Planning for Surprises

Eva —  May 29, 2015 — Leave a comment

surprise_delightMy job as the leader of my library is to do my best to prepare my staff–to give them the information and tools they need, to make sure they have the training, and then to let them go and trust them. There is no way that I can plan for every possible surprise, so what I try to do is build a strong team with a solid foundation to withstand the more extreme ones.

In the time I’ve been library director, we’ve updated and created policies and procedures to give all library staff a common foundation. I don’t want to legislate every possible action for every possible scenario to get to every desired outcome. Sometimes we have to, but by and large I tell my employees to trust their gut instincts based on their knowledge of and experiences at the library. We’re all on the same team, and as long as what they decide is ethical and legal and they can detail their rationale, the management team will support their decision to waive a fine, to make an exception, to do whatever is necessary to resolve a situation.

I thought that they (mostly) get my philosophy, and this winter I had the opportunity to confirm it when we had a fire sprinkler head freeze and break. My staff pulled together quickly, dropping whatever they were doing to deal with the situation.

I sent a message to my staff the following day telling them how proud I was of how quickly and efficiently they took care of things. All hands from across the library grabbed buckets and trash cans and push brooms and dustpans and the shop vac. These were folks in high heels, in skirts, in dress pants, and wearing ties helping our Building Supervisor scoop up and take away water. Others blocked the area off as best they could. Others held down the fort at the public service desks and kept the library operating. Others called the disaster recovery company. And it was effortless–“What can I do? How can I help?” There was no ego, no dissension, no second-guessing, no pulling of rank to get out of the nastier work. It was just one big library team saving the library!

This kind of teamwork across the organization does not happen overnight; it takes years of team building and trust. We don’t have a policy or procedure written down for exactly what to do when a sprinkler head bursts; even if we wrote down exactly what happened this time, it would never happen exactly that same way ever again. My staff were tested by a surprise situation that we had never planned for, and they performed exquisitely, doing whatever it took to make things right–and the kicker is that I wasn’t even here that day. I could not be more proud of them.



Eva Davis is the Director of the Canton Public Library in Canton, Michigan--not Canton, Ohio, or Canton, Massachusetts, or Canton, Mississippi. (It is an easy mistake to make.) Eva honed her supervisory and management skills working in customer service, research, and publishing before heading to graduate school at the University of Michigan School of Information. She became a librarian in 1998. She was an intern and then the teen services librarian at the Plymouth (MI) District Library before moving to the Ann Arbor (MI) District Library, where she was Head of the Youth Department at the Downtown library, Head of Youth Services for the system, Head of Branch Services, and finally Associate Director for Public Services. Eva has held her dream job as the Director of the award-winning Canton Public Library since 2008. She received the Michigan Library Association's Frances H. Pletz Award for Excellence in Teen Services in 2003, and is a graduate of both Leadership Ann Arbor and Leadership Canton, where she learned that she is moderately Affiliative according to MAFF, her color is "Green" on the Four Color Personality Test, and her Myers-Briggs Type is INTJ (although she has worked diligently and consistently on improving her Sensing, so she now leans ISTJ). Follow @CantonLibrary and @EvaDavisCPL on Twitter. (Photo credit: Susan Kennedy)

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