Contemporary Art and What It Can Tell Us About Our Libraries

One of my favorite YouTube shows is The Art Assignment. The general premise of the show is this: Sarah Urist Green (wife of YA author John Green) interviews artists from around the U.S., and the artist gives the viewers an assignment to complete at home. Viewers than complete the assignments and share them on social media with #theartassignment. Assignments have ranged from finger knitting a rug to leaving a message with what you would like to tell the one who got away.

The one that I want to share with you today is Sorted Books. I would tell you what it’s all about, but instead I’ll let Nina Katchadourian do it for me:

Didn’t watch it? Summary: get to know someone through their books.

Specific instructions for you playing at home (stolen from the video):

  1. Choose a person you know or would like to know better
  2. Take a look at/through their library
  3. Make 3 stacks of books to develop a portrait of the person
  4. Upload it to your social media platform of choice using #theartassignment
  5. Fame and glory

Of course, the people that I am most interested in are my patrons. But, since the library is FULL of books, I chose to narrow my focus: I went through the return bins at my library and came up with these three diverse stacks.

Book Stack 1

A harrowing tale of betrayal in a relationship

Book Stack 2

A lazy day with a knowledge.

Book Stack 3

A tale of redemption.

Why am I submitting this to a library leadership blog? It’s simple: when we use a different approach to think about our community and our collections, we have a chance for better collection development and for innovation. Most often, the employees who see our recently returned collections are pages or Circulation clerks, but while they’re thinking about where all of those DVDs go on the shelves (and why management is messing with their organizational system just to take pictures of stacks of items), librarians must think about what those items say about our collections, our patrons, and our libraries.

Also, it’s fun. I think you should try it.

The Hell of Holidays at Work

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.

Library Rangers Unite!

LogoPatchOh, the boys at Unshelved are having fun again. Surely you know about their irreverent library humor in their online and print Unshelved comic strip? If not, catch up! But Gene and Bill have a new Kickstarter project that savvy library leaders are going to want to use to reward their hard working staff members. Yes, folks, they are developing Library Rangers badge reward system. Be Informed! Here’s a partial description in their own words:

Library Ranger is anyone who loves libraries and helps support their mission, from librarians, pages, and clerks to teachers, students, and patrons. And now there’s a fun way to celebrate the diverse skills that these good people exhibit on a daily basis: high-quality embroidered badges, designed by Bill & Gene, the Unshelved guys.

Wearing a Library Ranger badge tells the world that you are dedicated to executing your responsibilities, that you have completed your training with honors, that you performed service above and beyond the call of duty, or that you somehow managed to endure a truly epic level of nonsense. They are perfect for dazzling your friends, impressing your coworkers, or starting a conversation at a library conference. Give them to your employees, board members, supporters, volunteers, students, or yourself!

Surely you or someone you envied had a sash or vest full of little cloth embroidered badges for your skills in the wilderness. Now we can celebrate all of our awesome library talents while having fun.  The guys have already reached their initial fundraising goal of $7,000 and have passed a few other stretch goals but there’s still time to make this project more wonderful with additional pledges before October 2, 2013. More donations mean more badges and don’t you want a full sash? Head over to their Kickstarter page to see the sample badges, read more about the project and how you can use it to inspire and reward the people who help make your library extraordinary!


olivia-newton-john-physical 2

Let’s Get Physical

Ever have a day when you’re looking at your to-do list wondering where to start? Or you’ve been puzzling over the same wording of a policy for a week? Walk away from your desk and do something physical.

I’m not necessarily talking about donning your leotard and jazzercizing, here, though that might be an option. I’m talking about doing a little manual labor around your library. When I’m feeling bogged down, I get up and process a new library item, or pull off old community bulletin board postings. Maybe there’s a small shifting project that will take five minutes, or some new books to be put on display; go for it! You’ll be surprised how mind-clearing it is to start and finish a small project in the space of a few minutes.


Finding Confidence

While I can’t speak for other managers, I know that I have days where I have the following thoughts:

  • Huh. Never run across that one.Sound-of-music2
  • I have no idea what I’m doing.
  • Wow, they really let me be in charge.
  • Am I even grown-up enough to do this?
  • Don’t Panic. If you panic, others will panic.

I suppose I could give some sage advice on how I don’t let these thoughts get to me but mostly, I just think of this:

So if you happen to be visiting my library and you see me execute a random jazz square and twirl, you now know that it’s not just out of the pure joy of being a librarian.


Let Them Sing

Leading a meeting is tough.  It is even tougher when the meeting topic is an important issue that can potentialy change the organization.  The longer the discussion, the more mentally drained the participants become and the chance of breaking out into song increases.  A classic pop song, joke or snarky comment can elicit some much needed fun.  Good leaders recognize the need for levity and are not quick to squash it.  By sidestepping the formalities of a meeting and encouraging small outbursts of joy, a leader will establish another level of trust that will usually encourage more participation when you reel them back in.

Recently the New Zealand parliament considered the issue of gay marriage in their country.  After the vote was announced that favored a new definition of marriage that included LGBT individuals, the galley broke out into song.  The leader of parliament could have easily banged his gavel and demanded the room cleared, but I would like to think that he recognized the need for song.  He could have invoked all levels of Roberts Rules of Order, but instead elected to let the happiness lift the spirits of all in the room.  The issue was hotly debated and the work was tough on many levels, but if you watch the video above closely some of the politicians in the room were clearly on the losing side but could not help but enjoy the music.

Next time a meeting feels inflated with tension and hard feelings, I challenge you to break out into song.  Let the music push out the weariness and let in a little light.  I encourage you to share the perfect song for such an occasion in the comments below.  Maybe we will make a mix tape.


You Gotta Have Faith – Letting Go Occasionally

Photographers talk about the “golden hour,” that special time of the day when the light is perfect for taking beautiful pictures. In the library, there’s a time like that every day, too. I like to call it “wacky hour”. It’s that time – around 3 or 4pm – when everyone kinda loses focus and gets goofy. This used to be disconcerting to me. “Why can’t I focus?” or “Man, I just wasted 30 minutes recapping last night’s episode of ‘New Girl!'” Now, I embrace it…with a dance party! A favorite around my library is George Michael’s “Faith”. Clocking in at less than 4 minutes, it’s a perfect break that let’s people let loose some of that goofy energy, laugh and then refocus. Give it a shot the next time you’re feeling your and your co-workers’ productivity waning. Limit it to one song and let different people play DJ for variety.