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!

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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.

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.

There is a great deal of discussion going on this week about librarianship as a profession and the differences between those of us working in libraries who have an MLS versus those who do not and the type of work we do and deprofessionalization or devaluing of the library degree, and yadda, yadda, yadda. I will defer to Rachel’s two posts for a great analysis of much of the debate surrounding this topic and why people feel the way they do. I agree wholeheartedly with Rachel’s and Meredith’s thoughts on this topic and I think Dorothea makes some excellent observations and offers some interesting points for further discussion. My two cents in this whole discussion is: Welcome to my and my staff’s (both current and former) world.

For the most part I am going to take myself as an example out of this, but before doing so let me put this out there, you want a nice, healthy dose of being made to feel second class by colleagues – be a circulation librarian for a week at someplace other than MPOW who thankfully get it. I have written about this before, so moving right along…

Rachel posted a sample of some of the comments left on her post by para-professional staff:

* “My entree into the world of library work made me want to turn tail and run, not become a librarian: the issue of who is “real” and who is not is way too reoccurring on list serves like lm_net.” – Sarah Zoe
* “Having been on the “them” side of an us vs. them argument for a while now, I also feel apprehensive about joining the degreed population. The condescension with which some people refer to those in my position is enough to make me feel ill. I joined publib for a few months last year and ended my subscription after I had a nightmare that degreed librarians were attacking a fellow technician and me while we hid in a car. The librarians smashed themselves up against the windows of the car, clawing at the glass to get at us.” – Jamie
* “As someone with a college degree but not a MLS, I am not treated with the same degree of respect by other ‘true librarians’ although I perform many of the same jobs.” – Judy Tsujioka
* “In terms of treatment on the job, it is intimidating to be in this position, be specifically called an LTA because it’s blasphemous to call me a librarian (!) and not be valued for my ideas. Certain tasks aren’t given to me because I don’t have a degree, though I certainly could do them and have the time to do them. It’s unfair and I’m tired of these two spheres in the library world never crossing over. It does nothing for the profession as a whole. I’m not asking to be put on reference alone or anything, but simply to be respected for what I do despite my lack of a degree. Furthermore, I hate being reminded that I am ‘not there’ yet. I’m doing the best I can, with the finances and time that I have.” – JP
* “In the olden days, whenever I expressed an opinion in front of a “librarian,” I would be asked, “Where did you get your MLS?” This was code for, “Do you have permission to speak?” I would answer that I was a mere school librarian, so all I had were bachelor’s degrees in math and English, a teaching credential, and a library credential — all obtained in the early 1970s. When I got around to enrolling in the MLS program, in the 1990s, I discovered that my articles were on the required reading list. I asked the professor, “Is this guy any good?” After a few moments of praise, he paused (quick fellow) and asked, “What did you say your name was?” And then, “Why are you taking this class? You could teach it.” I replied that I was taking the class so that degreed folks would take me seriously.” – Richard Moore
* “I was astounded when, a few months back, I discovered that I couldn’t get class credit for completing a real-life project at my own library because…. dum-de-DUM… my professor did not consider my director a real librarian. This instructor required all projects to be conducted with the partnership of an MLS-degreed librarian” – what’s in a name?

Do I need to say that this makes me angry, frustrated, disheartened and plain sick? Well, I just did. I have been thinking about this issue of “deprofessionalization.” To quote David Rothman on Uncontrolled Vocabulary last week, I also think the term is a whole “lot of bullshit.”

You wanna know who is devaluing our profession? We are.

Every time a librarian says or does something that makes a non-MLS library employee feel like a second class citizen the profession and the degree loses its value. Every support staff person who is treated badly is one more person who thinks librarians are jerks and that having an MLS means you are better than those who don’t. Every MLS student whose opinion is not valued because they have yet to graduate is one more MLS student who is doubting that this was the right career choice and wondering if the time and money is well spent.

I have to keep reminding myself that just because a person has a professional degree doesn’t mean they act professionally. Respect is earned; not demanded or given freely. Common courtesy goes a long way and treating people differently based on the type of degree they do or do not have is ridiculous. When did it become all about us and not about serving our patrons?

I found some of the comments made by librarians on Rachel’s posts quite embarrassing.

I’m talking like hide my MLS embarrassing.

Hope I never work with you embarrassing.

At MPOW we ask a hell of a lot from our staff. They do work that is being done by librarians at other organizations and they do a damn good job. The day I think I am better or more qualified or my opinion means more than theirs is the day someone better tell me to quit because I am overcome with bitterness. We should be encouraging our coworkers to consider getting an MLS. We should be actively engaging in discussion and listening to their input and ideas. Valuing all opinions – degreed or not.

Until we do this, you can continue to see our profession and our degree looked upon as a union card, a joke, and/or a license to be an asshat. There’s your deprofessionalization.

Back from the Dead

March 23, 2008

Not really dead, but maybe a little comatose. When we last left this blog it was just before the holidays and their accompanying craziness. So here we are, well into a new year with lots going on and lots on the horizon. I am definitely one of those people who likes the beginning of the year. I definitely look at it as a blank slate, a chance to begin again or start over– a good time for change.

Three months in and there has been a good deal of change in the department. We have had a bit of staff turnover and are in the midst of filling some positions. People view staff turnover in different ways. Some people look at it as a bad thing or a negative indicator. I am not one of those people. I like staff turnover–not all at once, but I look at it as an opportunity to breathe new life into the department. Not to say that those who have departed will not be missed, but it is the chance to see things from a new perspective. To shake things up a little. To make changes and to move forward.

Since I have been here, I have only had the opportunity to hire one new staff member so I am enjoying the chance to hire a few more new staff members. In access services it is really more about personality type than it is experience.  I really like people with fun personalities who  can roll with change and who like working with the public.  That type of personality can come from a wide array of work experience and environments.

I guess I’ll begin with the oldest first. So, Brick and Click was fantastic. I met some wonderful people, learned some new stuff and was inspired by what other people and libraries were doing. Not bad for a one day conference! Next year’s conference is November 7, 2008 and presentation proposals are due February 28. Mark your calendars, this is one you shouldn’t miss!

I will be heading to Philly next month to attend the ALA midwinter meeting as a participant in the 2008 Emerging Leaders program. While I am not thrilled with how it started, I am going into the program optimistic and open minded and looking forward to a wonderful learning opportunity.

Meredith has two recent posts that I wanted to comment on. The first, while not really related to what I do everyday, had me thinking about a large part of my responsibilities in a different light. While she is writing about outreach and services to students and when is enough enough, this post had me thinking in terms of staff and taking responsibility for motivating them. I do feel that part of my job as a manager is to motivate and encourage my staff to do their best, but sometimes I feel like I have done everything in my power and it is not enough. I was feeling a bit down about it a few weeks ago and then I read Meredith’s post and felt better because this sort of thing happens in many different ways to different people.

After a lot of thought I made peace with myself. I feel that while some of the responsibility does lay at my feet, a lot of it also has to do with each individual and the attitude they bring into work with them each morning. A friend reminded me of the Fish! philosophy, specifically the tenet: Choose Your Attitude! That cuts to the heart of it. You can be the best manager in the world, but if you have a staff member who has a bad attitude and who can’t or won’t do anything to change it, there is nothing you can do to fix this problem. It is up to each individual to make the choice of whether they are going to come into work with a positive attitude or with a negative one.

I need to work on reminding myself that this is true.

Meredith’s most recent posts have hit a chord with me as well.   I have been in the exact place Meredith describes and it can be very disappointing when you realize that something isn’t working out the way you envisioned.  I left a position for the exact reason Meredith describes.  I loved my coworkers, loved the work I was doing, was close to my family and friends, but after two years (and some events) I realized that there was no place for me to go in the organization and that I was beginning to get bored.  I bore very easily.  I work best under pressure and in a fast paced environment where each day is different and that wasn’t the case in that position or organization so I needed to look elsewhere.  Looking back now it is readily apparent that the organization was too small and I needed to be someplace bigger with more happening.

Coming to that realization while still working at the library was painful at times.  Other times, when things really weren’t going my way, the decision to leave seemed incredibly easy.  The hard part was accepting that I needed to move on for the sake of my career and my happiness.  The second hard part was accepting that in order to do so, I had to move away from family, friends, and the place I grew up.

In three weeks it will be my one year anniversary at MPOW.  Now more than ever I believe that making the big move and coming here was the best career and personal decision I have made.  I love my work.  I love the environment I am in and I love that every single day is different.  They are not all wonderful and perfect, but they are never boring and that is what matters most to me.  I can say without hesitation that I wouldn’t mind working here for the next ten years.  I know that there is a lot going on now and a lot that will happen in the future and that I will have the chance to be involved.   I feel supported and encouraged and that my contributions and work have value.

So I say to Meredith and anyone else who may find themselves in a similar place, embrace the realization and look at it as an opportunity to figure out what you want to do and where you want to go in your professional career.  It can be a painful and scary process, but it can also be extremely exciting and rewarding.  There is not a large jump from feeling bored or trapped in what you are doing to resenting having to come into work everyday.  Sometimes it is hard to keep those feelings in check while experiencing them.  I often tell people that sometimes the best career decision they can make is to leave a job where they are not happy or fulfilled.

You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em!

As a manager I frequently find myself in situations that rely on my skills at compromise.  This does not mean that I am giving something up or losing. Compromise is not a dirty word nor does is always have a negative connotation.  I like to think of compromise as a synonym for collegiality.

We all find ourselves in situations where we need to work together to solve a problem or provide a service.  We may not want to work collaboratively, nor may we instantly see the benefit that our compromise will have on someone or something else.  It is important to remember that all of us are working towards the same goal of providing our users with outstanding services and a positive library experience.  However, it is also important to recognize that many of us are trying to accomplish this goal with limited resources.  Collaboration helps a lot, but compromise also has a role. Compromising on a process or workflow by agreeing to cut back a step or two is an example of how this can work.

The important thing to remember is that compromise is not permanent.   Situations can always be re-evaluated and reworked and circumstances change.  But in the act of compromise you have gained the gratitude and respect of your colleagues, and that will always be a benefit in the future.

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.

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.

When I Can’t Be Transparent

September 6, 2007

I am in full support of the transparent library concept and try to apply the ideas into my management style. I am a huge fan of open communication and the encouragement of discussion. I also like the focus on trend spotting as a means of innovation and improvement. I encourage my staff to come to me or their supervisors with ideas for improvement and with problems or issues that they encounter in their daily work.

However, I have noticed a similarity in the one on one conversations I have been having as of late and I am wondering how other people in my shoes have handled this.

I am having a lot of discussions about what can generally be described as personnel or performance issues. I am pretty positive that in the working world the complaint or sentiment of, “I work harder/faster/better/more than so and so” is universal, and while that is not the entire message I am hearing from staff, it is a part of it. I think the basic disgruntledness I am hearing has to do with issues that they perceive as not being dealt with or are being allowed to persist. It goes without saying that these issues are all personnel and performance in nature, so therein lies the rub.

How can I be transparent in my communication with my staff when the nature of such issues requires my discretion?

I was kind of joking around this week and remarking that I should send a mass email out on a weekly basis listing, in detail, everyone infractions and what type of reprimand they received. I am pretty sure that would cause a revolt.

I take staff privacy extremely seriously and do not share the details of their performance with anyone who does not have to know (namely each other). I respect everyone’s privacy, but I can understand how since no one knows the intimate details, they may assume that nothing is happening.

So how do you reassure while being discrete? I have my list of non-committal stock answers that I have been using and it seems to assuage each situation, but I wonder if there is something else I should be doing.

When it comes to reprimanding or better yet, addressing and working to change poor performance or work habits the responsibility is really on the individual to change. My responsibility is to address the issue and then to follow-up as necessary. If the performance does not improve there are definite paths I can take with noticeable outcomes.

But it is really that beginning and middle time in that spectrum where it seems really nebulous to everyone and it can seem like nothing really has been done and no changes are being made.

I place privacy and discretion on a higher rung than transparency. I guess this may be a battle that has no clear winner?