Cynthia Landrum Sees IMLS from Both Sides

Cynthia Landrum joined the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) as the new Deputy Director of Library Services in May. LJ caught up with her in July to find out more about the transition from public library to federal agency, and what IMLS’s work has looked like from both sides.

Cynthia Landrum photoCynthia Landrum joined the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) as the new Deputy Director of Library Services in May. Landrum, previously CEO-Director of Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, IN, will oversee IMLS’s Grants to States program, the primary source of federal funding for library services in the United States. She will also supervise discretionary grant programs that include National Leadership Grants for Libraries, the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian program, Native American and Native Hawaiian Library Services, and the newest IMLS library grant initiative, Accelerating Promising Practices for Small Libraries.

LJ caught up with her in July to find out more about the transition from public library to federal agency, and what IMLS’s work has looked like from both sides.

LJ : You come from deep public library leadership, rather than a fundraising or grant making background. What do you feel you bring to your new role from that experience?

Cynthia Landrum: I’ve written a few LSTA [Library Service and Technology Act] grants, looked at a few IMLS grants. Understanding some of the challenges that public libraries, in particular, face [through] the actual practitioner lens is really important as we look at grant making. Not just for today, but as we think about what the future of libraries looks like, and our profession, and the skills and knowledge that are going to be necessary.

Then there’s the boots on the ground—how do you make things happen? Having had practitioner experience, particularly as an administrator and leader, I can bring a little bit of clarity around what does it look like when we have to actually implement these things? What supports are necessary, and what new ideas are floating around?

What are some of those shifts?

The deep relationship that libraries have with community, whether that’s the campus community [or] the neighborhood, and how libraries are seeing their role in navigating public problem solving—around, for example, the opioid crisis, or community health. How do [libraries] align with our communities and their aspirations? What they are striving to achieve? So many communities are in transition and transformation—how does the library situate itself as critical infrastructure, not just [for] what a community is, but what the community wants to become? Those are some of the things that are going to continue to emerge. We’ll continue to inquire about what the role of a library is within its community, and how it defines that community.

You’ve been involved in a lot of equity work in the public library sphere. How would you like to translate that experience to IMLS?

When we look at the Community Catalyst [Initiative] work that IMLS is doing, and think about the work that IMLS has funded around developing diverse professionals for the future, I think it aligns really well. I will bring my own perspective to that in terms of how we apply that in the field. There’s [the question of] how do we take the research and actually apply it, and how do we look at some of these programs and how they’ll impact what our profession looks like in the future?

What has surprised you about the agency’s work?

I think one of the things that’s surprising for a lot of people when they come work here—and it definitely was for me—is how much IMLS touches. Even before I took this role, I would walk into a [conference] session and find out, “Oh my goodness, that was IMLS-funded work”—how extensive the reach of IMLS is, how many things are funded through IMLS, and the impact those things have, not just on our profession but on communities across the country. It’s just phenomenal.

You’re undertaking a big role shift and at the same time working toward a Managerial Leadership Program degree at Simmons College. Has this new position shifted your academic focus at Simmons?

Not really. All my course work is done, so now I’m in the dissertation proposal writing phase. That’s a set thing with my advisor, and we have a direction in terms of what my proposal and doctoral dissertations will look like.

It’s interesting because so much of the learning from my time at Simmons, [IMLS] gives me an opportunity to actually apply it in a way that working in a public library did not. So far, it’s been a great opportunity for me. The coursework from that program is proving to be very useful in my new role.

You’ve been on both sides of IMLS awards—Evansville Vanderburgh was a finalist for the IMLS Medal for Museum and Library Service in 2017. Do you look at that recognition differently now?

Yes and no. When you get that letter, that email that says you are a finalist, it really kind of takes your breath away because you realize the magnitude of it. Even now, being on this side of it, you understand the immense impact that something like the National Medal has on institutions—not just the ones that actually receive it, but anyone who is nominated. And all of the effort and work from colleagues here at IMLS to make sure that process is smooth—the medal ceremony, all those pieces that go into it. There’s a lot of working parts, and a lot of people put in a lot of effort to make sure that that goes off without a hitch.

To know all that makes the medal—and anything, even receiving a grant or getting to the next phase of a grant process—even more special. I wouldn’t necessarily say it changed my perspective, but it made me appreciate all of the work that goes on behind the scenes—whether it’s the medals, whether it’s the grant-making process—to make all of this work [for] colleagues across the country, the families, and the communities that benefit from the work that IMLS supports.

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Executive Editor for Library Journal.

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