Yep, We Have Them!

April 8, 2010

iPad E-Board

At 5:30 pm EST, NCSU Libraries will begin circulating iPads as part of the Technology Lending Program.  As part of the launch event 5 students will be blogging their experiences using the iPads as they take them to their classes, do their work, and generally goof around the web over the next week.   They are blogging about what they find on the University homepage: http://www.ncsu.edu.

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Looking Back at 2009

December 17, 2009

I can’t believe that in less than 3 weeks 2009 will be gone and 2010 will be upon us.  To say that 2009 was a rollercoaster would be an understatement.  The past few days I have been thinking back on the year and listing what I thought the highs were.  There were many moments that make me smile. I’m going to try to list some of them chronologically.

January:  Our new associate department head, Colleen Harris, started.  She has been a fantastic addition to the department’s management team.  She hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped.

March: Our circulation/reserves supervisor, Tina Adams, was named Library Journal’s Paraprofessional of the Year. To say that I was/am beyond proud is another understatement.  This was the first year NCSU Libraries submitted a nominee for the award and we won!  The competition was stiff, but the awesome thing was the terrific amount of support Tina received from her colleagues.  Her nomination letter and letters of support were strong and spanned various departments in the library.  I am so proud of her.

May: The department survived another semester.  We had a full year of course textbooks and Reserves Direct had been implemented for an entire year.  Neither of these projects could have been possible or successful without the expertise of our colleagues in collection management, IT, acquisitions, metadata & cataloging, and preservation.

June & July:  In addition to the staff training that ADS completed, staff successfully navigated the merger of the media/microforms center with ADS.  This involved some changes in responsibilities and positions for certain staff, as well as absorbing and moving the entire media collection.  I am incredibly proud of how all the staff directly affected by the closing of MMC and ADS as a whole handled this change.  We also took over the responsibility of circing tech lending devices.  This is a high volume service that requires some more specialized knowledge and included a staff person being added to the department.  Again I am proud and impressed by how this was handled by everyone directly affected.

August:  The first Annual ADS Staff Retreat was held the first week of August.  It was/is the proudest day of my professional career.  Nothing has made me happier than what happened that day.  The department came together all at once, for the first time all 30+ of us were in the same room at once, and we talked about the kind of department we would like to be.  The ideas expressed and shared were positive and constructive.  I was proud and impressed with my staff.  They showed me how incredible they all are and how much they are committed to both the department’s and Library’s mission.  It was amazing. It would not have been a success were it not for the fantastic facilitation provided by our colleagues in Training and Development.

September – December:  The first semester where we were hit with the big three: tech lending, course reserves, and textbooks.  This was also the first semester where we hired students to work the circulation desk alongside full-time staff (at least since I have been here).  I truly feel the semester was a smashing success.  The students are a tremendous amount of fun to work with and watching them and the staff bond has been a riot.  There are some definite lasting friendships. There is now a waiting list to get to work in ADS.  Students are stalker our supervisors in order to get interviewed.  It is awesome and indicative that we are doing something right.  I am beaming.

Personally, I have had one of the most fulfilling professional years of my career.  Aside from what is listed above, my colleagues continue to impress me with their expertise and willingness to collaborate and share.  I gave more presentations this year than any year previous.  In my opinion they were all resounding successes.  I am most proud to have been included on the ACRL/NY’s Annual Symposium’s program this year.  It was a fantastic day and I thoroughly enjoyed giving my presentation.  I spoke at Brick & Click on managing staff performance and got terrific feedback.  It was a great feeling to share some of my expertise with my colleagues at other libraries. The first Access Services Conference was held this year in Atlanta.  It was exciting to be a part of the inaugural program and I am looking forward to attending and presenting again at next year’s conference.  It was a thrill to finally put faces to names and to have it reiterated that I am not alone in the work I do.

On the whole 2009 was pretty awesome.  I am looking forward to 2010 and the challenges and opportunities it will bring.  BRING IT, LIBRARYLAND!

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 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.

There has been some discussion lately in the press, in blogs, and on Uncontrolled Vocabulary about homeless people in libraries.  Even though I work in an academic library, we are open to the public most of the day and evening (after 10pm you must have a valid ID card to enter) and we do have our share of homeless people.  We have a core group of 2-3 regulars who come in every day after the shelter makes them leave.  They mostly keep to themselves, are quiet and are either using the computer to send/read email and surf or they find a quiet corner and sleep most of the day. We don’t hassle them and they don’t hassle us.  Not the greatest relationship in the world, but it is one that works.

The sad fact is that my library is not set up to deal with any services other than providing the internet and a couch.  Our primary patron base are the members of the campus community and all of the social services that we can point our patrons too are only open to students, faculty, and staff.

To get around this we have began to keep a constantly evolving list of agencies, services, and places that we can point people to if they need assistance and we work with campus police (who are also city and county police) who have more contacts than we do.  It is heartbreaking to think that is the extent of the assistance we can and are capable to give.

What makes me very proud is knowing that my staff always treat everyone who comes to the service desk with kindness and respect.  I have watched my staff go out of their way to help solve a problem or answer a question and I know that they care about the patron and about giving excellent service.  I have witnessed interactions with our small homeless population and am delighted and again proud to note that they receive the same level of service and attention that everyone else gets.

I like to believe that this small gesture and acknowledgement makes a little bit of a difference.

It really comes down to simple mathematics and bang for buck. When I started my current gig I joined ALA after not having been a member since I was a library school student 6 years ago. Since my career up until now was in medical and health sciences libraries I was an active member in MLA and my regional chapter. I didn’t really see a purpose or need to continue my ALA membership and honestly, when I renewed my membership in February, it was done so rather reluctantly. I am still far from convinced that the $90 (it may have been more) I paid to renew is worth what I can get from the organization.

I am at a point in my career right now where I am happy and where I want to be. What I am looking for from a professional organization goes beyond networking and focuses primarily on professional development. I want the opportunity to attend (virtually or physically) workshops and presentations that directly relate to what I do every day in my workplace. Unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of that coming from ALA. There really is not a lot of programming devoted to circulation, reserves, ILL, staff management and customer service and this influenced my decision not to attend the annual conference.

Actually I broke down the expenses and compared it to the conference program. Here is what I was looking at:

  • 3 nights in a hotel ($199/night): $597 plus tax
  • conference registration (I wanted to see most of the program before registering so I waited): $200-$260.
  • travel (gas & tolls): $100
  • food/drinks/misc.: $100-$150

Grand Total: $1047 (this is using the low end of anything that had a range) plus tax

While it is true that my institution would reimbure me for some of the expenses I just don’t think that for me it is an efficient use of funds since after looking at the conference program, the sessions that I can say I would definitely attend are:

Saturday:

  • Leadership or Management:Which is it?
  • Diplomacy 101: Dealing with Difficult Customers

Sunday:

  • Transforming Your Staff
  • Moving Mountains: Exciting Trends in Library Delivery Services

Since these two are at the same time, I would have to decide one over the other.

Monday:

  • Access Services: It’s Not Just Circulation Any More!

This is one session that I am sad that I will miss as from what I have read it sounds very promising.

Now, before we all start arguing, I am not casting judgement on any of the other programming or assuming that it would not be interesting and informative. My point is that for me, these are the sessions that I find relevant to my daily work. I know I would find other sessions to round out my days and many of them would be interesting, however, for me, the expense is not worth it.   And yes, if I had started my job and joined ALA before the deadline for presentations I would have submitted something related to access services.  Unfortunately, I started around the same time as the conference deadline.

Instead of spending my money on the ALA annual conference, I have decided that the Brick & Click Libraries symposium is much better suited to my interests. This is a one day, academic library conference (they had me at one day!) happening at the Owens Library at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, MO this November. Since it is a smaller and one day event, the programming is broken down into concurrent sessions throughout the entire day. After reviewing the program I was able to find a presentation to attend during each session:

  • Are we having fun yet? Putting fun into the workplace!
  • The Impact of Usage Statistics
  • Wikis are Better: Transitioning from Static Research Guides to Wikis
  • Measure for Measure: Developing an Assessment Plan for Access Services
  • Digg This: Tagging and Social Collaboration on the Web
  • Enhancing Library Services through Support Staff Training: A Unique Approach

Cost of Attendance:

  • registration: $125
  • 2 nights in a hotel ($42/night): $84 plus tax
  • roundtrip airfare: $160 plus tax
  • care rental: $80
  • gas: $50
  • food/drink/misc.: $100

Grand Total: $599 plus tax

There are probably many sessions at the ALA conference that cover the 2.0 topics that I plan on attending at Brick & Click, but it is the sessions that are primarily about access services and staff training and development that make this conference valuable to me. And I can get what would take 3 days to see at ALA in one day at Brick & Click for less money.

My point in this post really has less to do with the cost of being an ALA member and attending the annual conference, and more to do with the fact that as a librarian who works in access services, I feel extremely underrepresented in my professional organization. Yes, before you even post it in the comments, I do plan on getting more involved in ALA, but I am not encouraged by what I see. I am a member of LAMA and of their Systems and Services (SASS) committee which encompasses access services, but I see little to no discussion happening. The other factor that I believe comes into play here is that most people who work in circulation, reserves, ILL and document delivery are paraprofessional staff who don’t belong to ALA or attend the annual conference. For some it may be the cost of membership, for others it may be that they don’t feel welcomed. Whatever the reason, I don’t think the number of ALA’s paraprofessional members are a true representation of the number of paraprofessionals in libraries.  We need some sort of group that is inviting to all professional and paraprofessional circ staff.  Something to rally all staff behind and to churn out more programming of our own. I want to be an involved and interested member of my professional organization, I just want more encouragement and interest from the organization’s end.

Sometimes I think the one thing that could make this job infinitely more awesome would be if we could listen to music while working the circ desk.  How could you not smile while helping patrons then?

As managers a large part of our job involves keeping staff informed and in the loop about various policies, procedures or information that is happening within the department.  I tend to use email to communicate the bulk of my messages to staff, as well as implementing what I hope will become a once a semester full staff meeting.  I hold a supervisors meeting every two weeks where we discuss any issues or news in the department and then disseminate the information to staff.

I also rely on face to face interactions to convey urgent messages.  Things can change so fast sometimes you don’t have time to have a meeting or send an email before staff may need the information you have.  I will often come to the desk and talk to whomever is on and then work my way to offices and try to touch base with as many people as possible.

We also have weekly staff training sessions that are held three times a week so that staff can sign up when they are free to attend.   We also have a staff wiki that houses most of our procedures and policies.  It is a work in progress and wiki training still needs to happen.

But what happens when you have exhausted email, meetings, putting signs up, wiki entries, etc. and the message still doesn’t get across?

At what point as a manager do you draw the line and say, “You’re an adult.  Take some responsibility for finding out the information and ask me or someone else?”  This is a question that I find myself pondering quite a bit lately.

I am wondering if all my communication efforts are not enough and if I should be doing something more and part of me thinks I am doing all I can.  I find this very frustrating and am running out of ideas and answers.

Management 101

March 4, 2007

I have received several emails asking for some staff management tips.  I am happy to share what I have learned from the really fantastic and the utterly miserable managers and supervisors I have worked with throughout my library career.  Bear in mind, these are just my opinions and what I have found to work. Your mileage may vary and I would love to hear any tips, philosophies or attitudes that other managers would like to share.

1.  Communication is very important:  In my experience a large number of problems or misunderstandings that happen in a department are the result of either a miscommunication or no communication at all.  It is very important for a manager to communicate goals, objectives, desired results, policy, procedures, etc.  clearly and consistently to all staff.  There is nothing wrong with putting your cards on the table, staff will feel more comfortable coming to you with issues, problems, or questions if they know that their concerns will be addressed and that they will be kept in the information loop.  The communcation flow must be two way – you need to make sure that as a manager you ask the questions and get the information from your staff that you need to make decisions or take action.  Try to keep all communication positive, always look at every situation as a learning experience, and not as a negative.  This attitude could be the difference between getting information before a situation becomes a large problem or after.

2.  Honesty is the best policy:  This is pretty self-explanatory.  As a manager you expect honest answers from your staff, so don’t be surprised that the same is expected of you.  Staff respect a supervisor who can admit that when they are wrong or don’t know the answer.  Lying is never a good idea and eventually the truth comes out.  Just don’t do it.

3.  One size does not fit all:  This goes hand in hand with communication.  Managing large groups of people presents many different challenges, perhaps the biggest one is realizing what the most effective method of communication is for each member of your department.  Some people respond well to simple being told what to do and how to do it.  Others need to see the details and desired outcome before they get on board.  Others need to be finessed into doing something.  Whatever it is, one method of communicating is probably not going to work with everyone on your staff and it is your responsibility as a manager to figure out the communication puzzle.

4.  Lead by example:  I know it sounds trite, but it is true.  Be the change that you want to see in the department.  You can’t reprimand ine of your staff for excessive lateness if you yourself are late every day.  If you are trying to create a positive environment in your department, then be positive.  Don’t complain in front of your staff or patrons, look on the bright side of issues and always learn something from every patron encounter or problem.

5.  Don’t ask your staff to do something you wouldn’t do yourself:  This has already been addressed in previous posts on this blog, but this is really the heart of the matter, particularly in access services where we are often asked to do a variety of tasks.  If you aren’t willing to do it, don’t be surprised if your staff resent that they are being asked and expected to do it.  We should not be above doing any task we are asking our staff to do and it engenders good faith, support and respect when staff sees us working along side them.

6.  Boundaries are not a bad thing:  I like having fun at work and joking around with my staff, however there is a supervisor/supervisee line that I am aware of and try not to cross.  I have worked for managers and supervisors that felt it was okay to be my best friend, and looking back it was not the best work relationship or environment for me.  It takes a tremendously acute sense of self-awareness to pull this off and even then it is difficult to ensure that people do not believe there is favoritism or an uneven playing field in the department.   Fairness is important.  Be certain to keep relationships with staff on a fair and balanced level.

7.  Self-awareness is important:  Aside from the above, self-awareness is also important when communicating with staff and when staff is communicating with one another.  It is important to be aware of the words you are saying, tone of voice you are using, or words you are typing in email when communicating with your staff and coworkers.  It is also important to listen to how staff are communicating with one another and to correct any situation or behavior that may be misinterpreted or that comes across as confrontational of belligerent.

Again, this is my short list of tips.  I welcome any and all suggestions and additions.  I know there are a lot of managers and supervisors who read this blog, so please share your ideas!