Beyond the Job

photo credit: C.P.Storm via photopin cc

photo credit: C.P.Storm via photopin cc

Mary Kelly and I have a deal: when it is obvious that one of us is “phoning it in,” or no longer an active participant in the field of librarianship, we are to tell the other that it is time to hang it up and move on to the next phase of our life. It’s sort of like taking away your parents’ car keys when they are no longer fit to drive. No one wants to do it, and hopes they never have to. They hope that the problem will resolve itself through individual awareness and volunteering to walk away on their own. Just in case, though, we have made this pact and we both fully intend to keep our end of the deal. We never want to be what we call “RIP”: retired in place.

What does being an active participant in the profession entail? It is certainly more than just showing up to work every day. It’s more than just doing our job, too. Being an active participant in the profession is a bigger picture scenario. It involves librarianship outside of our immediate responsibility. It involves learning, growing, and contributing to others in the industry.

Being a role model for new librarians and information professionals is one way to contribute. Sharing experiences and learning outcomes with others is always welcome. It helps new professionals find a path to follow, helps them to make informed decisions about their careers, and improves the level of awareness of the profession itself.

Attendance is another way to actively participate in the profession. This means attending staff meetings, tweet-ups, conferences, workshops, seminars, unconferences, and informal get-togethers. Showing up is the first step in networking and finding opportunities. Actually contributing to the conversation or the work at hand is important too, but you have to show up in order to take advantage of the output.

Reading, listening, and watching is an easy way to participate in the profession. Read what our colleagues in the field are publishing. Listen to what they are saying. Watch the slide decks, videos, webinars, and tutorials they are providing. Soak it in and then act on it. Find a way to make what you read, hear, and see relevant.

Don’t just show up to work every day. Participate! Engage in the profession and reap the rewards of knowledge, awareness, and involvement.

Are You Experienced, Again?

LV commented on my post last week, “Are You Experienced?”:

“I think this is a great blog post and I certainly would love to work for a manager like Eva. The sad truth is that the type of “good” experienced employee spoken of here is what many managers say they would like but don’t know how to manage. When faced with one of these “entrepreneurial types”, they feel threatened at worst, or, don’t really know how to support and challenge them at best. In the end, they lose the very employee they seek, as the entrepreneurial librarian will always be on the lookout for more challenging opportunities where their innovations are valued (remember, they are resilient). The real questions are: Can you as a library leader provide the right kind of support and challenge for “the experienced employee”? What are you doing to support that kind of entrepreneurial behavior in your library? What are the things that you are doing that demotivate or hinder that kind of employee? If you are finding you have more of the “repeaters” in your library, then perhaps you need to look within.”

So much to think about here, LV!

I’m going to address the easy part first: You would not necessarily enjoy working for me. Lots of people haven’t. Mostly because I’m evil. I have expectations and standards and low tolerance (I have improved incrementally over time, and continue to work at further improvement). Fit is important, and while reading my posts may give you an idea of who I am philosophically, who I am at work in a practical sense is sometimes completely different–you may not fit my library, my library may not fit you; you may not be a fit for me, and I may not be a fit for you.

The rest of LV’s comments are a bit more complicated to answer. Fit-wise, I feel like I have a lot of great employees who have embraced our strategic plan and are channeling their work through it. When an “entrepreneurial” employee comes up with a really cool idea, I make her (or make her manager make her) run her idea through our strategic plan.

CPL Strategic PlanWhich user group does this target? How does it address 21st Century Skills Development? How does it demonstrate a User-Driven Approach? Which of our partners could do this with us, or is there a new partner you’ve identified? How will we finance this? This helps her write her proposal, and then refine her proposal, so that it demonstrates how the idea improves the patron experience, keeps the library relevant, and positively impacts our partners (for example). Now, just about everyone here does this analysis as a matter of course, some more formally and some more informally; it’s just part of our process.

I can’t say, “Ooh, fancy! Run with that!” just because an idea is cool. It has to relate to the library. A big part of my job is making sure that the daily work supports the long-term goals–and that sometimes means I crush dreams.

  • I’ve turned down really cool employee ideas that don’t align with our strategic plan.
  • I’ve redirected really cool ideas so that they will align with our strategic plan.
  • I’ve embraced really cool ideas that align with our strategic plan.
  • We’ve revisited really cool ideas from long ago that were previously rejected, if they now align with our strategic plan.

If your ideas are consistently falling into the first (or even the last) of those four categories, or if you are steadfastly against adjusting your ideas, then we have a problem with fit. It may not be that your innovations aren’t valued; it may be that your ideas are not a good fit for this library at this time in these circumstances. We will address this with you as part of the self-evaluation/evaluation/goal-setting process, and if you decide that our library isn’t the best fit for you, we can part ways, no harm no foul. Though, in words of Bo Schembechler, “Those who stay will be champions.” <ahem>Go Blue!</ahem> If your ideas are truly ahead of their time, you have to decide whether you want to wait for the library to catch up, or if you want to find the library out there that is ready and waiting for you.

We (me and my management team) find that we spend a lot of time going over expectations and coaching to bring people to where we want them to be–that is, aligned with our organizational goals–because we really would prefer that you stay. Some people have told me that we coddle too much; I prefer to think that we give you every opportunity to be successful. We have had people disagree with our goals and direction who ultimately left. It happens. They’ve gone on to lead successful, satisfying lives at other libraries and other companies that are a better fit for them, and that’s what matters.

I suggest that entrepreneurial employees take your really cool ideas and filter them through your library’s strategic plan, departmental goals, and overall culture. How can you package your ideas so that they align with these things? Do this, and I bet you’ll find that your ideas gain traction. If you can’t adjust your ideas or get them into alignment with your library’s goals, then you may not be an entrepreneurial employee; you may just be a narcissist! (I kid. Mostly.) My point is that this would be your clue to find another employer who might be a better fit.

See how I did that? See how I took your question about how managers can support entrepreneurial employees and turned it around so that it’s about how entrepreneurial employees can align their ideas with their library’s goals? I told you: I’m evil.

Are you experienced?

groundhog by qmnonic used under a flickr creative commons license.

groundhog by qmnonic used under a flickr creative commons license.

When someone tells you, “I have twenty years of experience,” have you ever thought about what that really means?

Of the people I’ve worked with, I can think of many who have spent those twenty years learning, growing, and trying to make things better. They are energized by new ideas, willing to learn new skills, and are the first to say, “Let’s try it!” They pay attention beyond the library and beyond the library industry. They are the ones who, at evaluation time, have a list of five possible goals for next year that they bring to you. They think things through and are able to take a big picture view. They also tend to be the most resilient; they don’t see failure as a total failure, but as an opportunity to learn and improve the next time. Even if they’ve held the same job all that time, they stretch themselves whenever they can and are always striving to improve. These are people who can confidently say, “I have twenty years of experience.”

I have been unfortunate enough to work with a few people in my time who, rather than having twenty years of experience, seem to have one year of experience that they’ve repeated twenty times. They can’t seem to add to their personal body of knowledge, and so are doomed like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. I’m sure you can think of one or two people like this, too. Longtime employees who still can’t quite grasp the cycle of public library service, so summer reading is always a surprise. Or long-serving clerks who still take each patron interaction as if it were new and unique, unable to interpret situations or make judgment calls within policy unless a supervisor specifically tells him otherwise. Or the librarian who seems to always need prompting to loop in some important stakeholder or other department. The ones you are feel like you always telling, “We’ve talked about this before…,” “I went through this with you the last time this came up…,” and “Do you remember how you handled <similar situation> last year? This is the same thing.”

Lots of slack should be given to new employees; the learning curve is steep and it really can take a full year to get into the rhythm of public library work. What I expect to see, however, is continued growth beyond that first year. So, what about you, Library Leaders: How many years of experience do you have?

chess pieces

On Planning

chess pieces

photo by author

My neck of the woods (actually, the fleshy base of the thumb, because I live in Michigan and we do cool things like show you on our hands where we live) has been in the news a lot lately due to the city of Detroit filing for Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. There is no doubt that there will be costs and great personal losses by the time Orr’s appointment ends and Detroit emerges from bankruptcy. I’m not tackling all of those in today’s post; they’re being discussed vigorously and thoroughly elsewhere. Rather, I’d like to discuss Orr’s planning skills, which are an important leadership quality.

My dad taught me how to play chess. I was not brilliant at it, but I could play decently enough. I haven’t played in decades, yet it seems like I play still chess every day. Strategizing, forecasting, planning, anticipating moves—I learned these skills from chess. Chess is a mental game, and if you’re going to be any good at it, you have to be able to think beyond one turn at a time. Players who don’t plan several moves ahead find themselves checkmated pretty quickly. A good player looks at the entire chess board and takes into account all of the possibilities before making a move. A chess player may even go so far as to pick up a piece and tentatively put it somewhere else, but the only move that counts is the move that is actually made when the player lets go of the chess piece.

I am willing to bet that Kevyn Orr plays chess (perhaps poker), because he is a stickler for detail and seems to have a plan for every possible scenario. I feel for him, too, because I have first-hand experience with people who confuse talking about something with actually doing something—which to me is the difference between keeping your hand on the chess piece and letting go of the piece.

For example, one of the biggest controversies of Orr’s tenure thus far has been the valuation of all city assets and liabilities. Orr is having valuations done on everything—pensions, health care, parks, lighting, water and sewer, parking garages, vehicles, and even the art at the Detroit Institute of Arts. As Orr identifies the city’s assets (because even the city isn’t sure what all it owns), and then as the assets are valued, he gets a better understanding of the city’s overall financial situation. He can take that information and develop plans, contingency plans, options, and recommendations to present to the bankruptcy court. He has specifically said on the record that he doesn’t have his eye on selling the DIA’s art (and if he tries, there will be lawsuits for sure), but nevertheless still needs to know its value (I agree with this—he needs to know the value of all assets so that he can prove he’s done his due diligence).

By now you all are thinking, “Poor, naïve Eva. He wouldn’t go to all this effort if that wasn’t his plan!” To which I say, “I don’t think so.” This level of planning and forethought may seem illogical—why put yourself through it if you are just going to abandon it? You put yourself through it because no one, not even Kevyn Orr, can predict the future. As the bankruptcy unfolds and new variables come up, I expect that some plans will fall to the wayside; some to the back burner; new plans will emerge; and plans we didn’t even know about will play out.

During the recession, we worked on and discussed many unpopular budget-balancing options at the library—such as furlough days, reductions in benefits, elimination of benefits—and abandoned the majority of them, but that doesn’t mean the efforts were wasted, because I can now say with confidence “We are not instituting furlough days” and explain why. The investment of time and effort was valuable, because eliminating options got us closer to the final plan. And even with a “final plan,” I try to build in some wiggle room so that we can adjust the plan if needed—and I expect Orr is doing that, too.

I do not think I will agree with everything that shakes out from Detroit’s bankruptcy; I don’t agree with everything now, and I am certain that some of the final outcomes will make me angry. But whatever I may think of Kevyn Orr, whether it’s now or two years from now when his appointment ends, I will say this for him: The man is a planner, and I admire that. It would be fun to play chess with him someday.


Learning From Satan’s Example

I never set out to become a librarian. It was the late 1990s, and I had just returned from living in the UK for a couple of years with my husband and two kids and I had been doing the mom thing so long, I wasn’t sure I was even employable. I did have my super cool 80s power suit (complete with shoulder pads) ready to go as well as some super current DOS and Lotus 123 skills.  For reasons that still escape me, a library willingly hired me as a clerk.  I was sure this would all be temporary. As soon as I got my skill set updated, I was headed for bigger and better things. However, a couple of people crossed my path early in my career. They made such an impression, that I have often wondered if these people hadn’t been there, would I even be a librarian today?

My first introduction to world of library service was Patti. I have never seen anyone since then train as patiently as Patti did. She was systematic and supportive.  I think Patti knew every single patron in the library personally. She knew everyone’s book tastes, favorites and was always paying attention to the small details that customers loved. My entire philosophy of customer service is based on Patti’s attitude toward her clientele and her own personal standard of service. After being trained by her, my mantra became “What would Patti do?”.

However, if I am truly honest, Patti wasn’t the real driving force for developing a vision. She was the model of a hard working, reliable employee with high standards.  I still didn’t quite “get it”. Enter my co-worker, Satan*.  Satan was having a difficult day helping a “difficult” patron on the computer.  To the surprise of no one, Satan was getting frustrated. Satan had about a two question threshold for frustration. In my opinion, Satan would have found Mother Theresa difficult and needy. Satan’s customer service solution was tossing a computer manual to the patron and saying “Figure it out.  It’s not the job of the library to teach you.” In one instant, my vision of library service was crystal clear.

Satan is my example of an “anti-leader”. I would be willing to bet there are more Satans running around library world (and sadly very few Pattis). I  would have to say that “anti-leaders” have actually been more influential in shaping my philosophy.  These people are not just bad managers, horrible co-workers and slackers. It’s more than that.  When I was learning the ropes and struggling to find my way, these people, with their abysmal attitudes and customer hating philosophies helped me develop my inner Patti and pointed me toward something positive.

More often than not we have difficult people around us in library service and I don’t mean just the patrons. These folks have just as much to teach us about leadership and customer service as any Patti can and often more. Saying to yourself “I don’t want to be that” is powerful and can actually tell you more about yourself than you might think.

*not really his/her name, just a bit of hyperbole.

Having a Vision

If only you could look through a telescope or binoculars and see the future! Library leaders try to be visionaries, and good leaders definitely have a vision. But libraries are changing all the time. Does that mean that our vision changes all the time as well? How do we present our vision to staff and patrons?

A vision is sort of like a dream. It is an idea of what could be (not what the library is currently, but where it could be in the future). This is difficult, since no one knows exactly what the future holds. A vision doesn’t have to be specific, though. It can be a general theme or idea.

Having time to think creatively, beyond day-to-day work, is so important. Everyone needs time to imagine, to brainstorm, and to dream of the future. We can’t get bogged down in daily operations with no time to envision the future. When we are just keeping up, we aren’t being visionaries. Sure, daily work is important and has to be done, but when the work reflects the vision it all seems more meaningful. For example, many librarians get “off-desk time” to work on things like collection management and programming away from the public areas. When these employees feel like their collections and programs reflect the library’s vision, they are more likely to create visionary collections and programs. Any paperwork or administrative tasks involved (running reports, filling out contracts, etc.) has a higher purpose.

Employees need to be clear about the library’s vision, though. It has to be communicated clearly from the library’s leaders. Even better, front-line employees should be involved in the creation of the vision. They have to know that their work will help the library have a stronger vision.

I envision a library where everyone who visits has a positive experience.  My mission, then, is to deliver that experience and my goals are the specific services (collections, programs, etc.) through which I deliver that experience.  The vision itself is simply of a place where no matter what people come in for, they leave with a positive impression of the library and what we provide for the community.

What is your library’s vision?  What is your own vision?