Let It Roll

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

A co-worker asked me the other day how I manage to let things not bother me, or shake things off easily when I am bothered. It’s true, I have a fairly easy-going personality and it takes quite a lot to really get me worked up – but this post is not about me or about personality types. It’s about the answer to the question: How can we let things roll off our back more easily? At the time I told the co-worker that I guess it’s just the way I’m made and I don’t know why or how I am this way; I just am. I think there is a better answer, though.

  • Acknowledgement. It’s not about not being bothered. Of coursewe should be bothered when we are stressed out, insulted, or harmed in any physical, mental, or emotional way. The trick (for me, anyway) is to not let that negativity fester. Acknowledge it, deal with it, and move on.
  • Pick your battles. You have to decide how best to acknowledge the negativity. Sometimes it requires confrontation and sometimes that confrontation is more painful than the original stressor. What is it worth to you? Do you think that the person or situation that caused you stress will be “fixed” by the confrontation? If so, confront. If not, let it go. You can’t fix everyone and everything that is negative in this world. You can, however, choose which battles to take on and put your energy into those things, rather than feel negative about everyone and everything all the time.
  • Stay in control. If someone insults me, I have two choices. One option is to fight back and ramp up the negativity one more notch. Was I still insulted? Yes. Do I feel better after fighting back? No, it works me up even more. Option two is to shake my head and ignore it, hoping that the person who insulted me got what they needed out of the interaction. Do they feel better? I doubt it, but apparently they felt the need to act out, so I hope it did something for them! Do I feel better? No. I’m still insulted. BUT I DON’T FEEL WORSE.  I am in control of how I allow negativity to affect me. I am in control of my actions. I can’t control others, and honestly, the energy it would take to fight back is energy I could save for more positive interactions. So I usually choose to ignore it and move on.
  • Perspective. Compare the situation to other negativity in this world. Are there people in worse situations than you? I don’t mean you should compare your crazy boss to starving children, either. The starving children always win the game of “who has it worse.” I mean that you should compare it to a similar situation. Is your crazy boss better or worse than not having a job? Is s/he worse than your friends’ crazy bosses? Can you live with your situation when you put it into perspective of the rest of your workplace? Perspective also applies to the rest of your day, going back to picking your battles and staying in control. Put the situation into perspective of the rest of your day. If you are honest, many times you will realize that if this is as bad as it gets, it’s still going to be a pretty good day. Maybe I was late for work, stubbed my toe, and forgot my lunch, but you know what? My family is healthy, my car started, my co-workers are fantastic, and a patron appreciated my help.

Life is good.

New Year, New Resolutions


Of course, I have logged many attempts for self-improvement for a new year resolution and have failed more often than succeeded. My standard resolutions are maintain an organized work space, swear less, eat healthier, and quit drinking pop (or at least cut down). Unfortunately, I am usually swilling diet coke and eating pizza, while cussing at my pathetic “filing” system by late January. My intentions are pure. Really.

This year, I am going to give myself some specific resolutions that also might be worth considering as a real job goal. I have a couple of projects that are worth considering and I urge you to take a look at your own job and see if there is something you can’t get done that goes above the day to day stuff.

Develop Checklists

Organizational stuff is difficult for me. When I moved to youth services a few years ago, I was woefuly unprepared for all the tiny details I have to get done. Now that I kind of “get it”, I am really going to make sure I have all my bases covered and create some checklists for my job. I know what to do, I just need to remember to actually do it and document that I did it. I am embarrassed to tell you how many times I have reinvented the wheel. (I read the Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande and found that this simple quality control tool can work for librarians as well.)

The Fiery Crash Scenario

Fiery crash scenarios are my way of considering procedures under the assumption of “what if this person dies in a fiery crash?’ How will I keep the library functioning? Most libraries have emergency procedures and internal cross training, but what I am talking about is more in depth and specific to your job. The fiery crash scenario involves preparing (and updating!) all those things that must be done with your job. As a youth librarian, I have outlines of my story time, all the necessary “extras” ready to go. I would like to expand that to include processes/procedures on collection management, billings and the calendar. I think this dovetails with my checklist goal. In my small library there are only a handful of us, we need to be able to say to our co-workers, here is a notebook full of information about my job. After I had a near brush with a fiery crash, I started thinking about this.

Tech Skill Upgrade

I have yapped on and on that librarians need to stay current with professional development. This year, give yourself a specific goal. Mine this year is to be become good enough with Joomla that I can be part of our library’s webmaster’s fiery crash scenario. My goal is to get to the point where she doesn’t inhale sharply everytime I start typing on the keyboard.

I hope everyone uses the new year as a chance to try again. Even if you are sure you can’t keep your resolutions, try anyway. I am going to make myself report in regularly through my board report which will hopefully force me to keep my promises. Buddy up on some goals with other librarians, it will keep you honest.

Happy New Year!

Be Prepared

Photo by author

Photo by author

After the shooting at my library in 2009, it was clear that I needed to do a better job of keeping my employees and patrons as safe as possible in emergencies.

We have since updated our emergency procedures and the physical building. Luckily, our township has a top-notch Public Safety department to advise us, which includes police, fire, and emergency planning services. I am also lucky in that my managers and staff are really good at planning, documenting, implementation, and training.

One of our employees is the designated Emergency Manual person. She makes sure our emergency procedures are up-to-date and disseminated to staff, schedules and implements drills and training, keeps our emergency supplies current, and makes suggestions for policy changes and other improvements.

The Emergency Manual covers just about everything: building evacuation, severe weather, power outages, plumbing problems, roof leaks, bomb threats, and (now) active shooter incidents. At our Staff Inservice Day this year, she organized our first active shooter drill, with two police officers playing the roles of shooters who were trying to get into various areas of the library to find victims. I am pleased to say that we passed with flying colors–given the terrific response from my staff back in 2009, this didn’t surprise me.

Our IT and Security staff upgraded our camera system from analog to digital, adding dozens of cameras to the public areas and the building exterior. A township police sergeant walked the building with us to determine priorities and placement. More than 50 cameras are now viewable from any staff computer, in single views or multiple configurations. We have worked on this project in phases over the last four years using the priorities we established. The camera upgrades came in  handy as we lost staff through attrition–usage went up at the same time, which meant it was difficult for our reduced staff to physically patrol all of the nooks, crannies, and blindspots in our building.

We also upgraded our door access system. Previously, only a few employees had keys to the staff entrance, and most everyone else had to push a buzzer and wait to be let in to the building. With the buzzer going off all the time, we got into a pattern of just buzzing people in automatically, without always checking who they were. We worked with our alarm company to upgrade the door system. Now, all regular employees use their ID badges to enter the building themselves (temps and volunteers still get buzzed in). If an employee loses her badge, we can immediately deactivate the old badge and issue a new one with a new security code. Badge access can be restricted to certain times of day depending on the employee, and arm/disarm ability can be assigned permanently or on an as-needed basis, like for specific Pages coming in on a holiday to empty the return bins. The managers and I still have physical keys to the building for when the power goes out.

We also secured staff spaces. Doors from the public areas to the staff areas were previously unlocked and unsecured; it wasn’t uncommon for a preschooler to wander into the children’s staff workroom. At the Checkout Desk, a waist-high swinging gate was all that kept people from entering the staff area. We replaced the swinging gate with an actual door, and all doors leading to staff areas now require badge access. At the moment, it is possible for a determined interloper to hoist him/herself over the Checkout Desk counter and get into the staff area; in 2014 this will no longer be possible thanks to a small renovation project that will make our staff areas totally secure.

Due to the door access upgrade, everyone now wears ID badges. Before, nametags were worn…sometimes…by most people. When you have more than 100 employees and about as many volunteers and Friends of the Library, it can be difficult to tell who is wandering and who really is official–you may know the people you work with all the time, but it is nearly impossible for everyone to know everyone else on sight. The ID badges have helped with this.

Wearing an ID badge may have been the most difficult transition for my employees to make. I’ve worked in retail and in corporate settings, where ID badges are a “so what?” issue, but there is something about libraries where we are resistant to ID badges. (I understand people’s concerns, but I disagree that the concerns are so compelling that they outweigh the benefits of our ID badges.) We facilitated adoption by tying the badges to building access–you can’t get in the building or into staff areas if you don’t have your badge to open the doors (well, okay, you can, but it means you have to wait for someone to stop being busy so that they can let you in, so there’s a barrier). Some people expected all kinds of ID badge horrors, but our biggest problem was that the first-generation badges broke easily, so we bought new badges last year that are more heavy duty and less brittle.

We have panic buttons at some service desks, and when they are pushed, it opens a line to our alarm company, who alerts police/fire. We actually had these panic buttons already; I mention them because it is part of our overall safety plan. The button is mounted to the underside of the desk, similar to what you’d see in a bank.

Ongoing communication is key to making sure we’re up to date and prepared for emergencies. We encourage employees to submit Incident Reports for anything that causes concern, and to call the police if they decide it’s necessary. I have told them that they’ll never get in trouble for submitting too many incident reports; they actually help me and the managers to see patterns of behavior and connect the dots if there is one patron who is giving everyone a hard time.

We stay in touch with our Sergeant, who comes over every year or so to do a walk-around. Public Safety has also made it clear that they will support us whenever we call them, and now we are less hesitant about calling them if needed. In most cases, when a troublesome person hears one of my staff say that she will call for a patrol car, the confidence in her voice is enough to get the patron to comply. In the cases where we do call for an officer, the police take us seriously and respond quickly.

I know that I can’t make my library 100% secure all of the time. Since the shooting four years ago, though, we’ve made some really great improvements that bring me peace of mind. If an emergency occurs at the library, I am confident that my employees have the tools, skills, and training to address it.

Worst Case Scenario

photo credit: rustman via photopin cc

photo credit: rustman via photopin cc

I had a Librarian in Charge moment last weekend. There was a plumbing problem, and being the Librarian in Charge, I called the plumber.

So far so good.

As it turns out, the problem required all bathrooms in the building to be put out of order until the problem was fixed. Well, you can’t not have bathrooms for staff or public, and the fix was going to take at least a few hours, according to the plumbers. I made the dreaded “do we close the building early or not” decision. It wasn’t a hard decision, actually. No working toilets means we close the building. End of story. I made a building-wide announcement and the staff got the patrons out of the building. We closed an hour and a half early and the plumbers went about their business.

The story goes on, but the point here is that sometimes as the Librarian in Charge you have to make difficult decisions. Ask yourself: Is the decision I am making going to help the situation or hurt it? In this case, closing the library early helps the people fixing the problem and only inconveniences (not “hurts”) the people trying to use the library. Fixing the problem obviously trumps. Score one in that category.

The next question to ask yourself is: What is the worst thing that could happen? Well, if we stay open without bathrooms, we break the labor law that says we must make toilet facilities available at work sites. That’s a big one! We can not require staff to continue working in a building with no working toilet facilities. There is also a Michigan law about having bathroom facilities available to customers in public places. Call me paranoid, but I just don’t think breaking the law is a good idea. I can’t think of a “worst thing that could happen” by closing early. Someone doesn’t get to check their email on a public computer? They don’t get to pick up their hold? These are not worst-thing scenarios. They are inconveniences. Law trumps inconvenience, so score one in this category too.

The library closed an hour and a half early on a Saturday and I felt pretty confident in that decision. Of course, I left messages for the Library Director and a few other administrative staff members. I sent emails documenting how it all went down. Again, I felt pretty confident in my decision making.

I am fortunate to work in a place where, even if you make a bad decision, as long as your reasoning is sound you will generally be backed up. In this case, it was a good decision and everything worked out fine. There have been times, though, where my co-workers have made decisions that I would not have made. That does not make them bad decisions. If their reasoning is sound – if they were trying to help the situation and can explain how they thought their decision would help – I can usually get on board.

Policies That Help, Not Hinder

photo credit: Valentina Cinelli via photopin cc

photo credit: Valentina Cinelli via photopin cc

I attended an Affordable Care Act seminar today. One of the speakers said something that really stuck in my mind, hours later. He said that before the public comes to public libraries to sign up for (and get help with) health care on October 1st in accordance with the ACA, library staff should take a look at their policies to see in what ways they may help or hinder that process.

For example, the speaker offered an 800 number to an agency who can help people with the application process. If we do not allow patrons to talk on cell phones while on our public computer terminals, that could pose a problem. To give another example, libraries with short time limits on their public terminals are likely to find people bumping up against that time limit, unable to complete the long online health care application required.

Each library sets policies that are specific to their buildings, their communities, their staff, and their technology. For example, a small library with fewer computer terminals to offer probably requires shorter time limits per session than a large library with a multitude of computer terminals throughout their building. The policy is set in the interest of fairness.

When a new, nation-wide change is set in motion – one that directly impacts libraries – we should take a close look at those policies and make sure that they are still fair. Perhaps small libraries with short time limits can set aside a few hours every Saturday morning for just health care application time. Or maybe libraries with separate computer labs can set aside that space a few hours a week for people who need to be on the phone while they are on the computer. A room with a door that closes separates phone-talkers from other computer users. These are temporary policy tweaks, not permanent changes. Open enrollment season will end and we’ll all go back to our regular ways of doing things.

As the nature of library use changes, so must our policies. Of course, we can’t just change our policies for every circumstance that arises, but we can be flexible with these bigger-impact situations. We should be grateful that people are coming to the library, that they trust our staff enough to choose us for help.

(Ok – some extra training for our reference staff on this whole ACA business would be GREAT, but I am happy that we can expect more people to find the library relevant to their needs.)

Help! I inherited a mess!

photo credit: massdistraction via photopin cc

photo credit: massdistraction via photopin cc

I teach Excel from time to time. Most of my students are either new in a new job or have transferred departments. Invariably, they have inherited a spreadsheet from someone. The original creator of the spreadsheet is long gone.  Students come in thinking this is a problem because they don’t feel their Excel skills are good enough and that is why that can’t figure out the problem spreadsheet. I have never found this to be true. Of course Excel skills are important, but a crappy spreadsheet is still a crappy spreadsheet, no matter how good you are with Excel. They didn’t have an Excel problem, they had a mess.

Most everyone I know in libraries has taken over some kind of mess.  Even if you are lucky enough to have grown into your job or invent it from the beginning, somewhere along the line you are going to be handed someone’s project, someone’s file, someone’s collection or even an entire library. In my career, in and out of libraries, I have been handed things “to fix”.  Some are small but sometimes a whole library is in jeopardy and needs to be fixed.  So, how does one start cleaning up a mess?

Start with concrete facts.

This can be anything from the bank balance, budget, or shelf list.  Start with facts you can document/prove. Use sources like bank statements, payroll, confirmed meeting notes, or an inventory. Most messes come from incomplete information, guesses and hunches. For my Excel students, once we established the purpose of the spreadsheet, it was easier to decide if the spreadsheet was salvagable or not. Often, it is better to simply start over or move forward from what you actually do know.

Document your information and plan accordingly.

Tell your supervisor exactly what is going on and articulate your plan. Confirm priorities. Review policies and procedures where necessary. What are the most important things that need to be done, so the library stays open, lights are on, patrons are served and staff gets paid. Follow up with emails or notes that confirm your discussions. In short, keep track of your information and its source.

Don’t try and fix everything at once.

Assume that the mess wasn’t created in one day, so you will need time to sort out the situation.  Often the mess takes on a life of its own and employees work around it. Don’t assume that one directive is going to fix everything. Try to understand the workflow process and the employees involved, before making any sweeping changes.  Go slowly and deliberately.

Get buy in.

This is the art of management in a nutshell.  Change is frightening to even the toughest person. Share where you are headed with your plans. Don’t expect perfection or buy in immediately, but do put some parameters on your expectations of employees. Give and get feedback from those involved.

Get support.

I have often talked about having a club of like minded librarians/managers that you can talk to informally. I have my nerd club of librarians that I absolutely depend on to keep me centered. We meet maybe a couple of times a year (usually when one of us needs to talk about a change in plans or needs an idea).  We have a confidentiality rule in place and we don’t really invite others along. It really isn’t as social, as much as group career therapy.

Finally, make sure in these moments of stress you practice self-care. Plan your day accordingly and shut off your email, computer and keep work at work.


Sell the problem, not the solution

buy-sell-image1If you’ve got a problem on your hands that you’re eager to solve, you’ve got to first sell the problem before you pitch the solution. Karen Cross, Director of Leadership Services at the Michigan Association of Schools, recently spoke at a Michigan Library Association workshop and presented this as an effective way to manage transition.

Before you run to your team to tell them how much better work will be once this new policy or procedure is implemented, step back and first get them to see that there is truly a problem that needs to be addressed. Don’t start off by telling them how you’re going to fix something–instead let them see and understand what’s broken and truly needs fixing.

This approach can work with transitions large and small. When I started at my previous position as Head of Circulation, I wanted to update how materials were checked in by circulation staff. It was obvious to me that too many errors were being made when attempting to process the items at the front desk while providing assistance to patrons.

Rather than issuing a mandate to improve this process, I first started conversations with staff to talk with them in a way that they too could see the problem. This generated productive conversations about current procedures and how they were falling short. After everyone agreed to the problem and provided suggestions for change, I implemented a rotating schedule that got people away from the desk to focus on processing materials exclusively. This change resulted in a reduction of errors and improved the level of service provided to patrons.

You don’t need to give the same sales pitch to each person or department. Tailor the message and use different approaches so that everyone understand the problem in their own way.

Once you get everyone on board with the problem, you can go forth and present the solution. Selling the solution after everyone sees the same problem (even if from different angles) will create a solid foundation for an effective implementation.

And Tom Waits has a deal for you that you won’t be able to pass up.