Archives For Organizational Health

photo credit: BRICK 101 Facial animation cycle via photopin (license)

photo credit: BRICK 101 Facial animation cycle via photopin (license)

Patron Bashing – a.k.a. venting, ruminating, letting off steam, gossiping – is a huge problem in the library profession. To me, it’s nothing short of the number one barrier to providing excellent customer service. Front line staff, librarians, managers, directors – we all are do it. And we do it a lot. Every single day.

And I’m not here to shame anyone. I used to do it as much as anyone else, probably more so (my first library job was a security guard, after all). I’m here to understand it, to make an attempt at explaining it.

The first step is admitting we have a problem, individually and collectively. I think that’s the easy part.

The second step is understanding why we do it. This is how we move beyond it. The simple and naive answer would be this: we talk badly about patrons because patrons really are bad, or difficult, or [insert generalization here]. In other words, I’m not making this stuff up! Unfortunately that’s false. I would confidently estimate that 99 percent of our everyday patron interactions are either (a) positive or (b) neutral and unmemorable. That leaves 1% of patrons who are difficult, or break the Rules of Conduct, or give you a hard time, or puke on the floor. As a fun experiment, urge your staff members to make a tally sheet, to measure objectively their patron interactions for a particular day. They will be surprised.

Moreover, I have yet to come across any data to suggest that patrons are different than any other people, demographic or otherwise. If you come across such data, let me know. Patrons are people, just like us – people who walk into the library and use it. Yet we constantly get subliminal messages from library staff, library blogs, books about libraries, and even staff training that patrons are mentally unstable, or homeless, or dirty, or criminal, or rude, or liars, or stupid.

Let’s think deeply about why Patron Bashing exists.

  1. Negativity Bias

    Psychology tells us that our memories are hard-wired to remember negative experiences rather than positive ones. And we sure as heck don’t remember neutral experiences. Negativity bias, an evolutionary gift, has survival value – that’s why we have it. It’s far better to remember that our cousin was killed by a lion than to remember he wasn’t killed by a gazelle. We need to recognize this defect and move beyond it.

  2. Confirmation Bias

    Another well studied defect in human thinking, confirmation bias starts with an assumption, or narrative, or thesis: patrons are crazy, for example. Then, we only select those experiences and observations that conform to that worldview. We stockpile crazy patron stories while ignoring the rest. We do this all the time, in various aspects of our life.

  3. Group Think

    Sociology tells us that, when we get into groups, we tend to go with the flow. We go along with things, agree to things, engage in things we would never dream of doing. Patron Bashing spreads like wildfire because of this. It only takes one or two people to get the ball rolling. Pretty soon, the entire work environment is a patron bashing factory. Nobody wants to be the person to stand up and say: this isn’t right. And I don’t blame them; it’s hard.

  4. Racism and Classism

    Patron Bashing reminds me of racism in two ways. First, they are both based on false stereotypes about a group of people. “Black men are dangerous” is like “Patrons are crazy.” Both are false, and both perpetuate and fuel the oppression. Second, patron bashing reminds me of racism when it frankly is racism. Sometimes patron bashing is nothing more than a disguised way to talk negatively about people of color. Don’t believe me? If you were google the phrase “crazy library patrons,” you would immediately find the blog “Crazy Library Shit,” in which is a young pretty white librarian loathes her job and makes fun of black folks, using coded and harmful words like crackheads, Madea, in da Hood, gang wars, etc. Similar to racism but different, there’s also a socio-economic sort of snobbery going on, too. Privileged librarians with jobs tend to look down on “the public,” which is a kind of classism.

A humble look at our flaws as human beings makes us better people. The psychologist Carl Jung said this was the hardest thing for people to do. But when it comes to patron bashing, I believe this is the first step to ending the practice. I won’t go into alternative strategies here or positive ways to deal with difficult patrons – that’s another article, another Staff Day talk – but I will suggest the best way to stop talking crap about patrons is to stop talking crap about patrons!

All throughout my career I have tried to periodically get up from my desk and take a walk. One of the main reasons is being able to see the library as a patron (see the fabulous post 4 Ways to See Your Library from a Patron’s Perspective), but another is to simply step away from the routine tasks that keep you chained to your desk to gain new insight. Recently I discovered a great article from Rodale’s Organic Life in which the writer Kayla Lewkowicz took walking breaks every day at work for a month. What she discovered was that taking a short walk away from your desk every day made a huge difference in her approach to work.

I Took Walking Breaks At Work Every Day For A Month, And Here’s What Happened

If you are searching for ways to be more productive, healthier and happier I suggest scheduling time to step away and take a walk!

Still Stunned

Kevin King —  November 17, 2016 — 1 Comment

shutterstock_116560858The 2016 Presidential Election was ten days ago and I am still stunned. Immediately afterwards I imposed a media blackout on myself and took a Facebook sabbatical because I did not want to see any headlines. My stomach was messed up and I woke up often in the middle of the night worried about the uncertainty of a man in the White House who did not remotely share any of my values. I felt alone. I wanted to be alone. I am willing to bet that these feelings were not uncommon.

Eventually, I realized that although it was understandable to want to withdraw, pulling people closer was actually healthier and a sign of a good leader. Executive coach Mary Jo Asmus recently wrote on her blog that,

It’s time to pull closer to people.

There is no better time than now to pay more attention to the people around you. Start with your loved ones, including the ones you’ve distanced yourself from during this divisive time. Move outward to friends and neighbors. And of course, be present to those who rely on you at work to lead them through their fears, anger, and disappointment.

Asmus goes on to list four things you can do to help the people feeling stunned and powerless during this post-election time. Leaders can easily adapt what she has written to help their teams cope.

  1. Care for yourself first – During times of crisis or turmoil, great leaders need to become symbols of stability and strength. This means before going to work, take care of yourself first.
  2. Be present and vigilant – Now is not the time to hide in your office. It is important to check in with your team. Asmus writes, “This is not about who won or lost, and not the time for you to express smugness or dismay. It’s the time to notice and just be there for others.”
  3. Listen to understand – Leaders that promote a trust-filled environment understand that there are times when you need to listen to someone even when you do not agree. It is important to be sure you are listening to EVERYONE on your team, no matter who that voted for last week.
  4. Have compassion – It is going to take time for many to move away from sadness and move to action. Likewise, some on your team may even want to enjoy the results of the election a little longer than you would prefer. It is important that you have compassion for both no matter which candidate you supported.

Our world is entering a time that will consistently challenge both our emotions and ability to lead. Great leaders will take on that challenge and find ways to pull their teams closer together to not only provide a sense of safety but to also inspire the team to take on the responsibility of making the library a safe haven.

Sinek’s Circle of Safety

Kevin King —  September 22, 2016 — Leave a comment

I have been thinking a lot lately about the “Circle of Safety” as described by Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t.

I am a huge fan of this book and Sinek’s idea that strong organizations have a strong, but also porous circle of safety. The circles are strong in a way that members in the circle support the teammates on each side of them. If a threat is coming directly at them, they are confident that each flank is covered by someone they trust. In this scenario, an individual can give the threat their full attention. Successful circles of safety are porous because the leaders in this circle know to only let in individuals that will not cause havoc. The circle’s leader is tasked to make sure they keep it strong, porous and welcoming to all who are committed to the library’s mission.

It’s time to check your library’s circle. What can you do to strengthen it and at the same time keep it porous enough to let the right people in?

group of 4 people talking in a circle and talking with text "improve you library communication in 20 minutes with standup meetings"Internal communication has been a sticking point in for every library department I’ve worked in. Even within a team, employees felt like they didn’t know what their colleagues were doing.

Solutions to internal communication usually involve a lot of reading and writing. There are internal newsletters, emailed updates, or project reports. All of this written communication takes a ton of time and energy, with only mixed results.

If internal communication is a problem in your library, I want to share an almost magical solution that you can start doing right away. Even better: this communication fix takes 20 minutes at most.

A few years ago, I learned about a great solution to internal communication problems at a fantastic project management training from Megan Torrance of TorranceLearning. I realized in the training session that internal communication isn’t a problem unique to libraries, and that project management strategies offer a fix for this issue.

Many software development teams start each morning with a quick standup meeting to explain to what they’re working on that day.

Standup meetings are a classic project management technique. The idea is to keep each other informed about new projects, let colleagues know if their help is needed, and share a team sense of achievement. Participants don’t need to literally stand up; the name standup just indicates that you’re not going to be in the circle long enough to get settled in.

The time investment to payoff ratio is stunningly good. Each person is given 60 seconds maximum, so the standup meetings last only as many minutes as there are people.

I wanted to try standup meetings out with my circulation department, but I needed to tweak the format to fit our service-oriented work.

The timing was the first thing to change. Daily meetings seemed way too often. For one thing, we cover a wide variety of schedules to keep the library open, so it’s a rare day that we’re all here at the same time. Instead of daily standup, I settled on weekly standup meetings with my access services team.

The standup meetings have been amazing for our team communication. In just a few minutes, the entire team gets a sense of our biggest accomplishments and the challenges coming up.

I borrowed the format Megan Torrance shared at the training. We gather around our ILL processing table every Friday morning, and in 60 seconds, each team member is asked to share:

  • What you’re working on
  • What you need help with
  • (If you want to share) something that’s going on in your personal life

This basic outline results in a lot of information packed into 60 seconds. For instance, a circulation manager might say:

“I’m working on hiring new student employees to staff the circulation desk. I might need your help with some of new hire training, because I’ll be out on vacation next week if my kid makes the gymnastics semi-finals.”

These two sentences give the team a heads up that new student employees will be joining the department, that they might need to lend a hand for training and orientation, and that their coworker has something exciting going on at home.

As a manager, I really appreciate the communal format of standup meetings. Everyone’s voice is heard and my staff are giving status updates to each other, not just to me. Everyone at the standup hears that reserve requests are flooding in or that interlibrary loan urgently needs extra processing help, and we’re able to create a quick plan to deal with it as a team.

The better understanding of current workloads we get at standup meetings helps us empathize with each other. When you know your coworker is dealing with rewriting loan rules, you’re able to empathize with her, hold off on less pressing requests, and understand if she’s slow to get back to you.

The empathy also extends to personal life. If you know that your colleague’s sister is visiting from out of town, you understand why he’s really motivated to get out the door at 5 o’clock sharp.

Of course, all of these things could be shared in casual conversation. The beauty of the standup meeting is that it sets aside a small amount of time to ensure updates are shared, and that information is shared equally with everyone at the same time. Staff who felt out of the loop before are assured a place in the circle.

I also believe that standup meetings help us get more done. Saying out loud what you plan to accomplish instantly creates a feeling of accountability, so we get to work right away.

How does your library department keep up to date with each other?

Standup up meetings are the best strategy I’ve found for my group. They’re quick, effective, and help us feel connected. If your library department could use an internal communication boost, invest 20 minutes to try out a standup meeting.