photo of a woman speaking in front of library bookshelves with a flipchart with Toastmasters organization

Beyond Shhh: Finding an Effective Library Voice

In the past, we covered how to say no and public speaking skills (all librarians need them!). Now, it’s time to think about the mechanics of your actual speaking voice.

In decades past, a well-developed sibilant “Shhh!” might be a librarian needed. Now, a day’s work in the library today might include explaining resources at the reference desk, soothing an irate patron, negotiating with colleagues, and presenting a plan to the community – and each of those demands a different tone.

Vocal quality can affect your impact at work, from whether your voice trembles when you ask for a raise to how confident you sound when doing readers’ advisory.

Traditional advice suggests a lower voice pitch conveys greater authority and leadership, especially for men. New research suggests that women can achieve better results by working on pacing and emphasis rather than pitch alone.

Cover of Toastmasters guide to Your Speaking Voice. includes image of young man speaking into a microphone.

Toastmasters International offers a handy guide to considering all aspects of your speaking voice, including pitch, projection, and pacing. They start out with tips on evaluating your own pitch:

We each have a natural pitch on which we speak. It may or may not be good. If your natural pitch needs to be lowered, work on it by consciously pitching your voice lower in all conversation. Change it a half-tone at
a time. Speaking with careful enunciation and in a relatively soft tone will help you to establish the change.

Even if you don’t have time for all the steps outlined by Toastmasters, take one day at the library and listen to your voice. Does it sound different at the reference desk versus the break room? Do you speak differently over the phone than in person? Do you shift volume levels easily between a stacks consultation whisper and a closing time announcement?

Youth librarians – chime in here! I know you’ve worked hard to create your story time voice.

Featured image of Toastmasters meeting at Biblioteca Hasdeu in Chișinău, Moldova cc-by hasdeu on flickr.

Sick Days SUCK!

photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc

photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc

Already this fall I have been out sick a few days.  I am one of those people that has to be on their death bed to call in, which is ironic because I am the first to send people home who are feeling ill!  My fear of being out of the office is that the work will continue to pile up, but I need to get over that concern because I could be making life miserable for my co-workers.

Fast Company recently posted “6 Ways to Avoid Making Everyone in Your Office Sick.”  It is a great reminder how to make sure you have a healthy library staff.

photo of paperback copies of Ursula K. Le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea triology

Ursula K. Le Guin Fights for the “Extraordinary Generosity” of Libraries

In addition to writing award-winning paradigm-shifting fiction, co-founding an independent e-book publishing cooperative, and receiving the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation, radical sci-fi author Ursula K. Le Guin is actively supporting library access to ebooks. The distinguished author spoke to American Libraries about her support for supplying ebooks at fair prices to library communities. She talks about the need to change public perception about the library’s capacity to provide ebooks:

Your average library patron is so used to the extraordinary generosity of a library; we all take it for granted. They give us books for nothing!

This perspective just warms a librarian’s heart. It’s so wonderful to hear an a voice advocating for libraries from outside the profession, and this one is a feisty voice. Le Guin says:

I have to admit, maybe I kind of enjoy a bit of a small fight.

Doesn’t that put the library pep back in you? Check out the interview with Le Guin on page 24 of the November/December issue of American Libraries. If you never read any Le Guin, the A.V. Club offers a guide on where to start (The Dispossessedobviously!).

Celebrating Our Similarites: Are We Precious Snowflake Librarians?

photo of paper snowflake hanging in front of a bookcase

by Kelly Sikkema on flickr

Being a Young Adult Librarian at a public branch one of my major responsibilities was class visits. I usually liked the first visit to be casual, informative and fun.  An introduction that stresses that the library is a place to come for many different reasons.  To find books you might enjoy, movies, programs, computers…and to do homework or research for school. I had shelves of books I couldn’t wait to tell them about and I wanted them to join my Advisory Group.  Teachers on the other hand usually like the visit to be more curriculum based. I can see it from their perspective, maybe it’s been hard to get the visit scheduled or they don’t have a school library and the teacher wants to make the most of it. Well, I had come up against one of these teachers…she went so far as to tell me which titles she would like booktalked. Needless to say I was not happy. I called my Mentor and she gave me a piece of advice that I have been able to apply to many different situations in many facets of my life ’til this day.  She said, part of your job as a librarian is helping her understand that your agendas overlap but….they are not the same.  Then, you concentrate on where you overlap and make the teens happy.

If you think about it it’s true, many little hiccups that we encounter can be solved by realizing how we are similar and where in our professional relationships we can align.  The teacher didn’t realize that I could go to the school for follow up visits.  I would visit each semester, we built a rapport. I recommended new titles and booktalked some teacher requests. It was a win win for everyone especially the teens, who became regular library users.

I am all for letting your flair flag fly but librarians must look for opportunities to find allies in each other and other professionals with whom our agendas overlap.  Libraries are kind of like countries eventhough they are populated by the same elements, people, books, computers etc. each one is a Precious Little Snowflake and each one is the Perfect Place for the people who use it. WRONG! There is going to be a different agenda on the mind of every single person who walks into your library and part of your job as a librarian is finding out where your agendas overlap.

As Tara Cunningham says in her post for Third Sector Today about Precious Snowfake Syndrome:

“Once you recognize you have Precious Snowflake Syndrome, you will be on your way to a full recovery. You will be able to see opportunities to share your energy, your passion, your desire to find a solution to a societal problem.  You will be able to hear about organizations you can collaborate or merge with.  You will understand the greater truth:  together we are stronger!”

So call a fellow professional and celebrate your similarites today!  I can’t wait to hear about your creative collaborations.

Leave the Library on Time

photo of a woman putting on a jacket under a wall clock showing 5pm

cc-by Alan Cleaver on flickr

Librarianship is a lifestyle as much as a profession. The desire to help can lead to staying just a little later at the end of every shift to get that last email sent, and never saying “no” to a request from a colleague.

The Week recently ran a great article on a super-productive college professor, Cal Newton, with tips on how to get everything done and still leave on time, including focusing on the important stuff instead of your email inbox:

Shallow work is little stuff like email, meetings, moving information around. Things that are not really using your talents. Deep work pushes your current abilities to their limits. It produces high value results and improves your skills.

This advice really resonates with me. Additionally, I’m happy to see a productivity expert (Newton runs a blog on excelling in knowledge work) endorse my method of putting every task in my calendar instead of making a to-do list.


Saying No

photo of the word "no" spraypainted on a concrete pillar

cc-by Marc Falardeau on flickr

Your plate is full. You’re just keeping up. That’s precisely when a co-worker or boss comes to you with a new project, right? Let’s be honest: sometimes you just need to say no. How does one say no tactfully but firmly, without burning bridges or causing drama in the workplace?

What’s the Time Commitment?
This is the first question to ask. What, exactly, is being asked of you and how long will it take? If you could bang it out in a few minutes or an hour, maybe it’s do-able. If you’re signing up for months of committee meetings…maybe not. Before you say no, be clear on what is being asked of you and simply ask how long they expect it to take.

It’s fine to say no, but you may want to offer an alternative or a counter-offer. Here are some examples:

  • Yes, but I’ll have to give up something else…
  • Yes, but it will have to go to the bottom of my list…
  • Yes, but I can only do this portion of it…
  • Yes, but I will need overtime pay to do it…
  • Yes, but I will need a favor in return…
  • No, but I will find someone else to do it for you…

Know when to say yes!
Seize opportunities to grow, to learn, and to show off your skills! This very well might be an inconvenient time for you, but ask yourself what you get in return. You might really impress someone and have their attention for a raise or promotion in the future. You might really be interested in the project and know you have a lot to offer. You could see it as an opportunity to learn something new, and new skills are rarely a waste of time or effort.

Bosses: let your co-workers say no!
Be reasonable with workloads. Part-time staff, in particular, are often stretched incredibly thin. All of these tips apply to you. Be clear on the time commitment you are requesting, and be willing to schedule flexibly to make it possible. Pay for extra time on the clock to accomplish the task. Offer a reasonable compromise or let your co-worker counter-offer. And lastly, do push for a yes when you know it is a great opportunity for the person you asked, but be as flexible as possible. Be willing to take on something extra yourself in order for your co-worker to be able to seize an opportunity.