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self-care-in-addiction-recoveryI think it’s safe to say that a lot of us had a rough 2016. For those of us that interact with the public for the majority of the day, a charged, political atmosphere gave many of us an added challenge during desk shifts.

It’s important to say that my personal politics do not affect how I speak to patrons, and I think the same can be said for most of us. As librarians, we should be giving patrons the same quality of assistance regardless of how we feel about them personally, whether we agree or disagree with them. It is our job to be helpful and impartial.

However, while we are able to control how we react to a reference interview, there is a lot we cannot control about how the patron perceives us, or what kind of opinions or emotions they bring with them into the library.

When there is conflict all around us – all over the media, in our community spaces, maybe even in some of our homes – no matter which side you identify with, we cannot take for granted that any interaction will mean the same thing to both of the people in it. There is an added layer to how we react and the potential for escalation.

Navigating that minefield can be tiring. Sometimes being civil is difficult, and sometimes being reasonable doesn’t feel especially satisfying. But, because we are professionals, we bite our tongues and do our best. I feel like I did more of that in 2016 than in previous years.

As a manager, I have noticed how tired my staff is. I think 2016 has taken a toll on everyone. We talk about it a lot off the desk. This intangible atmosphere brought on by the minefield is the only thing that has changed, so it’s what I believe I can attribute it to.

My goal for 2017 is self care. The election is over, but my community still feels very charged and hyper-aware of our differences. Between needing to build our strength reserves back up and looking forward to providing all of our services with energy and compassion, we need to pay attention to how well we are taking care of ourselves.

In my never-ending quest to make my workplace a space where people enjoy spending 40 waking hours every week, I recently resolved to check in with staff more often, and those meetings will be good outlets. There isn’t much I can do about how much time people spend out on the desk interacting with the public, but I can encourage staff to be self-aware and ask for help when they need it.

I’ve seen relief come in many forms – sometimes you just need someone to make you laugh, or reassure you that not every interaction will feel so draining. We can share and emphasize the positive interactions we have with patrons. As a manager, I can make every effort to honor staff requests for vacations when they need them, and recognize urgency when it’s in front of me.

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.

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Considering the myriad reasons that people find themselves working in or visiting libraries, it is little wonder that librarians and library staff experience an interesting workplace personality dynamic. Introversion versus extroversion, as well as differences in self-monitoring (one’s ability to regulate one’s behavior and accommodate social situations), often leads to clashes that have repercussions in a library workplace setting.

For example, extroverts tend to find renewed energy in working at a reference desk; introverts may enjoy that interfacing, but still face burnout without appropriate recovery time away from others.

How does one successfully navigate relationships in a workplace where many people are personally fighting burnout while others must combat the burnout of those around them? How do we lead and unite a staff that represents the full spectrum of relational preferences with very different approaches to communicating with their colleagues and interpreting the organization’s goals?

How does a manager inspire staff who are so diversely motivated and energized?

In search of some answers to these questions, a group of librarians at the Bryan and College Station Public Library System in Texas is hoping to form some insights and coping strategies by using data from as wide a sample as possible. We invite librarians and library staff to take part in an anonymous survey that will provide information about each participant’s personality, self-monitoring abilities, and job satisfaction. We appreciate any and all responses we receive.