Archives For planning

Do you want to be a good supervisor?

I do, so I had to read Baharak Yousefi’s amazing list of good library boss practices on Letters to a Young Librarian. I was pumping my fist by the middle of the first paragraph:

When I come across smart, awesome, politically progressive librarians (which happens with delightful frequency), I try to convince them to consider management. This is not because I think management is the only path forward for these wonderful humans, but because I want more smart, awesome, and politically progressive folks at those tables.

Darn right! If you care about how libraries are developing, taking on a formal leadership role is the easiest way to influence change in the future.

The point from this list that has stuck with me over the past few days is #5:

Make absolutely sure that people who work for you have the resources to do their work. If resources are scarce, then change their work. Do less with less and more with more.

In a time of flat budgets, “Do less with less” might become my mantra. It’s so easy for library staff to get overwhelmed because we naturally want to do all the things for all the users. The reality is that we’re limited in resources, including employee work time. A good boss needs to understand the capacity of their team and make sure the workload is humanly achievable. If we can’t fulfill every service without overworking our staff, it’s time to hire more people or gracefully sunset something.

The rest of Baharak’s list is equally relevant to any library boss. If you’re not already regularly reading Letters to a Young Librarian, it’s a great resource to add to your regular rotation. Jessica Olin curates submissions from all types of librarians about career lessons they learned after library school.


Photo of neatly arranged bookshelves

By Maarten van den Heuvel via Unsplash

Plateaued Ambition

Eva —  July 6, 2015 — 4 Comments

plateau-in-arizona-desert“I could never be the kind of person that works 50, 60 hours per week. I have a family and a life. Oops, sorry, Eva, I didn’t mean you.”

I’ve heard some variation of this comment throughout my adult life: When I worked retail and became a Supervisor at 18; when I worked in publishing and became an Editor at 24; when I was hired at age 30 as a manager in a library system; and when I became a library director at 35. I have always been ambitious. I have always been an achiever. I always have a five-year plan.

I get that I am ambitious in ways that some others are not. I’m not an anomaly, and I certainly don’t think I’m special. I understand that everyone’s ambitions are specific to them–homebrewing or cooking or camping or fiber arts or comics conventions. I don’t judge them for what they choose to focus on, and I don’t think they judge me (too much) for focus on my career. People make choices, after all. But to be as focused and ambitious as I am, to work as much as I do, in the public library industry does make me different from most; I think all Library Leaders share this.

When I was interviewed by my library board they asked me where I saw the next stage of my career. I told them that I considered this to be a terminal position; my five-year goal to that point was to be the director of my hometown library, and that had been my focus. Now that I’ve been in my job for a number of years, I find that I’m being asked more and more often what my next position will be. The thinking is that I’ve led the library through a recession, we’ve won a national award, the library has a solid foundation of policy and governance and finances, so of course I must be looking for The Next Thing.

A former coworker, a very bright and talented and accomplished person, taught me about “plateauing.” She had achieved all she planned to in her career and made the conscious decision to plateau–to enjoy her current position and the challenges it offered, and to shift the ratio of work and family in her life. “I don’t want to do <that thing>. I’ve plateaued,” she’d say, leaving whatever the “cool thing” was to one of her more ambitious colleagues. Not that she is afraid of change, or has become an old fuddy-duddy, or retired-in-place; she continues to work hard, work smart, and dazzle in her job. She simply shifted her priorities a bit.

She’s my current touchstone. I’m working on plateauing my ambition, of savoring the place where I am now, rather than looking over at the neighbor’s yard and comparing grass. I’m struggling, I have to admit; I’m working on delegating more, letting people’s ideas percolate up to me rather than dictating them down. But I’m working on it, and working through it. Fundamentally, I am an ambitious person, so it will be interesting how this all plays out for me, if this is a permanent state or if I’m just taking a breather.

For the first time in my adult life, I have no five-year plan. My goal is to do my best to make this the finest public library possible, period. There is no Next Thing.

I know we have readers in various stages of their lives and careers–what do you think?


Eva —  April 14, 2015 — 1 Comment

The Curse of Competence affects us all.

Each of us, I’m sure, can think of at least one person–yourself, someone you live with, work with, or know who is the “go-to” for problems major and minor.

curse of competenceHow do you know if you have the Curse of Competence?

  • When a great idea comes up and everyone instinctively turns to you, expecting you to volunteer. And then you do.
  • When you see someone or some group struggling and you help, which means you end up doing most, if not all, of their work.
  • When you are part of a group and slowly realize that you’ve taken on all of the major tasks and milestones, because otherwise they might not get done.
  • When your boss gives you project after report after presentation without seeming to realize that none of them are actually your job or even your department, but you do them because you want to be a team player.
  • When you are the Dear Abby of the library and everyone asks you for your advice and guidance.
  • When your boss puts you on long-established teams with the directive to get it done; to clean it up; to light a fire under them; or otherwise produce the deliverable that the team hasn’t produced.
  • When you find yourself taking back work you’ve assigned to a person or a group because “It’s just easier for me to do it” rather than explain, train, or go through multiple back-and-forth drafts.

While it’s awesome to be needed and reliable and depended upon, the curse of being competent is the toll that it can take on you. Being responsible without having any authority is exhausting. Batting clean-up is a heavy burden. Operating in crisis mode all the time is stressful. And in those times when you have a moment to actually lift your head up and take breath, you’ll find yourself wondering what your job actually is–because it’s not all of these other jobs, that’s for sure.

Mitigating the curse of competence can be done; it takes time and persistence in the short-term, but it has a long-term payoff.

First, really think about whether your help is what’s being asked for. Are you jumping in to save people and projects because you want the glory? Are you sure they want you to take over? Check yourself; ask a trusted colleague for feedback. Look at the faces that other people are making while you’re doling out advice and taking on their work and make sure that’s what they really want. Are you unintentionally bulldozing or overwhelming people? Think about whether others are really “doing it wrong” or if they’re just “doing it differently.” One of my most difficult management transitions was accepting that there are billions of ways to accomplish something, and to allow my staff to use their own methods as long as they operate within our policies and parameters.

If you determine that you do have the curse of competence, talk to your boss about priorities. Take your long list and ask for a meeting where you go through and determine which priorities are essential to your job and performance. Talk about what can be reassigned to others–priorities that rightly belong to another person or another department. Talk, too, about what’s not a priority and can fall off the list all together. Note: This is not about you, the competent person, saying that you are incompetent. This is about you as a fully-formed adult acknowledging that there are only so many hours in a day and asking your boss to help you and the library by focusing on mutually agreed-upon priorities. And then when your boss comes to you with the next big project or idea, say, “That sounds great. I will have to stop doing this project or that project in order to accomplish this new project. Which priority should we bump?”

Next, talk to your colleagues about your priorities. Make sure your fellow managers understand that you and your boss agree that you must focus on these priorities, and ask them to help you by not referring their people or projects to you or your department unless it’s one of the identified priorities. And then when your colleague asks you to lend a hand with their project or department, have the conversation with them about how that fits in with your established priorities. If it doesn’t, that’s that. If it does, you can then talk about whether you are the person who should take this on or if someone else needs the opportunity or has the skills.

Third, talk to your staff. Make sure that they understand and are comfortable with their own autonomy. Train them to work through problems on their own before coming to you–in many cases, they are perfectly capable of working out a solution or resolving a situation within established guidelines without you. Demonstrate and reinforce your confidence in them, and their confidence will grow, too. When I was a frontline manager, one thing I always tried to do in one-on-one meetings was ask my employees what they’d like to be involved in at the library. Sometimes I could make it happen, sometimes I couldn’t, but asking the question led to good conversations about their job and career growth, and where their personal interests intersect with that. Even if I didn’t have anything for them to work on right then, I’d tuck their interests in the back of my mind and be on the lookout for ways to engage them with a project (which I then didn’t have to do myself!).

The hardest part is to learn to let go. Take baby steps. Start by giving a small project to someone with a deadline and the desired outcome (“Take this data, review it, and present me with two to four recommendations for how we can do better by the end of the month”) and encourage them to come to you with questions. And then let them do it their way. Make the time to train and cross-train your staff. When one of them comes to you with a problem, talk them through it–what does our policy say? Has a similar situation come up with you before and how did you handle it then? What does your gut tell you is the right answer?–and guide them through the process of getting to the answer themselves. This takes time and effort in the moment, but in the long run they’ll be empowered and confident, and you will be less stressed.

Lastly, recognize that the curse of competence is always there. It ebbs and flows but never really goes away. I continue to struggle with it every day, and so will you. But we can learn to manage it better.

Renovation Realities

Eva —  April 2, 2014 — Leave a comment

We just finished a small renovation project at my library. The library is about 53,000 square feet, and the renovation affected about 8,000 square feet, but it was an important area–right in front of the entry, so it affected everything. (Click on over to our flickr to see the befores and afters.)

New seating, new flooring.

New seating, new flooring.

The whole project started with flooring; the main entry is a high-traffic area and the carpet was very worn. As part of our strategic plan we were examining the use of space in the library, and decided to put together a group of employees to evaluate the way our residents interact in that main space, do some research, conduct some site visits, and brainstorm ideas on what we could change to improve our service. They then met with the designers, Library Design Associates, who took their ideas and desires and wishes and came up with a great plan for a consolidated service desk area to replace the three separate service points we had before. The end result is beautiful, I think, and that’s due almost entirely to the work and contributions of the people on the committees.

Before any demolition or construction began, we did a lot of planning. We knew we wanted to do the work soon after the new year, and worked backwards from there to come up with a timeline for decision-making and interim deadlines. We had some delays when our electrician had to back out of the project just before work was to begin, and of course we had the “usual” construction delays (stuff didn’t come when it was supposed to, stuff broke, snow storms), but because we built in some cushion, we remained largely on schedule.

This was my first big construction project here, and I am so proud of my staff and my patrons. We had to temporarily move an entrance, move checkin operations, and close the children’s library for two weeks, but everyone remained excited and in good spirits. It was great to see everyone pull together, and to see every day how they continue to work together as one library team.

We have just a few punch list items, including signage–we are heavily debating verbiage and wording right now!–but I think the renovation looks fantastic thanks to everyone’s planning and hard work. We plan to replace the rest of the flooring in the library over the next several years, using donations and money that we’ve been setting aside for just this purpose, so stay tuned!

photo credit: zen via photopin cc

photo credit: zen via photopin cc

Sprint triathlons are shorter than the Olympic race and seem like a blink of an eye in comparison to an Ironman event.  Upgrades are a sprint triathlon of sorts, you don’t need to plan and train as long as a new Integrated Library System (ILS) implementation, but you do need to be prepared. As there are three legs to a triathlon: swim, bike and run, there are three phases to an ILS upgrade: planning, testing and upgrade.   There is a bonus fourth phase if all went well – euphoria.

As a project manager for an ILS upgrade, this is not the time to be seen flailing.  You need to be strong with a clear message and plan; communicate the reason for the upgrade.  Is your library a beta tester?  Will the upgrade eliminate a problem or two?  Is there a new feature that you are excited to implement? Anytime there is an inevitable or upcoming change, you can expect a little  dissent and fear from your colleagues, patrons or funders.   Look at your annual library use statistics and find a time when the library has lower door counts and circulation.  You can’t predict blizzards and other natural disasters, but holidays, baseball season and other community events do effect your library.  Use data from your ILS , not your intuition and decide the best day and time to upgrade.  Once a date is set add to the project calendar multiple training dates and times for staff.  If your library is fortunate enough to have a training server to load and test the new software before “Go Live” let staff know when the software is going to be available to them.  Communicate any changes to the plan.

This phase in not only a test of your patience, but also your workflow, homegrown scripts and customizations. If you don’t already have a dedicated testing server then take advantage of any training that the ILS vendor provides.  If the upgrade has significant changes to workflow give all staff the opportunity and compensation to attend training sessions. If you do have a training server, issues that are revealed and dealt with before the go live date minimize frantic phone calls on day one. If your ILS has an offline mode, have planned fire drills practicing the procedures of circulation and patron  registration without the luxury of confirmation and verification, just in case the upgrade takes longer than expected. The  last thing you want to do is be blindsided or ill-prepared to handle everyday library business.  Keep track of questions that arise during this phase.  You might need to log these with the ILS support staff or  find “workarounds” to obstacles in workflow before the upgrade.

The big day has arrived, the upgrade went as planned and the phones are quiet. Unrealistic? No. If you planned,  tested and trained in the weeks leading up to this moment then show stoppers,obstacles and workflow kinks have already been worked  out.  Be relieved when the first complaint of the day is “How come my notices print in landscape instead of portrait?  It is wasting paper.”  Euphoria!