Happy New Year!  Well, work trumped blogging a lot towards the end of 2008.  There was a lot of work orienting new employees, general end of the semester/year craziness, and then preparing for the new associate department head’s arrival.  There have been a lot of posts brewing in my head and I figured now is a good time to share some thoughts.

A friend of mine recently reminded me of a post over at Brazen Careerist that I had bookmarked.  It is focused on good management and stresses the importance of generosity when managing people.  I agree with Penelope on pretty much all of her points, but my mind can’t help but go one step beyond where she ends.  It is absolutely true that the good managers are the ones who give generously of their time, patience, skills, and mentorship.  A good manager checks in with staff on a daily basis, listens to their feedback, addresses issues and concerns, provides the necessary resources, and dedicates time to developing their stafft.  I get behind all of this and try to practice this in my management style.  The last paragraph of the post is what hit home for me:

“So really, management is an opportunity to self-actualize. Some people will self-actualize by being artists, or writing code. Some people will self-actualize through management. Some, a combination. But the point here is that being in management is an opportunity to grow spiritually and give back to the world in a way that is enormously fulfilling. If you allow it. You will need to set aside real time to make this happen. And you need to give generously. No big surprise there, though, because why else are we here, on this planet, except to give to each other?”

Reading this started the wheels turning in my head.  The holidays put the wheels on pause, but then recent discussions at work and home this week got them spinning all over again.  The big questions I keep spinning around: What happens when you get little to nothing in return? What happens when you get nothing but negative back? How can we as managers build something from little to nothing?

I’ve been thinking that the short answer is that it means you’re in for a lot more work as a manager.  You need to dig your heels in, find the small, but significant battles to win, and every now and again pull the rug out from under people in an effort to facilitate change.  Failure is always a possibility.

Sometimes I feel like management is treated as if we are not allowed to have feelings or needs.  Sometimes we have to swallow a lot that in situations other than work we would never stand for.  I love a challenge and I love to give of myself, but sometimes it can be a very draining, unrewarding experience.  No one wants to hear or talk about that side of the coin, but I think it is time.


There is a great post over at Management Craft today.  I can’t say, “Amen!!!!” enough about it.  If you have ever worked for someone who says one thing and does another, you know the frustration that comes along with that type of management style.

I can’t reiterate this point enough.  As a manager, don’t make promises that you can’t or won’t keep.  Do not say one thing and then do another, or worse, do nothing.  The other point that goes along with this is if you make a promise and it is going to take longer than anticipated or something is happening that is affecting what you are doing, let people know.  Keep the communication flowing.  Be honest.  If you slacked off, admit it. If something came up and threw a wrench in the whole plan, let your staff know.

Lisa writes, “Great managers do what others don’t or won’t.”  That is 100% true.  As managers we have to be the bad guy sometimes.  We have to have the uncomfortable conversations.  We may have to step completely outside our comfort zones and be people we normally aren’t in the course of a day’s work.  And we have to understand that we can’t internalize or take any of it personally.

Great managers do what they say they will, but they also know how to maintain an objective, impersonal perspective.  I have learned that I am really bad when having to deal with coworkers who cannot accept constructive or professional criticism.  I am very aware of how I give criticism.  I keep it simple and cordial.  I never make it a personal attack or say it in a way that it could be perceived as such.  However, some people cannot separate the professional from the personal and that can cause problems.

Being able to separate the two is a key to success.  While I do identify as a librarian and a manager, I know that is not who I am in the core of my being.  There is much more to me than what I do for a living and when someone comments or criticizes my job performance, I take it as such.

I wasn’t always like this, and I was much more miserable in my career.  The best advice I can give anyone, is do your job to the best of your ability, do what you say you will, and don’t take it personally.

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.

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.

I apologize for the hiatus. I was on vacation and then I was digging out from under the piles in my office. I was not kidnapped by the legions of cheerleaders that have descended en masse on the campus this last week (apparently we host cheer camp, who knew?!?!?).

During my absence a white paper was released by the Association of Research Libraries all about ILL services. I tend to like anything and everything that gives ILL some well deserved attention.  I had and have the pleasure of supervising truly wonderful ILL staff.  If you want to find a group of people truly committed to providing outstanding customer service look no further than the ILL department.

The paper highlights current trends in ILL citing that ILL activity is up in the United States and that the majority of this increase is for returnable items (books, media, etc.) versus non-returnables (photocopies of journal articles, book chapters, etc.).  The paper points out that the ARL statistics do not distinguish between returnable and non-returnable items, something I regard as an important distinction that should be included.

The article states several reasons for the increase in ILL activity:

  • an increase in discovery tools, such as indices, searching the Web, and Google Books heightening people’s awareness of publications thus requesting the items
  • research and academic libraries making the ILL process simpler, improving delivery options, and decreasing turn around time
  • flat or decreasing collections budgets

I think these are all very valid reasons.  The paper does mention user-initiated borrowing in its discussion of simplifying the request process, which definitely has an impact on the number of requests patrons make.  However, I think the increase is due to mostly to a combination of the second and third points.  With collections budgets decreasing or remaining flat and the cost of serials increasing each year, libraries find themselves deciding to either purchase books or serials.  The serials tend to always win.

In order to continue to provide patrons with the necessary print resources many libraries are looking at collaborative collection development where the libraries purchase one or two copies for the entire system or consortia and allow universal borrowing.  More and more union catalogs are being created to facilitate this type of discovery and borrowing.  As libraries collectively purchase more journal subscriptions they find the uniqueness of each institution’s journal collection decreasing, which in turn leads to a decrease in non-returnable ILL requests.   The uniqueness of a library’s monograph collection also has an impact on returnable ILL requests.  If the institution has the only large collection of a certain discipline in the system or region, it will probably be a net Lender and vice versa.

I could wax on and on about ILL for hours, but the bottomline of this paper is that ILL activity is increasing and the trend will probably continue.   Now why do I find this significant and important?  I have worked for several libraries where the administration really wanted and expected ILL to generate revenue or at the very least cost-recovery.  I never agreed with this idea.  Partly because the libraries I worked at were typically net lenders and did very little borrowing so there was never an even equation.  Most of the lending was with libraries and institutions that we had reciprocal agreements with so we rarely charged for the service.  I always felt that expecting a profit sort of flew in the face of the spirit of the service.  It really isn’t about making money.  It’s about providing the patron with the resource and providing that resource as quickly as possible.

So why is this specific trend important?  Well, it comes down to processing and delivery time and allocating resources.  As several of my staff mentioned to me after reading this, this is vindication for all of the work and effort.  Processing a returnable request is more involved than a non-returnable because essentially it is a two sided process.  There is the sending and the receiving of the item as opposed to just the sending. The more of these requests that come in, the longer the time to process them.  I think it is a great testament to the staff that even with this increase our turnaround time is 24 hours or less.  That is quite a feat!

Needless to say if this trend continues decisions about staffing, delivery and workflows will need to be modified and changed.  This is definitely a library trend to watch.   It is nice to see ILL get the recognition it deserves.  It is the one unit and service that, in every library I have worked in, was constantly complimented and recognized by faculty and students as the wonderful service it is.

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.

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!

I need to perform an exorcism.  I have evil demons stirring within my department, interfering with forward progress and not allowing innovation and creativity to fully bloom.  I guarantee I am not the only department manager who has had to deal with these demons and I am sure, upon further inspection, you may find one or two lurking in the dark corners of your own departments.

I am talking about those “ghosts of time past.”  You know, those “five years ago we did this” demons.  Those demons of time gone by who still creep into the conversation and thwart all attempts at change and progress.

I have a good number of staff who have been working in the department for many years.  Most of them embrace and roll with change.  But there are one or two or three who just can’t seem to take the leap of faith and trust that while it may not work, it is worth trying.

So how do we deal with these ugly demons?  Is an exorcism really necessary?  In short, yes, sometimes an abrupt, swift, mildly painful, mostly dramatic change (or kick in the pants) is just what the doctor (or in this case priest) ordered to help move change along.

As managers, we can’t force a person’s personality to undergo a radical transformation, however what we can do is force a procedural or environmental change that in turn allows a person to adapt at their own pace.  Sometimes this is fast and sometimes it is not as fast as we would like it.  I have found that if I can make a great case for a change and get good staff buy-in, attitudes adjust a lot quicker than they would normally.

I have also found that being honest helps a transition tremendously.  If it is not going as planned then be upfront and open about the situation and solicit feedback from staff in order to make the necessary adjustments.  Making staff feel like they are part of the process of change instead of dictating it to them yields very positive results and can make the experience a lot less painful.

Still, there will always be one or two people who are still possessed by “the way it was” demon.  A lot of this attitude may be formed by past experiences with new services or procedures that did not go over well.  Never underestimate the traumatic value that one bad experience can leave on a person.  I take the initial hand holding and constant positive reinforcement/feedback approach when dealing with these individuals.  Again, the rate of change acceptance varies from person to person, but this approach makes people feel valued rather than steam rolled.

So what are your approaches to forcing a change and/or dealing with staff who are change averse?