book and skull with title The Almost Dead Experiment

What’s a rational weeding philosophy? When is a book really dead? 6 months? 2 years? 4 years? More importantly: how do we know? Progressive, cool libraries stick to a 180 day weeding target, while old, stodgy libraries pile books to the rafters (’cause hey . . . we got the space). And some libraries (ahem, East Lake County) hate weeding so much and so blindly that they create a fake patron account to “save” books. All of these beg the same question: what data are these decisions based on?

In my new position managing the adult collection at KPL, I’m in a complex situation. While we tend to have a more conservative weeding target (4 years at main downtown library), I personally found myself leaning towards the more aggressive end of the spectrum – I just assumed that if a book sits on the shelf for 2 or 3 years, it’s probably not getting checked out.

Until now.

CollectionHQ, an evidence-based collection management tool designed for libraries (recently acquired by Baker and Taylor), is normally used for weeding and selecting. But my favorite tool, called “experimental placement,” allows you to track particular books or collections and see how they perform over time. I ran an experiment 7 months ago, the results of which completely blow my mind. It turns out that, at my library, books that haven’t been checked out in three years – three years! – are still not dead yet.

Looking at the Dewey ranges 000-550, I was able to find 907 books that hadn’t checked out in three years (our weeding target is currently set at four years). I put those 907 Almost Dead Books into a CollectionHQ experiment, and I waited.

Out of 907 books in the experiment, a whopping 232 (25%) were subsequently checked out by patrons. That is to say, 1 in every 4 Almost Dead Books were checked out. And of those 232 that were checked out, many were renewed multiple times and/or checked out again by someone else – making a net total of 469 circulations from Almost Dead Books.

Before the experiment, my prediction was that 1-5% of the Almost Dead Books would circulate again. I had to double check the numbers. I even checked the ILS at most of these titles, just to be sure actual real physical people were checking them out. Indeed.

I predict the second half of the Dewey ranges would do markedly better (550-999: diet, workout, cooking, business, crafts, travel).

This data sort of justifies our “conservative” target – clearly people still want some of these books. You could argue that weeding Almost Dead Books would actually lead to more total circulation by freeing up space for newer books.

I don’t want to oversimplify things. Weeding isn’t a simple 6 months vs. 4 years decision. Every Dewey range and every genre of fiction should  be treated differently, and there are myriad other considerations. I just wanted to repeat the buzzword because it matters so much in our profession: data-driven decision making. Whatever you do at your library, try to get data to inform the decision. You might be surprised.

Questions about how to do these experiments in CollectionHQ? matts@kpl.gov

Need some tunes to get you ready for Atlanta? I present to you a playlist of artists based in either Atlanta or Georgia that you can listen to while you pack, sit in the airport, or walk to your next meeting. If I missed anything, please post in the comments.

Trust in the Library

Jessica Jones —  January 12, 2017 — Leave a comment

Bookshelves with bright lightbulb and title Trust in the LibraryLibrarianship is one of the most trusted professions. Our patrons trust us; the public trusts us; but, what do we do when we have trust issues within the library itself?
When I was the director at a small college library, we had trust issues within the institution. Significant ones. I managed this by working to make the library “campus Switzerland” and actively avoided the academic politicking that was happening at the time. In keeping the library a safe space, we thrived in comparison to many other departments. We still felt the effects of the larger institutional issues, but it was mitigated considerably by everyone making efforts to keep divisive issues out of our space.

Having already learned that lesson, my next position at a public library followed what I understood to be a very contentious manager, over a bigger staff than I had at the college. These were mostly site-specific issues, and, without the threats of employment termination and organized protests (the college was an adventure), I made the mistake of underestimating the problem at the public library. I thought that if I were proactive in repairing the damage previously done to the manager position, while forging positive relationships with my new staff, that other issues would gradually untangle.

To a degree, they did. I did individual interviews with each staff member, made an affinity wall, improved some IT processes, implemented a new chat program so that communication between separate desks would be more fluid, and troubleshot acute issues as they arose.

The thing is, trust issues don’t often correct themselves. Few problems do. When a manager instigates conflict in their staff, they don’t just compromise the staff’s relationship with the manager. They also compromise the staff’s relationships with other staff.

This feels obvious in retrospect. It was pointed out by a staff member who came to me to talk about trust in our building and the patterns she was noticing. I am not happy with myself for not seeing this earlier. This is the part of introspection that is more disappointing than insightful, but the two sides are equally important. It’s how we learn to do better.

It is our job as leaders to be responsive and our duty as fellow humans to be empathetic.At the college, I was partly successful because of my own efforts, but, in hindsight, I recognize that some of it was also fortuitous timing. The problems at the college were not endemic when I arrived, and I was able to get out in front of them to minimize damage. I cannot manage my current staff’s trust issues the same way I managed my former staff’s. Trust is complicated. It is multi-faceted and affects every possible permutation of involved parties. When you have a big staff, like I do now, it will be an ongoing struggle. It would be short-sighted to underestimate these issues.

So what do you do when you finally see the problem?

I am in the process of figuring that out, but I have some ideas. You know those terrible trust exercises that everyone hates? They have a purpose: to give people an opportunity to test their relationships in a controlled environment. We will also be having more staff meetings where we prioritize and facilitate discussions regarding personal conflicts in the professional sphere. I am scheduling follow-ups with individual staff members to talk about their needs and insecurities. And, I’m asking my staff to be active participants in helping themselves.

image of window with title "want a better library job? develop your people skills"When I started business school last semester, I wanted to learn skills I didn’t find in library school. Think financial management, or strategic planning – the nitty gritty of business.

While I wanted those hard skills, I worried that I would be surrounded by business jerks who care only about numbers.

To my surprise, the first required class in the business program was all about people skills. I learned more about interpersonal communication in one b-school class than I did in two years in a library science program.

We went introspective with lots of personality typing for self-awareness, from the old standby Myers-Briggs to fancy color charts from Emergenetics. We spent hours talking about how different personality types interact and how we can learn from each other. We learned how to tell stories that spark people to support our vision.

The instructor, Susan Heinzeroth, explained why we were spending so much time on these soft skills. She drew a graph on the board to illustrate. Here’s a sketch from my class notes:

hand-drawn graph showing that as career level progresses, technical skills decrease and interpersonal skills increase

We all start out in libraries by developing niche technical skills, like cataloging or database searching. As our careers develop, those technical skills become less important, and the need for interpersonal skills skyrockets.

Libraries are all about people – connecting people with information and helping them transform their lives through learning.

Leadership is all about people, too. Leaders need to align a diverse group of people around common goals.

To do that, they need massive amounts of interpersonal skills.

Interpersonal skills go beyond the customer service skills you use to help patrons at the circulation desk. These deeper skills shape your long-term relationships with colleagues in your library.

If you want to advance your career, expand your professional development from just technical skills. Consider whether you have room for growth in any of these interpersonal skills:

  • Deep listening
  • Verbal communication
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Asking questions
  • Negotiation
  • Apologizing
  • Persuasion
  • Assertion
  • Networking
  • Storytelling
  • Emotional intelligence

To be a great leader, you need to consistently rock these skills with a wide variety of people. If you’re like me, you feel comfortable in a handful of these skills, and that you’ve achieved mastery in maybe one or two.

The good news is that interpersonal skills can be learned and developed, just like technical skills.

You don’t have to go to business school to work on your interpersonal skills. There are great low-cost resources to kickstart new ideas. Check out Crucial Conversations, or this great list from The Muse of 11 Cheap Online Classes You Can Take to Improve Your Interpersonal Skills.

Once you start thinking a little differently about how you interact with others, you can start putting new skills into practice with people around you.

Think about your library colleagues. Is there someone you avoid because you just don’t get along?

Real talk: as you move into leadership positions, you no longer have the option of avoiding people. You need enough interpersonal oomph to have a good relationship with everyone in your organization (and outside, too).

Maybe that strained relationship is an area for interpersonal growth. Could you ask your colleague more appreciative questions? Could you find more empathy for your colleague? Could you genuinely apologize for your part in creating a rift?

Technical skills are, of course, still important. If you go back to that graph, you’ll notice middle managers a mix of technical expertise and interpersonal skills. As a middle manager, I feel that pinch. I need to know how to re-write loan rules in Sierra . . . and explain to people why we need to do that, and persuade them to help make the changes.

If you want to advance in your library career, you’ll need these interpersonal skills to have stellar relationships with your colleagues. Developing your interpersonal skills makes you a better leader in your current position. It also makes you a better candidate for advancement within your library, or for taking on a leadership role at another library.

How would you rate your current interpersonal abilities? What’s helped you grow your skills?

GIF of West Wing character with text "Well, you go girl"I’ve been listening to a new podcast. New to me at least. It’s called The West Wing Weekly. I am, of course, a huge West Wing fan, so I am, of course, loving this podcast. Still, it’s giving me pause. Not really, I just make weird connections between random things in my head.

I was thinking the other day about what sets leaders apart from the pack. There are a lot of answers to that question, and I couldn’t come up with one answer. Frankly, I still can’t come up with one answer. But, at the end of every episode of the West Wing Weekly they say the same thing: “What’s next?”

Animation of West Wing character with text "When I ask what's next it means I'm ready to move on to other things."Now, if you love The West Wing, you’ll understand why they do that. But even if you’ve never seen an episode, it’s a good message. “What’s next?”

One aspect of what distinguishes a library leader from a library employee is that the leader is always asking, “What’s next?”

They ask many other questions and do many other things, but I’d argue that asking, “What’s next?” is one key to library leadership. There is something satisfying about finishing a big task, but it is not enough to bask in that accomplishment. Sooner (rather then later) you have to ask yourself: “What’s next?”

Thinking about the future shows initiative; it shows knowledge of the library environment around you; and it shows that you’re thinking not just about what’s on your to-do list, but on what can be done to improve your library for your patrons.

If you want to be a library leader then make your new mantra “What’s next?”

animation of West Wing character with text "Bring it on."