It’s been a quick 7 months since I moved from Raleigh to Stockton and it’s become more and more difficult to ignore the voice in my head nagging me to start writing again. So, I’m gonna listen and start writing about and sharing my thoughts about libraryland again.  If you’re so inclined, follow me to my new home: circandserve.net

 

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I’ve been involved in some great management conversations lately that have me thinking about two sort of related, but not entirely related ideas:  the management double standard and the idea of a halo.  Allow me to explain:

Management Double Standard:

In discussion, someone made the observation/point that an employee asking a supervisor/manager certain types of questions (for example: “Why are you working this shift?  What are you doing?  Why did you talk to that person? etc) can seem over the line and bordering on being a “busy body.”  I think the point is valid, but I also think that as management you can’t really fight or win that battle 99% of the time.

Rands in Repose sums it up best: “”Leadership is not just about effectively getting stuff done, but demonstrating through your composure that you aren’t rattled by the freakish.”  I’m gonna tweak/interpret it slightly differently: as a manager I accept that my staff are human.  They make mistakes, they have faults, personality quirks, intepret things differently that I do, see things that I don’t see, are fallible.  Simple, right?  This applies to all human beings.  We all have our “things.”  Except when you’re in a management position it suddenly seems like you’re not a human being anymore.  Whether you like it or not, you’re now in a position of authority and are seen as such.  There is very much an expectation that you will have the answers, solve the problems, make the decisions, do it right the first time and not make any mistakes in the process.  You also may not be able to have feelings about certain issues or events, and whether you do or don’t those feelings will most likely not be taken into consideration when you’re interacting with others.

Okay, so that sounds kinda awful and bleak and terrible.  It’s not always like that.  It really and truly is not.  But, there are some days, some issues, some events that make you feel like that is terribly true.  The bottom line is a good manager will remember that her staff are human beings who have faults and foibles and quirks. And that these characteristics influence behavior and performance and while performance expectations must be met, behavior is something that we can’t control or regulate.  So we accept.  With that acceptance must also come the acceptance that we (management) may not be given the same treatment or pass and that is okay because whether we like it or not, it comes with the job.

Halos

In previous POW I’ve heard the term “halo” tossed around a lot when describing someone’s work or performance or general attitude.  As in, “they still have their halo.”  The gross implication is: this person has not screwed up royally yet to lose their halo.  I kinda call bullshit on the concept.  I know I’ve made epic mistakes, screwed up, handled things the wrong way, and made the wrong decisions in my work, but I’ve yet to feel like “I’ve screwed up royally” to the point that my boss and/or my boss’s boss think I suck.

Here’s my take on the “halo” phenomena:

Everyone has one.  You start out with it.  You wear it.  You break it in.  It gets tarnished or bent from time to time, but it can be polished off and fixed. How?  You own your mistakes.  You get things done.  You fix problems.  You’re a team player.  You’re a positive influence.  Etc, etc, etc.

What you don’t do is make poor decisions.  I’m not talking about making the wrong decisions.  We all make wrong decisions.  I’m talking about poor decisions.  There is a slight difference.  The wrong decisions kinda just happen.  You get misinformation.  You interpret a situation incorrectly.  You just make a decision and it turns out to be wrong.  Poor decisions seem to either happen with a lot of thought or absolutely no thought behind them.  These are not the types of decisions that you make in the daily course of your work.  These are those decisions that you make that can affect you and your reputation in your POW immediately or over time.  Decisions like talking about certain aspects of your personal life with co-workers.  There is a big difference between talking about your kid’s soccer game versus how drunk you got at the bar last night.  Think about it.  Which one would you prefer to be spread like wildfire throughout your POW?  The soccer game has no gossip potential.

I’m not saying that sharing yourself with colleagues is a poor decision.  What you choose to share may absolutely be.  Here’s the rub: perception matters.  Perception is what your colleagues/staff/administration often have to go on.  You’re not going to lose your halo because you made the wrong decision.  You may very well lose it because you made a poor one.

I am often asked what’s the hardest part of being a manager and my response is always, “having to have ‘the talks.'”  I’m referring to those difficult conversations that no one likes having, but are necessary in order to improve performance, service, morale, attitude or any other host of issues that need to be brought to someone’s attention.  It is a lousy thing to have to give someone negative feedback, but with practice and time it gets easier.

The problem is though, as managers we are entrusted with the contents of these discussions.  We are expected to not speak about the details with other people who are not directly involved.  We are expected to maintain our staff’s privacy.  In my opinion it is one of the basic tenets of good management and professionalism.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work both ways.

We have all worked in places and/or with colleagues who talk about everything. They spread their own business and sometimes the business of others around.  This is their choice and if they want people to know what is happening, then it is on them.  The problem that arises is the very same one that happens in schoolyards everywhere: the story never stays the same and becomes something very different and sometimes much worse than what it actually was.

Managers do not have the luxury of stepping in and correcting inaccurate details when they overhear them.  We can not make announcements “setting the record straight.”  We can not and should not participate in conversations about discussion we’ve had with our staff.  Consequently, a lot of misinformation gets passed along as fact.  We may seem like we are ignoring problems.  We may be described as “disinterested.”  But that is far from the truth.  Actually we are treating you professionally and maintaining your privacy.

If you’re like me, someone who has a difficult time allowing misrepresentations of what I’ve said persist in my non-work life, knowing that this may be happening and recognizing that you can’t do anything about it is one of the most difficult pills to swallow.  But you do because it is the right thing to do and because you recognize how destructive this can be and you don’t want to add to the problem.

Good managers maintain professionalism even when it’s the last thing they want to do.  Ideally this would work both ways, but in reality it doesn’t.  Good managers keep working to get to that ideal place.

I’m kinda tired of all the negativity lately.  In fact, it’s starting to get stale and exhausting and nauseating.  The latest large dose of it is courtesy of the Annoyed Librarian and all the anonymous commenters on the most recent posts.

Here’s the thing: I don’t care if you disagree with the medium, I don’t care if you don’t agree with the message.  I don’t care if you disagree with the list of skills, the essays on the site or the work that Michael Porter and David Lee King do.  Because if you disagree with those things I will make the assumption that you can back your opinion up with some substance.  And then there would be a constructive discussion.

What really bothers me is the massive hate pile on.  The general attack on both of their personalities and professional work.  The non-constructive comments.  The anonymous mean comments.

Library 101 may not be my thing, but I’ll never take away from the enthusiasm, passion and effort that went into creating it. I appreciate that enthusiasm and frankly I think the library profession needs more of it.

It bothers me to watch two people get attacked for work that they put a ton of time, effort, money and love into.  When was the last time you did something that you passionately believe in and put a huge effort into and gave your all and got really excited about creating?  Think about that.  Now think about how you’d feel if it was bashed in a national public forum by anonymous strangers.

It wouldn’t feel too good, huh?

Getting ready to catalog in Library Thing

Getting ready to catalog in Library Thing

I’m sitting in the gift shop of the Joel Lane House in downtown Raleigh, NC with 13 of my collleagues.  We are “flash mob” cataloging the museum’s small collection in Library Thing.  Having not cataloged since library school, I must say that cataloging in Library Thing is so simple and fun!!!!!  Loving every minute of this.

Settling in to flash mob catalog the collection

Settling in to flash mob catalog the collection

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.

I have been very remiss in writing and for this I apologize. Life really trumped blogging a lot these past few months. Work has been keeping me very busy, but things are going very well on that front. After being without an associate department head for almost a year, I am thrilled to announce that Colleen Harris has accepted the position and will be joining us in January. On top of that, we have been running at less than full staffing for the past several months and if all goes well that should end by the end of November. Needless to say, my staff and I have been working very hard and have been a tad stressed and stretched thin. That would be the reason for the lack of content over here.

In other news, my colleague, Tripp Reade and I are presenting at the Brick and Click Academic Libraries Symposium this Friday. We are presenting on our department’s experience of merging two of our major service points into one combined service point. This merger happened just as I arrived at NCSU and we have been working very hard for the past almost two years to make it a success. We have learned a lot from the experience and are very eager to share our experiences with our colleagues. I will post slides after the presentation and I intend on blogging the conference. This is my second year attending Brick and Click and it quickly became my favorite conference last year. If you have not attended and have any interest in academic libraries, this is a fantastic and affordable option.

I was taking a look at the stats for this site and I am constantly surprised by how many hits it gets even when I don’t post forever. The repetitive pattern in the referrers and search terms seem to be “effective communication” and “giving feedback.” I have a few more posts in my head about both of these topics. I have a particular post that has been brewing for a few weeks. I think in the next day or so it will be ready to be written up.

So there is my promise to post again soon.

Work With Me!

July 4, 2008

MPOW is currently recruiting for an associate head, access & delivery services.  This position will work with me in managing a very large, full-service department.  Position details and posting can be found here.  This is a great opportunity for a dynamic, positive, service-oriented librarian who wants to work in a fast-paced, innovative environment.  And you get to work closely with me! 😉

Back from the Dead

March 23, 2008

Not really dead, but maybe a little comatose. When we last left this blog it was just before the holidays and their accompanying craziness. So here we are, well into a new year with lots going on and lots on the horizon. I am definitely one of those people who likes the beginning of the year. I definitely look at it as a blank slate, a chance to begin again or start over– a good time for change.

Three months in and there has been a good deal of change in the department. We have had a bit of staff turnover and are in the midst of filling some positions. People view staff turnover in different ways. Some people look at it as a bad thing or a negative indicator. I am not one of those people. I like staff turnover–not all at once, but I look at it as an opportunity to breathe new life into the department. Not to say that those who have departed will not be missed, but it is the chance to see things from a new perspective. To shake things up a little. To make changes and to move forward.

Since I have been here, I have only had the opportunity to hire one new staff member so I am enjoying the chance to hire a few more new staff members. In access services it is really more about personality type than it is experience.  I really like people with fun personalities who  can roll with change and who like working with the public.  That type of personality can come from a wide array of work experience and environments.

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.