donna George [00:06:07] Susan, I've been to a lot of library conferences over the years... This is my first ULC, however. I've had the joy to sit in on a couple of the sessions over the last couple of days, and I really want to give you and your team kudos for structuring this conference in a way that gives these leaders time to share and really think. Think about their value, and think about strategy. I think these are a valuable two to three days, as Jim said, these very powerful people are spending together and just sharing ideas and solutions that they've already come up with, and a lot of the same opportunities appear in a lot of these libraries, It's just invaluable.

Susan Benton [00:06:49] Thanks. I obviously have wonderful colleagues at the ULC office to work with. We actually take, very seriously, our responsibility to create an event, a conference, a forum that will have value, Donna. I'm pleased that it has appeared to you, and you've experienced as having that for yourself.

Jim Heuer [00:07:10] This is absolutely one of our favorite events... It is a must-have. We're so thrilled to be part of the ULC and be a sponsor, and it really is special to us at Ingram. We love seeing what you and your members are doing to just make their communities and the world a better place.

Susan Benton [00:07:27] Well, you know, the reality of it is, none of us can do it alone. And it really does take relationships like we have with one another. All of the libraries here are truly working within their own community, but they're here because they want to share and learn from others, and what they're doing in their community. And we need organizations like Ingram to be with us on this, too, so we appreciate you all.

Jim Heuer [00:07:52] Well, thank you for having us, and thank you for letting us do our podcast, and we totally look forward to doing this again next year, wherever next year's event will take place.

Susan Benton [00:08:01] Thank you.

Jim Heuer [00:08:01] Two Librarians and A Microphone is brought to you by Ingram Library Services, it is a division of Ingram Content Group. Our producer/director is Rachel Cope, sound engineering by Craig Simpson, special assistance by Essence Brisco, and Elizabeth Wilcox. The research done by our librarians, Trisha Bengel and Donna George. I'm Jim Heuer, thanks most of all to you for listening. Please follow us on Instagram at @thelibrarylife, tag us in your #thelibrarylife moments, because we've got some cool stuff going on, on that social media platform.We're going to be giving away some exclusive books, ARCs, perhaps a signed copy. In order to make sure you're staying tuned to this podcast, we'd love for you to go to our landing page, but most importantly, the best way you can show your support for us, is we'd love some reviews on Apple iTunes. If you can go on there and leave us a positive review, that would really help. We'll see you in your libraries. Thanks everybody.

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