Circulation Wiki

April 28, 2007

Karen Glover, circulation librarian at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has created a wiki for circulation and access services folks. I think this has the potential to be a great resource and meeting place for all of us ADS folks. In this time of 2.0 this and technology that, I think the work and the issues that we deal with in ADS often get overlooked because many times the problems and their solutions do not have a technological slant. So this is a place where we can talk about the work we do and we can also toss around new ideas and share our resources and talents. I also hope this can be a place where we can play around with technology and bounce around ways we can better utilize it in our departments.

I strongly encourage all circulation, ILL, document delivery, and reserves staff to join the Circulation Services Wiki (the password is circrules)! And many thanks to Karen for creating it!

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“I could never do your job.”

“I don’t think access services is for me.”

“I can’t handle it. The people, the problems, the running around.”

“Too fast. Too furious. Too much!”

I am not going insane. Those are not voices in my head. And the comments were not meant to be disparaging. They were honest statements made by several of my friends, who are currently in library school or have just begun their first professional position, after I gave a lengthy rundown of how my new job was going. (It is going really well in case you were wondering!)

Do I need to be a superhero? No.

Possess magical powers? No.

Be cloned? Sometimes that would be really helpful.

Be able to juggle and multitask? Absolutely.

I think there is an incorrect assumption made about the mid-30s and younger set: that we are all able to, without thinking, multitask. Since we are used to being plugged in all the time and are digesting lots of information at once it shouldn’t be a problem right? Well, yes and no. There is a big difference between writing an email-while reading an article- in the middle of IM-ing a friend- while music is playing or answering the phone-while signing a purchase request- while trying to locate old copies of JAMA- while explaining to a patron the lost book fees- while a fire alarm test is going off in the background.

Multitasking by yourself is a lot easier than multitasking by or for other people…lots of other people. ADS is all about being able to multitask and I find that most people are very surprised when I tell them that you don’t have to be born that way. With practice you can improve your ability to juggle all the responsibilities that come with the department. Practice and knowing yourself and how you best operate.

Here are my some of my strategies for dealing with all the demands that come with public service:

1. Learn to prioritize and stick to deadlines. If you have to make a “To Do” list to help plan your day/week/month then do so. I am one of those people who thrive under pressure. I make weekly, sometimes daily, lists of things I need to finish, find an answer, follow-up on, etc. Crossing items off the list feels great, and I know that I am not forgetting the small tasks that sometimes get lost in the hustle and bustle. I work best with firm deadlines and base those completion dates on the level of importance. Importance varies depending on a number of factors: who is making the request, who needs the request, who does this impact, the nature or purpose of the task, and how much time it will take to accomplish. Based on one or all of those criteria, I plot my course.

2. Your time is not your own. When I am at work I realize that most of my time is not my own. Yes, I have downtime where I can work on projects, but the bulk of my time belongs to my department and other library staff who need me. There are meetings, problems, projects, issues, discussions, people and events that require attention. So I have to make a choice, come in early or stay later. I tend to work better in the morning before all the staff arrive. It is quieter and there are less interruptions so I can get more finished. Figuring out when you can get solid blocks of time to devote all your attention to a task is key to being successful.

3. Identify those individuals who you can confidently delegate small projects or tasks. I wholeheartedly believe that I would never be as successful in my position as I am were it not for the terrific staff I work with on a daily basis. Knowing that I can hand off tasks with minimal explanation and that they will be completed efficiently and expediently is a huge help. Identify people in your department that you can work with collaboratively and who can work independently. If you feel that no one fits that description then work on creating these types of relationships.

4. Plan ahead. When dealing with large projects, problems or issues, it is always good to have a pre-game warmup whether it includes getting some background information, or discussing the issue with colleagues prior to a meeting. Having a clear idea of how you may want to proceed before making a move, and getting input on a course of action is always helpful.

5. Follow-up/through is critical. Ask questions. Send an email. Make sure things are going smoothly. Reply to email. Return phone calls. Care about the consequences of actions. It can mean everything.

6. Preserve your sanity. If this means that you do not check your email or log into the network when you are home, then so be it.  I check once a night, if there is an emergency staff know where to reach me.  Sometimes you have to let go of things and not think about them anymore.  It took me a long time to realize that, but I am much happier at work and at home now that I leave my work in my office.

No words

April 17, 2007

There are no words to describe all the emotions caused by the events at Virginia Tech yesterday. My thoughts are with the students and their families.

Listening and watching to the new yesterday I felt like I was watching my worst nightmare come to life. It really drove home the idea that something like this could happen anywhere. Those of us who work at large, public universities surely felt uneasy while watching events unfold.

Safety and security takes up a lot of my time and mental energy. We are constantly working to prevent any type of safety issues, but events like this make me wonder if there is any way we can prevent a tragedy from happening.

It’s that time of year again, library school students will be graduating next month and many have been job hunting and interviewing and preparing for the beginnings of their professional careers. With that there has been a lot of posting in library blogland about library schools and programs. Everything from the purpose, the effectiveness, the banality, the usefullness. You name it, people are blogging and commenting about it.

I read all of these discussions with interest for several reasons. First, I have sat on lots and lots of search committees within several academic libraries, so it is always interesting seeing what students and potential applicants think. Second, I like to see how my own library school experience compares to those who have graduated a few years after me.

I don’t really have strong feelings about my library school experience. I didn’t love it, but I also didn’t hate and find it futile. I will come clean upfront and state that since I did a dual MLS-MSIS program, I only took the five required MLS courses and then 2 or 3 library classes that I thought looked interesting and would help me. The bulk of my program was systems and IT related. However, I think what also makes me not hate it is that I worked full time in the university library while getting my degrees. That experience helped fill in a lot of gaps and made everything seem relevant while in class. I have learned, through resumes and comments on blogs, that this is not a universal or popular experience. Many new graduates have no library experience and have found the process of trying to get some very difficult.

I find that disheartening and frustrating. Disheartening because it sends a lot of people into the workforce who may not be prepared for the work or even know if this is what they want to do with their lives, and frustrating for the same reasons, except from the side of a search committee where this makes things more difficult when trying to fill positions.

As an ADS department head, I have always maintained that I will take enthusiasm, eagerness, willingness to learn, a sense of humor and a feeling that a person will work well with the members of the team over years and years of experience. And, at least for this department, not having library experience is not a huge dealbreaker. Have you worked in Borders or Barnes and Noble for a couple of years? Great! Starbucks? Even better! Any place where you deal with the public? Cool, I’ll take you! It’s kind of nice to work in a department where the main hiring requirement is not an MLS.

Even though I don’t have any condemnations for my library program or library programs in general, I will make this one criticism: when it comes to customer service and management they fail miserably. Everything I ever learned about customer service and managing staff came from every job I have ever had in my life. None of it from a classroom and I never even heard the words “customer service” in my MLS program.

It wouldn’t kill MLS programs to have a one semester course in customer service. Don’t tell me it can’t be done. Every successful fast-food chain in America does it. Major department stores do it. Starbucks has created a corporate culture out of it. Library schools should take a few pages from those playbooks and develop a course or two. It could be a lot of fun. Think of it – mock transactions at the campus library circulation desk. Role playing bad patron interactions. It would certainly be a learning experience.

I think that library schools tend to forget that when it comes down to it, we are a customer service profession. On every level. Just because you are not at the circulation or reference desk, or teaching classes doesn’t mean you are not serving customers. If you catalogue items, your work is being used by patrons and library staff. Those are your customers. Bottomline: a customer service course would be a welcome and highly useful class in the MLS curriculum.

The other addition or revamped course I would like to see is a library/staff management class. I think I took one, actually I think I took two. The fact that I can’t remember speaks volumes as to how effective they were. I understand the need to know how to write misson, vision and values statements, five year plans, collection management plans, budgets, etc., but you can learn a lot of that on the job. What would really be helpful is some concrete experience and training in how to deal with people.

If I created a management class the topics included would be:

  • behavioral based interviewing
  • conflict resolution
  • giving and receiving feedback
  • interpersonal communication
  • negotiation
  • running effective meetings
  • team motivation
  • decision making and problemsolving
  • workplace violence prevention
  • position management
  • workplace harassment
  • an overview of workers’ compensation
  • an overview of federal benefits and programs like FMLA

Yes, I think that being an effective supervisor/manager requires personality traits that either you have or you don’t. However, even the best people can always get something out of some good training and information and the above topics are issues that anyone who manages staff deal with on a daily basis.

So while there is a lot that can be said about the value of experience, I think the theory or training is also important. It just comes down to what you are being taught. Perhaps if more library courses seemed practical and of value to students there wouldn’t be such a backlash come graduation and job searching.

Food for thought.