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.

Advertisements

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 Lynda Aiman-Smith, Associate Professor, Management, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, College of Management, NCSU

Life-cycle Concept of Services

  • Introductory Stage
  • Growth Stage
  • Maturity Stage
  • Decline Stage

Without an idea champion, no project will live. An idea champion sells the idea and gathers resources to implement the project. Most times the resource gathering is done creatively and under the radar. Idea champions get people excited about projects. There is an equal chance that this project will fail, as it will succeed.

When resource planning and allocating for projects, always ask who the idea champion is for each project. This gives you good indication to whether the project will succeed.

Once you move towards design and prototyping you need to look towards your customers.

In each phase ask: who is the idea champion, who is affected, who cares, what competencies are needed or will need to change, what technology exists or needs to be created?

So far this has been the most valuable day. We worked in our project groups and I was very fortunate to be grouped with three other librarians who are working on the same project I am. We bounced a lot of great ideas off of one another and really worked through some of the finer details of what we are doing and how we are doing it. The evaluative tools we learned today were very useful in figuring out the granularity of the process and who is involved in each step.

Most importantly, I met three other people who I can email and talk about my project. I know I am not alone in what I am trying to accomplish and I have a new support network.

Lynda Aiman-Smith is an extremely engaging speaker and is very upbeat and motivating.

Presentation by Ted Baker, Assistant Professor, Management, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship, College of Management, NCSU

“Strategy” denotes an organization’s highest level objectives and the integrated set of choices it makes and implements in attempting to meet these objectives.

Some leading perspectives on strategy:

  • Porter’s “five forces” (new entrants, buyer power, supplier power, substitutes, and rivalry) and “generic strategies” (overall cost leadership, differentiation, focus)
  • The “resource-based view
  • “Core competence”
  • “SWOT” (strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats)
  • analysis (venerable, atheoretical)
  • “Hypercompetition”

Everyone doesn’t think the same way!

What is strategic management?

  • Something that doesn’t exist without clarity of goals.
  • Strategy follows goals.
  • Without and overarching set of goals, there can not be strategy.
  • Creation of valuable, distinctive position
  • Trade offs among incompatible alternative activities
  • Driving complementaries and fit among activities
  • Deciding what not to do and what to stop doing

Constructing a Strategic Initiative

  • Three levels: values proposition, business model, business strategy
  • Value proposition is the foundation, everything based off of it
  • if you have a well founded, adaptable value proposition, you’ll be successful
  • VP: what, who, why
  • Business Model: what, who, why, how
  • Business Strategy: what, who, why, how, when, wherw

What is a Business Model?

  • Gives you a product description. If you can’t tell someone what your product is, then you have a problem.
    Tells you the main activities, what it does for the customer, the advantages and sustainability.

What is a Business Strategy?

  • tells you where and when

It became increasingly evident throughout the presentation and discussion that being able to create a concise and effective values proposition is an essential skill when proposing a new service, strategy, change or goal. The VP can be equated to the “elevator pitch” or “30 second pitch” that we hear a lot about in Hollywood and television. After spending 20 minutes trying to write a succinct and effective VP statement, I can attest that it is not easy. It is definitely a practice makes perfect and trial and error process. I suspect it gets easier the more you do it. It also became apparent that if you can write an effective VP statement, forming a strategic plan is much easier.

Is Change Good? Change is unavoidable and if managed poorly will result in failure. This failure can be attributed to many factors including: flawed vision, resistance, and a culture entrenched in the way it has always been done. Sometimes we have no choice but to change. This happens when there are outside forces driving the change. Many times this is due to technological changes, a shift in organizational priorities, or economics.

Reactions and readiness to change is varied. Sometimes reactions to change can be drastic (people leaving, or active resistance), sometimes it is more passive (acquiescence), and sometimes it is accepted. These reactions are caused by a variety of factors: fear, perception of loss or gain, personality, or trust.

As managers we need to help staff manage change. It is important to make people feel valued and heard, and to provide them with the context and information needed to understand why a change is taking place. You can force change, but the results may not be pretty and you may not feel comfortable doing it.

I have worked in corporate America and hated it. Almost everything I felt today reinforced those feelings of hatred. I though a lot of what was presented today was useful- particularly the tools and a lot of the insights into strategic management that were discussed. However, I feel like there was a level of cynicism that was seriously off the charts for me. At the end of the day I almost believed that my positive attitude and belief that hard work has its rewards, was all complete crap and meant nothing. It was a sort of painful realization, but at the same time I refuse to believe that it is all completely wrong and is not going to help me.

Something else that I found myself disagreeing with was the proposition that personalities change and are changeable. I don’t believe that. I believe that you can change or affect people’s behaviors or habits, but changing their personality….not so sure about that. I haven’t successfully seen it happen.

I didn’t totally drink the Haterade all day, I did like some parts of the day. What I found extremely valuable was value proposition and how to develop one. Learning how to pitch the “elevator speech” was a great exercise and had me thinking about large picture projects in terms of the most important and powerful elements.

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.

This week I will be attending the TRLN Management Academy in Chapel Hill. I plan on sharing what I learn each day and am hoping that it will be valuable and helpful to all of us in ADS and in libraries. Today’s agenda includes: The Business of Libraries and The Business Case for Diversity. I will post as the day progresses.

I sort of kept an activity log for Monday. My Monday resembled this:

8:20am: arrive at work

8:20-8:30am: talk to day supervisor about the morning and what was happening that day

8:30-10:00am: revised position descriptions, scheduled three meetings, updated gaming tournament, worked on poster for conference, read and responded to email.

10:00am-11:30am: met with department librarians for weekly meeting, worked on position descriptions, talked about activities, problems, planned services.

11:30-12:00: ran back and forth between office and circ desk to solve some patron problems and discuss strategy with circ/reserves supervisor.

12:00-1:00: continued working on position descriptions, conference poster, fielded staff issues, scheduled another meeting.

1:00-2:00: met with my supervisor to discuss issues, items, etc.

2:00-2:30: read and replied to email, met briefly with asst. dept. head and circ/reserves supervisor to address a problem with schedule.

2:30-3:30: met with colleague to discuss and arrange travel plans for ALA mid-winter, modified my hotel reservation, re-worked travel request form. Talked on phone with microform reader/scanner vendor and then with campus purchasing department. Phoned security supervisor about shuttle service and set up meeting.

3:30-5:30: finished first drafts of position descriptions, worked on committee charge, set up committee meeting, finished conference poster. Worked on statistics. Checked in with circ/reserve desk and ILL staff. Read and replied to email.

This was actually a pretty light day, as it was not back to back meetings. But, it was long and I got a lot accomplished. It was hard to capture all the informal, “in-between” meeting with various staff that takes place all day. If I listed every time I was asked a question or needed to make a decision, it would be a very long list.

I’ll probably do this again in a few weeks. I hope it was somewhat helpful.

A Day In the Life

October 12, 2007

I was looking at my stats yesterday and saw that several people found this site when searching, “what does an access services librarian do.” I thought that was a good question and one I should answer. The short answer is anything and everything that needs to get taken care of. If that sounds like a pat answer its because it is. It is really hard to describe to other librarians, as well as non-librarians, exactly what it is I do all day, everyday. My job description gives some of the details. I “manage a department that encompasses several key public service areas: circulation, reserves, current periodicals, media/microforms, interlibrary loan and document delivery and stacks services.” I do all of those things, but I also do a lot of other stuff that doesn’t really fall into a neat category.

In my previous position (head of access services at another library) I spent an entire day tracking down a ten foot, 4 inch wide strip of wood that was mistakenly removed from the front entrance doors of the library making them unable to close properly. Depending on the size of the library I have either been fully responsible or heavily involved in the security of the building; being the liaison to campus police and the private security company. I’m one of the first people called when there is an emergency or problem (my staff are in the building all open hours).  I’ve cleaned bathrooms and picked up trash, at other libraries I make the phone calls to housekeeping and work with them and facilities staff to ensure that the building is clean and safe. I’ve moved furniture. I oversee a shuttle service. I pushed a golf cart down a ramp onto the back of a trailer last week. The daily activities vary greatly depending upon what is happening in and around the building, as well as with library staff and patrons.

There are some responsibilities that remain the same no matter the size of the library. I manage a staff who work the front line service desk(s) of the library. This requires a lot of coaching, training, problem-solving, motivation, and positive reinforcement. I troubleshoot and solve problems my staff are having with one another, the patrons, the automated system, a policy or procedure – anything that is happening. I oversee time off, sick leave, hiring, firing, disciplinary action. I attend lots of meetings- planning, updating, troubleshooting library services, events, issues, etc.

I write or respond to at least 200 email messages a day. I travel to conferences, write journal articles and book chapters, and mentor new librarians or those thinking about becoming one.

I laugh more days than I don’t. I have more really fun days than I don’t. I interact with almost every department and person who works in the library. I get to come up with wacky ideas for patron services and library events – sometimes we actually implement them. I serve on library and campus committees.

I guess the long answer is that an access services librarian is very busy. I personally feel that with all that activity and responsibility comes a lot of fun and excitement. If you bore easily, than this is definitely the job for you. No day is the same and it never seems to get old or stale.

Maybe Monday I will keep a real day in the life and actually do an hour by hour account of what I do all day.