white shark with fish

Swimming with Purpose

In a few short weeks the new semester begins. This will be my second academic year in this position. Over the last year there have been so many changes at work including a roughly 83% (five out of six) turnover in personnel in my department. That means that only myself and one staff member are doing the jobs we were doing at this time last year. Another position was moved under me that I didn’t have at that time, and yet another position has been created out of whole cloth.

I’m nearly fully staffed. The new position has a person in place, while another unexpectedly became open a few weeks ago and is in the search process now. I’m skeptical, at this point if that position will be filled before classes start in the last week in August, but we can hope.

anakin skywalker fan artWhile I’m far from the expert manager I’d like to be, I’ve gained enough comfort and confidence that I’m starting to feel a little restless. I’m like a shark. I need to feel like I’m always moving forward. Stagnation leads to depression. Depression leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the Dark Side of the Force. I’ve always been like this, but there are external pressures that lately have been niggling at the back of my brain creating the feeling of unease.

Success should never be measured just by money, but to be personally successful in the things I’m committed to the fact is that I need to make more money. While I’m making more money now than I ever have before, it won’t be enough to achieve the success to which I’m referring. The best way for me to make that money is to increase my professional success. While I’m off to a good — if delayed — start, I’m feeling that I need to broaden my portfolio to make myself more attractive to other positions that may open up in my current library or another library down the road.

I probably have to do this job at least two more years before I’m attractive to another library or for another position within this one. I’m okay with that. I like my job and where I work, and I don’t really want to leave the area in which I’m living. But the facts are, in librarianship, in order to move up one usually has to move out. I can’t do either of those things until I build more skills.

I’ve made my feelings about my library school experience clear throughout this blog. To be honest, only three years from graduation and I feel like the education I received is already obsolete for academic librarianship. At best it would have been sufficient for an ’00s era librarian, but when it was 2015 and I was seeing librarian jobs posted for functions I’d never heard of (e.g. GIS Librarianship) I knew there was a problem. Furthermore, I still have the problem of no teaching experience and no way to get it, as far as I know.

I’ve looked into digital humanities as a possible interest, but haven’t found a passion for it. I’m interested in outreach, but have little time to participate in my outreach librarian’s programs. I have the capacity for metadata, but not the interest. I’m frightened that I’m going to be stuck in middle management making not-quite enough money for the foreseeable future.

While in my position I’m not technically a “professional” librarian, one way I can increase my value is to act like one. The best way for me to do that is become active in committee work though a conference or other professional group. I’ll be returning to the Access Services Conference, this year, where there may be opportunities to jump on a committee with them. They tried to talk me into it last year, actually. I felt like the new guy at a church in which the old-timers were eager to put the new person to work.

I’m also making a concerted effort to up my professional reading. I have books that my boss has given me on various aspects of management in libraries and I have access to Lynda.com and other online materials in which I can build management skills. I also can read more literature in the field, especially from the two major librarian professional organizations of which I’m a member: ALA and ACRL. Right now, I’m hoping for two hours a week. I’ve already done an hour, this morning. This may not seem like a lot to you, but it’s a big deal for me.

minions rejoicing

I still feel like I need to build library-relevant skills that are outside of the management realm. What that looks like, though, I just don’t know. Hopefully, being engaged in my professional reading and taking whatever other learning opportunities I have will help. It’s easy for one to say “follow your passion,” but that seems trite and unrealistic. Only a lucky few of us get to truly make a profession out of our passions. If my inner shark is going to swim with purpose, I need to keep exploring my options to find that purpose. So, for the time being, at least, my purpose is to find my purpose.

avenue q purpose

Emotionalism, the Trials of Public Service, & Vulcans

walmart-black-friday-deals-doorbustersWe’ve all been there. You’ve got a line backed up to the exits, the phone is ringing off the hook, and a patron is standing there wanting to argue policy with you. You could be working in retail, a public library, an academic library, or anywhere there is a front-line public service desk. It is difficult. It is stressful. It is rarely fun. About the only positive thing you can say about it is that it makes the time pass quickly. Thirty minutes or an hour can pass in a few seconds.

Those of us who are the best at this can view these times as exhilarating periods of service and problem solving. The rest of us dread these times and feel panic and stress. Either way we’re exhausted at the end of our shifts.

sleepy bunny
Actual footage of me on a Tuesday at 3:00 PM during the first week of the semester.

I tend to agree that the busy times are exhilarating, and exhausting, and that they definitely make the day go faster. But I’ve never looked forward to them, and now that I’m the boss I have the added burden of being the top problem solver.

I’ve had primarily public service jobs since I was seventeen years old. At thirty-nine, now, that’s a lot of time on a sales floor or behind a counter. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve had a lot of successes and I’ve had a lot of failures. I have been praised and railed at; solved problems and caused them; kept my cool and lost my temper. I’ve been taken advantage of by a quick change artist, and called an ambulance for a patron in a medical emergency. It’s been an eventful twenty-two years.

If you do any job for long enough you’re naturally going to build some proficiency. I’ve never believed the “10,000 hours of an activity makes you an expert” meme. It’s too exacting and doesn’t account for raw talent, interest, ambition, or the ability to learn. I don’t know how many hours I’ve worked public services, but I’m certainly not an expert, even after twenty-two years. I don’t know that I ever will be, and I don’t know that anyone ever is. We all have our success and we all have our failures.

spider-man falling down stairs
No matter how amazing you are, sometimes you fall on your face.

I’ve recently had a few too many incidents in which I fell on my face and it got noticed by the wrong people. There are no immediate problems this has caused, but I am having to mind my P’s and Q’s a bit better. The thing is, though, all of the coaching I’ve received lately is all stuff that I’ve known for some time. I keep having the gnawing feeling that I used to be better at this.

Too Many Feelings

I am an emotional person. I always have been. As a child I got fingered as a cry-baby at school and the social ramifications of this created a cycle of repressed feelings, anger, and depression that have had a life-long affect on me. To this day, I describe myself as an angry person. I’m constantly having to suppress feelings of anger and frustration, but now, it’s less that I don’t feel “allowed” to have these feelings as much as expressing these feelings are counter-productive to my life.

I’m not angry all the time. I don’t have a secret violent side. I make friends and function as well in modern life as anyone can be expected. But constantly having to dial back my “negative” emotions takes a lot of willpower, and willpower is not something that we hold in infinite supply. Willpower is like a muscle. It can be conditioned to be strong, but after too much use it looses energy and needs to be recharged. The incidents that caught the wrong kind of attention of my superiors were ones in which my willpower was critically low.

giphy1This does not mean that I have no culpability for my actions. My behavior was as flawed as my techniques. I didn’t cross any professional lines, but I certainly did not behave in a way to solve the problems. I was not working to get to “yes.” I was defensive, pedantic, and arrogant. I let my frustration with my patrons’ senses of entitlement get the better of me. And something I had not truly begun to grok until recently, I displayed a terrible example for my employees, especially the student workers. Furthermore, in the social media age I could have provided fodder for negative publicity for the library if someone had videoed the incidents and posted them without the context of my actions. This not only could have been bad for my library, but bad for my career, as these things forever float around the internet. I’ve been a very bad boy.

Like I said, I used to be better at this. My emotionalism has gone through many stages in my life. It’s gone from the unbridled emotionalism of my childhood to the repressed emotionalism of my adolescence. After that came the bumpy emotional integration of my early adulthood. It was this time that I developed a reputation for “brutal honesty.” Engaging with my feelings were paramount to compassion or empathy. I was hard to like.

By my late twenties I had begun to grow that empathy, even in spite of myself, and began questioning what kind of person I wanted to be. I didn’t become less judgmental, as much as more aware of others feelings. I still may think your taste in music is terrible, but I’m not going to tease you about it anymore. Then, something unexpected happened. I started crying again.

yhuyo9pOn a scale of one-to-ten, if I’m between three and seven, everything is fine. If I get pushed above or below that range, however, it’s cryface time. I cried more at my wedding than my wife did. I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m sad. I cry with any kind of excitement. Anytime my emotions are red-lining, or heck, orange-lining, I’m crying.

…New Life and New Civilizations…

So how do I handle it? How do I handle dealing with my habitual anger and the constant threat of tears in the face of the crush of a busy library. What was it I thought I was so good at? The only solution — as with so many things in life — is the wisdom of Spok, or more generally, the emotional discipline of the Vulcans. As Star Trek developed the ideas of Vulcan philosophy it went from a biological inability to have feelings to a spiritual discipline. It’s not that Vulcans don’t have emotions, it’s that their emotions were so powerful it nearly drove the species to extinction. It was their development of this emotional sequestration that allowed them to function and become the force in the Alpha Quadrant that they became — or will become by the twenty-fourth century.

spock-and-sarek-in-star-trek-vi

Obviously, this is an extreme model, but a useful analogy. The ability to build an emotional wall to separate yourself from your emotions is vital for someone like me. The point is to not make the emotions inaccessible, but to sequester them until they can be expressed in a healthy manner. It takes discipline. It takes willpower. It takes a psychic awareness of your own emotional extremes and current state. I did used to be very good at this. In fact, I had gotten so good at it that I started to worry about my ability to connect emotionally with anyone. I had become too Vulcan. At one point I thought I might even have turned myself into a sociopath, but then I actually looked up what a sociopath was saw that that was not remotely the case.

My challenge now is to reconnect with my Vulcanness; to regain that emotional discipline that used to be so easy for me. “Under-react” my boss tells me. When I’m feeling worked up, I need to mentally take a step back and evaluate what I’m feeling. Which emotion is it? Is it reasonable in the situation? Am I hungry? What is the real problem? How do I solve it in the best way? I knew how to do this once. I believe that I still do. Now I just have to practice.

 

 

 

Girl in Grief

Things They Don’t Teach in Library School: Part 1, Collective Grieving

It is a dark time for the library. A few months ago, one of my employees –a woman in her early forties — was diagnosed with colon cancer. This week we learned that she has passed away. I only knew the woman for a short time, but she was a quiet and kind person whom I could approach for an informed opinion both about library issues and management questions. While she technically worked for me, she had a lot of retail management experience that I was beginning to consult and utilize. I had looked forward to her being a vital part of my team for some time. Her loss is profoundly felt both personally and professionally.

After some confusion when the news first broke, the library administration was able to inform all of the staff members, and we are working to inform all of our student assistants. When the news finally did break we were told that at her request there would be no arrangements. This causes a bit of a practical problem, however. While the decent thing to do is to respect the family’s wishes, we are grieving as well as they are. Perhaps, not as deeply, but grieving just the same. We are in need of achieving closure with her loss no less than her family is. What do we do? How do we cope?

Administration is reminding us what campus facilities are available to us — for both employees and students — and we are already discussing what can be organized within the library that will give people the opportunity to pay their respects to our lost coworker and give everyone an outlet for their grief. The idea at this time is to have an in-house memorial event in which individuals can talk about their memories of her, sign cards, and provide gifts for the family.

This is one of those things they don’t teach in library school. How could they? Why would they? No one plans for the death of an employee or coworker. Even though we knew she was sick, and knew it was serious, we never imagined that it would have happened as quickly as it did.

As an undergrad I took a Death and Dying class that, while I had great difficulty with the instructor, has ended up being one of the most valuable classes I’ve ever taken in my life. While in that class we learned about the grief spectrum and how people manage that differently. Once I found out that the news about my employee was real I began looking for resources on how to deal with this situation as a manager. Most of the resources I found were about loosing a coworker and the grief process generally. However, Stanford University’s Faculty/Staff Help Center has a much needed resource available to us. It describes effects on individuals, coping strategies, and tips for supervisors, as well as other outside resources.

Just a few days into our own grieving process I feel that we are handling it well. Due to the fact that our lost colleague was a very reserved person, and the fact that we’re a better working group than a social one we are operating as best as can be expected. Her work had already been delegated to others as she dealt with her illness, and the sadness we feel has thus far been manageable. I, as a manager, must keep aware of changes in my employees and colleagues as they deal with the loss. Individuals may be emotional or short tempered, and there is no time limit on grief. Weeks may go by without outward signs of trouble, and then a seemingly innocuous event may trigger an emotional outburst. The most important thing I can do is give people the room they need to process their grief as they require.

book and red wine on a marble table

Recent Observations

  • Combing through a pile of job applicants is one of my least favorite parts of my job.
  • When the job demands clear communication skills and attention to detail, I suggest not including a page long paragraph in your cover letter, also, I suggest paying attention to which is your resume and which is your cover letter when uploading your documents.
  • Telling an academic library that one of your “founding” memories was learning how to read the Dewey Decimal system as a child is not endearing. We use Library of Congress, and don’t do the job because we love books. We serve our students and faculty in their education process. This has very little to do with a love of books.
  • There are a lot of really experienced and talented people willing to take a new job for less than $40k a year.
  • I’m very grateful that I can make coffee in my cubicle.
  • I’m very grateful that my talented and hard working staff have not lost their $#!+ yet this very difficult semester — at least that I know about.
book and red wine on a marble table

Checking In

Hello, fair readers!

I’m sorry that I’ve been MIA for so long. The holidays are only part of my excuse. The last 8+ weeks have been alternately horrible and promising for me and include a resurgence of depression, a poor performance evaluation, new purpose, new direction, and new situations.

I won’t go into details but suffice it to say that I had a rude awakening with my seven-month performance evaluation that has served as a swift kick in the butt to change the way I do things. That, plus regular meetings with my Associate Dean are refocusing how I approach my job and perform it. I’m still not where I should be at this point in my position, but I do feel confident that my job is not at stake, which I did not feel three weeks ago.

My immediate supervisor will be leaving at the end of this month. This is triggering a reorganization of the department and will ultimately result in me having more responsibility than I do currently. I have one new employee coming on board at the end of February, the hiring process begun for another, and a third still waiting in the wings. Also with the reorganization I will be regaining an employee I lost to a promotion a few months ago who will be bringing in a crew of student assistants under my tent, as well.

Also, my wife and I bought a brand new car (a Jeep Wrangler, actually) and will be moving to a new and nicer apartment in April.

It’s been about 50% bad and 50% good. I do intend to start writing substantial posts again, soon, but I need to find the time and the topic. This might be a good time to call for contributors again.

Until next time, make it a good day.

Access Services Conference

Thanks to having an employer who actually sees the value in investing in its employees I was able to attend the Access Services Conference for the first time, this year, in Atlanta. If you’re not aware, this is a smaller conference that is dedicated — not surprisingly — to the Access Services zone of academic libraries; an area of the field typically neglected at other conferences and occasionally maligned by other areas of the profession. This is everything from ready reference and circulation to emergency preparedness. A sampling of the sessions conducted include:

  • Re-Evaluating Library Space Usage AFTER a Library Renovation
  • Badges of Service: Engaging, Customer-Oriented Student Employee Training
  • Librarian or Emergency Responder
  • Accessing Virtual Reality: Challenges Met and Lessons Learned
  • Are daily fines effective in reducing the number of days an item is kept out past its due date
  • A Bibliometric Analysis of ILL Data at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

It’s management and practical advice from those of us really in the trenches of our profession.

Day 1

The conference ran from Wednesday, November 15, through Friday, November 17. The first night was an opening reception of drinks and finger foods. About half-way through awards were given to those who won the travel scholarship and one for excellence in Access Services Librarianship. There was a recognition of the committees and members, as well. Mostly, though the event was a social time for the school-reunion aspect that these conferences inevitably have. For my part, my only reunion was with my former supervisor who is now the University Librarian at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He introduced me around a little and suggested I get on one of the committees, myself.

Committee work is very important in professional academic librarianship. Most of them, I believe, don’t take too much extra work, and it shows potential employers — or tenure review boards — that you are engaged in the profession at more than a day-to-day level. I used to be on the RUSA: STARS ILL Committee, but had to resign after I’d a) missed several meetings because I couldn’t get to the conferences, and b) stopped working in ILL.

I made a joke at the time that the new guy always gets put on a committee — at least, that’s how it was at every church I ever went to — but it’s something that I really should consider doing. If for no other reason, it’s hard for your boss to tell you can’t go to a conference when your on one of the planning committees. Furthermore, it gets your name and face out in the profession and people can start to get to know you. The more you do that, the more you show up to these things and have friends and colleagues there with whom you’ve built a relationship and it makes conference much more enjoyable. Also, you could get a job or another exciting opportunity out of it.

Day 2

I started the day off right by oversleeping, only to follow that up by spilling an entire “tall” coffee on the floor of the front row right before the keynote speaker went on. Classy! The speaker, Brian Matthews, Associate Dean for Learning at Virginia Tech, talked about a variety of ideas, but the gist that I got out of it was that he encouraged the room to get out of our comfort zones and take risks in our leadership roles. Also, that sometimes break-dancing in the library is a good thing.

My first session was “Re-evaluating Library Usage AFTER a Library Renovation” (emphasis in original title), presented by Jo-Ann Cooley and Kari Mofford, which described a recent renovation at U-Mass Dartmouth’s library and how they made changes and improvements after the renovation was complete. From where I was sitting I feel that the most beneficial aspect of the session was the process they used to get the feedback to make those subsequent changes. There was a lot of open communication, survey’s, and focus groups of both students and staff that informed what needed to be done after the major changes that had already taken place. This reminds us of Raganathan‘s fifth law of library science, “The library is a growing organism.”

Next came “Badges of Service: Engaging, Customer-Oriented Student Employee Training,” by Bryan Feyerherm and Lori Hilterbrand of Oregon State University. This was one of the better sessions of the conference. OSU designed a standardized student assistant training and retention program that rewarded skills earned and time served with “flair;” colorful buttons that displayed achievements. Their training included a patron experience scavenger hunt that new employees do that ends in a pot of candy, and online quizzes to test knowledge and comprehension. This was one of the best sessions of the conference in my opinion.

…people were randomly walking around with ice cream treats…

After that was the most important part of the day: LUNCH. I haven’t said this yet. Wednesday night at the (complimentary!) wine social I was told that the food at this conference was awesome, and constant. Boy howdy! Was that correct! I’ve never had such good spreads at a library conference before. Plus, people were randomly walking around with ice cream treats both days. There was a constant supply of ice cream, people! Needless to say, no one went hungry.

After lunch, I attended “Accessing Virtual Reality: Challenges Met and Lessons Learned,” in which someone from North Carolina State University (his name is not noted in the program) presented an overview of VR technologies he’s piloting in his NCSU library. I went to this because a) I know next to nothing about VR and haven’t used it since my early teens (tweens?) in the early 90’s at St. Louis’ VP Fair. You might remember the giant headsets, circular platforms, and polygonal digital environments of those early setups. Or, you might not. And b) Lied Library has a VR setup we’re piloting in anticipation of our new Knowledge Production department which will begin full swing operations by next fall. This presentation was interesting and informative, but not practical based on my professional interests outside of giving me a basic introduction to the technology without the opportunity to use it.

Next was the poster sessions. I usually don’t pay too much attention to poster sessions, but this time I took photos of a number of them and talked to one of the presenters about how she communicates en masse with a bunch of student workers who WON’T READ EMAIL! ARRRRRGH!

But I digress.

All of the poster sessions over both days that I was most interested in were concerning managing, training, and mentoring student assistants. Reasons for this I should get into in a later blog post.

Last session of the day was an outlier for me: “A Bibliometric Analysis of ILL Data at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center,” by Brynne Norton. While I do have a fairly strong ILL background, anyone who knows me knows why I went to this, and it’s spelled N-A-S-A. I’m a life-long space nerd and just being in proximity to a NASA Librarian is enough to make me fanboy.

Another Digression: My friend Nick Fry, who’s now the curator of the Barriger Railway Collection at Mercantile Library in St. Louis is also a former NASA librarian. In short, I know some really cool nerds!

Brynne talked about measuring the impact of Goddard’s ILL service using title, keyword and regular expression searches, as well as tools like Openrefine.orgRegexr.com, and Sublime text editor. While I’m not sure I understood it all (I’ve never been a blood-and-guts librarian) I found her talk way more interesting that I thought I would have by the title and description. Good job Brynne!

Day 3

“Holding onto the values of the past is the quickest path to irrelevance.” — Katie Glaeser

Friday began much better than Thursday did. I got plenty of sleep, woke up on time, and still got breakfast at the conference. I chose another student assistant management session to start my day with. This time Christopher Bishop (of Agnes Scott) and Jalesia Horton (of Augusta University) talked about their parallel experience working in small academic libraries in which they included — and expected — their student workers to do so much more than shelve books and sit at the circ desk. Their students were active in outreach, advocacy, and marketing with an eye toward building student skill sets for transference to other later opportunities. They gave their students real responsibilities, and received buy-in from them. While much of what they talked about wouldn’t work in a large institution, they did say something I liked a lot, “The student employee who understands the big picture becomes the ideal student employee.” We have to include the students in what we are doing and thinking so they can understand their jobs in a larger context and perform to their highest degree.

The second session of the day was “User-centered Access: Planning and Implementing a Fine-free Policy” by Maryke Barber and Karen Ryan of Hollins University told us all how they went FINE FREE in their library; fantasy I have written about before. What a wonderful thing to do.

According to them — and why wouldn’t I trust a librarian? — there’s more an more data that says that fines do nothing to preserve a collection or encourage quicker returns for the average circulating monograph. Hallelujah! What does work is longer lending periods, more frequent communication, billing for replacements, and blocking accounts of the worst offenders. From my experience at UMSL I can say anecdotally that this pan’s out. One thing that they did that I thought was genius was to increase the undergraduate loan period to 120 days with a single renewal, just like faculty and grad students. Brilliant! Oh, how I want to do that at UNLV! The caveat to this is that it’s only standard overdue fines they stopped collecting. They’re still fining for reserves, tech, and replacements, but still, good on them!

Poster sessions, then another totally awesome lunch.

The last regular session of the conference that I attended was “Navigating the Storm: Leadership in Times of Crisis,” by Katie Glaeser (Sweet Briar College). Another fabulous session that provided my favorite quote of the whole conference, “Holding onto the values of the past is the quickest path to irrelevance.” OMG, I was so happy to hear her say that! The presentation was really about empathetic leadership during stressful transitions to manage not only the events, but the psyches of the people affected by that change. There was a lot in this forty-five minute presentation, but I’ll sum it up with Katie’s own bullet points.

Summary:

  • Focus on Mission
  • Clarity precedes competence
  • Lead with Care
  • Information & Communication

And…

Emergency Toolkit:

  • Remain Calm
  • Focus on the Mission
  • Prioritize the Welfare of Others

Like I said, that was the last regular session I attended. There was one more, but instead I spent that time networking with my former boss, Paul Sharpe.

The last event of this wonderful conference was a panel discussion with Paul (UTRGV), David McCaslin (Cal Tech and editor of the Journal of Access Services), Krista Higham (Millersville Univ.), Brad Warren (Yale), and Trevor Dawes (Univ. of Delaware). Each of whom have been associated with the conference for all or most of its nine-year history. It was great to hear these very successful people talk about what access services has meant to them throughout their careers. Cheers, all around!

Takeaways

I’ve been going to conferences since 2011. I’ve been to big conferences and small ones, national ones and regional ones, but this is the first time I’ve really been to a conference focused on a particular service area — most importantly, mine. I was a pilot fish at this conference. I was to go there and report back to my AD whether or not it is worthwhile to send others in the future. Indubitably, it is! I had always heard wonderful things about this conference (mostly from Paul), but had never had the opportunity to come, myself. The way that I’m feeling right now. For anyone who works or aspires to work in access services, this is probably a far more enriching experience that even going to the big 20,000 librarian-strong ALA Annual every June. ALA has it’s own charms and it’s own value, but for area-specific content and the best camaraderie you can’t beat what happens in Atlanta every November.