Archives For Serving Community

Displays, man. I love em’. I just came back from Portland, where I drank IPAs and visited Powell’s City of Books, the largest Independent bookstore in America. My takeaway from Powell’s was not how many books they have, but how many displays they have. They have a ton. Not only in the main areas, but even in the back areas. Almost every large bookshelf had physical displays on the endcaps, whether it be “featured” of “staff picks” or whatever. I would have appreciated them more if my 3-year-old son wasn’t having a fit, but that’s another story.

Working on the Reference Desk, we’ve all gotten this phone call: “I heard this book on NPR…forgot the title…it was about housing in America…” Now I’ve talked about my book display philosophy elsewhere, but I had a sneaking suspicion that a permanent NPR book display would do very well at my library. So, although these displays are a lot of work on the front end –  build the table, create the location, find the books, add the stickers – I gave it a try.

NPR book display

I was right.

Four months ago, I placed 48 books on the display and began tracking them via CollectionHQ “Experimental Placement”. Four months later, those 48 books have generated 323 circulations (including renewals), which is as successful as any display we’ve ever done. But that number – 323 circs – is only the tip of the iceberg. I’ve added several books since then, feeding it like a bonfire really. Today, although the physical display only holds about 50 books at a time, there are currently 265 NPR books in our system, 210 of which are checked out, generating circs and renewals as we speak. That means 79% of that collection is checked out, which probably means the turnover rate (circ/books) is insane (well over 6, according to the experiment). As a comparison, our other highest performing collection is the “New Books” section, which has 50% checked out at any given time. Urban Fiction and Graphic Novels are around 25%.

People love popular displays, but they also love carefully curated and interesting displays. People want recommendations from people they trust. Librarians, for example. That’s why “Staff Picks” are a slam dunk and that’s why our Library Reads display is popular. NPR is essentially the same concept – expert picks from author interviews that make the books come to life. Indeed, my personal reading list has expanded!

Logistical FAQs
What does the catalog say for these books? “On NPR Display”. In our ILS, we give them a special location, so everyone knows where they are – especially for patrons. It’s work, but I think it’s worth it.

How do shelvers know where to put them? The ILS says “DISPLAYNPR,” but we also put a small sticker on the spine. The sticker tells the shelver what display it goes on. There are alternative ways to do that.

How do you get the list of NPR books? RSS feed that goes into my Outlook mail every day, into a special folder actually. See NPR’s books site. Tracking the books down is a bit of work, no doubt. Sometimes they are in Cataloging, On Order, checked out, or in the stacks. Luckily, I can do most of this remotely, from my desk.

What happens when the display gets too full? This happens, but not as frequently as you might think.



photo of self-service book return with text: "sustaining human connections in the age of self-service"I was driving home from work the other night, thinking about the new printing system that is going to be installed soon at our branches and all the new services it will offer. It’s very exciting. It will allow our patrons to pay for printing in a much easier way than our current system and they can pay their fines at a kiosk. It is without a doubt the right thing to have to provide better customer service. But as I started to think about how many fewer patrons will need to come to the service desk, I got a little sad.

Let me just get this out of the way: I am not against technology. I have a smart phone, and I like computers. I also like making things easier for library patrons and staff. While I’m all for automation, I want us as a profession and as individuals working in libraries to stop and think for just one moment.

Being a human can be lonely. I am new in my community and during my first trip to my local public library (not the one at which I work) I felt sad that I didn’t get to interact with any of the employees. I had put holds on my books, so I grabbed them from the hold shelf, used the automatic checkout, and left. That was a sad, lonely day for me and I could have used a moment of human connection, a kind word and a smile. Certainly there are other days when I would have been glad for the automation, when I would have been in a hurry and waiting in a line or waiting for a staff member to complete a task would have been irksome. But sometimes, you just want someone to be a little nice to you.

cartoon robot librarian holding a book

Robots aren’t as good at friendly smiles

If you work in a library, I don’t have to tell you that many of our patrons are not lucky enough to have good support systems, resources to turn to in times of need, or even lucky enough to have their health. If a patron comes to the desk to return a book that could have gone in the book drop, or to give you a dollar bill they could have put in a machine to pay a fine, or to ask for help with a printer even if there is a sign clearly explaining the instructions, stop for a moment before you get irritated that they didn’t use the automation you provided. Maybe what that person needs, even if they don’t know they need it, is a kind smile and a patient person willing to help.

The holidays are upon us and this can be a particularly harried, stressful, and lonely time for people. So by all means, provide the express checkouts and the self-serve kiosks! Get those busy people on their way! But think twice before you send someone who has come to the desk to one of the machines. Machines can take money and even check in books, but they can’t tell someone to have a nice day with kind eyes and a genuine voice. That’s a job for a human being.

Woman in full nursing scrubs including eye protection, face mask, and hairnet

Creative Commons LicenseJosé Eugenio Gómez Rodríguez via Wikimedia Commons

Helping your staff help other people on a shoestring budget in a time crunch – sound familiar? Hospitals and libraries have more in common than you might expect. Nurses also serve community, providing assistance to as many people as possible – and nursing managers have the same challenges and opportunities as library managers.

We’re looking to the health care industry to see what library managers can learn from nursing leadership.

Leaders Set Workplace Culture

A positive workplace makes a huge difference in whether people like working at your library. Lynne Perry Wooten and Patricia Crane studied positive work culture in health care, with a stimulating call to leaders:

. . . nursing leaders should take on the responsibility of culture gatekeeper. This requires nursing leaders to be accessible and visible to their staff. In addition to visibility, an effective culture gatekeeper exemplifies the vision and values of the organization since they are role models for the other members. In health care organizations, this suggests that nursing leaders embrace a humanistic philosophy of caring that permeates to health care providers and ultimately manifests in both patient services and employee relationships.

As in health care, librarianship has strong implicit values. We all assume our library organization values access to information and community building. As leaders, we should be making that unspoken belief an explicit value.

Change Impacts the Front Line

Library services are perpetually in a state of transformation – and as it turns out, so are health services. For nurses as well as circulation staff, change hits the front line first. This puts middle managers in the role of facilitating change while managing the people impacted by that change. Two nursing managers, Lynne Hancock and Diane Hanley describe how a change might roll out in a hospital:

Another example of staff driven change is the implementation of bar code scanning for medication safety. Nurses know the work flow, so it should be the nurses who pilot and test the system. The organizational leaders need to remove the barriers and provide the resources to get the work done.

That resonates with the library experience, where a change in library software might be lead by administration or IT, but front line staff are the everyday power users. Hancock and Hanley champion the nurses who find the ability to lead from the middle.

Coaching is Key

We already know library leadership means coaching, and it’s true of nursing leadership as well. Rose O. Sherman, who blogs on nursing leadership at Emerging RN Leader, offers coaching tips for nursing managers. These strategies work as well for library managers and include connecting with your staff as people, offering professional development, and verbalizing the impact of work:

Leaders as coaches show that they value employees. Nurses want to know that their work matters and that they are contributing to the organization’s success in a meaningful way. This has to be verbalized.

Like nurses, people work in libraries because they care about the mission. Let them know how their work contributes to the mission. Even a task removed from direct patron service (such as tattle taping books) can be connected to the mission (protecting collections for use by all).

Leadership is More than Management

In libraries, we see the difference between leadership and management. Claudia Schmalenberg and Marlene Kramer studied nurse perceptions of leadership and management behaviors for seven years.They found that management activities (such as scheduling shifts) were much less valued by nurses than leadership activities (like creating teams and resolving conflicts with doctors). Kramer and Schmalenberg observed:

With the growing complexity of the nurse manager’s role, we cannot just keep adding more role behaviors. At some point, something has to be taken away. “Managing the unit” competencies—scheduling, patient assignments, routine employee paperwork—can be delegated to others. Leadership behaviors such as walking the talk, the instilling of values, are much more difficult to give away even if it would not be a good idea to do so.

It is a management challenge to delegate activities that are undoubtedly important (like creating the reference desk schedule) – but just like nursing managers, we as library managers can choose leadership over management.

Nurses in the Library

We’re convinced: nurses and librarians share a lot of workplace culture. In fact, Pima County Library (Arizona) recognized public health as such a strong strong community need, they embedded nurses in the library. However, you don’t need to colocate health services within your library to benefit from the wisdom of nursing managers. Let’s take a page from this helping profession, and choose positive leadership.

Photo of the author with her sisters from the convent

Sr. Laura, myself, Sr. Tina (back), Sr. Mary, Sr. Rachel, and Sr. Stacy (front) who attended my going away party at the library and met all of my coworkers

A few months ago I wrote a note to my library contacts that went something like this: “Before word went entirely public, I wanted to pass along a message that I am leaving my position as the Associate Director at the library. While leaving a job is not unusual, the reason that I am leaving is. God willing, in August, I will be entering a Catholic religious order (The Servants of God’s Love).”

Most people responded with, “Congratulations?” To which I replied, “Thank you. Yes, that is the right answer.” One editor of this dear blog, though, responded with, “WOW! This sounds great!… Any chance you could write one more blog post about this decision?”

So, here I am, blogging one last time for Library Lost and Found on my last day of work. You see, I contemplated many options for topics:

  • Becoming a Nun: A How-To Guide – That seemed kind of insulting to this library blog and kind of misleading because I’m hoping to become a Sister (not a nun).
  • Decision Making 101: How To Make Big Life Decisions – This idea makes me laugh. For me, mostly, this decision took a deep love of the person of Christ Jesus and the Trinity, a group of amazing women who magnify my prayers and still get over-competitive playing Euchre, and a foolhardy nature that people keep mistaking for “courage”.
  • Beware: There Are Conservatives Among You: I know. It’s a scary thought. In spite of the stereotypes, I have found that the most outspoken librarians tend to be fairly…loose with words. Sometimes they forget that there are librarians that live more conservative lives amongst you. So, maybe edit your tweets before you post them. #notintobookburning #notintoexcessiveswearing

Instead, I wanted to highlight what I really saw about my life as a librarian as I walked through this decision: At its heart, librarianship is service.

What librarians do is not a job: It is an act of love performed for our patrons. It is a moment of kind grace given to a stranger or a friend. It is a moment of hope in a world that often seems hopeless.

I became a librarian because I loved the chase. I worked in ILL in college, and I loved finding ridiculous books in languages that I couldn’t speak (let alone write). That search for hard-to-find information is what motivated me to go to information school. It was a fine motivation. But once I started working as a librarian with the public, I realized that librarianship could be so much more. I interned for a small resource center attached to the U of M Depression Center. I wanted to work on the catalog, but I spent some of my time in the resource center, sometimes with patients, but mostly with friends and family of patients. They’d come to wait during the appointment, and mostly they wanted someone to talk to. I learned how to start every sentence with, “I’m not a mental health professional…” and end every conversation with, “…let me give you a pamphlet.” I don’t think that I ever said anything helpful, but I was there. In a moment of panic and fear, they needed an ear, and I was wearing silver hoops. It was an act of service.

Photo of Kathryn Bergeron holding a microphone at a library event with the character Madeline

Kathryn (right) at a library event

Then I started as an Adult Services Librarian in a public library. While I did a lot of electronic and systems work, I loved working with the public. The older lady who read every thriller book that came out and still, without fail, ran out of books each week. The middle school girls who liked to come and sit at the desk and talk about their days while looking up ridiculous saint names (see St. Ulfrid). The widow who came and interloaned the best mormon fiction books you’ve ever read. The group who gave up their Thursday nights for three months to learn about the Civil Rights movement. No matter how many books I ordered or computers I fixed, those people are what made me excited to come into work in the morning. It was an act of friendship.

When I became Associate Director, it was hard. I didn’t have management ambitions, but I wanted to try. Unfortunately, that meant giving up most of my programming and all of my time on the reference desk. I was lost. I didn’t know what to do. I no longer had the thing that made me most excited to show up to work in the morning.

Then we hired a few new managers. Training them and helping them feel confident about their new jobs. Making small changes to our ILS to ease a little bit of the load from my Circulation staff. Bringing a new perspective to a policy debate. These became my new acts of service. I was no longer directly serving my patrons, but I was helping to make the library better for them. And I was directly serving my staff, particularly my managers. When they needed advice, they got advice. When they needed an ear, I gave them an ear. When they needed a kick in the pants, they got a figurative kick in the pants. Watching them grow and develop is probably one of the things about which I am most proud in my time as a librarian. It was an act of love.

When I look back on my 6.5 years as a certified librarian, I don’t think about the books that I ordered or the meetings that I went to; I look back on the people that I served and that I served with. Any impact that I might have had on them, they had 100x the impact on me. Their patience, their kindness, and their willingness to give me a kick in the pants when I needed it helped me to grow and mature into the (still kind of immature) person that I am today. I could not be here, taking this step in my life, about which I am bananas excited, without all that they did for me.

Librarianship for me, has been an act of service and a labor of love. But, somehow, I feel like I received far more than I ever gave, and I have unending gratitude for those who served me so well.

INT_dresscode_orig20120816-17262-19db99qCan you be too professional at work?

A friend of mine texted me the other day to ask if you could ever be “too professional” at work. I wrote her back that I thought the short answer was no. But here’s the long answer:

The reason my short answer was no is largely because I believe acting professional means acting appropriately for your work and at your workplace. The only conceivable objection I can come up with to being “too professional” at work is that you might act stuffy, alienate customers or coworkers, or act overly formal for your job. But my argument is that those problems come not from being too professional, but from not acting professionally, not acting appropriately for your job. Each job and each workplace, even within the same field, will demand a specific level of formality of behavior. Let’s take attire for example: I’ve worked in libraries where jeans were appropriate attire and I’ve worked in libraries that were strictly business casual. There are probably libraries that require more or less formal attire because of the job description of their employees and certainly outside of the library world you want to dress appropriately for your work. A suit would be as out of place in a mechanic shop as coveralls would be in the boardroom (remind me to tell you sometime of how I used to dream of wearing coveralls as a library page. I still think this is a great idea).

Much like attire, in some workplaces it might be appropriate to use very formal language and modes of address with your customers, coworkers, and supervisors, while in other places it might be appropriate to be less formal. As with attire, you want to act appropriately for your workplace because that is the professional thing to do. If you are overly formal with patrons at a small, rural library branch that feels more like the community’s living room, you are judging the situation as wrongly as if you act too informal in a library where patron’s are used to being treated with more formality.

What do you think? Does this definition of professionalism match yours? Do you think it’s possible to be too professional?