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!

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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 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.

This week I will be attending the TRLN Management Academy in Chapel Hill. I plan on sharing what I learn each day and am hoping that it will be valuable and helpful to all of us in ADS and in libraries. Today’s agenda includes: The Business of Libraries and The Business Case for Diversity. I will post as the day progresses.

It’s actually very simple

September 22, 2007

I have been involved in a number of discussions lately centering around morale, personal interaction and perception of staff. These conversations have been at best enlightening and at worst somewhat disheartening. I’ve been known as Miss Polly Positive for some time which I’m guessing has a lot to do with my attitude and outlook and also my unwavering desire to believe the best in everyone. Well, I think that desire is starting to waver slightly.

Really, I am more disappointed than anything else and this is not such a let down that the fundamental core of my being is altered in any significant way, if anything it has made me more aware and sensitive of my actions- in a good way and I am looking at it as a not-so-gentle reminder of the way the world is. See, that is me being Miss Polly Positive (she ain’t going anywhere).

Foolishly, I really believed that the way I treat people is pretty much the way everyone else does. You can all stop snorting now.

Okay, so it isn’t. I had some very candid discussions with my staff and learned a lot of valuable insights into their daily work lives. I took a lot of mental notes, and then went back to my office and did a brain dump. While there is/was a lot going on in these discussions, I am going to share what seems to be the simplest and most important issue.

People like to be acknowledged. I don’t mean acknowledged in terms of accomplishments. I am talking about acknowledged as another human being on this Earth, standing 3 feet away from you, who you see on a daily basis. The bottom line: smile or say hello. It goes a tremendous distance in making another person feel like they exist. And it is actually quite difficult to feel like you matter when you are repeatedly treated like you are invisible.

There are people who work in my library whose names I still don’t know because I don’t work closely with them. However, I know they work in the library because I see them on an almost daily basis and when I do I smile or say, “hi, how are you?” I didn’t realize doing that was a big deal until more than one person told me it was.

My recommendation for Step One in creating a change in climate, morale and staff perception: say hello to your fellow coworkers. Smile, nod, wave.

It makes a huge difference and makes people feel happy.  And happy people will communicate, share, be open to change and discussion, and ultimately be more productive.

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!