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.

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.

My current place of work is the first library I have worked in that has had 24 hour service. We are open 24 hours Sunday-Thursday. I was quite surprised when I started in January at the actual number of people who are in the library at 2, 3, and 4:00 in the morning.

To cover these service hours my staff work across three shifts: day, afternoon/early evening, and overnight. We have an excellent overnight crew and the past few weeks have really highlighted how capable they are.

Surely there is a different atmosphere in the library during the wee hours of the night and morning. And though during this time we are only open to students, faculty and staff, there are unusual incidents that take place. I have yet to hear about a true safety or difficult situation, most of them have sort of been extremely funny.

Now that classes have begun and the students have returned there has been a steadily increasing number of them in the library at night. While idealistically we would like to think that most of them are coming in to study and do work and are coming to us after classes or dinner or whatever, the reality is that a small number of students do come into the library straight from the bar or party.

We are one of the only places on campus open 24 hours, so students come in to get away from their dorm room or because they want to be someplace with other people, or they just don’t feel like going home yet, and yes, most of them do want to study and do school work. But it can be funny when a well meaning, harmless, intoxicated student comes into the library and tries to pull a prank or does something ridiculous.

And when we see that happening, we have to intervene or ask someone else to. The majority of the time it is a harmless prank or just drunk stupidity. And to be quite honest, some of the drunk stupidity is downright funny.

But the staff has to take it seriously and act professionally and in the best interest of the library, other patrons and of the individual at hand. Knowing that I have very capable people dealing with this while I am at home sleeping, allows me to actually sleep.

Something else to think about when working in customer service.

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.

No words

April 17, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food for thought.

Service with a Smile

January 16, 2007

Since I am still fairly new to my current place of employment I have been trying to grab some shifts on the circ desk during some peak and off peak hours in the hopes of bettering my understanding of how our ILS works. Of course we use an ILS that I have no prior experience using so it is all familiar Greek to me.

Aside from the practical reasons to work the circ desk, I also enjoy it because it gives me a chance to have some facetime with our patrons. Our patrons are mainly students and faculty, but mostly students. They are overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed, and at times frustrated. A lot of times they need extensive help with a literature search to get that term paper finished, but sometimes all they need is someone to help them find what they are looking for and say “you’re welcome.”

I stress to my staff the importance of being earnest. To be sincerely pleasant even when their first response may be to jump over the desk and tackle someone. We all have our bad moments and they can rear their ugly heads at inappropriate times. In the event of an “unpleasant patron encounter” naturally I would back up my staff and try to diffuse the situation as calmly and friendly as possible. I have always reminded my staff (at all the libraries I have worked) that whatever bothered that patron enough to take it out on a stranger is all about them, not about you and that anyone who crossed that person’s path today was going to experience the rage.

But for all the rage and snottiness (and there really is not that much of it) there is a plethora of smiles and gratitude. I love working the circ desk because I love seeing people smile when I say “good night” or “have a nice day.” Sometimes all people want is a little kindness and a smile.

Tonight I helped a professor locate a journal that was up in the stacks. He had a hard time finding it and came to the desk to make sure he didn’t overlook something. I accompanied him upstairs and proceeded to find the journal he needed (in his defense it was actually very confusing to find and took me 10 minutes to get it straight). He was so happy to get the article for his class tomorrow night he insisted on buying me coffee.

I live for patron encounters like this one. They make my day. If saying “good morning” and “good night,” asking”how may I help you?” and saying “you’re welcome” is all it takes to make someone’s day/night, then I definitely want to work some longer shifts at the desk.

Don’t let me fool you, it isn’t always all smiles and daisies and sunshine, but I think that often we forget the positive experiences with patrons and only tend to remember the negative ones (let’s face it some of the negative ones are pretty unforgettable). I thought about this quite a bit and I can honestly state that the patron interactions are the main reason I love working in access services, if this component were removed I would not enjoy my job as much as I do.