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hand giving a thumbs up

Compliments are just as important to library leaders as they are to everyone else. In the last two days I’ve received three compliments about my work. This is notable for several reasons:

First, they were compliments about my work product/work style, and not my hair or clothing. I’m way more interested in being perceived as competent and good at my job than being perceived as fashionable (this is a hallmark of being an INTJ). Because so much of my work as a library director is about glad-handing and being out in public, most of the compliments I receive are about what I’m wearing or what I look like.

Second, they were spontaneous compliments. Unsolicited work compliments are rare for me, and I assume for any manager. Being a library director is a singular, and often lonely, position, so there’s little opportunity for the kind of camaraderie and support that other library staff provide each other. If I ask a coworker “What did you think about my presentation?” I worry that it puts them in a weird spot because I hold power over them, so where’s the incentive for them to be honest? I totally get that. So to have coworkers tell me out of the blue that I did a good job is a real ego-boost.

Lastly, I hardly ever get compliments anymore, and to get three in two days is way out of the norm. Partially it’s because a lot of the work I do is amorphous, long-term, and difficult to quantify, so how does anyone compliment that? I think it’s also because I don’t have someone onsite daily who monitors and reviews my work, so I don’t get feedback on a consistent basis.

Managers like compliments, too! If you have a great boss, or great boss’s boss, I encourage you to let them know when they’ve done a particularly good job on something. I know the three sets of kind words I’ve gotten recently will get me through the next several weeks, if not months.

A Mentor – Who, Me?

Eva —  June 1, 2016 — 2 Comments

A library director who welcomed me to the profession and always seemed glad to see me, to lend me an ear, to give me a pep talk, died recently. We hadn’t spoken in a while, but I will always remember her kindness to me. When I lamented “I’m losing all of my mentors!” at the funeral, a fellow director responded, “That means it’s time for you to take their place.”

I have to admit that she has a point. It’s energizing to see all of the fresh ideas and enthusiasm from the new leaders I’m meeting, but to be honest, I’m struggling with seeing myself as a mentor to them. Being helpful is part of what makes me a librarian, so I’m comfortable answering their questions, but the notion that my specific experiences are generalizable to others is odd to me. I wear this particular hat in an unsteady fashion, with caveats–Your Mileage May Vary; In My Opinion; As Far As I Know–to make sure people know that I’m not An Expert, that I’m fumbling my way through all of this, too.

As I think about my mentors, I see that they fumbled, too, and they didn’t let that get them down. They shared their doubtful moments with me, told me about their screw ups, and coached me through my own. I see now that being a part of this blog is me giving back, in a small way, to all of those who helped me along my career path. As you know, you can submit your questions and conundrums to us here at Library Lost & Found–it’s a great group of library leaders, and I hope you’ll consider sending us your questions!

How to Avoid Being the Notetaker

Eva —  April 12, 2016 — 2 Comments

Meeting table with mobile devices and hands writing in a notepad

As the library director, I attend a lot of meetings with other community leaders. These are meetings of equals. If at some point we realize that someone should be taking notes, however, more often than not eyes will turn to me.

I get it, but I have come to resent this in the same way that I resented being in science class and having everyone look at me expectantly when the teacher asked a particularly tough question. Just because I’m Asian doesn’t mean I know all about science, and just because I’m a woman and a librarian doesn’t mean I’ll default to being the notetaker.

I should point out that I’m currently serving as Secretary of my homeowners’ association and Secretary on the board of a library collaborative. These situations are different because I intentionally signed up for them. In the meetings I’m talking about, it’s not a formal committee or board meeting, and as the (usually) only library representative, my priority is advocating for and communicating the services of my library.

If my head is down and I’m taking minutes, I’m distracted from participating fully in the discussion. I stymie myself, though, because my helpful nature makes it difficult for me to turn down the request to take minutes.

I’ve done some observations of other women in similar meetings, and I’ve discovered a pattern in the ones who don’t get asked to take notes. My first inclination when sitting down at a meeting was to take out a pen and paper. I noticed that the women who don’t do this are passed over when “We need someone to take minutes” comes up. They still get the look, but people’s eyes continue past when they see that these women have no note-taking tools.

So now when I get to a meeting I don’t immediately take out a pen or notepad. I have them, of course, because I’m a planner like that, but they stay in my bag unless I really, truly, desperately need to write something down. This method eliminates any awkwardness about appearing uncooperative by saying no when you clearly already have a pen and paper out.

If you try this, let me know in the comments how it works for you!

When You Forget How to Librarian

Eva —  October 6, 2015 — 6 Comments

bustedtees.574aa52d-f1dc-40ed-a51f-0d8980a0This year marks my seventeenth year as a librarian, but a couple of weekends ago, after a patron flagged me down five minutes before closing asking for help, I realized that I probably shouldn’t call myself that anymore.

I was walking around the library assisting with closing when the patron waved at me from a computer. I blinked slowly when she finished telling me her need and realized it would take me longer than five minutes to figure it out. So I smiled and said, “I’m not sure. Let me get someone who will know and I’ll be right back.” I found one of our interns, who of course helped her with plenty of time remaining before the computers shutdown.

The patron left satisfied, which is fantastic, but I realized that I’ve been managing for so long that while I am still technically a librarian (noun), I’ve forgotten how to librarian (verb). As a director, I’m too far removed from direct librarian-ing to lay claim to knowing how to librarian anymore.

I don’t regularly staff a desk or put on programs or conduct outreach or select materials. I certainly don’t catalog or process library items. I occasionally assist at Checkout, and I have been known to cover a desk in an emergency or for a meeting, but those instances are few and far between and typically end with me saying, “I didn’t mess up too much, I think!” when the “real” librarian or circulation assistant comes back.

I don’t have a degree in management, yet that’s what I “really” do: Manage the work of the library. Does that count for anything in the ongoing debate about what it means to be a librarian? Never.

Overambition

Eva —  July 22, 2015 — Leave a comment

QueenBee-mwfn7zIf you are new to the profession and hope to move up, it’s important that you stand out in the right way. From someone who has plateaued, here are some tips to make sure you don’t get noticed for the wrong reasons.

Don’t be a conversation crasher. You have ideas. You know a thing or two. But that doesn’t mean you should leap at every chance to demonstrate that you’re a know-it-all. Popping up like a Whack-a-Mole when your coworkers are having a conversation in the next cubicle to tell them how it’d be So.Much.Better if they did it your way is only going to increase your chances of getting whacked on the head. Resist the urge to jump in to their conversation or invite yourself to their meeting unless they specifically invite your input.

Don’t obsess over what’s next. Prove that you’re competent and high-performing in the job you currently have before you start talking about your next position, your next job, your next project. You were hired to work at this library, in this position, doing these things–make sure you are absolutely killing it before you shift your gaze to the horizon and start asking about doing other stuff. That doesn’t mean you can’t stretch yourself or let your boss know that you’re interested in doing more; just make absolutely sure your current work is stellar.

Don’t be a copycat. Once in an interview, when I asked the question about long-term career goals, the candidate said, “I want your job.” I tried to reframe it as, “Oh, so you want a position like mine?” and she said, “No, I want your job. At this place.” I chose to overlook how creepy that was, and let me tell you, that was a mistake. The entire time she worked for me, I felt like Bridget Fonda to her Jennifer Jason Leigh. I didn’t trust her. Every thing she said or did, I filtered it through her “I want your job” comment. Did she act like that/send that email/say that thing because she wants to make me look bad so she can get my job? It can also creepy, in the same Single White Female way, to be imitated. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it can venture into weird territory if you emulate your boss or your mentor too much. Haircuts, glasses, tone of voice, vocabulary–these are all going to be influenced by the people who surround you, sure. But don’t take “dress for the job you want” too literally.

Don’t be a Queen Bee or Big Man on Campus. You are the go-to person on staff. People like you. In the staff break room, it seems like everyone takes their break when you do. You are a star. But don’t let the social ladder interfere with you doing your job. Keep the gossip to a minimum. Don’t talk loudly about others who are nearby. Don’t start whisper campaigns. Trust me, your bosses know it’s you, and they’re considering that as they consider you for promotion–can you maintain confidentiality? Can you put the organization’s needs ahead of your friends’ needs? If you are promoted to a supervisor or manager level, the transition from coworker to boss is difficult enough as it is without being complicated by work-friends who see your promotion as an opportunity to use you as a double agent, giving them the inside scoop and a free pass on their bad behavior.

What about you–what’s your advice on how to be ambitious without being over-the-top?