Teenage Pages on the Job

prepare for shelf readingFor the last 4 years or so, I have been doing a teen job search workshop. I got this idea from my daughter who was waitress all through high school. Even as a teenager, she was hiring and firing. She also complained that kids didn’t know how to even fill out an application or had their parents hovering around. Like any decent librarian, my first thought was PROGRAM IDEA! (If you want to read about my program click here to my personal blog.)

My daughter was not exaggerating one bit. I couldn’t believe how little the kids knew about getting and keeping a job. During this workshop, I talk about interviewing, job applications and on the job behavior. It is one of my favorite continuing programs at our library. The kids themselves have told me that no one has ever talked to them about jobs.

I mention this because I have had some recent experiences with hiring teen pages, and it wasn’t pretty. (This is also when I start a rant about “these kids today….”) Even though I knew teens were pretty green at what real world work was about, I was shocked at how much kids really didn’t know. In the span of 3 months, I hired and fired a total of 5 people. So far, my last 2 hires are working out, so crossing fingers. (This is where I tell you that you must start a similar program at your library. I am quite sure this problem isn’t limited to South Eastern Michigan.)

I finally realized I had to re-think training, especially for young people. A branch manager friend of mine told me that as a “first” job for many kids, we have a duty to teach about what it means to work for a living. So, if you have teens on your payroll, shore up your training to include a few of these tips.

  • Give an overview of a library’s functions in terms of how materials move in and out of the library. Remind them that when there is a clog in one place, it will mess up so many other library activities. Don’t assume any prior knowledge about ANYTHING.
  • Don’t overwhelm an employee with too many tasks. Roll out the duties slowly.
  • Telling isn’t teaching. Make sure you explain fully how your process works. Test your pages and offer feedback right away. Lather, rinse, repeat until it everyone involved feels comfortable.
  • If a page isn’t catching on within a couple of weeks (depending on often they work), chances are they aren’t going to ever catch on. Cut your losses now and let that person go.

After my recent foray into page hiring, I found one of my newbies in the stacks shelf reading (without prompting!). He told me it “bothered” him that stuff was out of order. I wept with joy! All true library people are “bothered” when things aren’t arranged correctly. Finally, someone drank my Kool-Aid.

WebJunction Library Project Management 101 Webinar Series

We can all use more project management skills in our libraries. OCLC’s WebJunction (an amazing source of free online learning for libraries) is partnering with the Coalition to Advance Learning in Archives, Libraries and Museums to offer a webinar series on project management in libraries.

Webinars can be hit or miss, but this two-part format offers an especially rich learning experience compared to other programs. Learners will even get to submit their own project plans for feedback from the moderators.

The first webinar is February 5, and I’m already signed up and raring to go. Comment below if you decide to register and we’ll set up a discussion post for our Library Lost & Found cohort.

Perils of Pages

womanscreaming1The director of our very tiny library is on maternity leave and I have been “volunteered” to handle the pages. In the last 2 months I have interviewed, fired and hired about 5 people. Here is what I have learned, the hard way.

  • No one reads a job posting, looks at the requirements and THEN check to see if they have the necessary requirements.
  • Even if you tell someone (multiple times) that paging is often difficult and frustrating job, everyone seems surprised that it is difficult and frustrating job.
  • People think it is a good idea to wear flip-flops (or slippers!) to work-even when they have been specifically told to wear appropriate footwear.
  • One cannot assume that people know the alphabet.
  • Not everyone cares about the library as much as I do.

By the time I was hiring person number 3, I learned a few things.

  • Pre-screen with a phone call before wasting time with interviews.
  • Point out all the job “negatives” : kids/parents that constantly mess up the shelves, snow shoveling, weird patrons, etc. Emphasize that you are never “done” shelving or shelf reading. The books just keep coming.
  • Ask how a potential employee stays organized.
  • State, out loud and in the job description, expectations for dress/shoes, timeliness, and any other deal breakers.
  • Remind every interviewee that not everyone is cut out for library work and that you have no problem letting people go.

Even if you do everything right, you can still be wrong in hiring people. The best you can hope for is to minimize the mistakes. No one really ever shares their real self in a job application or an interview. Think of interviewing as going on a really questionable blind date.

In other news, I really want my boss back handling this stuff. I’m better at the reference desk.

I have mentioned these sites before, but it’s worth repeating. If you aspire or already are a manager/supervisor, you really need to read Ask A Manager and Evil HR Lady regularly!

Degree to Director and Beyond – Career Path Interview with Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones (@bibliographics), Branch Manager of the Larry J. Ringer Library in College Station, Texas talked to us about the unexpected turns her library career path has taken – from academic cataloger to director, then a jump to public libraries. She also gave us the scoop on the difference between managing an academic library and a public library. We love Jessica’s management philosophy: “Hire good people, train them well, and then get out of their way.”

Tell me about your career path. What was planned and what was unexpected?

photo of Jessica Jones SalgadoI came to graduate school with the goal of being a preservation librarian. I was just a few credit hours short of a double specialization, but graduated a semester early with the Library and Information Services concentration since I thought it was safer than Preservation Administration. This was during the recession, but I had public library experience already, having spent a year at the San Antonio Public Library (SAPL) prior to grad school, and I volunteered/interned with the Ann Arbor District Library. I hoped that if all else failed, I could go back to the SAPL to wait out the recession until preservation positions started opening up again.

I reached out to SAPL a few months before graduation, and they were in a hiring freeze. The job market in 2009 was . . . grim. I was offered a full time position with benefits in New Mexico two months after graduation, and I took it. I packed up and drove the 1500 miles out to Espanola, New Mexico to be a cataloger for Northern New Mexico College (Northern).

The cataloger position did not technically require my MSI, but as I started work there, I began to realize how much that position had needed someone with the degree. I worked very hard to improve the standards and consistency and thus won the trust of my superiors. When the Assistant Librarian left a few months after that, I seized the opportunity to assume a position that actually required my degree and added the responsibilities of access services, collection development, and teaching information literacy. About a year later, the Director retired, and I was nominated to be the Interim Director while still performing the duties of Assistant Librarian. At this point, the only things I was not doing were cataloging and ILL, and I was the only academic librarian in a county the size of Connecticut. I kept the place afloat, expanded our digital offerings, and shed the “Interim.”

Post-recession, as a director in my early 30s with supervisory, administrative, and budget experience that is easily translated into other areas of librarianship, my next job hunt was much easier. My husband was offered a position as a PhD student at Texas A&M University, and I had an offer in College Station shortly thereafter. I am currently the branch manager at a public library, and I supervise 18 people who are fantastic and have made me feel very welcome and appreciated.

What’s your leadership philosophy?

It is difficult to completely separate my leadership philosophy from my management philosophy, which is: Hire good people, train them well, and then get out of their way. As my library’s leader and manager, I consider myself an enabler. Librarians don’t go into this line of work because it’s lucrative, it’s because they care; so, as a leader, I try to help my employees feel like they the opportunity to do things they care about.

I realize that I have been very fortunate in my career trajectory; I worked very hard for my experience and titles, but I know others who have worked hard and just weren’t in places where those titles were up for grabs. I currently supervise 6 masters-holding librarians, and several of them have been in the field longer than me; as their leader, I advocate for them constantly so that they can pursue the projects they love. The best leaders I have known in my professional life have tried to do the same; let people aim high, and try to meet them there with the guidance, skills, and supplies they need to achieve the goal.

When moving from an academic to a public library, what adjustments did you have to make to your management style?

My academic library experience involved a lot less face time with patrons than my public library experience. You often have more tech-savvy patrons in an academic library, which means more email and chat reference requests. In this public library, most of the reference happens in-person. What this has meant to my management style is that it has gone from a more process-centric method to people-centric. If a librarian is spending 8 hours a day on a reference desk, I worry more about burnout than email efficiency, for example. You can answer emails at your own speed, but if someone is standing at the desk, they need you right now.

To manage a place where almost every situation is more acute means that I have to spend a lot more time thinking about my people and making sure they are taken care of. This is not to say that I am perfect at this; I miss things sometimes, and I try to remind my librarians and clerks that I rely on them to be self-aware and tell me what they need. In an ideal world, everyone’s needs would be perfectly communicated and met in a timely manner. That’s not always the case, and I can always do better; this is a lifelong learning process.

You mentioned your library is adding services that demonstrate value to the community. Can you talk a little bit about the changes and new services?

photo of blue skies, a rainbow, and america flags over the library building

Jessica’s library comes complete with rainbows

It isn’t news to anyone in this audience that libraries often face an uphill battle when it comes to expanding (or even maintaining) our budgets. Because the immediate association many people have with libraries is “books” – specifically, popular fiction – we are often seen as a luxury instead of a community investment. Changes, therefore, are often creative (the nice word for “on a shoestring”) until their value has already been demonstrated. We have several librarians here who are doing some really great and creative things in their programming that rely on their inherent interests and expertise, such as: English conversation circles, themed storytimes for the entire family, collaboration with outside groups like our local NaNoWriMo, and early literacy workshops for parents and educators. We are reaching out to all age groups at all levels of literacy in an effort to provide the kind of engagement that improves the lives of all of our patrons and promotes a sense of community ownership.

What’s the top thing you think librarians need to do in order to succeed?

There are a lot of things that I attribute to any personal successes I’ve achieved so far. Some things have come more naturally than others, but, for where I am now, these are the top takeaway lessons:

Project confidence and be direct. Be creative and offer a solution whenever you bring up a problem. Admit when you are wrong or when you don’t know something; this goes a long way toward proving trustworthiness, which leads to more responsibilities. Challenge yourself and acquire new skills and knowledge whenever you see the opportunity. Say “Thank you” and “Please” and show your appreciation for others’ hard work as often as you can.

What do you see in the future for public libraries?

Because we are publicly funded, predicting the future of public libraries is inherently tied to politics. The political climate right now feels very polar, and I do worry a little about the public library’s future in some communities. I feel fortunate to be in a college town that appreciates the value of education and lifelong learning, but not every library is so lucky. My branch here is a wonderful example of what you can do without a lot of money, but we do definitely think about what we could be doing with more of it: workshops, maker spaces, guest speakers and author visits, web development, enhanced automation, etc.

This is all to say that I think the future for public libraries will be dependent on the values of their respective communities. I think the future for librarians is a little more predictable; whatever new technologies are introduced, and whatever technologies we are given the funds to procure, we will continue to do our best to bridge the Digital Divide, provide our communities with opportunities to learn and entertain themselves, and serve as guides for a world of information that expands exponentially every year.

Contemporary Art and What It Can Tell Us About Our Libraries

One of my favorite YouTube shows is The Art Assignment. The general premise of the show is this: Sarah Urist Green (wife of YA author John Green) interviews artists from around the U.S., and the artist gives the viewers an assignment to complete at home. Viewers than complete the assignments and share them on social media with #theartassignment. Assignments have ranged from finger knitting a rug to leaving a message with what you would like to tell the one who got away.

The one that I want to share with you today is Sorted Books. I would tell you what it’s all about, but instead I’ll let Nina Katchadourian do it for me:

Didn’t watch it? Summary: get to know someone through their books.

Specific instructions for you playing at home (stolen from the video):

  1. Choose a person you know or would like to know better
  2. Take a look at/through their library
  3. Make 3 stacks of books to develop a portrait of the person
  4. Upload it to your social media platform of choice using #theartassignment
  5. Fame and glory

Of course, the people that I am most interested in are my patrons. But, since the library is FULL of books, I chose to narrow my focus: I went through the return bins at my library and came up with these three diverse stacks.

Book Stack 1

A harrowing tale of betrayal in a relationship

Book Stack 2

A lazy day with a knowledge.

Book Stack 3

A tale of redemption.

Why am I submitting this to a library leadership blog? It’s simple: when we use a different approach to think about our community and our collections, we have a chance for better collection development and for innovation. Most often, the employees who see our recently returned collections are pages or Circulation clerks, but while they’re thinking about where all of those DVDs go on the shelves (and why management is messing with their organizational system just to take pictures of stacks of items), librarians must think about what those items say about our collections, our patrons, and our libraries.

Also, it’s fun. I think you should try it.