Trello logo - image of cards on a board

Increasing Transparency in the Library with Trello

Transparency is one of the more challenging aspects of leadership. Letting people in your group and across your organization know what you’re doing, what your priorities are, and what projects are up next takes a huge amount of conscious communication.

Trello offers a fix. As Kelly covered in her review of Trello last year, this online software is a collaborative productivity tool based on cards. It’s a good fit for libraries, where work is usually assigned to teams instead of individuals.

Our library has been easing into Trello, especially in IT and web initiatives, in order to track projects and individual tasks. Now, leadership (especially in library IT) is consciously using Trello for organizational transparency.

Potential projects are posted in priority order by each department on a digital board that can be viewed by anyone in the organization.

For instance, our circulation team needs a new web-based application for managing materials on course reserves. We create a card:Screenshot of a Trello "card" for "Course reserves management tool"Eventually, the card is fully fleshed out with the resources and time required, and prioritized along with other projects across the organization. Library staff invested in the project can follow the progress as the card is updated. The process is transparent.

Of course, this doesn’t happen without some wrangling. Project managers Suzanne Chapman, Meghan Musolff, and Kat Hagedorn shepherd the process along, including helping staff submitting cards describe their dream projects in words understandable across the library.

How does your library promote transparency? Do you use technology, or rely on in-person communication?

Boosting Staff Morale

From time to time, in any institution, staff morale can wane. All kinds of stressors can cause it: budget cuts, staffing changes, planning huge events, and even the weather. (Last winter was brutal!) When it happens – and it will – here are some ways to raise staff morale.

It’s More than Just a Job
Make sure all staff members know that their work contributes to a greater purpose. Every single person on staff plays a part in the overall success of the organization. Certain projects can feel tedious, and other duties are just part of the daily grind, but reminding everyone that everything they do benefits our purpose can make everyone feel more invested in the work itself.

Celebrate success! I just said that even the most mundane projects contribute to the greater good, so celebrate the success of the project. Celebrate milestones toward a goal. Take a minute to congratulate yourselves. It doesn’t have to be a full-on party, just a simple acknowledgement and some “go team applause” at a staff meeting. (Though from time to time, a treat is nice too. Bring donuts, provide lunch, or have a lunchtime Wii bowling tournament.)

Give the Gift of Time
This can be more difficult in smaller institutions, but you could award the staff with time. Give them an hour away from customers (and/or co-workers, if they choose!) to explore something new. They could read a book about a subject they want to pursue for a program. They could take a webinar or drop in on a lecture on campus. They could attend a program the library is offering. They could visit the local historical museum and wander around for an hour. If your organization can manage it, they could even volunteer their time in the community for that hour. Help plant flowers in the beautiful downtown! Help the animal shelter walk dogs! Read to the residents at a nursing home! It’s just an hour, so it won’t hurt productivity, but it lets them shake off all work stress for an hour, recharge, and get inspired.

We’re All in This Together
If you, the leader, build relationships with your co-workers that makes them trust you, they will understand that you’re under the same pressure they are. Possibly even more pressure.  I’ve written here before about leading by example. In this model of leadership, it is clear to everyone that you are all working toward the same goal, and that you’re all experiencing the same stress. You can boost morale just by being in the same situation they are and working together to make the most of it. I’d hate for my co-workers to think I wouldn’t understand their situation because I’ve never been in it. I have been there, and I am there with them right now.

I think the worst thing a leader could do is to not recognize a change in staff morale. You have to be in tune with attitudes and energy levels. When people stop volunteering to help, when they are less enthusiastic about their duties, when they get sick or call in more often, or even get patron complaints, you may have a problem. Pay attention to changes in staff behavior and do something to try to fix it.

Photo of sign taped to library shelf that says: "Do not reshelve books!!"

Don’t Do Signage Like This: 5 Negative Library Signs

You’ve seen it before: the imperative sign dictating “Do Not Reshelve Books.”

You’ve probably spotted it in your own library. Perhaps you’ve even made a sign of your own, frustrated by books put back incorrectly, or because you need to collect browsing statistics.

Have you ever seen a sign that explains what you should do with your browsed books?

An employee from the State Library of North Carolina explains the usual “Do Not Reshelve” sign from the perspective of an expert user: “I thought, ‘What’s the harm? I know where they go and I know I’m putting them in the right spot, and I’m trying to help decrease their work by shelving them.'”

Library visitors don’t understand the reason for the negative command, so they don’t comply with it.

Using positive language helps encourage the library user behavior we do want to see. Instead of saying, “Don’t reshelve books”, encourage the alternative: and explain why: “Leave books on cart for counting and shelving.”

Negative language results in library signs that users ignore, or worse, gather a bad impression of the library. Peter Alsberg, Director of the Örebro County Library, Sweden, curated a group of signs he calls passive-aggressive library unmarketing.

Check out the negative library language signs below for examples of what not to do. Afterward, check out The Desk Set on bad library signage, and consider conducting a signage audit in your library.

Five Negative Library Signs

5: Do Not Worry About This Here Video Camera

Please Do Not Be Offended

Creative Commons License by trombonekenny on flickr.

The “No offense, but I’m about to say something offensive” of library signs.

 4: Do Not Write on Other People

Sign saying: "Please do not stand, sit, climb, or sharpie on sleeping students."

via Funny Signs

This university library has seen some dark days.

3: Do Not Move This. EVER.

A box of microfiche with a sign: "SMc's sorted files. PLEASE don't move! 8/98"

Creative Commons License by Sarah Altendorf

A library employee found these boxes 13 years later. How long will they remain?

2: Do Not Transform the Library into Concept Art

Sign saying, "Do not yell Roll Tide in the library."

via twitter user katiersmith17

Do not yell “Roll Tide,” but other phrases are OK.

Happily, this sign was actually conceptual art about negative signs. Whew.

1: Do Not Eat Our Materials

Sign saying: "DO NOT chew on the headphone cords"

Original source unknown

We can only hope this sign was created solely for one individual problem user.

Now that you’ve seen these negative library signs, please do not create a sign starting with “Please Do Not” ever again.

Beyond the Job

photo credit: C.P.Storm via photopin cc

photo credit: C.P.Storm via photopin cc

Mary Kelly and I have a deal: when it is obvious that one of us is “phoning it in,” or no longer an active participant in the field of librarianship, we are to tell the other that it is time to hang it up and move on to the next phase of our life. It’s sort of like taking away your parents’ car keys when they are no longer fit to drive. No one wants to do it, and hopes they never have to. They hope that the problem will resolve itself through individual awareness and volunteering to walk away on their own. Just in case, though, we have made this pact and we both fully intend to keep our end of the deal. We never want to be what we call “RIP”: retired in place.

What does being an active participant in the profession entail? It is certainly more than just showing up to work every day. It’s more than just doing our job, too. Being an active participant in the profession is a bigger picture scenario. It involves librarianship outside of our immediate responsibility. It involves learning, growing, and contributing to others in the industry.

Being a role model for new librarians and information professionals is one way to contribute. Sharing experiences and learning outcomes with others is always welcome. It helps new professionals find a path to follow, helps them to make informed decisions about their careers, and improves the level of awareness of the profession itself.

Attendance is another way to actively participate in the profession. This means attending staff meetings, tweet-ups, conferences, workshops, seminars, unconferences, and informal get-togethers. Showing up is the first step in networking and finding opportunities. Actually contributing to the conversation or the work at hand is important too, but you have to show up in order to take advantage of the output.

Reading, listening, and watching is an easy way to participate in the profession. Read what our colleagues in the field are publishing. Listen to what they are saying. Watch the slide decks, videos, webinars, and tutorials they are providing. Soak it in and then act on it. Find a way to make what you read, hear, and see relevant.

Don’t just show up to work every day. Participate! Engage in the profession and reap the rewards of knowledge, awareness, and involvement.

The Hell of Holidays at Work

jinglenoIt is that time of year. That dreaded time for the library/office holiday party.I have also referred to office parties as “forced fun”. I have endured in my more than 40 years of working (not just in libraries!) career ending cocktail parties that nearly ended with police intervention, expensive and stupid Secret Santa gift exchanges, and countless “parties” where attendance was more or less mandatory. Jesus himself, would slap these people.

Last year, Alison Green over at Ask a Manager wrote a wonderful article on holiday celebrations. If I could, I would take this article and email it to everyone I ever worked for and I would use it as a basis for any holiday plans in the office. Holidays can be ground zero for office morale and even the best intentions can result in poor morale.  Want some horror stories? Read them here.

In my own family I have had holidays where we buried a relative on Christmas Eve, had a hospitalized child, and waited for an eternity to find out if my husband still had a job. The last thing in the world I wanted to do is hang out and wear a Santa hat and make chit chat for what seemed like hours (unpaid). The holidays are stressful even if you have nothing planned or don’t celebrate anything. Don’t make it worse.

  • Bottom line: If you want to do something kind for your team or at least acknowledge the holidays in some way, try these ideas:
  • Bring in treats or sandwiches for the entire staff. Offer it up during the regularly scheduled work hours. Make participation optional. For example, set out some food in the break room and tell people to graze at their leisure.
  • If you are a boss, get out of the way. Make greetings and then leave. I don’t care if you are the most delightful understanding person around. Get out. No one wants the boss hanging around.

If you really want to reward employees, consider the only gift that is beloved by all – cash and or paid time off.

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.