Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 Year In Review: Obligatory End of the Year Post

When I tried to cast back on 2011, I found that it was a mighty blur. The primary things I remember:
  • Lots of planning. We have a new library building going up that is going to cause some major changes in how we run things. The UTC libraryfolk also spent much of the year batting OCLC's WMS about, testing it, developing it (well, our IT gurus), and discussing the product.

  • Lots of service work. I'm a Faculty Senate member as well as Senate Secretary. I'm on the Faculty Handbook Committee, which is engaging in a complete revision of our outdated handbook. I helped out with some of the SACS onsite accreditation visits. I'm on the Petitions Committee which handles students petitioning this, that and the other. I also served as a marshal at both graduations this year.

  • Lots of searches. I served on the spring search committee to hire a new faculty member into the University's EdD in Learning & Leadership program. I served as chair of the Library's two most recent librarian searches (for our E-resources & Serials and Digital Integration librarian positions). This fall I served as the instructional technologist voice on the University's search committee for our new CIO. I was on the evening/weekend circ staff search committee that netted our library a great new evening circ staff specialist, Heather. And due to the well-earned retirement of one of our ILL veterans, I'm currently chairing the ILL staff position search committee. Search committees make me both sad and happy - sad because it means we likely lost a friend and colleague, happy because showing off our excellent team here to prospective new coworkers is always fun and invigorating.

  • Trucking through the doctorate. In 2011, I completed 27 credit hours of coursework toward the EdD. More impressive (and useful) to me than completing the coursework well (though it has been a major challenge) is that I have been honing my dissertation topic, literature review, and the instrument I intend to dissertate with along the way. (I know that 'dissertate' is not really a verb. But it should be.)

  • A random milestone, but major for me: as of last week, I've been back here at UTC in my current position for 20 months. This is the first time in more than 7+ years I have not moved within eighteen months. My lease is good through summer 2012. I've had the good fortune to be renewed for the 2012-13 academic year, and then it's do-or-die tenure portfolio time. In any case, it's nice to feel like I might be able to put down some small roots by being in one place for a decent stretch. I can even almost get around the city without my Garmin. Almost.

Things I'm less happy about from 2011:

  • Getting sick, treading water, and dialing back. I've had some nagging sickness since last summer, and this year it got significantly worse (bad) but the doctors finally think they've figured out what it is (good). Spending more time in the hospital this year than in the past 4 years combined scared me silly. (I have a bit of a hospital-phobia.) The doctors' verdict of ankylosing spondylitis with a likely side of Crohns has forced me to re-prioritize, since my bones start screaming whenever it rains, my joints are trying to fuse on me, and stress makes my innards combust. I've had to rely heavily on my staff to keep things running smoothly, which they have done with incredible skill. My biggest disappointment is that a lot of things on the department's to-do list that I had hoped would move forward have been on pause, as I tried to just get done what needed getting done, and because I was sick and out of the office (or operating under-capacity). I've had to turn down some speaking engagements I was really hoping to make while I sorted my health out, and tried learn to work smarter (instead of harder and longer).

What does all of this mean for 2012? Three things.

First, I'm hoping to get a decent start out of the gate, and come back to my staff well-rested and ready to tackle the year ahead. I want to revamp our department's to-do lists, make sure everyone is equipped to do their jobs well, and make sure I'm on the ball. Spending the first week of the Fall semester in the hospital left me reeling, feeling woefully behind, frantic, and never quite caught-up. I want to avoid that in 2012.

Second, it means less professional travel. Travel tends to be hard on me in any case, but it is worse since being sick, and so I'm going to limit my time out of the office more than I have in the past, when I was thrilled to go wherever I was accepted to speak. I will be at Computers in Libraries in March 2012 to speak and to give a post-conference workshop. I'm going to give two papers at the Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Libraries conference in Limerick, Ireland in May 2012. Depending on how I feel and the workload of the semester, I'm hoping to choose one fall conference to attend (instead of my usual three). At this point, deciding factors for conference attendance are:

(a) relevance of conference to my work and research interests. I want to: learn something that I can take back to my library and use to help us be more productive or provide better service, feel that I'm adding something new to the conversation, or use the platform to promote best library management and leadership practices and help create an environment that fosters those middle managers we need so badly.

(b) the opportunity to speak about important things with awesome speaking partners. For instance, doing this year's ALA pre-conference with Jenica Rogers and Mary Carmen Chimato (in absentia) is probably my career highlight to date. More gigs like that could make me a happy librarian for life. Giving a solo talk is heady. Working with people I really respect to hammer out a program that will give attendees useful takeaways, on the other hand, was much more rewarding.

(c) the chance to spend quality conversation time with people (librarians and non-) who are doing good work, who will engage with difficult conversations, who interest me as both professionals and people. Computers in Libraries is a fantastic conference for libtech folks. However, I attend as much for the firepit chats with fellow libraryfolk as the conference sessions, since the "post-party" is where we start gnawing at the gristle, worrying at the harder part of the problems, and sharing solutions and coping strategies.

Third, it means making time for me. Mostly, this takes three forms:

Making time to cook well and prepare for the week. With some new dietary restrictions, I'm not as easily able to depend on quick/lazy food, and preparing food for the week when I'm too tired to cook takes time and effort. Crockpotting on weekends helps with this, but I simply need to be more mindful. On the bright side, the more I learn about processed and synthetic/unnatural foods and how food is prepared makes me want to grow my own vegetables, raise my own sheep, and never venture near anything with an ingredients label on it ever again.

Making time for fitness. I find that my joints and muscles are less likely to lock up on me (and my stomach tends to stay more settled) when I participate in a consistent exercise regimen. I've graduated from the physical therapist to a personal trainer familiar with joint problems at my local gym. I see Trainerman Alec three times a week, and am also supposed to hit the pool for water aerobics or yoga on my off-days (per both Trainerman and the rheumatologist). My rheumdoc told me to treat these as his new physical therapy prescription, so I am going to treat these sessions as medical appointments. And you know, you never blow off a doctor's appointment as easily as you can blow off just 'going to the gym.' (At least, I don't.) If this is what I need to do to make sure I stay fit and able to be my best self at work and in my free time, so be it.

Making time for family and friends. I have a habit of putting off seeing, talking to, or writing people because (choose any of the following): I am busy, because I travel for work, because I don't like to be away from the office for long or often, because I am tired, because I want to burn brightly while on the tenure track and will get around to it once I have tenure, because I didn't budget for it, because they don't have air conditioning (no, seriously), because, because, because. Those are all lousy excuses. These are the people that hold me up to the light when I'm at my lowest, show me the best sides of myself, and make me laugh on a regular basis. After seeing so many friends lose loved ones throughout 2011, I am making a conscious commitment to do a better job of visiting or otherwise reaching out to my people.

That doesn't look like too much of an insurmountable resolution list. I'm already tracking a little bit on the cooking and fitness at a separate blog. Let's see what happens.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Being" vs. "Serving As": My Job Is Not My Self

In a discussion in one of my EdD classes (Organization Theory and Development, I think), the seminar got into a discussion about how passionate professionals sometimes over-identify with their profession to the exclusions of themselves as a whole person. Talking about this phenomenon in class brought up all the problems inherent with this - in particular, that there seems to be a high incidence of burnout in non-profit workers, public administrators, and human service personnel directly linked to this strong identification of what we do with who we are.

This hit pretty close to home; I identify strongly with being a librarian. (See the phrasing? "Being" a librarian. Puts me in mind of the difference in Spanish between the two "to be" verbs, estar and ser, where estoy usually refers to a temporary condition.) When someone asks me what I do, I do not say that I participate in the actions of librarianating (though when pressed for details I start talking about managing personnel, projects and services, serving on service desks, and planning). I just say "I am a librarian." I say it the same way I say "I am a woman," or how I might respond "I am white" or "I am 32" on a demographics survey, without thought and with as much certainty of the statement as fact. I've wrapped it up into my identity, and I've worn librarianship that way since I started library school back in '05. Because librarianship is not just what I do, it is what I love, I have adopted it wholesale into my persona.

But if I lost my job (gods forbid), I could just as easily "be" a creative writing professor, or a secretary, or any number of other things. Being a librarian should not feel as all-consuming as I've let it become. It's my own fault, I blame it largely on being a graduate student for so long, with the freedoms and easy selfishness that come to someone without a family to care for - my experience trained me to essentially submerge myself in whatever it was I was studying. (With few distractions, there was no reason not to Do The Thing All The Time, especially since Doing The Thing All The Time led, by and large, to greater success.) Only by making librarianship a profession, I never really came back up for air the way I do with an academic subject once the degree is done. If it's possible to train oneself into obsessive compulsion, I may have done it.

One wise woman in class noted that one of her mentors in a high university administration position always answers the question of "What do you do?" with "I serve as [Job Title]." She said he claimed it reminded him (1) that his job was not his entire identity, (2) that a job is temporary, not a permanent facet of his personhood. He said it helped him keep a healthy perspective on the fact that this may not be what he does forever, and that while he can love his work, it should not consume him to the point that he loses everything else about himself. And while most of you are likely nodding your heads at this, thinking How very commonsensical and unremarkable, I was really struck by it.

I've been mulling this over for a few weeks, in light of some medical issues that have me parsing my professional life from my personal life more carefully as I strive to strike a balance that works for me, but allows me to remain successful as a professional. Being a librarian for all my waking hours is no longer a model that works for me. I know this. My friends know this, and have been asking me to make these changes for a long time. My boss and colleagues know this, and have recommended making these changes for a long time. Being ill is just a precipitating event forcing me to actually make the change that has been needed all along.

So now I am working on a certain separation of powers, if you will. When I am librarianating, I focus entirely on that, to make sure I am being the best librarian I can be. But I am also now a woman who needs 8 hours of sleep, to make sure that I am also a Rested and Healthy Colleen. I am a student, and when I do that I am Studious Colleen. I'm working on improving my Downtime Colleen self by taking at least one day a week and dedicating it to anything not school- or work-related. (To date this has taken the form of cooking and football-viewing on Sundays; once football season ends, I am going to attempt to develop some hand-eye coordination via Skyrim and perhaps juggling, and pick up my creative writing habit again.)

I am more than my job, even if the skills that make me good at my job leak into other areas of my life. I've even changed the most recent bios I've submitted for publications, changing "Colleen is the Head of Access Services at UTC" to "Colleen serves as the Head of Access Services at UTC." It's a small change. Nobody but me (and perhaps you, now that you know about it) will notice the difference. But it is helping me remember that I am allowed to take off my librarian hat and nurture different sides of myself, rather than spilling all my energy into my work. I've habituated myself to revolve everything around work - my friends, my conversations, my thought patterns, my free time, so it's not an easy transition. But I'm working on it.

I would like to know: what does your non-work self (or selves) look like? What do you do to maintain a healthy balance of energy? How do you - or do you at all - draw a dividing line between your work and your self?

Friday, October 07, 2011

Bitchface and Customer Service

Mom: "Stop making that face."
Me: "I'm not making a face!"
Mom: "You are making a face. Stop it."
Me: "Mom, I promise I am not making a face."
Mom: "You had better get that face off before I smack it off."

And thus the conversation that occurred on a regular basis from age 8 through...well, I was going to say 18, but it occasionally pops back up, and I'm beyond 30.

I suffer from the worst non-health-threatening affliction a public service person can have. (It's not so peachy to deal with in my regular non-work life either, but it has more repercussions in worklife.)

My name is Colleen, and I suffer from bitchface.

My face, when I am concentrating on something other than how I look to other people (like reading, or spreadsheets, or complicated conversations) falls into an unfortunate cascade of down-turned mouth and frowny-forehead that I simply refer to as bitchface. The look can be interpreted as angry. Or that I am patently unimpressed. The truth? I didn't realize you were looking at me, and I forgot to put my "public face" on.

It sounds silly, but this is something that folks who work a public service desk have to be pretty conscientious about. My usual face would probably prevent a skittish freshman from asking me for help, and give someone a perception of library service that I certainly don't want to them to have. I try to be conscious of my face during meetings with colleagues so that my default thinking face doesn't make them think I am dismissing them out of hand.

So yes, when I work either of our service desks, I'm a little more "up" than usual; I try to be conscious of how I'm working my facial muscles. Long stints on the desk make my face hurt the way it did during sorority rush, or the way it hurts after I visit my best friend after a long absence.

This came up because my instructional design class was discussing performance measurement standards, and some classmates asked me how you develop such things for public service desks. Words like "alert," "engaged," and "friendly demeanor" are a little vague for the purposes of the assignment in class, which want specific measurements. Since (once upon a time, not too long ago, but sort of far away)I had to engage in discipline with a staff member who could not curb the sourpuss while on the service desk, it's interesting to think about - and it makes me wonder how other service providing companies define the physical aspect of customer service.

I won't dictate that staff have to smile (that makes my face hurt after awhile), but defining "approachable" and "alert and engaged" behaviors is not just an empty exercise to me with this class. It's a genuine exercise in figuring out how to generate a management tool with as much clarity as possible. Even if I can't use the word "bitchface" in actual HR paperwork.

And now, I'm off to work the desk with my SparkleSelf persona.

Friday, September 30, 2011

On Learning, Library Evolution, Organizational Change, and the (Occasionally Ugly) Responsibilities of Library Management

Inside Higher Ed's "Library Limbo" story, noting the backlash against layoffs at the USD library, has sparked some great conversations about professional development and management in the past few days. Positions such as inventory control official and reserves supervisor, seen as non-essential to the USD Library moving forward, were apparently done away with in favor of positions with greater technology responsibilities. People were laid off close to retirement. People were offended that one could be let go after serving a university for more than 25 years.

Required background reading, if you haven't already read them:
Gavia Libraria (The Library Loon)'s "Libraries: The Last Humane Employers"

Barbara Fister's IHE column "You are not a tinker toy: Libraries and reorganization"

Wayne Bivens-Tatum's post "Responsibility and Professional Development"

Barbara Fister's Library Journal column "What do we want? Change! When do we want it? Yesterday!"

First, I would like to note that there is a great divide in terms of skills and competencies between a position such as evening supervisor staff member and, say, a digital integration librarian. The degree requirements are vastly different (a BA desired versus an MLS or MS required), customer service position versus coding and programming skills. These are not positions for which, even with generous learning opportunities, it would be likely that a person could be moved from one to the other. The sad fact of organizations is that some positions die out in terms of necessity. While some of those skills will be transferable to other areas, some will not. To be an agile organization means making difficult decisions that may seem inhumane to certain individuals.

That inhumanity of organizational growth and change, however, should not be due to a lack of communication or failure to inform the community that such organizational changes are being considered. Nor should it translate into poor treatment of staff at any level.

My concern - and it has been a concern since I began managing in libraries - is that much as these changes seem sudden, drastic, and unexpected, had best practices been followed, they would be none of these things. This sort of change should occur gradually over time, immersed in a culture of reviewing the staffing and service needs of the library versus the existing positions. When there is a mismatch, positions should be rewritten. Training and learning opportunities to keep staff up to date and useful in an agile organization should be part of the annual evaluation and goal setting process. Failure to meet learning standards should be met with the same processes used to handle any other failure to perform the job.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where it all comes to a head for me. No, I do not believe that all staff everywhere would be happy to continue learning given the chance, nor do I believe that all library staff actually have the capacity to learn and change as often as we need them to. I'm afraid I've spent too much time in the management and HR trenches and have met those few percentage points that would have me disagree with Barbara Fister's statement:

Of course if learning is a requirement of the job and an employee refuses to do it or does it only under such duress that it’s more work than it’s worth to coax them to learn something new, that's a significant problem. I can imagine a situation in which such a conflict becomes so intractable that the only solution is for the staff member to leave the organization. But frankly, it’s rare for things to be that bad.

I've worked at places where not only was that not rare, it was the norm.


That staff have been allowed to become complacent about learning *and keep their jobs* is not their fault. It's not in their own best interest in terms of staying marketable in an unstable economy. It's certainly not nice to do to their colleagues. But that it happened; that it was allowed to happen over time to the point that it was only just realized that their positions were so out of date as to be completely unneeded by the organization; that it never became a factor in their annual performance evaluations; and that what I would call the re-districting of positions within the library came as a surprise strategy of organizational growth instead of being seen as a natural evolution of the organization - that, my friends, is the fault of management and administration.

I say that with sadness, as a library manager and occasional administrator-of-things myself. Sadness, because none of this should be new; none of it should be outside the scope of the sort of organizational self-review that should happen at least annually; none of it should have been unforseen by any of the involved parties. All of the hullabaloo could have been avoided had management pushed the sort of paperwork they get paid extra to push - evaluations, performance improvement plans, position reviews and evaluations, environmental scans, needs assessments. It's boring work. Lots of people don't want to deal with it due to the paper stacks and occasionally very difficult conversations those paper stacks force us to have. But it is an important job. And we see why when something like this happens. it goes from fuzzy organizational development theory and 'management best practices' to "Oh shit I just lost my job, whafuck happened?"

I am going to quote in its entirety the comment I left on the Loon's latest post, "In Which the Elephant is Measured" (and apologies, Loon, for the length of it!:

I would posit that while it is necessary for both individual librarians and staff to learn, that they do so should be made explicitly clear in their position descriptions and annual evaluations. It is then management/admin's job to *hold them to that standard* and provide appropriate opportunities. Not doing so depresses morale (for the reasons Val notes above), but it also creates the no-win situation for incoming managers that Barbara describes in her latest Library Journal article.

As a library manager I have walked into a new position tasked with quickly changing culture and conducting honest evaluations, only to find that (1) administration wanted it done quickly (2) administration wanted it done with no hurt feelings (2) administration would not actually support enforcing the consequences when evaluations were poor and required intervention, documentation, and occasionally disciplinary action. All of the open communication in the world (which is absolutely necessary so that folks know what is going on and why) does not help when you are given the mandate to make change happen, but without changing anything.

My own call is for management and administration to step up and take responsibility (which it sounds like may have happened at USD, and this was the fallout). What should have been incremental change was instead episodic and painful. At some point, if learning has been allowed to lapse, and the institution does not have the time to allow a slow gradual reintroduction, it is going to be uncomfortable.

But aside from the calls for leadership, I would posit that this is a strictly *management* best practices issue. (Management /= leadership, though the two are not mutually exclusive.) If learning is required for a position, it needs to be documented. If it is not getting done, then that - and management's attempts to provide additional opportunities - needs to be documented, too. And then if by some awful refusal to comply or simple inability (and yes, that inability does exist in some cases), the failure to learn is still there, you have enough to go about moving people out of their jobs *fairly*, by due process, using the disciplinary measures of your institutions resulting (gods forbid) in termination.

That the idea of "humane workplace" has grown to equal "somewhere that management has to let standards lapse to keep me in my job" is squarely on management's shoulders. If management is doing their job, then anyone who loses their job (for reasons other than budgetary cuts) bears the responsibility, since they were given clear direction and opportunity. This does not make letting people go easy; but it gives staff and librarians control. *This* is what evaluation systems and job descriptions were made for. To ensure that firing is not arbitrary, but the last resort after both parties have been required to do their part.

I say this with great sympathy, being a library manager and knowing how difficult this is to do, especially when you have to implement policy from scratch over existing practices.

Not-learning on the part of staff is a learned behavior perpetuated by weak management/administration not willing to do the work to keep positions updated, to make expectations clear, to ensure high quality work, and to follow disciplinary steps where required. If there are non-learning staff members still on board, the mechanisms that were intended to motivate or move those folks is, in the end, a management mechanism. (End of my comment on the Loon's post)

And so, this blog post is yet another place where I point to the Library Management Ether and tell you to Not Do This, to Not Accept This Behavior From Your Management/Admin. I was criticized in a previous post for telling people to leave management positions where they were discouraged from doing their jobs in terms of honest evaluations, performance improvement and disciplinary action by someone who said it's not that simple - and no, as I acknowledged, it's not. But if you stay and perpetuate a culture where these things are not addressed, you get the story of USD where trying to fix it results in even more backlash.

While I happen to agree, for a number of reasons, with Wayne Biven-Tatum's post about librarians being responsible for their own continuing education, it's management's job to hold everyone accountable.

End note:
That USD's library is being criticized for making the decision "with no regard to the livelihoods of those losing their jobs" (per the IHE "Library Limbo" story) strikes me as unnecessarily mean-spirited. Having been in on similar conversations at another institution, those discussions are always difficult and gut-wreching; people are well aware that this is going to hurt, and that it will probably hurt a friend and colleague. However, libraries are not in the business of keeping people in jobs.

I'm going to say this again, since this seems to be the perception of the management, administrators, and staff of libraries where honest evaluations are mere myth. Libraries are not in the business of keeping people in jobs. We are in the business of meeting our mission of providing information to our users. And while it may seem cruel that some jobs may have to go by the wayside, that is no judgment on an individual person or their worth as a human being. It is (or should be) a data-driven decision made with an eye to keeping the organization healthy.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Jobseeker Tip 1: CV/Resume Objectives, And A Contest!

**This blog post is first in a series about job search advice as discussed by my happy band of fellow library hiring managers, and is not related to any particular individual applicant from actual past, current, or future searches. All objectives included below are largely fictional, and any resemblance they may bear to actual CV objectives is the fault of the CV writer**

Let's talk about the "Objective" section on your CV or resume. (Or, I'll write, you read.)

Delete it.

No, really. It's a waste of precious page real estate, and while it offers you the opportunity to shoot yourself in the foot, it doesn't offer a similar-sized boon if you get it right. If you make it library-department and library type specific:

"Objective: To obtain a technical services position in an academic library setting"

you'll look like a fool if you forget to then tailor that line when you start applying for reference jobs and public library positions. (Don't laugh; there are too many library hiring managers who have seen this for it not to have happened a billionty times.)

On the other, hand, if you get it right, what is your payoff? You stated your objective is to get the job they've opened. But that doesn't make much sense; they know that. Because you've applied.

Of COURSE you want to:

"Obtain a reference and instruction position in a thriving academic library where I can use my teamwork and communication skills to provide user-centric services."

Nobody ever says they want to work in a complete hellhole where people hate each other, in a department second only to Mordor for its sheer evil, or in a place where they will be disrespected, underutilized and demeaned. Nobody's objective mentions they'd love to come work in an antiquated icebox where they can be punching bags for budget cuts. Nobody mentions wanting to work with folks who are terrified of change, technology, and monkeys. Nobody's objective ever says that they hate working with people and would prefer plying their skills in a me-centric workplace.

Delete your objective. Library hiring managers already KNOW your objective. It is to be hired into the position for which you have applied. We're much more interested in what you've been up to that fills the listed qualifications of the position.

If you have a CV objective, it had better be something worth reading, like

"To work in an academic library where teamwork is achieved over mass agreement on the deliciousness of bacon and its primacy over all other foods."

Or perhaps,

"To work in a library where there is often free, delicious food served at meetings (preferably cupcakes) and extremely casual (read: pajama pants) Fridays."

Contest time. Write me the best job-seeking CV objective you can think of. Make me laugh (or cry). Make hiring managers wish they could meet you and shake your hand. (No idea what the prize will be yet, but I'll think of something. A review of your CV/resume by myself and some of my manager-buddies? Prize recommendations also accepted in comments.)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Real Talk on Library Management Difficulties

At an ALA 2011 emerging trends discussion group on training and retaining middle managers, an HR official noted that if a manager is doing their job and properly training and documenting, then the HR office helps in the disciplinary process, and there is no reason a manager should have any trouble.

At an ALA 2011 pre-conference on the difficult parts of management, the refusal by some library administrations and HR offices to help managers properly handle disciplinary action with documented under-performing staff was a widely acknowledged reality among participants.

I will admit that I have worked in libraries with fantastic administrations and great HR offices, weak administrations and weak HR offices, and various other combinations. Given that experience, I have to say that the experience of poor management practices at the upper levels of an organization can make the life of a middle manager hell, and it does us as a profession no good to pretend otherwise.

The rest of this post is written under the assumption that with whatever performance problem a staff member has, it has been addressed verbally with a clear direction on how they can improve, with regular follow-up and documentation of any additional training and improvement, decline, or static-ness of performance. (Essentially, I'm assuming managerial due diligence on the part of the lower-echelon manager before they go to administration or HR to initiate any discipline.)

If your administration or your HR system will not mentor you and help you with your performance management responsibilities, and especially if, after all of your development attempts, they stonewall you on the written and established processes for disciplinary action, you have two choices.

(1) You can continue as you are. You can accept that some people will simply not perform their required job duties, and work around them. You can accept that as your lot in management life, and deal with it.

(2) You can job-hunt and leave, and work someplace where you can be an effective manager.

I cannot condone the first choice. If it has been established that your administration or HR system will not help (in the words of one pre-conference attendee, "My dean says that there is only so much you can expect out of some people, so you just take what you can get"), how can you stay? Your staff will see you as ineffectual. They will resent the fact that they work hard for the same salary as the undisciplined slacker. They see you accepting that differential treatment of them when you are supposed to be their advocate. And yes, while it may not be your fault you cannot address the problem,

you staying to work for that organization and perpetuate a system of unfair treatment is entirely under your control.

I'll say that again: you staying in that situation makes you a part of the broken system, and you have to accept responsibility for your part in perpetuating that broken system. It is no longer "they" but "we" when you talk about problematic practices. And you have to own that.

If you stay in a broken system, and practice bad management because of that broken system, that makes you a bad manager.

Full stop. Whatever your intentions or personal limitations on moving.

Even worse, if you stay, what you are doing is setting your successor up for failure. How many managers have walked into departments where under-performing staff have decades of excellent performance reviews behind them? Staff will be surprised when someone new points out deficiencies, HR's hands will be tied due to long histories of someone else saying everything was fine, and the quagmire starts all over again, placing a new manager in a difficult position.

I implore you: do not reward these places with your good work.

I've said this before, both in informal management conversations and at local and national presentations when someone brings the issue up. My very firm stance on this tends to either alienate people or help them feel empowered. Yes, I know it is easier for some of us than others to find another job and relocate. Some of us have spouses, or children, or ailing family members. But you need to weigh those responsibilities against your responsibilities as a professional, against your future marketability (since places with bad management aren't usually secrets once you start asking around), and against your mental and physical health. This creates difficult choices, but it is still a choice.

There is a lot of talk about library leadership and culture change. If there is a chance you may change the organizational culture to attach more accountability for responsibilities, you can work in that arena. I would caution, however, that one person (even two, three and four people) may not be enough to change an entrenched organizational culture. As a middle manager you can often make changes in your local (departmental or unit) culture; if you are dependent on upper administration changes, be both wary of and realistic about how much cultural change will happen under people who perpetuated the broken system in the first place.

If you have done everything within your power to carry out your responsibilities, and the roadblocks you face are your own administration and human resources, exhaust your options. Then look elsewhere. Otherwise you risk becoming the problem, and that helps no one.

Real talk.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Reflections on ALA 2011

I miss New Orleans already, as I prepare myself for a lunch that doesn't involve oysters, alligator sausage, fried things of any kind, daquiris, or my far-flung library colleagues. I am trying to suppress my disappointment. Before everything gets lost in the haze of back-to-work, I wanted to get down some lasting impressions:

1. New Orleans, I Heart You

I don't know what I was expecting of New Orleans, but it is a wonderful, walkable, fantastic little city with great character and outstanding food. I could barely believe the tales of craziness (I never did make it over to Bourbon Street), until the evening I was walking back to my hotel and passed a number of folks in Santa hats. And they were immediately followed by a guy fully duded up as Santa - big hat, faux beard, heavy coat and gloves...and no pants, hollering "HO HO HO!" as he stumbled down the sidewalk. And apparently that's just an everyday occurrence, because no one else even raised an eyebrow. In any case, the alligator sausage po boys, raw oysters, delicately fried seafood, and daquiri stands made me a fan, and I'm already plotting a return. Thank you, New Orleans, for being a wonderful venue.

2. Pre-Conference Success

The preconference Jenica Rogers and I led on the tough parts of management went over very, very well. Not only did it sell out, but everyone came back from lunch for the second part. The participants seemed very engaged, asked some great and difficult questions, and it appeared to hearten everyone that they as managers are not alone as they navigate difficult situations. Many filled out our evaluation form, which will help us improve the preconference for the future. My dean noted that she heard some of our participants talking abotu the session the next day on a bus ride and they appeared to have been very happy with the session. (I will note that the preconferences ran into the opening session, which really should be avoided in future programming.)

3. Scalability/Generalizability of Presentations

I was struck by how much the sessions I attended focused on "how we done good" with very little emphasis on scalability or generalizing it to how other libraries may accomplish things with what the presenters learned. If "how you done good" is not something I can draw from and bring back to my own workplace, it's not terribly useful to me. I know my proposals through ACRL and LLAMA had to have a "three outcomes/takeaways for attendees" section on it; it would be nice if everyone had to do something similar to ensure that those takeaways are actually useful. (I'm talking to you, program planning committees!) I just spoke to my dean as she breezed past the circulation desk, and it turns out that many of us (a horde of us from UTC attended) had the same issue - not a whole lot we could actually bring back and implement. Whether that's because we're on the furthest edge of good already, instead of due to lackluster programming, I don't know.

4. Frankness and Honesty

Another thing I was struck by was the effect frankness and honesty has on the lifespan and usefulness of a discussion. A preconference on library management issues where we worked very hard to be frank and talk about such taboo things as how performance management systems are sometimes broken generated so much discussion that instead of the scheduled 9am to 4:30pm time frame, many attendees stayed until 5pm to talk informally about their own workplaces, issues, and solution - choosing to miss the 4:00pm opening session to do so. A two-hour interest group meeting on a similar management topic, however, ended nearly forty minutes early due to lack of discussion. I can't help but wonder if statements during the interest group meeting such as "these conflicts resolve themselves," and "if you follow HR procedures, that shouldn't be a problem" had a chilling effect on the conversation, since it was obvious that no one wanted to address the flip side of everything working well.

If we're not going to be very (perhaps brutally) honest in our discussions about issues in the profession, I don't see what the use of such discussion forums. Towing the party line and pretending problems don't exist we can do from home; no need to have people travel halfway across the country for that.

5. Can "Big Tent Librarianship" Philosophy Go Too Far?

Proposing a panel on library management for Annual 2012, I was encouraged to include public librarians as well as the academic librarians I had planned to have participate. I had initially restricted it because I know that as much as we are all librarians, we do operate under different strictures. I understand the desire to make such a panel as broadly popular as possible, so I agreed to alter it. but then someone noted that "Academic librarians already have ACRL, you know." Assuming all academic librarians who would be interested in a topic would have gotten it at ACRL is the same as assuming all public librarians hit their conference - give funding, it's probably an erroneous assumption, and I found it a very disturbing one. I do not want programs at ALA to be chosen or rejected with the attitude of "If you can get it somewhere else, get it there and not here." That's the case for nearly every topic, from IT to reference issues. Also, ignoring the fact that there are indeed differences between the types of librarianship - and not recognizing that a panel that can go in-depth into important issues in one type of library does not give it less value than a broader panel that can address many different topics shallowly - is not helpful.

6. Identity Crises

In LITA circles, there was discussion of the cancellation of BIGWIG, and much discussion of the Emerging Leaders' SWOT analysis of LITA which demonstrated a need for a clear mission statement. More than one person asked why ALA needs a division devoted to technology. I'll be interested to see how these discussions play out over the course of the next few months, particularly since I'm on the LITA program planning committee. I don't know that LITA is the only division with this issue, really; I attended some LLAMA meetings and felt distinctly out of place among the very-much-older crowd who didn't take well to any suggestions for changes, bringing in younger/newer managers, or generally making LLAMA much more useful in members' day to day lives. My dean also noted that what I will call LLAMA-lack was brought up in various different venues in New Orleans. A shame, because people are dying for good programming and guidance when it comes to management. Tons of stuff on the idea of leadership, and not a whole lot on management. Makes you wonder about who is going to actually get things done and how while everyone else is pie-in-the-sky-ing it.

7. Personality vs. Message

Interestingly, this is the first conference where I ran up against a situation where some folks took issue not with *what* was said, but *how* it was said, and said as much in their program evaluations. Later in the conference while pitching a program, those same folks happened to be in the room and asked that the *who* that had said it be stricken from future speaking proposals. Which was fascinating, since while three people took issue with the (occasionally informal) language used, 49 people reported that they found the conversation stimulating and useful. But the three unhappy ones are involved in program planning; everyone else was "just" an attendee. Guess whose opinion matters more? If shaking discussions up with blunt honesty is considered 'unprofessional,' I understand perhaps why that division's programming - and participation - is so lackluster.

8. On the "Doing Stuff" Style of Committee Work
I've been largely unhappy with my committee assignments in ALA to date, either because the committees were inactive, because the committees made random assignments without regard for skill requirements, or other mismatches. However, I'm now on the Program Planning Committee for LITA, and the idea that at the end of our work we'll have a finished product to point at and get feedback on is very satisfying to me. Plus, Abigail is our committee chair, so an awesome outcome is practically predetermined.

9. Meating Friends

Of course, one of the best things about large library conferences is that I get to see my many library folks who usually live in my computer. That we not only got to spend some great time together with much laughter, but do it with fantastic food, was a lovely way to spend my non-working parts of ALA!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Library Managers as Triathletes of the Mind? Meaghen's Wisdom for Librarians

Meaghen Ann Harris, award-winning athlete

I'm putting the finishing touches on my slides for ALA, where I'll be presenting the LLAMA preconference "The Tough Stuff: Leadership, Change, & Performance Management for Library Managers" with the incredibly wise Jenica Rogers. This past weekend I was trying to find a theme to run through my portion of the talk on managing change. In a fit of pique and laziness, I polled Facebook, and my sister Meaghen noted that triathlons were a pretty good metaphor. She noted that triathletes have to swim to T1 (transition #1), tear off their wet suits, put on bike shoes and helmet, and cycle to T2 (transition #2), where they "drop off bike, tear off helmet, throw on some kicks and the FINISH. Manage the change, Colleen. Manage the change."

My little sister is wise. (And a kickass athlete to boot, regularly taking 1st, 2nd and 3rd in her age group, while I cheer her on from under my covers and half a country away.) But Meaghen is right - triathletes manage not just their training, but issues of endurance and skill and training and awkward transitions. That sounds pretty much like library management to me. The next message she sent me via Facebook struck me right between the eyes:

“You always spend the most time on your bike. So it's a very important part of training. Swimming is the shortest part of the race (time and distance wise) but it takes skill and technique--- like- I can bust my ass to be a better runner/biker, but it doesnt work that way with swimming- if you try to swim faster by working harder you just end up thrashing through the water and looking stupid. It takes time to become a better swimmer (my current dilemma- because I want to be good NOW). Some people are JUST good swimmers- I like them- because I end up passing them on the bike and the run.”

Hmmm. Matching this up to library management issues, I see a lot of parallels. Where we spend the most of our time is an important part of our work (though perhaps we're not as well trained in it as we should be), managing the day to day aspects of our part of the library, the regular small changes that we absorb and move through with regularity. What is the shortest part of our management race/life? Maybe dealing with what I would call "catastrophic change" - things that happen rarely but are paradigm-changing. Like Meaghen mentions about swimming, I don't know that it is something we can do by working harder -- mostly, the folks I see who deal well with this are the library managers who work smarter, and who have gone through a few of these experiences and streamlined their responses. But if the only skill set a library manager has honed is the one necessary to deal with the huge, catastrophic changes, and they're not prepared to handle the more quotidian long-haul issues, they're not really prepared to hit any sort of finish line or goal with their organization.

Jenica notes in a recent blog post that the interest in learning how to manage - and how to manage better - is alive and well within librarians. My sister joined a team with a coach, and they support each other. I've found what Jenica might term my tribe of management peers largely through the luck of having great mentors, latching onto folks I want to talk to at conferences, and deciding to craft my speaking proposals around something I feel strongly about. I keep coming back to "[I]f you try to swim faster by working harder you just end up thrashing through the water and looking stupid."

Where are we working harder when we should be honing skill and technique instead? How (if at all) are MLS programs useful as a "training program" for library mangers? Should we instead be focusing on things like the TRLN Management Academy? I've asked before and I'll ask again, given the success of ACRL's Immersion for instruction librarians, why is there no Immersion for library managers until they get to the director level and can attend the ACRL/Harvard Leadership Institute? Why do we think we can develop library managers - mental athletes - by simply hoping they'll show up at the starting blocks, fully trained and ready to go?

These are the thoughts bouncing around in my head as I make my final preparations before heading to New Orleans tomorrow. Jenica and I will get to spend the day with forty-nine library managers on Friday who hail from academic, public, and special libraries, and I can't wait to hear what, how, and why they're doing at their own libraries in terms of management and leadership.

Disclaimer (for this blog post and for my slide deck):

I am not a triathlete. But my sister is. Take my advice about managing; take her advice about athleting.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Dissertation Problem and ProQuest's "Legitimacy" Lie

I located a great dissertation that I'll have to cite in my literature review for my own dissertation-in-the-making. While finding it thrilled me, it also completely crapped on my parade. The dissertation is not interlibrary-loanable, since the degree-granting institution has the only paper copy. And to get a pdf copy of the work from ProQuest? Will cost me $37.00.

I am now looking at this in light of comments my advisor, who is teaching one of my doctoral classes this summer, made. He said to a group of us who were talking about the dissertation in a discussion board that the dissertation is essentially a dead end research exercise - nobody reads them when you're through with writing the damned thing, it just provides a platform for your future research agenda.

Well, HARRUMPH, doc.

*I* read them. The useful-to-me ones, anyway. That is, if I can get access to them. The problem - as it always is - is access. How on earth is a dissertation supposed to be cited by others when access to it is so heavily restricted? It makes me wonder how much research is lacking because of the prohibitive cost of getting access to the research. It also makes me gnash my teeth that institutions awarding doctorates aren't fighting for the right to keep their students' work freely available in their own catalogs in digital format...even though digital format is how more and more graduate schools are accepting their theses and dissertations from students.

What really got me hot, though, was the phrasing on ProQuest's page for authors on why they should choose to publish their thesis or dissertation with ProQuest. (If it's even a choice - many graduate schools actually require this of their students.) On ProQuest's "Why Publish With Us" page for authors, they state:
"Publishing your dissertation or thesis with UMI provides you with a legitimate citation for your curriculum vitae and for other scholars who refer to your work. ProQuest's dissertation research tools have been the primary sources used to cite published dissertations and theses for decades."

Actually, having the school accept my dissertation as acceptable for the awarding of the degree provides me with a legitimate citation. Per Purdue Owl, in APA you would cite it as: Lastname, F. N. (Year). Title of dissertation. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Name of Institution, Location. ProQuest doesn't legitimize anything. If I find it in a database, I have to note the database and accession number, but there's no more - or less - legitimacy granted than if I had a paper copy in hand, or found it through the University's repository as a .pdf file.

I wonder how many students finishing their theses and dissertations are actually taken in by the legitimacy argument, and how many are just snowed under by the giant small-print forms they have to sign granting UMI? ProQuest the right to their hard work. Ah, well. I suppose that'll just be practice for when they sign away all of the rights to to their other research once they want it published in a journal, right?


Monday, June 06, 2011

Come Work at the Library We Love!

Want to come work with a fantastic team of librarian that includes @griffey, @vacairns, @librarianwilk, @caitlinshanley? Well, you're in luck!

At our own University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Lupton Library, we're hiring in an Electronic Resources & Serials Librarian and a Digital Integration Librarian. We've got the postings and a comparison of the requirements and qualifications for each position available here. Have a talented buddy you want to work with? Apply as a team! We'll look forward to seeing you in the pool -- remember, we start reviewing applications July 5th!

"You Shouldn't Call Here", Or, How To Lose A Customer

Just had another experience that reminded me of the importance of putting ourselves in our patron's shoes and making life as easy as possible, even if your university or library policies are a bit convoluted.

I called a medical specialist's office to see why I still did not have an appointment, five weeks after my doctor faxed my records and called to make the appointment. The conversation went something like this:

Me: "Hi! I'm just calling to follow up and see what I can do to expedite getting an appointment. I know you likely don't have anything open for months, I just want to get on your calendar. My doctor's office faxed my information and called five weeks ago, but I haven't heard anything back."
Receptionist: "Your doc office has to call and set it up."
Me: "They did. You said you were swamped and would get back to them. Your office hasn't."
Receptionist: "No, we always make the appointment when they call."
Me: "They've called your office weekly for 5 weeks to no avail. My nurse calls me to give me a report."
Receptionist: "That's not true, because it's not our policy."
Me: "Okay, I'm not sure where things went wrong. You have my file. My doc's office has called. Can you just give me a time slot?"
Receptionist: "No, your doc office has to call, and we give it to them, and they give it to you. You shouldn't call here; we can't help you."

She never even took my name.

I hung up frustrated and annoyed that my care has been delayed because of someone's failure to play ring-around-the-rosie phone tag. So, my doctor's office has to call you, and then they have to call me, even though you already have my file, know I'm a valid patient, and I'm already on the phone with you.

Frustration. Right now, I see this in academic library terms as "Well, you see, the copiers in the library aren't really the Library's; they belong to the Copy Office. And the Copy Office is actually located across campus. And you have to deliver them a paper form to get a $.10 refund for the copy that the machine mangled. And then you will be able to print the one page memo that is due in fifteen minutes. Here, let me get you a map so you know where to go, because we can't help you."

This is not good customer service. It is an explanation, and perhaps a helpful one in case this occurs again. But in the moment that the student needs one single copy/printout/whatever, does it really hurt us so much to make the damned copy ourselves? It costs us a piece of paper, a little ink, some extra flexing of decision-making muscle, and earns our user's gratitude and goodwill in return.

Telling me not to call the specialist's office, and that they can't help me...well, I'll tell you this: if you can't help me with what should be the easy part of just getting on the calendar, how the hell am I going to trust you with my medical care and records? Could you imagine if "You shouldn't call here; we can't help you" was standard customer service fare?

Had the receptionist sympathized with me, but noted the call-circle requirements were somehow medically necessary, I would have been *ecstatic* had she taken the initiative to call my doc's office, straighten whatever it is out and get me on the calendar. Instead, I was left with the feeling that the office was unhelpful at best, and rude at worst. Given that I run what is essentially a customer service department, I was affronted. I'll guiltily admit had a typical patron-who-had-a-bad-experience response: I wrote negative reviews of my experience and posted them wherever Google was collecting and publishing reviews of local doctor's offices. Turns out I'm not the only one who had this experience.

I called the only other specialist in the field in town, and had an extremely pleasant encounter with a receptionist that gave me a step-by-step explanation of how to get my doctor's office to get me in as quickly as possible. She took my name and said when the call came in, she would put me on the cancellation list immediately to get me in sooner. She invited me to call again if I had any other questions. I get the feeling this office will be a much better fit for me. I hope the doctor is as helpful as his office staff. I hope he appreciates the letter I've drafted commending him for hiring such warm, friendly, and helpful staff.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Anniversaries Galore: 10, 5, and 1 year

In the past month, I’ve had a birthday, a ten-year anniversary of my college graduation, a one-year anniversary of being in my latest position, and next month will be the five-year anniversary of getting my MLS.

In the ten years since graduating college, I’ve held 10 jobs, which included:

Manager of Dunkin’ Donuts
Research Assistant at Emory University
Staff at Coldstone Creamery
Manager of a corporate technology sales team at CompUSA<
Overnight supervisor of the University of Kentucky’s Access Services
Second shift Reference and Instruction staff at the University of Kentucky
Graduate Admissions Officer at SUNY StonyBrook’s Graduate School
Reference & Instruction Librarian at UTC
Assistant Head of Access & Delivery Services at the NCSU Libraries
Head of Access Services at UTC

Those last five positions were post-MLS. In the five years since I earned my MLS, I’ve worked in Kentucky, New York, Tennessee, North Carolina, and am now back in Tennessee. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel and present on library issues across the country, including North Carolina, Washington D.C., Kentucky, Georgia, Missouri, California, and soon Louisiana – and the professional friendships I’ve made and the librarians I’ve met have influenced me greatly. I surprised myself by leaving a reference and instruction job I loved – LOVED – to try my hand at some of the efficiency, management, and process issues in access services. (That was a move I had sworn I would never make, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.) My shift in librarianship from reference to access hasn’t lowered my interest in reference and instruction so much as it has really increased my interest in library administration and management issues.

Looking back at all of this, I see strengths and weaknesses. I appreciate the skill development. I know the CV that shows that 18 months tends to be my make or break point for any position may make folks look twice, though I’ve been both (1) lucky enough and (2) able to explain it well enough that it has not held me back in my career. I’ve found management to be a hard row to hoe sometimes, trying to figure out motivation, performance management, communication, and other issues that are part and parcel of that side of the job. I’ve helped staff move on to bigger and better things; I’ve also been through the grievance process after terminations. I constantly rediscover how difficult it is to manage and coach people who all have their own motivations, quirks, foibles, personal lives, tragedies, skill sets, initiative levels, and ideas about what makes good customer service. Occasionally I dream about having a job where I am responsible for only my own work, and not that of a disparate group of individuals. Mostly, I enjoy the challenge of trying to move everybody’s energy in the same direction. It helps that I have a great staff who feel a real ownership of the library and connection to our users; without my staff, this job would be no fun at all and I would not last long.

This year in particular, I’ve been dealing with some health issues that have forced me to be better about prioritizing my time. I am working on making a shift to focus largely on my home library (we’re dynamic and flexible and undergoing a huge amount of change between our ILS migration, new building, and reiterative organizational changes) and on my doctoral studies (which are leading to more publications but require time for reading and research writing). I plan to throttle back on my usually-hectic travel and presentation schedule. The throttling is gradual (I’ll be at ALA, Brick & Click, and Access Services through the end of the year), and I hate the idea of seeing far-flung colleagues less. On the other hand, I’m realizing some more realistic limitations on my energies, and I want to make sure my library gets the best of me. I also want to make space for more teaching opportunities, and I can’t do that the way my professional life is currently structured. This fall I’ll be teaching my first undergraduate course: a freshman seminar titled “Poetry and Myth-making.” I have also been invited to teach upper-level undergraduate courses in both the Political Science, English, and Women’s Studies departments. Though I’m not in reference and instruction anymore, teaching is one of the core reasons I joined the library profession, and I have the good fortune of a Dean who supports my wanting to keep a toe in the classroom – as long as I can do it without impacting my library work and without overextending myself.

Not quite five years out of the MLS, I head my own department full of great people – not something I would have predicted when I got the MLS, figuring it would take me 10-15 years to get to this point. I work at a library where all of us largely agree on our mission and vision, at a University experiencing interesting growth in terms of both enrollment and philosophy. I have wonderful mentors from coming up through librarianship who are happy to offer advice or a cheeseburger (or sometimes both). I have a great extended network of librarians in all areas who don’t mind my picking their brains for ideas, solutions, and general feedback.

All in all, I can look back on the five years since my MLS and be satisfied – if exhausted – by what I have accomplished. Not all of it was fun, and the road has been peppered by personal triumphs and minor tragedies, but on balance, I’m proud of what I have made and the career I've built. I can also say that one of the best decisions since graduating college ten years ago was to change direction and make librarianship my career.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Valuing Librarian Work: McMaster is Not The Only Model

By all accounts, Jeff Trzeciak at McMaster University appears to have jumped on the Taiga Train and is ringing in the end of the age of librarians in libraries. Jenica has a fantastic post detailing the myriad ways Trzeciak is undermining librarianship.

Mita goes even further on her New Jack Librarian Blog, discussing the implications of librarians being faculty-but-not-really, outsourcing information science work to vendors who now control and the library being a cost center maintained only by the good will of our communities. These are slightly longer term implications (though not, as Mita points out, for all three Mt. Hood full time faculty librarians, who were given pink slips).

A common thread here seems to be that administrators feel undergraduates will garner research skills on their own, somehow, without the benefit of librarians, despite the literature which demonstrates that such skills are not taught by the teaching faculty, who assume that librarians will take care of that, and despite the literature which demonstrates a strong correlation between library funding and number of full time librarians, and student achievement outcomes. Maybe McMaster's instruction numbers are declining because the Canadian students are just that awesome right out of the box. Or maybe it's because there are fewer librarians around to give instruction.

Regarding Trzeciak's "Likely to come out of IT, including audio/video production" piece of his slide - well, don't you just know, there are some dynamite librarians coming out with just those skills - and the ability to teach folks how to do advanced creation and editing in layman's terms. The librarians with these skills would probably also applaud Trzeciak for his ability to sit through an hour-long screencast (!) as opposed to a live-instructor session, where individual questions and confusions can be addressed.

This week we've been bombarded with tales of the librarianless library. Let me tell you about another kind of library. I won't call it the librarian-centered library, because the focus is actually on student needs, but perhaps the librarian-leveraged library.

Mine is a library where we are taking full advantage of new library technologies, as we:

-- implement OCLC's WMS system, which appears as though it will save us an incredible amount of time in materials processing

-- implement best practices and streamlined workflows for interlibrary loan

-- expand existing services and implement new services based on demand

In fact, with automated systems increasingly doing the rote work that library staff used to do, this has opened up new opportunities in our library for librarians. Automating routine processes frees human resources to do more of the work that requires creativity and critical thinking - two librarian strengths.

Unlike the McMaster model where librarians have been replaced at service desks, the more we advertise that our service desks are staffed by real, live research-expert librarians, the more excited our students and faculty become. The more our instruction librarians impress the faculty with their engagement, enthusiasm, and talent, the more sessions they are asked to teach, until our large R&I department is at capacity for the number of classes they teach each week of the semester, with increased interest from faculty teaching upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses a happy dilemma for us.

And we manage to balance this with our own activities and scholarship off-campus as well. Our Spring newsletter highlights that ten of our sixteen librarians - including our dean - are involved in presenting, publishing, contributing to research guides and instructional video databases, writing and earning grants, and keynoting library conferences. And those were just the folks who remembered to reply to the email solicitation for information!

So, Mr. Trzeciak, I want to add to the cacophony of voices reminding the world that your path is not the only path. That your vision for your library is not our vision for our libraries. That your disdain for the work, passion, and skill of librarians to be a part of the sea change of library engagement with the university is a mismatch for our own optimism and enthusiasm over the possibilities for how many ways we can contribute in this, and the future, information environment.

At my own library, the more quality service we provide our users with, the more they want us. Facing the happy-sad situation where one of my staff members left for a fantastic new job, and one of our awesome librarians is heading to an awesome new job, we're looking at how this could possibly change our current structure. And instead of banking the cash and leaving us short of needed expertise, or just going ahead and filling the slots as a staff position and a librarian position, the possibility of combining and breaking apart the lines and getting TWO librarians is a non-trivial option on the table.

That's right. Increasing the number of librarians. Because we are so damned good at our work, that our university administration, our library dean, our faculty, and our students challenge us to be more, and to be better. And if that means we need more librarians to make that happen, and we can creatively figure out how to make that happen within budget, well then, we will.

Because that's what we do. We make things happen. We come up with creative solutions. And we fill the gaps that PhDs can't - more administrators should read up on the literature about the research skills of PhDs. I've got a literature review article forthcoming that provides quite a bit of evidence that our faculty, much as I love them, don't know quite as much about research skills as we assume they do. At my library we knew that anecdotally, because so many of our faculty come to our nifty research workshops targeted at showing faculty how they can leverage things like auto-alerts and RSS feeds for their own research. We know it because our librarians talk about what's going on at the reference desk, including noting what our faculty are asking for help with, and noting when the wording of an assignment is leading students astray, and we help faculty redesign it so students are better directed to the proper resources. We know it because our faculty are begging us to become involved in populating their courseware with research aids.

All with our 16 librarians and 12 staff to serve our almost-11,000 FTE constituents. And we're hoping to eventually make the ratio even more librarian-heavy -- not because we want to make librarians look important/needed/sexy, but because we have that much work to do. Because we have not exhausted developing the services our community needs. Because our librarians demonstrate their value every day, and we have some great ideas we would love to implement, but our current librarians are already full-up on the awesome meter.

Meeting and exceeding needs and expectations. With librarians.

The mind boggles.

I'll admit, I give a healthy dose of side-eye to any library that feels it can do without the higher-level work and creative energy of librarians. Computers - incredible as they are - can only do so much. Non-librarians may be good at their part of the world, but developing a library staffed by people without a broad understanding of information organization and theory, without a sense of the bigger picture of how the myriad pieces of a library work together, without any focus on the needs of your undergraduates who will become your graduate students and eventual faculty, is terribly short-sighted.

I don't disagree with Mr. Trzeciak's call for systemic change - quite the contrary. But I suppose I see librarians as integral to creating and maintaining that change while increasing the quality of our contributions - not standing in the way of it.

I don't know whose vision will be more widespread over the long-term, but I'm happy to be on this side of my library's walls, beside my colleagues and our students, while we wait to find out.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Library Administration: Necessary Evil or Necessary Advocate?

Poking my nosy nose into a mild kerfluffle between Jenica26 and @campbell_b, I landed smack in the middle of the greater debate on the evils of Administration. I jokingly (sort of) suggested that administration might be more appreciated if there were a wide walk-out, and library staff were left to live without the work administrators do.

Note: I don't take issue with folks who complain about bad administrators. I've known excellent ones, and I try to be a good mid-level manager myself, but I have been at the mercy of awful administrations, and there's little else that can make your professional life a living hell. I don't deny the existence of bad administrators.

What I do take issue with is the idea that library administration do nothing to add value to the library or to librarians' work-lives. Per Bryan's tweet to Jenica & me, "Walkout week? How about a few months? Staff will flail, adjust, move on. Try it. Maybe an innovation we need"

I don't doubt it will cause innovation - slack will be picked up, and people will try to figure out what needs doing and how. We're versatile creatures. What I do doubt is that the staff will be pleased about what gets added to their plates. In terms of academic libraries, the meetings and negotiations with university administrators-that-be to battle for funding dollars, providing oversight and leadership regarding the direction of the library - this is what a good library administrator does. A good administrator facilitates things so that the library staff can concentrate on their jobs.

How many reference and instruction librarians would be happy about leaving the desk and classroom to do more paperwork, have those negotiation meetings, pore over the budget, provide broader contexts for decision-making, and the various other non-patron-contact work that gets done in administrative chairs? Even Jenica notes that the more her plate gets filled with administrative work, the more she has to actively carve out space for librarian-like work. At a recent management council meeting, my own dean (who has developed an organizational culture I would be loathe to leave, and whcih I wish on everyone) celebrated that our University recognizes the good our library is doing - and lamented the necessary consequence that the impact of this is to increase her administrative responsibilities whcih pulls her further from the librarianship practice she loved.

At a certain point, and particularly as the library grows in size, services, and constituents, administrative duties begin to eclipse what we think of as traditional librarianship roles. And while some libraries have this to a lesser extent than others (based, I would posit, largely on size of institution, mission, and engagement level), I don't think it is a situation that can be entirely avoided. And so yes, library staff may adapt to having no administrators, and the pain wouldn't show in the short term - where the hurt comes in is over time with lack of leadership, lack of organizational clarity, lack of wider context for decision-making, and the like. Where the hurt comes in in the longer term is that all of the librarians who currently sing a song of never wanting to be management would be forced to take on those responsibilities, taking them away from the work they love and prefer.

Unhappy with management/administration? Become management and change it from the inside. Leave places with bad management, and make it clear why you are leaving - don't reward them with your hard work. (If enough people did this, such places would be forced to change. I believe this.) Talk to administrators and find out exactly what they do, how they spend their time, and how they facilitate the library's work.

Truly, do you know what your administrators do? Due to our transparent culture, I know that my dean's time is largely taken up by meetings with the Provost about budgetary and staffing issues; meeting with student development about some problem patrons and making policies more user-friendly; preparing materials to speak to the full faculty and the Faculty Senate about ongoing projects including the library's current collection review project; attending and leading library committee meetings such as IT Council, Management Council, and the electronic resources committee, among others; monthly meetings with department heads to ensure we are on track with our own projects and have the resources we need to accomplish them; chairing the campus-wide IT task force which is looking at revamping the current campus IT organization and infrastructure; attending state-wide (TennShare) and system-wide (UT/TBR) meetings around the state, where she provides input on our behalf on initiatives such as a possible courier service and more resource sharing and price-sharing agreements between UT-system libraries; being on the search committee for a new dean of the Graduate School; negotiating to keep a staff line or to convert it into graduate assistantships instead of losing it completely; meeting regularly with the architect and campus regulatory folks about our new building, in addition to the biweekly internal library building committee meetings; gathering and distributing data for the annual report, IPEDS, and for the accrediting reports for the individual department; attending after-hours university functions to represent the library to administrators, donors, students, and bigwigs; acting as our subject liaison and collection developer for Film Studies and for Library Science; going over budget figures regularly with our head of materials processing to see how money is spent, from whcih accounts, and by various university account breakdowns; working the circulation desk two weekends a semester; and much more.

That list only covers this semester, and I am certain I've left any number of time-consuming issues Theresa tackles regularly off the list. She is a more active dean than most in terms of also doing librarians-level duties such as liaison/collection development work and working the service desks. I will say that the reason I can concentrate on what needs doing in my own department in terms of staff development, training, re-imagining workflows and innovating in services is because she does all of that. Even spreading her to-do list around the fifteen librarians we have wouldn't be enough to cover it all, given that we are all active professionals both in terms of our librarianship at home and in the wider profession.

And so, I was thinking. If my dean walked out, would I be able to "flail, adjust, move on"? Flail, certainly. I work with fantastic people, so I have no doubt we would adjust to absorb those responsibilities. But it would have a devastating impact on our services, and I have no doubt that our staff would feel the pressure of that new time crunch. My colleagues and I pride ourselves on being advocates for resources and facilitators of improved workflows. And yep, I would indeed probably move terms of leaving my position for one where I could actually do my job effectively.

Unless most library staff have significant problems with having too much time and not enough to do -- which I find unlikely in the current "we do less with more" environment -- I don't know that such a redistribution would be beneficial.

Perhaps there are some administrators folks might welcome doing an administrative walk-out. But I wouldn't assume that administrative duties at large are unnecessary to the running of a library. (I would also say that if your administrator could walk away for a few months and you wouldn't notice, think seriously about getting a new administrator.) A good administrator paves the way for librarians to do - and concentrate on - excellent work, as much as a bad one hinders it.

So tell me, how would you feel about, say, a four-month library administrator walk-out? Would it impact you much? Would you toss confetti, or go into panic mode? If you're feeling free enough to air it in public, say something in the comments.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Today's Nerd Moment Brought To You By: The Dual-Wielding Librarian

My invisible internet buddy Derrick mentioned on Friendfeed today that he loves being able to log into a library's database from home and have all that information at his fingertips.

It's true - such power for those who know it's there!

And to me, the best thing, the most fabbalous, the High Mount Holy of Nerd-dom (which I have visited once or twice, and is beautiful) - is when you leave one library to work at a new one, and your old place hasnt turned off your database access permissions yet, and you have *two* sets of library databases your inquiring little fingers can flip through.

It's like dual-wielding. The Horde falls before my vastly superior information access! Bliss for the inquiring mind! ACCESS SUPERPOWERS!!

Ahem. *straightens hair* As you were.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Library Leadership: Trait Development, the Gender Continuum, and Our Responsibility to Grow Self-Aware Leaders

I just completed a leadership analysis paper for one of the classes I am taking on Learning & Leadership for my EdD in same. The primary class text is Leaders and the Leadership Process: Readings, Self-assessments and Applications (Pierce & Newstrom, 2008), and it provides a great exploration of the different theories relating to, and dimensions of, leadership. the text combines syntheses of the literature with representative scholarly articles addressing various facets of leadership - I highly recommend it.

There are some interesting discussions going on over at the LSW Friendfeed thread about library leadership and over at Andy's blog post addressing library measures of competence.

I've got another post brewing about my own self-assessments and what I think they mean, and what I need to improve on my own tendencies, but for this post, I'm thinking about the feminine-masculine leadership trait continuum. Masculine traits include being aggressive, autocratic, task-oriented and goal-oriented, and a focus on "getting the job done," whereas more feminine leadership traits include advocating participative decision-making, relationship building, connectivity, yielding, and "affective expression for the welfare of others." [Gershenoff & Foti, "Leader Emergence and Gender Roles in All-Female Groups," Small Group Research 34.2, 2003].

I find it interesting to note largely that successful leaders in the business world tend to possess more masculine traits, or what is referred to as "androgynous" traits - the ability to adapt and blend feminine and masculine leadership traits according to the situation.

In my experience as a staff member, a librarian, and most recently a manager, I have found libraries to be largely characterized by feminine traits. I dont know if this represents our more interconnected units and tendency toward group work teams, or if it is largely a result of the profession being dominated by females for so long. What I have seen, though, is an extreme discomfort with task-oriented leadership, an inability of leaders possessing more masculine traits (and I'm one of these) to adapt and become more androgenous in their leadership traits, and a severe dependence on participative decision-making and concern for the welfare of others to the point that decisions are not made (or are so lagged as to become moot), and difficult decisions are postponed in favor of continuing affective connections to the detriment of the goals of the organization.

Certainly, goal-attainment, instrumentalism and task-orientation are not the only methods for a successful leader; and research demonstrates that reliance solely on such masculine traits leads to ego-tripping and autocracy (Pierce & Newstrom, 2008). We are all aware of this, and this seems to be one of the largest complaints about masculine-style leaders and managers - heavy handedness, inconsiderateness, callousness, and disregard for others' opinions or input all come up often in complaints about library management. On the other hand, a reliance on solely feminine leadership styles has its own downfalls, notably "subservience and neurotic complaining." (Pierce & Newstrom, 2008, p. 97) - both traits that *also* come up often in discussions about problems within the profession!

How, then, do we encourage the emergence of leaders who work on developing skills in blending the two styles? The masculine-feminine style continuum is not the only facet of leadership, but it is the one that strikes me as the duality that creates so much of the frustration with management, discussions of competency and accountability, and decision-making in librarianship. People naturally tend to a particular point on the spectrum. Unless a person scores as androgynous, which affords them the strengths of both the masculine and the feminine, and possesses the flexibility and sensitivity to determine their actions and reactions based on the situation, how do the rest of us train ourselves?

In my own particular situation, I know I have to engage in regular critical reflection and solicitation of feedback from my staff, colleagues and superiors to ensure I am maintaining a good balance. This is not easy. Being a manager is not a magical panacea. I don't have all the answers. And I need to keep an eye not only on my department, my library, my profession, and my colleagues, I need to learn to be in a constant state of self-assessment. It makes me wonder - does this critical reflection just come naturally to all the other managers and leaders I admire? Does having to work so hard to ensure balance mean that I am not intended to be a leader? It would be much easier to just "be myself," as we are so often told to be, but to be quite honest, I am pretty sure that my pantsless, comfortable beauty-base-zero manager-self is not the best thing for my organization or my people. But critical reflection is a lot of work. And sometimes it's damned uncomfortable when I see who (and how) I am, and it is so far from where I want to be.

How, though, do we engage in this sort of critical reflection and behavior monitoring profession-wide for our managers and leaders? I got lucky, and have had some wonderful managers and mentors who did more than slap me around when I got out of hand; they nurtured and mentored me. But not all of us have such self-aware and compassionate bosses. ACRL offers Immersion and its many tracks for instructors - what equivalents do managers have? Where is our LLAMA equivalent? (I don't know that the Harvard Institute or the TRLN version are a valid equivalent, with multiple specific tracks.) I have come to the conclusion that this sort of exercise is extremely valuable for me in my own development; could it be generalizable? Or am I the only dolt who doesn't engage in this subconsciously and without effort?

What are we doing not only to find our leaders, but to develop them? And not just in terms of get-them-into-ALA-committee-work development, but "help them determine their strengths and weaknesses, and address them" development? At the 2011 Emerging Leaders program at MidWinter, it was repeated ad nauseam that "this is not a leadership institute," and we should be aware of that so that we were not disappointed that the experience would be largely "active leadership experience" (read: group work on behalf of a division, round table or committee). That is fine, but where are our leadership institutes? Are we hoping people figure this out on their own, and develop the skills we need for effective leadership? Are we hoping they luck into excellent managers or leaders with the inclination and time to develop them for us? Are we hoping that tossing people we think have leadership qualities into group work will hurtle them ahead? This seems short-sighted and an abdication of our professional responsibility. Whose responsibility is this? How do we grow self-aware leaders to ensure our productive future in vibrant organizations?

And yes, I'm now seriously considering topics on leadership in academic libraries for my dissertation. I've become slightly obsessed with the idea of learning to be a leader, as opposed to the trait (or "Great Man") theory of leadership being only intrinsic. I wonder about the gendered trait divide in library leadership, and how that affects our organizations. I wonder...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Colleen's Library Day in the Life: January 21, 2011

A librarian day in the life as Head of Access Services at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Lupton Library.

7:20am - 7:40am
Arrive at library in time to gather some materials and do some quick email checking before I open the library on the reference desk.

7:45am - 9:00am
Reference desk shift. It's the Friday of the first week of classes for the semester, so it's slow. Three hole punches, staples, "how do I format my Word doc" and some Excel formulas questions. I get some more time to reply to emails from faculty. I also find that though our textlinker will tell you certain journals live in open access databases, there's no way to get to those databases that I can find - not in our A-Z list, or subject guides. I send an email to see if the only way for our users to get to the Directory of Open Access Journals and others is to serendipitously search for an article or journal title, or if I am having an early morning brainfreeze. One of the interlibrary loan staff is out, so I cancel my 10am meeting with the ILL unit. I'll reschedule it for next week.

9:00am - 9:45am
Finish part of my collection development project. The past few weeks I ran through our PE section, and marked a spreadsheet abotu what I would recommend for discard, what needs updating, what's missing from the shelflist. I send it off to our data guru librarian, Andrea, who will make the list public and available for faculty review and comment.

9:45am - 10:00am
I made the final revisions to a tentatively accepted ALA LLAMA preconference proposal I pitched with Jenica Rogers and Mary Chimato, putting in Mary's revised description and adding that LLAMA SASS has agreed to be a cosponsor in-name-only (no funding). Scanned and emailed to the committee chair for final approval and submission to the official Annual program. Mental note to go beg for refreshments funding from a vendor. They should want to woo current & future library managers, right?

10:30 - 11:30
I meant to draft a library refund policy to pitch to the dean and send to administration for approval; instead, I took advantage of my dean's open door policy to plop down and chat. Hashed out some goings-on in the department, some personnel issues and plans to handle them, some staff development opportunities and funding sources, some schedule changes, some workflow discussions (regarding both now and imminent-new-building). Discussed ordering a new scanner for ILL, ILL policies for emeritus versus retired faculty, retrieved a book identified by a faculty member as incorrectly LC-ed. We talked about the LLAMA preconference I'm doing with Jenica and Mary, and had a good long discussion on library leadership and management, the lack of institutionalized training and development for it, the place a professional organization should have in that, and some ideas to fill that gap. I left feeling more energized than I have in awhile. (This is why I love talking to my boss.)

11:30am - 12:00pm
On the circulation desk. Lots of laptops in and out, the political science books on Montesquieu and Locke are popular, and a handful of returned books and DVDs.

12:00 - 1:00pm
Finish up preparing for a faculty research consult. The professor is interested in locating journal articles on leadership, strategic planning, board development, and conflict management in the context of nonprofit organizations. I happily nerd out, because I love this topic. I also check into Friendfeed to chat with some fellow LSW librarians about things like our current collection review, lurk on a discussion about involving other faculty with our relationship with library vendors, participate in some threads on library management and burnout, and some other interesting stuff. Forget to cook my lunch, it remains uneaten.

1:15 - 2:20pm
Faculty research consult. Demonstrated where to find the information needed, and offered to both design a quick research guide for the online course he professor is teaching so students have a research map and to send relevant articles on the class discussion topics to the professor by next Friday.

Swing by Head of Reference's office - empty. Mental note to let her know that I'll be building that study guide for that class, and to ask what delimitations of liaison responsibilities are and if she minds - I love this sort of work, but I don't want to stomp on toes by moving into reference & instruction's turf. We don't care much about turf here, I imagine it will be fine.

2:30 - 3:15pm
Scheduled a meeting for next week about ILL data issues and what we'll do to solve them. Checked ALA Connect to see if there's been any action from either the Emerging Leaders group I'm on, or the ULS ad hoc committee I volunteered for. Responded to emails, schedule time on the calendar for the research guide/article finding excursion I promised the faculty member earlier. Dashed off a paragraph as to why the scanner purchase request might be considered sole-source due to some unique properties of the scanner requested. Ordered a gift for a friend who is down. Made a list of 5 songs I plan to order from Amazon when I get home as a present-to-self splurge. Wished for an ipod shuffle.

Realize I forgot to eat lunch today, and the clock says I have no time to make and eat the oatmeal before my desk shift. Boo and hiss. *stomach growling* Emailed Head of Reference about that consult and study guide so that she knows what's going on. Find out that liaison work is collection-development only. Oops, okay. Now I know. Experience slight panic over emailed reminder of an article due February 1. Decide to ignore it until I have time to deal with the writing next week; tonight and my weekend are already packed. Hope for the tentative three-way call involving my philosophically-close and geographically-far girlfriends. Send staff member home who worked halfway through her lunch due to my long conversation with the dean when I was supposed to be on the desk.

3:30pm - 5:10pm
On the circ desk for the final hours. Printed out a number of articles on librarystuffs (leadership, management, and access-services related stuff) I want to read over the weekend once I finish my coursework reading. Email about new finals hours back and forth with the dean. Finish up the desk work, clear the floor and ask everyone to finish up, check everything in, herd them out, and lock up. And chase out a guy who scurried to use the bathroom after closing despite my disgruntled glaring. Finish locking up, grab reading material for tonight and over the weekend, drive home with a massive headache and a hunger worthy of Mordor.