Staff Day

We try to have a staff in-service/professional development day (we just call ours “staff day”) every year. During the rough years of the recession, we had to put the day on hold due to finances, but we were able to reinstate staff day in the last couple of years.

Staff day here is led by a committee of employees from across the library. Many of them volunteer; some are volunteered by their manager. There is always one manager on the committee, though the manager does not necessarily serve as chair of the committee.

photo credit: MeganElizabethMorris via photopin cc

photo credit: MeganElizabethMorris via photopin cc

This year, my managers decided it was my turn to serve on the committee. The chair, though, is one of the department administrative assistants–who, it turns out, is incredibly focused, organized, practical, and detailed. I kind of knew this about her already, but working directly with her now has really brought that into sharp focus. She is bold and unafraid to be different, and she’s carried this attitude through to the rest of the staff day committee. To wit:

Our staff day usually has a speaker in the morning followed by Breakout A, B, or C. Then there’s lunch, followed by Breakout A, B, or C (no repeats, you have to choose a different breakout than the morning), maybe a fun activity, followed by silent auction/raffle, longevity recognition for employees with anniversaries in 5-year increments, dessert, and farewell.

This year, there is no keynote speaker. We are spending the morning visiting our neighbors–we’ve lined up twelve public libraries around us to provide tours to small groups of employees at each one. The groups came back for lunch, where they reported out on what they liked, what surprised them, and/or the most valuable thing they learned from their tour. I love this idea (which we stole from another library, of course!) because my staff got to do some comparing/contrasting and, hopefully, gain some perspective on how variable public library service can be from one community to another.

Another bold change for staff day this year is no breakout sessions. After lunch, we had a company come in to do competitive trivia with the staff. This is the same company you’ve seen in bars and restaurants doing trivia nights. I think it’s a novel method (for my library, at least) of teambuilding, and a good opportunity for our know-it-all staff to strut their stuff. Prizes were given to the winning teams, of course.

No keynote speaker and no breakout sessions–this is how our 2014 staff day committee rolls. We’re hoping the change of pace re-energized our coworkers about staff day, and it was a ton of fun, too!

If you have a staff day at your library, how do you do it?

Cataloging Leader – Interview with Claire Sewell

black and white photo of Claire Sewell

Claire Sewell, Senior Cataloguer at Cambridge University Library

Claire Sewell (@ces43) is a Senior Cataloguer at Cambridge University Library in the UK. We connected through the International Librarians Network – a program for setting up librarian pen pal pairs across borders. Claire talked to us about library leadership, peer development, UK library credentials, and the future of cataloging – for more, check out her blog on library development resources at Librarian in Training.

Tell me about your career path. Is it typical for your area?

I started working in an academic library as a temporary job after I graduated university twelve years ago and I never left! I never had a clear career plan growing up but as soon as I started working at the library I realised that it was something I wanted to pursue. My first job was dealing with a project to convert a paper catalogue to an online catalogue – no mean feat in a library with eight million items! After that I worked on a project dealing with rare book material and then I moved to the main English Cataloguing Department. Some people look at my career history and see someone who has just worked in the same sector but the range of skills that I’ve developed is as varied as the material I’ve worked on. For example in my current role I still catalogue material but I also have a supervisory responsibility which involves teaching others.

Personally I see myself as slightly atypical as although I’ve worked in libraries for twelve years now I still consider myself a new professional. Due to family commitments I didn’t start my library degree until 2009 and I graduated in 2013 so I’ve only officially been a librarian for about a year. I don’t know if this makes me an old or new professional but I certainly still have a lot to learn! I think that today more people know that they want to work in the information profession at a younger age as there is more detail out there about it as a career option. Plenty of new library graduates will take a job in cataloguing as a way to get started as there is often a lot of short term project work. Hopefully they will enjoy it but even if they leave to pursue something else their cataloguing training will usually be in demand during their career.

Your blog is called Librarian in Training, reflecting a philosophy of continuing professional development for all librarians. What areas do you feel are most important to focus on developing?

The simple answer is the areas that are most important to you! The key to successful professional development is that it focuses on the individual and what they want to learn. As long as they are learning something that’s relevant to their career development in some way then it’s valid.

I think it’s important to keep updating your skills. Needs and interests change over time and we need to keep updating our skills to match. One thing I would say that professional development is really useful for is working on areas of interest which might be outside the scope of your current role. It’s always a good idea to learn more about what you currently do but be open to other areas as well. You never know which skills will come in handy in the future so it’s important to take any opportunities that you feel appropriate.

What is leadership like in cataloging in particular?

Cataloguing leaders have to be able to embrace change, something which I think goes against the industry perception of them. For example in the last eighteen months we’ve had the introduction of RDA, the new cataloguing standard. This was a huge change and has caused some departments to rethink entire workflows. Leaders not only need to keep on top of this change but calmy guide others through it. There will be many more changes in the future, not all of them positive, so being able to respond well to changing circumstances will become an ever more important skill for cataloguing leaders.

Tell us about your CILIP Chartership. Do most UK librarians go through the process?

CILIP Chartership is a professional qualification which has traditionally been completed after the library degree. One of the best explanations I’ve heard is that whilst the degree provides you with a solid grounding in theory, Chartership allows you to demonstrate your practical application of this theory in your work. It’s a voluntary qualification but it’s sometimes specified on job advertisements and in some sectors becoming Chartered can result in a pay increase. Candidates are asked to identify areas that they would like to improve on and then compile a portfolio demonstrating how they’ve done this. For me the process was a chance to develop some skills outside my current role as well as giving me a solid structure for future professional development.

Librarians can undertake Chartership at any point in their career and recently CILIP have abandoned the rule that you need a library degree first, opening it up to more people. As it’s voluntary not all librarians charter but I’ve seen it done across a variety of sectors and levels. I hope that with the recent changes which make the process both inclusive and straightforward more people will think about Chartership as it can be a very rewarding experience.

You host #chartership chats on Twitter to support others going through Chartership. What inspired you to do this? What results or impact have you seen from this?

I found the chats really helpful when I was going through Chartership so I was happy to help others by continuing them. It also helps me to learn what people new to the process are going through now. It can sometimes be difficult to find others who are going through Chartership and that can be an isolating experience. By participating in the chats people see that that they’re not alone and of course the hashtag is always available for questions or advice. I think that one of the best features of the chats is that people realise that they have the same questions as everyone else. Chartership is designed to reflect individual experiences so no two portfolios will look the same. There is no one right way to complete your portfolio and this can leave people thinking that their work is somehow wrong or not enough. Chartership chats reassure people that even the most accomplished professionals can have doubts and questions.

I’ve met a lot of people through the chats, both virtually and in real life. It’s given me a chance to develop my professional network, especially in other sectors. It’s given me a real insight into what other people do for professional development and I’ve learnt some new things to try that I might not have thought of. Hopefully the chats have demystified the Chartership process for people as well which means more of them will be encouraged to take it on in the future.

You and I talked a little about cultural differences in self-advocacy and negotiation – how do you feel about how those skills fit into leadership?

It’s very important to me to lead by example. I’ve seen too many people in authority with a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ attitude and I understand how frustrating this can be. To me your everyday behaviour is the most important form of self-advocacy. Leaders are not necessarily managers, anyone can develop into a leader and part of this is setting an example that you would like others to follow. Leaders also need to advocate for what they do. A lot of people are reluctant to undertake self-advocacy, myself included. We feel as if it’s boasting rather than advocacy but it’s important to realise that if you don’t shout about your skills no one else will do it for you. Leaders can help to instill this in others, again leading by example.

Negotiation is an important skill that can’t always be taught. Leaders need to be able to see the bigger picture and do what’s best for their team rather than what they would necessarily want. Learning to choose what to fight for and when is really important. You might not get everything your own way but negotiation is a two-way street and real leaders will know when they need to push for something important to the team.

What changes do you see coming for your librarianship specialization in the future?

I think that cataloguing will increasingly involve editing data in batches rather than looking at individual records Many libraries already do this but I can see the creation of original catalogue records becoming a rare skill. In some ways this is good as it means that you won’t have people spending time cataloguing the same thing but it would be a shame to lose the skills completely.

On the other hand it’s an exciting time for cataloguers with the introduction of RDA and Linked Data demonstrating the continuing need for the metadata skill set. As information is increasingly born digital there will be a role for those with metadata organisation skills to help navigate it. Cataloguers will be needed to help make sense of the wealth of digital information to avoid information overload for their students. I know a few people who say that cataloguing is dead but they’ve been saying the same thing about libraries for years and this is yet to be proven so I think we’ll be around in some form for a long time yet!

What’s your POV?

photo credit: kennymatic via photopin cc

photo credit: kennymatic via photopin cc

I’m a big fan of the Food Network. One of my favorite shows on that channel is “Food Network Star.” They take chefs – both professional and amateur – and put them through all kinds of challenges, and the last chef standing at the end of the season gets their own show on Food Network. Point of view is one of the biggest parts of becoming the next Food Network Star. The contestants need to have a food point of view (Vegetarian? Seafood? Healthy cooking?), and they also need to be able to articulate that point of view.

Librarians, too, should have a point of view that we can articulate clearly. For example, youth librarians with a particular interest in early literacy should be able to talk succinctly about teaching children to read, cite statistics on literacy rates, and provide literacy programming ideas. Business librarians should be able to use a variety of sources for business research, demonstrate business databases, and interpret business data and reports.

As a public librarian, I am very much a generalist. I do a little collection management, a little reference and reader’s advisory, a little programming, etc. My POV is more “big picture” and centered on customer service. Basically, my point of view is that every interaction is an opportunity to deliver a positive patron experience. In collection management, this means honoring requests whenever possible. In reference and reader’s advisory, this means following through with a solid answer or suggestion. In programming, this means informing or entertaining the participants. As a manager, it means being as flexible as possible to create a drama-free, stress-free, creative environment for my co-workers.

What’s your point of view? How do you articulate it?




Public speaking is a skill librarians need

photo of a microphone

Fear this no more! Creative Commons License Andrew E. Larsen

I remember a speech class I had in college. I thought it was a complete waste of time. Yes, I went to college in the dark ages and it was long before Powerpoint and the idea of making an official speech was only a remote possibility. My only plus for the class is that no one ever said they couldn’t hear me.

It wasn’t until after I had been working for libraries that I realized public speaking (or should I say communicating) is essential for the job. There will be more times than you can count that you have to present an idea to staff members, bosses and library boards. This isn’t even considering the umpteen thousand times that you will absolutely have to get out and promote your library, explain a policy, teach a class, or even make a formal presentation to the general public.

I think there are great parallels between interviewing for a job and any kind of speech or presentation. Both need preparation and knowledge of the subject matter.


Preparation is not just practicing or memorizing a speech. You need to be so well-versed on your topic that you can handle any situation or potential question or problem. What are people likely to ask? What are they going to be concerned about? Be ready with an answer, even if it’s, “I don’t know, let me look into that”.

Visual aids

Use Powerpoint judiciously. Personal bias: I am not fond of Prezi, since I have gotten motion sickness almost every time someone uses it.   Some visuals distract from what the speech/presentation is about. Don’t put your verbatim speech on the Powerpoint. Slides should illustrate, not reiterate what you are saying.

Stage Fright / Performance Anxiety

As the reigning queen of anxiety, I feel your pain! I worry about EVERYTHING! I got a bit of perspective when I saw a library presentation where a woman was so visibly distressed and nervous. Her presentation was also quite technical. I thought she might burst into tears! In a word, she was awful. With the exception of one VERY STUPID LIBRARIAN, everyone was supportive and clapped. The said stupid librarian was shunned and I am sure she is not working in the profession anymore.  My point is even in the worst situation, there is support and people will understand. Keep getting up and trying and you will improve.

Some helpful resources on public speaking:

David Lee King’s Blog: Presentation tips using  Powerpoint. 

Mind Tools:  Managing Presentation Nerves 

Lifehacker: How can I become more comfortable speaking in public?

Nice Boss, Sloppy Shelves

When it comes to bosses, being “nice” has little to do with being good. Laura Smith reminisced in Slate about trying – and failing – to be a nice boss:

I allowed my coffee shop to become characterized by permissiveness. Some took advantage of this permissiveness by making up excuses for being late, or by trying to do as little work as possible. Those who didn’t take advantage became resentful of the other employees, and of me. It brought out the worst in everyone.

That sounds like a familiar story. Libraries have an ingrained culture of being both “nice” and permissive. In my first supervisory position, I struggled at first with clarifying rules for shelving to pages. I sympathize with Smith’s struggle telling another adult person how to slice a scone; specifying where to put a bookend seems like micro-management.

Oil painting of disordered bookshelves

Messy shelves: a reality since 1725. Painting by Guiseppe Crespi.

I  ended up with pages who didn’t understand exactly how to place books on the shelf, and shelves that were poorly maintained. I had to stop being nice. When I finally did articulate to a page exactly shelve a book, I was careful to express it calmly and encouragingly. It was still pleasant, but the directions were clear and firm.

Are you clear about articulating rules? Is the working atmosphere at your library permissive? What do you think about “nice” bosses in the library?