Through the Looking Glass: Future Business Challenges for the Academic Library by James G. Neal, Columbia University

Thinking about the experience we have had this week, the metaphor is Alice through the looking glass, us wondering if we could pass through the other sic and experience the business side of libraries. Having experiences with Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee through time, played chess with the queen, etc. We spent the bulk of our week talking about strategy, change, culture.

Librarians in the academic environments need to be aware of the business challenges that are facing the university and the library.

Holy cow do we have a lot to think about!!!!!!!! There are many shifting values in the library and we need to use our tools and abilities to change the culture and to personalize the library experience.  Many of the core services and products of the library will remain, but will need to be integrated to provide a more self-service experience for patrons.  James Neal provided us with 30 action items or ideas that libraries need to focus on in the future and now.  Most focused on technology and building more digital services and a robust digital environment for patrons.  The prevailing message, at least to me, from his presentation was that libraries need to become partners, owners and stakeholders in many of the changes and new services and technologies that are occurring.  We need to step out of our traditional circles of influence and look for collaborations and partnerships in places where at one point in time we may not have belonged, but now it is necessary for our input, skills, resources, and talents.

What we feel are the characteristics of Good Managers:

  • humor
  • honest
  • led by example
  • supportive
  • open minded
  • enthusiasm
  • no micromanaging
  • remembers we are people with feelings
  • clear expectations
  • admits mistakes
  • mentor
  • encourages input
  • private criticism
  • direct communication
  • is an advocate

Managers exhibit two types of behaviors:

directive (task): very much about telling people what to do, when they need to do it, etc.

supportive (relationship): help manage relationships

As managers we need to look at staff competencies and commitment when deciding which approach to use.Skilled Communicators:

  • Communicates what in a timely manner
  • allows colleagues to feel good about what they do and how they do it
  • timely so others can make accurate decisions

Think about how you prefer to take in information?  Use what is called the “Z model of decision making.”  It walks you through the different ways information is taken in and perceived.

Our roles and responsibilities as managers should be clear to our staff:

  • define performance results required
  • establish performance expectations
  • provide on-going coaching and feedback
  • communicating goal re-alignment as necessary
  • hold employees accountable
  • provide resources needed for development

When we manage our staff we should make sure that we don’t talk about attitudes and attributes, but about actions.  A lot of what we think of as attitude, is behavior (rolling eyes, huffing and puffing, etc.). There will be a tangible behavioral quality to what people are doing. Our job as managers is to figure out what they are saying or doing and how it affects others.

Feedback is about what people are doing that is making your work harder or easier. Giving negative feedback is harder than positive.  Sometimes it is inappropriate to give positive feedback in front of others. Make feedback behavioral that way it is not personal or vague. Remember you are talking about a person’s livelihood. The intention behind feedback should be to enable success in that livelihood. At the end of the day you are not an ogre because you have to get rid of someone, you are doing your job as a boss.

After you give feedback, listen to the response, if it is defensive resend the feedback message until they get it. Set new expectations and maintain the relationship.

A lot of times you are coaching people to do stuff that you don’t know how to do. Getting people to be successful by setting goals, asking questions, and encouragement. You are not accountable for getting them to do what they need to do, they are. This helps create a work environment where people are comfortable and enjoy coming to work. You create a relationship where a person feels valued and supported and are stretching the boundaries of the person they can be. You are not going to coach anyone successfully if they are not willing to work or accept the coaching.

Coaching is about helping people set goals and improve performance. Mentors help you find wisdom. This is different from coaching. Mentors don’t have to be higher in the organization. You can mentor at different levels.

Everything you are asking your staff needs to be aligned with the departmental and organizational goals. By asking staff members to write goals and objectives, you can see if they are aligned with the department and organization.

It doesn’t cost a lot to appreciate people so try to establish rewards that are not money. Take time to work with your staff.

In times of change, your staff need to know that they are valued, they belong, how they are doing and they have a future. The future may not be in our organization and that is okay.

Another excellent and rewarding day. There was a tremendous amount of food for thought. At the end of the day, I feel very validated in the way I manage my staff. A lot of the techniques I heard today are ones that I have been actively using in my department. The bottom line that keeps being driven home is that management is hard and requires a lot of work. I think the subtext is: if you don’t want to put in the time and effort, you shouldn’t be doing it. As I think about all of the time and effort I have already expended managing my department this year, I can’t imagine not doing this type of work. I feel really good about where I am and where I am going.

Presentation by Dr. Jose Picart, Vice Provost for Diversity and African-American Affairs, NCSU

Libraries continue to struggle with the idea of being a business or adopted a business model.  One of the facets of this model is to figure out where diversity fits and how we can customize our products and services to our different patron needs.

The biggest challenge is trying to define and understand what is diversity.  A few definitions from the group:

  • a gathering of differences and similarities
  • recognizing and accepting (if not agreeing) what ways we are different from one another
  • valuing and blending the differences
  • broadly defined, has benefits and challenges, results from the interaction between people who are difference and everyone is valued, respected, and included.

Once we understand what diversity is, we need to know how is presents itself in the library:

  • patrons: students, faculty, staff, alumni, affiliates, etc.
  • staff: faculty, professional, para-professional, clerks, etc.
  • subject expertise or specialty
  • gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
  • public services versus non-public services
  • administration versus the rest of the staff
  • tenured versus non-tenured
  • digital divide: those who have their own technology or possess high skills versus those who don’t
  • MLS versus non-MLS
  • day versus night staff
  • undergraduate versus graduate students

Libraries perform many functions and hold similar values to businesses:

  • excellent customer service
  • budget and fiscal responsibilities
  • facilities management
  • connecting people with information resources
  • rapid turn around time or delivery or materials
  • instruction, reference, ILL, printing, photocopying, document delivery, lending, borrowing
  • off site shelving/storage
  • managing these services
  • interacting with vendors- publishers
  • partnering with other campus units or consortia
  • training and staff development
  • publicizing events and services: blogs, wikis, web sites, campus and/or library orientations
  • outreach
  • public services referrals
  • mission/vision/values/strategic planning for the future
  • internal and external customers
  • competing for donors or funding
  • valuable campus real estate
  • services which we don’t make, but actually lose money providing
  • provide IT support

We also have mechanisms in place to tell whether or not we are doing a good job:

  • patron feedback
  • circulation/gate count/download statistics
  • financial support from campus and/or donors
  • new services
  • staff turnover and retention
  • attendance at events or classes
  • number of ILL requests processed
  • turn around time of material delivery
  • partnerships and collaborations with other organization both on and off campus
  • expansion of collection or numbers of volumes sent to off site facilities

I really enjoyed this presentation and it got me thinking a bit broadly. I am not sure if this is really the “matter of survival” that is being portrayed?????? I may argue that more problems are issues are centered around situational or position than with diversity. I think we need to listen to the voices that we may not have been paying attention to previously, and that will help us drive change or re-shape our environments.

Changes in higher education that are affecting the way our libraries operate and provide our services:

  • distance education, not being all in one place
  • interdisciplinary learning
  • privatization of services: outsourcing of services (food services, student records, technology)
  • increasing amount of fund generation
  • more acting like businesses; customer satisfaction
  • “remote” local learner- person who prefers not to be face to face
  • change in expectations of students – how to measure how we impact or act upon these expectations, how do we measure them?
  • teaching and instruction styles – more collaborative, research centered
  • integration of technology and social networking into curriculum
  • experimentation with new tools
  • resource management and negotiation
  • demands on faculty are increasing: 24/7 communication with students, tenure process, etc.
  • staff, faculty and administration buy-in and consensus
  • campus leadership roles are becoming more difficult to fulfill- impacts long-range planning
  • technology is no longer infrastructure, but is a service
  • universities are growing and branching out; pushing their boundaries: research parks, off-site locations and campuses
  • some universities have an expectation or take an active role in the community; sometimes actively shaping them
  • doing more with less resources

These changes are having strong impacts on academic and research libraries.  A few of the ways discussed:

  • student’s expectations of services and resources: “they want Borders”
  • how do we measure these expectations?
  • how do we make these adjustments while maintaining what we do well
  • metrics we look at: gate count, circulation stats
  • recognizing that there is still a user population who want the library to “stay as it always existed.”
  • how can we do both?
  • understanding of the swing in services: traditional versus 2.0
  • recognizing that the library is viewed as a service to those outside the library
  • translating what we do and why it is important into words that are compelling and enable people to understand how we add value
  • more and more of our time is spent on marketing, PR and outreach
  • we are becoming, in many ways, and invisible resource: seamless access
  • making access easier, how we provide it
  • we have competition (Google)
  • what does our staffing/applicant pool look like? are they coming in with the training and/or experiences that we need?

This new reality is providing us as managers with a host of new challenges.  We need to understand and at the very least, recognize these challenges in order to plot our strategy:

  • increase in daily expectations: publishing, managing people, thinking strategically, dealing with services and complaints
  • time management and delegation- reluctance to delegate or when am I delegating too much
  • endless opportunities with technology
  • delegating technology, people understanding new technology or how to implement
  • constant renewal of skills because people are only around for a limited time
  • adjusting teaching, instructional, interaction style for a patron base who seem very comfortable with being extremely interactive
  • competition for qualified staff- both professional and support staff
  • identity crisis of our staff
  • trying to get our staff to do more while their compensation does not reflect the increase of responsibilities
  • sloooooooow hiring process
  • our business is still the same, it is how we do it that is changing and we need the library schools to help us
  • psychological contract we make with our staff, supervisors or institution
  • being able to negotiate the terms of these psychological contract as the focus of the organization shifts
  • people do not develop skill sets because we tell them to – they do so because they are capable of it, or because they feel it is valued

Change is about managing events and emotions. What are the needs that are not being met that we can address in order to help people move forward?

The morning session was pretty energizing and got me in the mind set needed to spend the next five days talking about libraries. I think all of us understand that we are working in a world that is rapidly changing and that these changes affect us on many levels and in some ways that we may never have thought of before.

I think there is a general understanding and agreement that libraries should be or have been run like businesses; or at the very least there is a growing need to start thinking of our organizations in this way. We perform many processes and operations and make decisions that are very similar to those in the business world.

I seriously need to take a long look at the organizational culture of my library. I thought I had it sort of figured out, but I think I have only scratched the surface. I like what I am unearthing, and I think that there is a lot that can be learned and gained from thinking about this more.

We discussed how the way our organizations operate affect our services, patrons, and staff.  We need to look at the way we work and see which processes we can change with little effort and those that require an investment of time and effort in order to improve.

David Rothman is Cool

July 3, 2007

David Rothman’s blog turned 1 year old today. Go on over and congratulate and thank him for all the meaningful work he has been doing this past year. If you are a medical librarian or someone who likes using RSS feeds and aggregators, then you really need to check out his blog.

Career Counseling

June 26, 2007

I had two conversations last week that ended with enormous headaches…mostly from me banging my head against the wall. There is a lot of conversation about the state of LIS programs and education. Is the MLS really necessary? Are the programs worth the price of tuition? Are we teaching relevant subjects, information and using the right tools? I think that all of these are valuable discussions and I have already discussed some of my feelings about MLS education and programs.

The first conversation I had was with someone who asked me if I thought they should go to library school. When I asked what they wanted to do with their lives and future, they responded that they like working in academia and that they plan on sticking around [the academic library they currently work in]. Then I was treated to a 10 minute lecture about all the talents and skills and ideas that he has to offer the library and why he (and his skill set) are necessary. I am all for tooting your own horn and confidence, but this was more about how us lowly, technophobic, change averse, idiot librarians need his groundbreaking creativity, intelligence, and mad tech skills in order to be relevant. I wish I could write that this is the first time this gentleman has proven that he has no respect for librarians, our work, our education, or our skills or talents, but I can’t.

So what did I tell him? Well, I know firsthand that this is a person who routinely does not listen or pay attention to the wants and needs of his customers – be they internal or external, and that he is a firm believer of “my way or the highway.” Naturally I told him that he should skip the MLS and go straight to law school.

The second conversation, while less annoying still stung a bit. After 6 months, Mike and I finally met our downstairs neighbors at a pool party last week. In the course of the usual getting to know you conversation, I mentioned that I was a librarian to which I received the statement that makes every librarian cringe: “I should have my daughter talk to you about becoming a librarian, she loves to read.”

Why people? Why!?!?!?!?

I actually laughed out loud since this was one of the moments I had often heard about, but had never before personally experienced.

So I got to thinking a lot about this. Why does someone who thinks they are God’s gift with a demonstrated disregard for customer service and someone who loves to read think that librarianship is the perfect profession for them? Where are we going wrong and how are we attracting people like this? Really, it’s a rhetorical question since I think the answer is that people still have no idea what we do all day.

I am the first person to say that not every position in the library requires an MLS. I have said that I am thrilled that in my department I can hire based on talent, skill and experience and not have the lack of an MLS be a deal-breaker. However, I do take slight offense at the notion that once getting the MLS, you are automatically qualified to work in a library.

My solution/suggestion: we should take a page from the physical therapy education playbook and require library school applicants to have a certain number of volunteer hours in a library. Part of those hours (my vote would be 50%) should be spent in front-line public services (circulation, reference, instruction). This way, applicants know what they are getting into before they begin a program and possibly those who have no interest or inclination in working with the public, in teams, collaboratively with co-workers, etc. will be weeded out.

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