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.

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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!

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.

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.

Finding time to write has been very hard lately. There is a lot going on at MPOW and I am making the transition from the adjustment/orientation period to the “time to make some changes and get moving on projects” period. Needless to say there is a lot happening and I have been working many 16 hour days. So naturally sitting here in the airport in Colorado, Springs waiting to board a flight to Dallas, is when I have the time to post.

Even though I have not been writing, I have been keeping up with my blog subscriptions. I read an interesting post on Blog About Libraries titled, “I didn’t get an MLS to do that.” I thought the post was very well written and touched upon several important reasons why we (as librarians) can not have that attitude. The points stated are: professions do not stand still, we don’t have a choice, and the jobs we signed up for may not exist anymore. All very good and valid points.

What I started thinking about after reading that post is the attitude of “I won’t do XYZ.” A similar attitude that I have witnessed is, “that is not in my job description.” Nothing gets my ire up like hearing that sentence.

I have told all the staff I have managed throughout my career that, “That is not in my job description” is the one sentence that I never want to hear come out of their mouths, especially when speaking to me. I would never ask a member of my staff to do something that I wouldn’t do myself and more often than not I will get down and do the deed with them. I don’t like to hear that line because if they knew all of the crappy little tasks or other things I have done that were not explicitly written in my job description they would cringe. If I had a dollar for every gross thing I did that was not in my job description, I would be retired and sailing on a yacht somewhere. A short list of some of the more “fun” things I have had the pleasure of doing:

  • clean toilets
  • pick up garbage
  • empty trash cans
  • dispose of dead birds, rats, mice, etc.
  • kill rats and mice
  • deal with weird smells
  • spend 8 hours tracking down a piece of wood paneling
  • vaccuum
  • dust
  • assemble furniture
  • clean windows

All of this while either working towards or after having received my MLS. To tell you the truth for the most part I enjoyed doing the work (okay except dealing with the dead things and the garbage). I just accept that in my line of work this is par for the course and I try to instill that in my staff. I also try to put a positive spin on it. I have learned quite a bit from dealing with minor and major crises that had nothing to do with my written job description. I have learned to think quick on my feet, trust my instincts and decisions, better management skills, have gained confidence in my abilities and have become more flexible. You learn to roll with whatever comes your way and when you can do that, you are a much better person to work with. I know, I am positive to the point of annoyance, but I believe that it helps to put things in perspective.

I work hard at helping my staff put the curve balls in perspective. I constantly commend a job well done and always focus on the positive lessons learned from an experience. It works. Access services is all about rolling with whatever comes your way, and being flexible and positive make the experience a lot less painful than it could be otherwise.

Is there a point where what we are willing to do crosses the line? I do think there is and generally I draw the line on a case by case basis. I try to consider all of the angles and outcomes to a situation before I decide it is something that my staff or I should not handle. Generally if it is something that involves security or a situation that could be dangerous, I look for assistance from the trained professionals who deal with those situations. We always consult with whomever or whichever department will be affected by what we are doing and look for guidance and assistance in dealing with issues. I like collaboration and teamwork and find that it gets a job completed correctly and faster than going it alone.

The bottomline is that yes, sometimes the unexpected can kill morale or make people feel like they are being taken advantage of, but by working to put a positive spin on the situation and focusing on the lessons learned, the curve balls are not as bad as they initially seem.

Wowzers!

January 31, 2007

So I guess I touched upon a good topic last week? Seriously, I want to thank everyone who has emailed me and left comments here for their support and comraderie. I especially want to thank my colleagues in the blogosphere who have pointed people in this direction. It means a lot.

Many people have asked me what prompted last week’s post. Two things influenced me: first I wrote it for my staff. They are a great group of hardworking people who, in the short time I have been at MPOW, have made me feel welcomed and respected. They provide excellent service and deserve a big pat on the back. (Aside to Jeff- Thanks for the blog name!)

Secondly, when I interviewed for my position I was asked where I thought access services fit in the library. I was delighted by the large number of heads nodding in agreement when I responded, “it is the most important department in the library.” As I met with administration and saw that my sentiments were echoed, I left my interview thinking, “I have to work here,” and quickly called a friend and fellow access services librarian to tell her all about my wonderful interview experience. At two weeks into the new job, I had another conversation with my friend detailing how happy I was with my position and we swapped ideas and talked about library stuff (y’all know how that goes). All was right in the library world.

I can not accurately describe the dismay I felt last week when the same friend and colleague called to tell me that she was leaving access services. She had not been enjoying the work environment for the past several months and the situation came to a head last week. She described feelings of isolation, unimportance, and a general sense that her work and her department were not of value to the organization.

This is a person who worked in access services throughout library school and really has a wonderful personality and customer service ethic that make her an ideal head of access services. Now she no longer wants to work in the department. That made me sad. And angry. And slightly depressed. And very grateful that I don’t work someplace like that.

So that was the impetus and judging from the responses I have received, a lot of people are grateful that we are finally talking about these types of issues. I also want to publically give a shout out to all of my colleagues who work in all other library departments. We in access services do recognize that without the work you do (selecting, purchasing, cataloging materials, reference, etc) that we would have nothing to reshelve, check out, or use to fill requests and no one to answer the patron reference questions we refer. The library would be pretty boring if none of us showed up for work!

While other librarians are busy teaching BI, answering reference questions over IM, or building the interactive content that will sit on the front end of the library’s website, we in access services are checking books in and out, reshelving the current periodicals, scanning articles for e-reserves, and searching OCLC to locate that article you requested this morning.

Sounds exciting, right? Makes you want to run straight out of library school and find the first job in access services. What’s that you say? Oh…You’ve never even heard the department mentioned in library school.

It wasn’t mentioned in my library school experience, either- and I have heard similar tales from other graduates. We didn’t even take a trip to the campus library to look at the ILS in action, or even learn what an ILS was. We get absolutely no love in the library literature. Sure Journal of Access Services exists, but have you ever looked at how many titles are devoted to all flavors of reference, education, collection management and digital collection development?!

Making us feel even more like red-headed stepchildren is the fact that our national association doesn’t even have a committee or special interest group devoted to access services. Yes, there is a discussion group that can meet (if there is any interest) at the annual meeting, but there is nothing formal. I have lived in three different states and none of the chapters have had a circulation/reserves committee. I will give some credit however to the fact that ILL/document delivery does seem to get more love in being recognized as “resource sharing” and committees, task forces, and special interest groups devoted to the concept do exist.

 

Taking all of this into consideration, some in access services can’t help but wonder sometimes if what they do matters. Is it important? Do other librarians think it is important? Are we not “real” librarians, just like those working in any other part of the library?

I call this our professional self-esteem issue. It has been known to poke its head out during conferences when we are surrounded by people with really snazzy job titles, who sound like they do really exciting things with technology.

An interesting phenomenon I have noticed at several libraries is that the staff in access services often feels this way about how their work is perceived. Worse, the perception is sometimes taken seriously by others, leading to those in access services being treated differently, thus reinforcing the problem

All right, so we don’t get to play with sexy technology all day, nor do we spend the bulk of our time in a classroom with students, and as a department we often have the highest concentration of non-professionals. So what? Here’s a sampling of what would happen if we all went away for just a little while:

  • Books would not be checked in or out
  • Books would not be reshelved
  • Current periodicals would not be shelved
  • Fines would not be collected
  • Articles or books from other libraries would not be acquired
  • Other libraries would not get materials from our collection
  • The stacks would be a mess
  • Reserve materials would never get processed
  • Alarms would not be reset
  • Signs would not be updated, removed, or replaced
  • New patrons would not be registered
  • Microforms would not be reshelved
  • That leak in the bathroom would not get called in
  • That book you put on hold would not be retrieved from the stacks

Okay so maybe this is somewhat snarky, but it makes a point. What we do matters and is important. We are as essential to the functions of the library as any other service. The library couldn’t function without us. We’re the “go-to guys.” New service? No problem, we can make it happen. We say “yes,” a lot because we care about serving our patrons and assisting them in any way can.

I am extremely fortunate to work in a library that is dedicated to creating and sustaining a culture where every individual (and every service) has value. My job is to make sure that message makes its way down to the staff in the trenches. I don’t get to spend the bulk of my time using virtual reference tools, or create library Flickr sites (valuable tools in their own rights), but I do spend much of my day running around putting out fires, answering questions, listening to complaints, making improvements, creating and implementing new services, and making sure that my staff feel proud of themselves and the work they do. That pride translates into the right kind of customer service, too. When patrons compliment the library for the fast, friendly service they got? That was (more than likely) us.

So this access services self-esteem problem has got to end. Soon. Now would be good.