If I Had a Dollar Every Time….

February 21, 2007

Finding time to write has been very hard lately. There is a lot going on at MPOW and I am making the transition from the adjustment/orientation period to the “time to make some changes and get moving on projects” period. Needless to say there is a lot happening and I have been working many 16 hour days. So naturally sitting here in the airport in Colorado, Springs waiting to board a flight to Dallas, is when I have the time to post.

Even though I have not been writing, I have been keeping up with my blog subscriptions. I read an interesting post on Blog About Libraries titled, “I didn’t get an MLS to do that.” I thought the post was very well written and touched upon several important reasons why we (as librarians) can not have that attitude. The points stated are: professions do not stand still, we don’t have a choice, and the jobs we signed up for may not exist anymore. All very good and valid points.

What I started thinking about after reading that post is the attitude of “I won’t do XYZ.” A similar attitude that I have witnessed is, “that is not in my job description.” Nothing gets my ire up like hearing that sentence.

I have told all the staff I have managed throughout my career that, “That is not in my job description” is the one sentence that I never want to hear come out of their mouths, especially when speaking to me. I would never ask a member of my staff to do something that I wouldn’t do myself and more often than not I will get down and do the deed with them. I don’t like to hear that line because if they knew all of the crappy little tasks or other things I have done that were not explicitly written in my job description they would cringe. If I had a dollar for every gross thing I did that was not in my job description, I would be retired and sailing on a yacht somewhere. A short list of some of the more “fun” things I have had the pleasure of doing:

  • clean toilets
  • pick up garbage
  • empty trash cans
  • dispose of dead birds, rats, mice, etc.
  • kill rats and mice
  • deal with weird smells
  • spend 8 hours tracking down a piece of wood paneling
  • vaccuum
  • dust
  • assemble furniture
  • clean windows

All of this while either working towards or after having received my MLS. To tell you the truth for the most part I enjoyed doing the work (okay except dealing with the dead things and the garbage). I just accept that in my line of work this is par for the course and I try to instill that in my staff. I also try to put a positive spin on it. I have learned quite a bit from dealing with minor and major crises that had nothing to do with my written job description. I have learned to think quick on my feet, trust my instincts and decisions, better management skills, have gained confidence in my abilities and have become more flexible. You learn to roll with whatever comes your way and when you can do that, you are a much better person to work with. I know, I am positive to the point of annoyance, but I believe that it helps to put things in perspective.

I work hard at helping my staff put the curve balls in perspective. I constantly commend a job well done and always focus on the positive lessons learned from an experience. It works. Access services is all about rolling with whatever comes your way, and being flexible and positive make the experience a lot less painful than it could be otherwise.

Is there a point where what we are willing to do crosses the line? I do think there is and generally I draw the line on a case by case basis. I try to consider all of the angles and outcomes to a situation before I decide it is something that my staff or I should not handle. Generally if it is something that involves security or a situation that could be dangerous, I look for assistance from the trained professionals who deal with those situations. We always consult with whomever or whichever department will be affected by what we are doing and look for guidance and assistance in dealing with issues. I like collaboration and teamwork and find that it gets a job completed correctly and faster than going it alone.

The bottomline is that yes, sometimes the unexpected can kill morale or make people feel like they are being taken advantage of, but by working to put a positive spin on the situation and focusing on the lessons learned, the curve balls are not as bad as they initially seem.

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8 Responses to “If I Had a Dollar Every Time….”

  1. “I would never ask a member of my staff to do something that I wouldn’t do myself and more often than not I will get down and do the deed with them.”

    That’s the crux of the situation to me. I don’t find the crappy little tasks as frustrating or annoying when I know that my supervisor would also take them on without hesitation. However, it’s a huge morale sink when I’m asked to do the crappy little tasks that I know the higher-ups (or certain departments) wouldn’t even touch with a ten-foot pole.

    I also wanted to say I really appreciate your blog! It’s wonderful to see someone advocating for access services staff.

  2. Kathy R said

    Right on, that is exactly how I feel. I had a professor in college say the exact same thing. She talked about having to vacuum her library, empty trash cans and more. To me being professional means you do what it takes to get the job accomplished. I love the blog.

  3. eprahs said

    My own list includes:

    – putting out trash can fires
    – herding pigeons out of the library
    – disposing of dead fish from the aquarium
    – cleaning chinese food off the terrazzo floor
    – loaning books to a movie set (and being an extra)
    – scooping dog poop

    Keep up the great posts!

  4. cm said

    My favorite phrase in a job description:

    “Other duties as assigned.”

  5. Mary M. said

    My list includes:

    Putting out fires

    Catching loose a dog that is running free in the library and finding its owner

    Finding the owners to cell phones left in the library

    Chasing out Canadian Geese who roam into the library from time to time

    Helping patrons that have been run over by other patrons in the parking lot because they’re in a hurry to get to the program

    The list could go on and on. I really enjoy reading your blog!

  6. Emily C said

    Great post.
    I get a little sick of hearing librarians lecture me on how this, that, or the other thing is not a “professional activity” so they can’t possibly do it. I think a lot of it comes from an underlying confidence issue. I have enough confidence in my position as a professional that doing “other duties as assigned” 🙂 doesn’t bother me in the least. But others who are not so confident seem to hide behind their degree like that.
    For me, the bottom line is that my definition of professionalism includes doing whatever needs to get done in order to provide our patrons with the services they need. If that means engaging in non-professional activities, then so be it.

  7. Mary M. said

    Does that constitute helping a patron jump start their car? I had some professionals tell me I shouldn’t have….I look at it this way…we’re a full service library and I had jumper cables! lol

  8. Mary Carmen said

    I would help jump start a patron’s car if I had had jumper cables. I don’t even think that falls under being a good librarian, it is just being a kind person.

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