It’s been a quick 7 months since I moved from Raleigh to Stockton and it’s become more and more difficult to ignore the voice in my head nagging me to start writing again. So, I’m gonna listen and start writing about and sharing my thoughts about libraryland again.  If you’re so inclined, follow me to my new home: circandserve.net

 

Every story comes to an end.  I haven’t been posting much at all because life and work have totally trumped blogging. I wish I could have found more time to write about the library-related thoughts that have been swirling around in my head these past few months, but I just didn’t have it in me.  For this reason, and another that I shall reveal in a moment, I have decided to end Circ & Serve.  I really feel strongly about ending something once it feels like it is over, and really with the lack of new content here, this is over.

The other reason behind this decision:  I am very pleased to announce that I have accepted the position as Assistant Dean of the University Library at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.  I begin my new position there on October 1st.  My last day at NCSU Libraries is September 3rd.

This was a difficult decision to make as I have enjoyed my time at NCSU.  The four years I’ve spent here have been an incredible learning experience.  I learned something every day from every person I had the good fortune to work alongside.  It is an incredible library and I will always be grateful for the opportunities I had while here.

I am tremendously excited about joining the library at Pacific.  I loved everything I felt and saw while there.  The campus community is incredible.  The library is doing fantastic work and is committed to providing the best services possible to students, faculty, staff and the community.  My new colleagues have gone out of their way in making me feel welcome and I can’t wait to begin collaborating with them.  While my work will still involve oversight of access & delivery services, my portfolio will expand  and I “will work with University Library administration, staff, and faculty in the development and implementation of effective management strategies and innovative collections, services, and programs, across all areas of the Library, to provide the best user-centered environment for the Pacific Community.” I am thrilled.

So, I’m moving to California!  Which is something I never, ever thought would happen, but in less than a month all of my belongings will be packed up and on a truck heading west.  It’s a new chapter in my life and I’m grateful to again have a wonderful opportunity.

Thank you to everyone who has read this blog and who have inspired it.  Thank you to everyone who I’ve met at conferences or meetings and have talked access services with these past 4 years.  And a big thank you to my staff and colleagues who have made me a better manager, leader and person than I was when I took this position 4 years ago.

I have been working in libraries for 11 years, 10 of those have been in access services and 8 of them have been as a department head.  I am very happy and looking forward to taking this next step in my career.  I’m sure it will be full of surprises and learning experiences!

I’ve been involved in some great management conversations lately that have me thinking about two sort of related, but not entirely related ideas:  the management double standard and the idea of a halo.  Allow me to explain:

Management Double Standard:

In discussion, someone made the observation/point that an employee asking a supervisor/manager certain types of questions (for example: “Why are you working this shift?  What are you doing?  Why did you talk to that person? etc) can seem over the line and bordering on being a “busy body.”  I think the point is valid, but I also think that as management you can’t really fight or win that battle 99% of the time.

Rands in Repose sums it up best: “”Leadership is not just about effectively getting stuff done, but demonstrating through your composure that you aren’t rattled by the freakish.”  I’m gonna tweak/interpret it slightly differently: as a manager I accept that my staff are human.  They make mistakes, they have faults, personality quirks, intepret things differently that I do, see things that I don’t see, are fallible.  Simple, right?  This applies to all human beings.  We all have our “things.”  Except when you’re in a management position it suddenly seems like you’re not a human being anymore.  Whether you like it or not, you’re now in a position of authority and are seen as such.  There is very much an expectation that you will have the answers, solve the problems, make the decisions, do it right the first time and not make any mistakes in the process.  You also may not be able to have feelings about certain issues or events, and whether you do or don’t those feelings will most likely not be taken into consideration when you’re interacting with others.

Okay, so that sounds kinda awful and bleak and terrible.  It’s not always like that.  It really and truly is not.  But, there are some days, some issues, some events that make you feel like that is terribly true.  The bottom line is a good manager will remember that her staff are human beings who have faults and foibles and quirks. And that these characteristics influence behavior and performance and while performance expectations must be met, behavior is something that we can’t control or regulate.  So we accept.  With that acceptance must also come the acceptance that we (management) may not be given the same treatment or pass and that is okay because whether we like it or not, it comes with the job.

Halos

In previous POW I’ve heard the term “halo” tossed around a lot when describing someone’s work or performance or general attitude.  As in, “they still have their halo.”  The gross implication is: this person has not screwed up royally yet to lose their halo.  I kinda call bullshit on the concept.  I know I’ve made epic mistakes, screwed up, handled things the wrong way, and made the wrong decisions in my work, but I’ve yet to feel like “I’ve screwed up royally” to the point that my boss and/or my boss’s boss think I suck.

Here’s my take on the “halo” phenomena:

Everyone has one.  You start out with it.  You wear it.  You break it in.  It gets tarnished or bent from time to time, but it can be polished off and fixed. How?  You own your mistakes.  You get things done.  You fix problems.  You’re a team player.  You’re a positive influence.  Etc, etc, etc.

What you don’t do is make poor decisions.  I’m not talking about making the wrong decisions.  We all make wrong decisions.  I’m talking about poor decisions.  There is a slight difference.  The wrong decisions kinda just happen.  You get misinformation.  You interpret a situation incorrectly.  You just make a decision and it turns out to be wrong.  Poor decisions seem to either happen with a lot of thought or absolutely no thought behind them.  These are not the types of decisions that you make in the daily course of your work.  These are those decisions that you make that can affect you and your reputation in your POW immediately or over time.  Decisions like talking about certain aspects of your personal life with co-workers.  There is a big difference between talking about your kid’s soccer game versus how drunk you got at the bar last night.  Think about it.  Which one would you prefer to be spread like wildfire throughout your POW?  The soccer game has no gossip potential.

I’m not saying that sharing yourself with colleagues is a poor decision.  What you choose to share may absolutely be.  Here’s the rub: perception matters.  Perception is what your colleagues/staff/administration often have to go on.  You’re not going to lose your halo because you made the wrong decision.  You may very well lose it because you made a poor one.

I am often asked what’s the hardest part of being a manager and my response is always, “having to have ‘the talks.'”  I’m referring to those difficult conversations that no one likes having, but are necessary in order to improve performance, service, morale, attitude or any other host of issues that need to be brought to someone’s attention.  It is a lousy thing to have to give someone negative feedback, but with practice and time it gets easier.

The problem is though, as managers we are entrusted with the contents of these discussions.  We are expected to not speak about the details with other people who are not directly involved.  We are expected to maintain our staff’s privacy.  In my opinion it is one of the basic tenets of good management and professionalism.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work both ways.

We have all worked in places and/or with colleagues who talk about everything. They spread their own business and sometimes the business of others around.  This is their choice and if they want people to know what is happening, then it is on them.  The problem that arises is the very same one that happens in schoolyards everywhere: the story never stays the same and becomes something very different and sometimes much worse than what it actually was.

Managers do not have the luxury of stepping in and correcting inaccurate details when they overhear them.  We can not make announcements “setting the record straight.”  We can not and should not participate in conversations about discussion we’ve had with our staff.  Consequently, a lot of misinformation gets passed along as fact.  We may seem like we are ignoring problems.  We may be described as “disinterested.”  But that is far from the truth.  Actually we are treating you professionally and maintaining your privacy.

If you’re like me, someone who has a difficult time allowing misrepresentations of what I’ve said persist in my non-work life, knowing that this may be happening and recognizing that you can’t do anything about it is one of the most difficult pills to swallow.  But you do because it is the right thing to do and because you recognize how destructive this can be and you don’t want to add to the problem.

Good managers maintain professionalism even when it’s the last thing they want to do.  Ideally this would work both ways, but in reality it doesn’t.  Good managers keep working to get to that ideal place.

Yep, We Have Them!

April 8, 2010

iPad E-Board

At 5:30 pm EST, NCSU Libraries will begin circulating iPads as part of the Technology Lending Program.  As part of the launch event 5 students will be blogging their experiences using the iPads as they take them to their classes, do their work, and generally goof around the web over the next week.   They are blogging about what they find on the University homepage: http://www.ncsu.edu.

As managers we ask a lot of our staff.  We ask them to roll with changes in processes, services, work spaces, sometimes even the department or units they work in.  We ask this and expect them to receive it with grace, flexibility and a smile.  If you’re a good manager you’ve planned ahead and are offering the support and resources required to make changes like this successful and as pain-free as possible.  If you’re working in a fast-paced, rapidly changing environment, you’re making these decisions fast, with little to no time to really plan ahead as thoroughly as you’d like.  More and more the latter seems to be the norm and that is fine, as long as we remember that we still need to provide resources, support and guidance to the people these decisions and changes affect.

So we ask a lot of our staff.  We ask for their patience.  Their understanding.  Their cooperation.  Calmness.  Flexibility.  Maturity.  The list goes on and on and on.  But what are we giving them in return?  What are we changing?  In my experience when we ask our staff to accept changes we expect a level of self-awareness and actualization in order to make the process successful.  We expect people to be able to articulate their needs and wants in order to make a transition go smoothly.  But are we asking the same level of self-awareness from ourselves?  Are we moving outside of our comfort zone?  Are we adapting our management styles and strategies to respond to the constantly changing needs and wants of our staff, our patrons, our libraries?

It is very easy to find ourselves in a rut.  We stick with what works.  What is comfortable.  What we know well.  Unfortunately, what worked last year or last month or last week or Hell, what worked yesterday, may not be what is going to work today and tomorrow.  Can we recognize that?  Better yet, once we recognize it, can we make the changes?

We tell our staff that change is good.  Change is necessary.  Change is constant.  But are we walking that walk?

I feel like I’ve gotten off track the past 7 months.  I’m stuck in a rut.  This is me admitting that I need to change my approach to certain management issues.  This past week reminded me of the type of manager I strive to be.  It also made me realize that I got so caught up in one aspect of management that I lost sight of the big picture and the larger goal.  I’ve been thinking about this all week.  More importantly I’ve been asking questions and listening to the answers I’ve been getting.  I’m taking this information and doing a bit of a self-inventory.  Standing in front of the mirror and taking a look at things from a different angle.  I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t room for improvement.  I’d also be a terrible manager if I thought everything looked great.

My point is this: change *is* good.  For everyone.  Including those of us in charge.  Great managers and leaders are constantly examining how they approach challenges and obstacles.  This does not mean you have to change your values or beliefs, but you may have to change how you embody them.

We all know that people change.  Yet we forget that fact when we manage performance.  Here is my reminder to myself of that fact.  It is also a recommitment to my staff.  As you all strive to do better, so will I.  Together we will do great things.

When Life Changes Hurt

February 8, 2010

I’ve not been posting a lot lately because life has trumped blogging more than usual.  My grandmother (Nannie) passed away last Tuesday night.  It was the end of a long 6 months of rapidly declining mental and physical health.  The truth is, my Nannie mostly left us this past summer.  Her mental state was quickly deteriorating along with her physical health.  Regardless of whether she was having a “good” or “bad” day, she never forgot who I was and always smiled when she saw me.  I was fortunate that even though I live almost 600 miles away from my family, I was able to see Nannie several times before she passed and while she was in relatively good health.

My Nannie was the center of our family.  She leaves behind two daughters, two son-in-laws, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.  She loved all of us very much and went out of her way to make everyone feel like they were a part of our family.  She was everything a grandparent should be and I am truly blessed to have had her in my life.

I had the honor and painful task of giving the eulogy at her funeral Thursday night.  I’d like to share it:

I feel very out-of-place as I am usually better prepared when I stand in front of a group of people to talk, but I was thinking about what I wanted to say and kept getting stuck, and then I would cry and ended up with nothing written.  In my thinking I always came back to the same thought:  Nannie taught me how to drive.  Nannie taught me how to drive because no one else would get in the car with me.  So for three years she let me drive to and from school every morning.  It’s funny because I didn’t even get my license until I was 21, but she still taught me.  What I don’t think anyone knows since I know I didn’t tell anyone, and I’m pretty sure she didn’t either; is that I almost got into my first car accident with her.  We were driving to school one morning, it was winter and the road was icy.  I lost control of the car and we went skidding off the side of the road almost hitting another car.  Luckily I managed to stop the car before we hit anything.  Now when we stopped I was gripping the steering wheel so tightly and then I bursted into tears because I was so afraid.  I turned and looked at Nannie and she was laughing hysterically at me.  And that is what I remember.  That she was silly.  I don’t think many of us think of her as silly, but she really was.

I work everyday with students and I have a large number of coworkers.  Sometimes we get into conversations about our families and I always sorta feel alien when the subject of grandparents comes up.  Most people talk about their grandparents in terms of people that they see maybe several times a year or monthly or maybe once a week.  It seems sort of unusual that Nannie was there everyday.  I am grateful and I feel very blessed that I had my grandmother in my life every day for 30 years.  Dad and I talked earlier today and we figured that she lived with us for at least 25 years.  Every day of those 25 years she was in my life.

Nannie taught us a lot of things:  Red birds are evil and mean something bad.  Newlyweds can’t make their own beds and someone whose father has passed can’t for them.  If you’re a maid of honor you must have a red ribbon shoved down your cleavage (I won’t talk about how I found that one out).  And our favorite: If you laugh on Sunday, you’ll cry on Monday. Well it’s Thursday and I’m crying. Lots of great things….but seriously….she taught me that your family is the most important thing you have.  No matter how frustrated or angry or upset they make you, they are still your family.  No matter what decisions they make, even the ones that you may not agree with (like moving to North Carolina or telling someone that you are actively praying that they don’t get that job in North Carolina) they are still your family and they love you.  She also taught us to treat everyone like family.  I am reminded of how when I was younger I’d have sleepovers and she would make breakfast for all of us, telling my friends to call her Nannie.  She treated everyone like a member of our family.  Even if you weren’t you were treated that way – sometimes better than those of us who were family.

People talk about unconditional love and they usually refer to the parent/child relationship, but I really think that if you want to see the true definition of it, you should look no further than the grandparent/grandchild one.  She loved us unconditionally and let us do whatever we wanted.  All she wanted was for us to be happy.  She was very fortunate as she lived to see her children and grandchildren grow up and be happy and successful.  She was surrounded by love.

So she could be very silly.  She wrote me this card, which is really just half of a card because she recycled it.  But I know she sent it because the front is in the shape of a house.  She wrote this note on the back [reads note]..she was very sweet, but the real reason I kept this, aside from being a packrat, is because the house has windows on the top of it, like a second floor, and she drew a picture of herself looking out the window.  And that is how I will remember her – living upstairs from us.

When I called my boss to tell him I would be out this week, he must have called our director and let her know.  She sent me a very kind email and in it she said: “Great relationships between a grandparent and grandchild can be
difficult to continue into adulthood so those that do are so, so precious.  They provide great, great joy, but their loss brings a terrible grief.”  I’m 34 years old, so I guess I’m an adult, and I can tell you that what she said is correct- this is incredibly painful and I am so sad.

I love my grandmother very much.  I don’t know what else to say except that I miss her very much.  This is kind of morbid, but I can’t help laughing and thinking as I look at the pictures we hung, that there is one hell of a party going on up in Heaven.  Nannie is up there with her husband and her sisters and friends and family and I can’t help thinking that they are having a good time.  I’m sure they are eating really well and being very loud and possibly annoying the rest of the dead people.

I’m so grateful that I had her for as long as I did.  I love her very much.  I miss her.

I don’t usually get very personal in this space, but I feel like this is such a life changing event for me that I wanted to share it.  I absolutely equate her death to that of a parent.  My grandmother was everything to me and such a center of my family’s universe.  Sometimes situations like this change us.  I do feel a change, though I have not yet put my finger on it.  My attitude is definitely being adjusted – for the positive I believe.  I’m still processing all of my emotions, but I’m certain that they will manifest somehow in my attitude towards my work and my approach to management and service.

I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts folder for a while now.  One of my new year’s resolutions was to work through or delete draft blog posts.  This one seemed important enough not to delete and it came up in conversation this afternoon.

Ideally we strive for a healthy work/life balance.  We all want to come home at the end of the day, unwind, do our thing and not have to think about work until the next day.  Depending upon your job, acheiving a happy balance is either easy or difficult.  A lot of times when starting a new job it’s very difficult to have a healthy work/life balance, but eventually as you learn the ropes and work gets easier, the scale evens out.

Social networking has thrown a bit of a wrinkle into this equation.  All of us seem to be online 24/7, whether updating our Facebook status, tweeting where we are eating dinner, posting pics of our pets to FriendFeed – whatever your social network of choice – our lives, both professional and personal are available for all to see.  This is both good and bad.

Good:  We can connect with others professionally and personally.  We find people with similar interests.  We feel connected to a larger community.  We can learn from one another.

Bad: As managers our staff can read these updates and posts and while our intent may be one thing, their reading and interpretation of it may be entirely different.  Not. Good.

So what to do?  Do we censor our online selves?  Do we only post off the clock?  Do we nuke our social networking profiles?  My answer to all of these is an emphatic no with a word to the wise:  be mindful.  We don’t need to censor ourselves, but we may need to choose our words more carefully.  We may need to consider the time we are posting.  Does your Facebook status of, “Don’t mind me, my head just imploded” refer to that staff meeting you had an hour ago?  Well, even if it doesn’t your staff may think it does since you posted it after the meeting.  Yes, there are coincidences in life, but most people don’t think of coicidences first, they think the worst case scenario.  Usually the worst case scenario involves you, the manager, being upset at them, the staff.

Our online personas tell a lot about the people we are and what we are doing and thinking.  As a manager, you need to keep that in the back of your mind at all times.  Perception is important and when it goes bad, it is hard to repair.  There is a time and a place to share thoughts and feelings about work, be mindful of what you are sharing and when.

Change is Good

January 5, 2010

Yesterday, Colleen and I were walking back from lunch and we ran into one of our staff whom I had not seen since before the holidays.  She had a very good holiday season as she became engaged, bought a new home and new furnishings.  Naturally, she was beyond happy. You could see her happiness coming from every pore of her body.  Her effusiveness while telling us about her latest life happenings, her body language, her eyes…..all spectacularly happy.  It was absolutely contagious.

Around May of 2009, this particular staff member was informed that her position that she has dutifully performed for 10 years was going away due to budget issues.  She was literally handed a new job description.  One that had absolutely nothing to do with the type of work she had been doing.  I was impressed with her positive attitude about this situation then and to say that now would be the biggest understatement on the planet.  She has embraced every aspect of her new position with energy, enthusiasm and flexibility.  It is amazing to watch and I could not be any more proud to have her in our department.

In our conversation yesterday she kept repeating something: “Change is good.  It is hard at first, but you have to go through.  It’s scary, but sometimes when something isn’t working you have to make a change.”  She recognized how much change she has gone through in her professional life this past year, and admits that while it was scary at first, in the end it turned out to be a good thing.

Her feelings nicely sum up my own thoughts about work and life.  Change is good.  We may not always realize it when it is happening, but if we allow ourselves to take a step back, give it some time or space, and look at it objectively we will find something positive.  I’m hoping to continue the trend of positive change that we’ve been riding in ADS for the past two years.  I am hoping that 2010 will be the year ADS kicks ass.  I think with people like this in the department there is no way that can’t happen.

Looking Back at 2009

December 17, 2009

I can’t believe that in less than 3 weeks 2009 will be gone and 2010 will be upon us.  To say that 2009 was a rollercoaster would be an understatement.  The past few days I have been thinking back on the year and listing what I thought the highs were.  There were many moments that make me smile. I’m going to try to list some of them chronologically.

January:  Our new associate department head, Colleen Harris, started.  She has been a fantastic addition to the department’s management team.  She hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped.

March: Our circulation/reserves supervisor, Tina Adams, was named Library Journal’s Paraprofessional of the Year. To say that I was/am beyond proud is another understatement.  This was the first year NCSU Libraries submitted a nominee for the award and we won!  The competition was stiff, but the awesome thing was the terrific amount of support Tina received from her colleagues.  Her nomination letter and letters of support were strong and spanned various departments in the library.  I am so proud of her.

May: The department survived another semester.  We had a full year of course textbooks and Reserves Direct had been implemented for an entire year.  Neither of these projects could have been possible or successful without the expertise of our colleagues in collection management, IT, acquisitions, metadata & cataloging, and preservation.

June & July:  In addition to the staff training that ADS completed, staff successfully navigated the merger of the media/microforms center with ADS.  This involved some changes in responsibilities and positions for certain staff, as well as absorbing and moving the entire media collection.  I am incredibly proud of how all the staff directly affected by the closing of MMC and ADS as a whole handled this change.  We also took over the responsibility of circing tech lending devices.  This is a high volume service that requires some more specialized knowledge and included a staff person being added to the department.  Again I am proud and impressed by how this was handled by everyone directly affected.

August:  The first Annual ADS Staff Retreat was held the first week of August.  It was/is the proudest day of my professional career.  Nothing has made me happier than what happened that day.  The department came together all at once, for the first time all 30+ of us were in the same room at once, and we talked about the kind of department we would like to be.  The ideas expressed and shared were positive and constructive.  I was proud and impressed with my staff.  They showed me how incredible they all are and how much they are committed to both the department’s and Library’s mission.  It was amazing. It would not have been a success were it not for the fantastic facilitation provided by our colleagues in Training and Development.

September – December:  The first semester where we were hit with the big three: tech lending, course reserves, and textbooks.  This was also the first semester where we hired students to work the circulation desk alongside full-time staff (at least since I have been here).  I truly feel the semester was a smashing success.  The students are a tremendous amount of fun to work with and watching them and the staff bond has been a riot.  There are some definite lasting friendships. There is now a waiting list to get to work in ADS.  Students are stalker our supervisors in order to get interviewed.  It is awesome and indicative that we are doing something right.  I am beaming.

Personally, I have had one of the most fulfilling professional years of my career.  Aside from what is listed above, my colleagues continue to impress me with their expertise and willingness to collaborate and share.  I gave more presentations this year than any year previous.  In my opinion they were all resounding successes.  I am most proud to have been included on the ACRL/NY’s Annual Symposium’s program this year.  It was a fantastic day and I thoroughly enjoyed giving my presentation.  I spoke at Brick & Click on managing staff performance and got terrific feedback.  It was a great feeling to share some of my expertise with my colleagues at other libraries. The first Access Services Conference was held this year in Atlanta.  It was exciting to be a part of the inaugural program and I am looking forward to attending and presenting again at next year’s conference.  It was a thrill to finally put faces to names and to have it reiterated that I am not alone in the work I do.

On the whole 2009 was pretty awesome.  I am looking forward to 2010 and the challenges and opportunities it will bring.  BRING IT, LIBRARYLAND!

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