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One of my beloved minions is stepping into the fracas of library service and I thought this would be a good time to review those items that will frustrate even the most experienced librarian.  Do I have the magic answer?  A no-fail process or procedure?  Not at all.

What I do have is a list of things that you cannot possibly control, no matter how good you are and how well you know the situation. The only thing that I can promise is that you will get better coping with the unknowns in your professional life. I also know that even the most talented, laid back person in the world will have days where coping is just not happening.

2016 (and while we are counting, 2015 too) were both years in my life that were rough. I had a lot of unfixable problems and I worried too much. I also have serious regrets for not recognizing problems ahead of time, underestimating situations, and over-reacting (or under-reacting) to situations both professionally and personally. I am always Monday morning quarterbacking the “should have” and “could have” of just about any project or program. Maybe if I spent more time on “X” it would be better. I am sure everyone does this from time to time. The danger is when you can’t get past the mistakes, and worse, the perceived mistakes, and you find yourself stuck. I still struggle with this after nearly 20 years in library service.

For new librarians it is important you know from the start that no matter how much preparation you do, things will go wrong and you will make mistakes. Even experienced people working in a new situation will have the same things happen that a rookie might face. Lack of experience can work hand-in-hand with chaos. So, newbies, with all my apologies to Ranganathan and his five laws, here are the real laws of library science:

  • There will always be someone who makes things more difficult in your work life. It could be a co-worker, patron, or boss. It might even be all three.
  • At some point, someone will blame you for something.
  • No matter how many signs you hang, training opportunities you offer, processes in place, etc. there will always be people who won’t read a policy/procedure or a sign or attempt training (or even Google a solution) to address a problem.
  • No matter how many signups there are or reminder calls you make, the headcount will never be predictable.
  • You will misinterpret a directive or an instruction from a supervisor or misunderstand a patron’s request.
  • You will bite off more than you can chew.
  • Someone will complain about something.
  • You will forget something important or miss something that should have been obvious.
  • Someone will mess with your budget.
  • You will probably burst into tears or have murderous thoughts about something or someone at work.
  • You can do everything right and it will still turn out awful.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though! Try these strategies for coping:

  • First, just assume everything will go bad and try and plan accordingly.
  • Be an active listener. Take copious notes and confirm your understanding of a problem by following up with an email or conversation
  • Be kind and give the benefit of the doubt to your co-workers, patrons, and bosses.
  • Make sure you connect with other librarians regularly and share your frustrations. Even in a small library you can ask for opinions in library forums or social media. I also meet regularly with a group of library workers that are not employed at the same library as me, and we have an agreement that nothing goes outside our group. They have been my go-to group for support. They are also a good reality check when I think I am losing my mind. Newbies, particularly, need to be able to touch base with more experienced librarians as a sounding board. (Caveat: Don’t get sucked into negativity with someone heading toward burnout.)

Libraries work because of collaboration. Take this to the next level by sharing concerns with your fellow professionals. Be supportive and forgive slights, knowing that no one is perfect. Don’t assume you know all the facts, and remember that no one ever has ALL the facts.

Because everyone needs a librarian in their corner.

unwanted-christmas-presents-ebay-sell-gumtreeI am usually the designated Scrooge on a library staff. I don’t want to do extra work or pay for extras just for holiday giggles. You can read my post on this here. But to continue the holiday hell theme, I would like to talk about gifts between staff and bosses. For bosses, this is tricky. Maybe you do appreciate your staff and want to do something for them. Your heart is in the right place, but this has the potential to become a big problem. Please, do yourself a favor and read my absolute favorite author and spiritual inspiration on all things managerial: Alison Green’s Ask a Manager . Read it even if you are NOT a manager. It’s good advice for anyone. Every year, she has a discussion on all sorts of holiday related issues, including gifts!

The general rule is that gifts flow downward, as in from boss to staff. Staff should never gift up the chain of command. Even without meaning to, you can invariably cause another employee to feel pressured to give. Both in and out of libraries, this has happened to me and so many of my colleagues that I think our office culture really needs to make this clear even to the extent of creating a policy. Library people are particularly vulnerable to this practice as it can prey on our service-oriented mindset.

My most egregious example is of a boss that suggested that I make a donation to the library for the holiday season as a personal gesture. First thought: I have a personal gesture for you right here! Second thought: Is this optional? I mean really optional. Many (perhaps even “most”) employees will view this as a professional request and not optional. Even if the boss says “volunteers only,” employees will naturally feel that it really isn’t voluntary – or if it is, you will hold it against me later if I do not volunteer. My daughter refers to this office dynamic as being “volun-told.”

It isn’t just holiday time that we need to be concerned about how we solicit participation or money. I have been in places that want everyone to kick in for flowers or a gift from the staff. Again, the pressure to participate needs to be held in check. If the organization wants to do something like send flowers for a funeral or a baby shower, then the organization should be paying for it. Bosses can provide information for employees if they want to participate individually. I had a co-worker long ago tell me that she felt pressure to pony up for a retirement gift, and she had been employed by the organization for less than a week. She didn’t even know the retiree in question.

As a working person since the 1970s, I am here to tell you that I have personally bought more popcorn, candy, t-shirts, hats, candles, crafts, Girl Scout cookies (ok, that one I don’t mind as much), and assorted other overpriced detritus from various organizations to show support. In reality, I do support these efforts,but I do it off the clock or through my own volunteer work. What I don’t appreciate is the boss walking up to each employee with an order form for ugly candles so his kid can win a band trip. Even if you don’t think that is a problem in your office, just assume it is and clarify to everyone.

So before you think I am a giant party pooper, I have also had the pleasure of working in offices where a boss would absolutely die before asking for a donation for anything. I have seen offices that any giving is voluntary: A piggy bank in the break room, a sign-up sheet for cookies. No discussions. No pressure. Participate or don’t. Gifts are an etiquette minefield and are intended to be positive for both the giver and receiver. Let’s just make sure that happens by eliminating any possible perceived pressures.

Teenage Pages on the Job

Mary Kelly —  January 21, 2015 — 1 Comment

prepare for shelf readingFor the last 4 years or so, I have been doing a teen job search workshop. I got this idea from my daughter who was waitress all through high school. Even as a teenager, she was hiring and firing. She also complained that kids didn’t know how to even fill out an application or had their parents hovering around. Like any decent librarian, my first thought was PROGRAM IDEA! (If you want to read about my program click here to my personal blog.)

My daughter was not exaggerating one bit. I couldn’t believe how little the kids knew about getting and keeping a job. During this workshop, I talk about interviewing, job applications and on the job behavior. It is one of my favorite continuing programs at our library. The kids themselves have told me that no one has ever talked to them about jobs.

I mention this because I have had some recent experiences with hiring teen pages, and it wasn’t pretty. (This is also when I start a rant about “these kids today….”) Even though I knew teens were pretty green at what real world work was about, I was shocked at how much kids really didn’t know. In the span of 3 months, I hired and fired a total of 5 people. So far, my last 2 hires are working out, so crossing fingers. (This is where I tell you that you must start a similar program at your library. I am quite sure this problem isn’t limited to South Eastern Michigan.)

I finally realized I had to re-think training, especially for young people. A branch manager friend of mine told me that as a “first” job for many kids, we have a duty to teach about what it means to work for a living. So, if you have teens on your payroll, shore up your training to include a few of these tips.

  • Give an overview of a library’s functions in terms of how materials move in and out of the library. Remind them that when there is a clog in one place, it will mess up so many other library activities. Don’t assume any prior knowledge about ANYTHING.
  • Don’t overwhelm an employee with too many tasks. Roll out the duties slowly.
  • Telling isn’t teaching. Make sure you explain fully how your process works. Test your pages and offer feedback right away. Lather, rinse, repeat until it everyone involved feels comfortable.
  • If a page isn’t catching on within a couple of weeks (depending on often they work), chances are they aren’t going to ever catch on. Cut your losses now and let that person go.

After my recent foray into page hiring, I found one of my newbies in the stacks shelf reading (without prompting!). He told me it “bothered” him that stuff was out of order. I wept with joy! All true library people are “bothered” when things aren’t arranged correctly. Finally, someone drank my Kool-Aid.

Perils of Pages

Mary Kelly —  January 13, 2015 — 4 Comments

womanscreaming1The director of our very tiny library is on maternity leave and I have been “volunteered” to handle the pages. In the last 2 months I have interviewed, fired and hired about 5 people. Here is what I have learned, the hard way.

  • No one reads a job posting, looks at the requirements and THEN check to see if they have the necessary requirements.
  • Even if you tell someone (multiple times) that paging is often difficult and frustrating job, everyone seems surprised that it is difficult and frustrating job.
  • People think it is a good idea to wear flip-flops (or slippers!) to work-even when they have been specifically told to wear appropriate footwear.
  • One cannot assume that people know the alphabet.
  • Not everyone cares about the library as much as I do.

By the time I was hiring person number 3, I learned a few things.

  • Pre-screen with a phone call before wasting time with interviews.
  • Point out all the job “negatives” : kids/parents that constantly mess up the shelves, snow shoveling, weird patrons, etc. Emphasize that you are never “done” shelving or shelf reading. The books just keep coming.
  • Ask how a potential employee stays organized.
  • State, out loud and in the job description, expectations for dress/shoes, timeliness, and any other deal breakers.
  • Remind every interviewee that not everyone is cut out for library work and that you have no problem letting people go.

Even if you do everything right, you can still be wrong in hiring people. The best you can hope for is to minimize the mistakes. No one really ever shares their real self in a job application or an interview. Think of interviewing as going on a really questionable blind date.

In other news, I really want my boss back handling this stuff. I’m better at the reference desk.

I have mentioned these sites before, but it’s worth repeating. If you aspire or already are a manager/supervisor, you really need to read Ask A Manager and Evil HR Lady regularly!

The Hell of Holidays at Work

Mary Kelly —  December 2, 2014 — 2 Comments

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.