man awaits airplane

My Worst Job Interview Experience, Part 2

The interview wasn’t until the afternoon, so I had the whole morning to myself. I slept in, drank whatever passed for coffee in my room, and did more prep for the day. All the while I was still angry and wondering if I really wanted this job at all. I was also trying to confirm my transportation from the hotel to the library with my contact, who wasn’t responding. I had absolutely no confidence in UC at this point. Eventually, I got an email back from my contact apologizing the she was at a conference that morning and would have limited availability.

Are you freaking kidding me? You made someone travel 250 miles further than necessary on their own dime and you couldn’t be bothered to be present to assist them?! I was done at this point and was seriously considering telling them to go fork themselves. I was raised to be a good boy, though, and to not burn my bridges. I was also raised to be a far-too-practical Midwesterner who couldn’t turn down an opportunity.

Eventually, it was time to pack my bags and check out. Downstairs at the desk I described my purpose and recent experience to the staff to both to establish how to get to the library, as I didn’t trust what UC was telling me, and to make sure they could hold my bags until after the interview was completed. There was a university shuttle that I was supposed to be taking, but given the previous night’s disappointment I didn’t want to count on that. I had even worked out how to walk from the hotel to the library, just in case. Being professional hotel staff, my luggage was safe there and they had their own shuttle which could take me there that I was welcome to use. Excellent.

After that contingency was in place I left my bags with them and went to the restaurant for a late breakfast. I just barely made it before the kitchen closed until dinner and still managed to have a very nice, and very large breakfast. I was intentionally calorie loading as I was all but certain this was the only meal I was going to get that day. After breakfast I sat in the lobby for what was supposed to be an hour, or so, before the hotel shuttle would shuttle me to my destination. However, sitting there, the driver came to me and asked if it was okay to go early, because he had a pickup to make. I consented and before I left made the conscious decision not to take my notebook or even a pen with me to the interview, as I normally would have, because on some deep level I’d already decided that this was not the place for me.

I got dropped off at the appropriate spot and now had more than an hour before my actual interview was to start. I took a walk around campus and through the library to kill time doing my best to be incognito. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to be incognito on a college campus while wearing a suit and tie? Here’s a hint. It’s impossible. I got all the way through the building and nearly made my way out when a member of the search committee cornered me and introduced himself. I apologized for being so early and he politely mentioned that they weren’t ready for me yet. I was gracious and said that I’d occupy myself until a more appropriate time. At which point I went back outside to walk around campus some more.

The University of Cincinnati’s campus really isn’t all that big.

Sidebar: Aside from the free booze the day before, the other positive I got from this experience was seeing the Triceracopter. “Triceracopter?” You might ask. Yes, indubitably, the Triceracopter.

triceracopter
I bring you the Triceracopter.

The Triceracopter is a 1977 sculpture by Patricia A. Renick that is supposed to represent the extinction of warfare. It’s also clearly supposed to be an outdoor sculpture which is kept indoors and poorly lit. It’s also one of the most wonderfully terrible and tacky pieces of art I’ve ever seen, and I live in Las Vegas. I love it and hate it all at once. It also makes me want to write a 1980’s era animated fantasy serial in which the Triceracopter is both the hero’s best friend and primary mode of transportation. WHY DOES THIS NOT EXIST ALREADY?!

But, I digress.

Triceracopter.

I’m sorry. Moving on.

The interview happened. It was unremarkable. I did my best (at least, under the circumstances) and gave an unremarkable and unrealistic presentation. I’m good in front of a crowd, but my content wasn’t very good. Afterward, I finally met my contact who had been unavailable prior to that moment who assured me that my cab fare from the previous night would be reimbursed, as well as the hotel, and otherwise apologized for the confusion. I met with a few different groups, an HR Rep, and the Dean of the Libraries. At the end I was shuttled (by the university, even!) back to the hotel where I collected my bags and took another shuttle back to the airport. Turns out that one of the two shuttle companies I saw the night before was whom I was supposed to get a ride from, but I had no way of knowing that based on my information and their behavior.

So, I was back at CVG with enough time to buy a souvenir coffee mug (something Wifey and I like to do when traveling) and even dinner, something I didn’t think I was going to get, earlier. I got my flights without incident and got home after midnight, physically and emotionally exhausted.

Epilogue

Yes, this story has an epilogue. When I first applied to the UC job I was automatically enrolled in a weekly bulletin about open positions at the university that went out every Friday. The interview was in early December. I was told that I wouldn’t here anything about the position until mid-January. This is not at all unreasonable. About two weeks after the interview I’m having a birthday dinner at a restaurant with Wifey, my parents, my nephew (also near his birthday), and my niece. I had just finished telling this whole story when I casually look at my phone and check my email. It was a Friday. I received the UC HR Newsletter with the list of open positions and the job I had just interviewed for sitting at number one, with a bullet. To be sure, I checked the posting date to see if this was an old listing or not. Nope. It was fresh since I’d been there. It took them a full month more — when they said I’d hear initially — for them to send me the thanks-but-no-thanks notice. For a full month I knew they had reopened the search. This was the last indignity I was going to take from them, so I took it upon myself to write the dean and in the most professional way I could I detailed every issue and hardship I had with my trip. No one should ever be treated the way I was treated an University of Cincinnati as a prospective employee. I told the dean that I would create circumstances in which to tell anyone I met how the University of Cincinnati abandoned me at the airport. And I have made it so. I will tell anyone who will listen about my experience. Usually, in the short version, opposed to what this has been.

You may be thinking that I’m whining, and that I shouldn’t have expected the treatment that UCCS gave me prior to my experience with UC. To illustrate, the experience I had at UCCS was duplicated just a few weeks after the UC trip by Georgia Southern University, in which I was allowed a second night in a hotel room, treated to a shared meal, and generally treated wonderfully. The same several months later when the University of Texas, San Antonio brought me in to interview for their ILL Librarian position. In fact, UC is an outlier to any reasonably funded university. Just before accepting my current position I was offered an interview with tiny Randolph College in Lynchberg, VA. Even they had it together enough to buy my plane tickets and put me up in a dorm room. But this Division 1 research university in southern Ohio couldn’t get their shit together to even pick me up from the airport.

Do not apply for a job at the University of Cincinnati.

 

 

 

 

PS: Triceracopter

steg-2

book and red wine on a marble table

I’m Fully Staffed Again!, or, I Needed a Drink

Recently, a candidate accepted a job offer to work for me. This means that for the first time since the end of June I’m fully staffed in my department. Prior to that I was fully staffed for 4-6 weeks, maybe. Other than that, from October 2017-May 2018 I was down one or more positions in my department. That’s most of my first fifteen months in this job. That’s not to mention my hiring manager who sought other opportunities after my first seven months and is not being directly replaced. Of the six positions under me I have now hired five of them, all five of whom are still in their year-long (!) probationary period which will require three performance evaluations each through their eleventh month on the job.

Now, no one is allowed to leave for two years, minimum.

I’m nailing them to their desks, dammit.

I’m tired of this crap.

Don’t get my wrong. I’ve got a great staff, now, of which I’m very proud, and I think our new edition is going to fold in nicely. But while I’ve gained a TON of experience in employee recruitment, it is not one of my favorite tasks. In particular, I hate reading through the cover letters and resumes, although it does give me plenty of opportunities to be judgemental, which is always nice.

  • Why did you put that comma there?
  • Don’t tell me about your reading habits. I don’t care!
  • Yes, it’s great that you volunteered as a puppy petter for three years, but how does that help you deal with an angry patron at nine o’clock in the evening?
  • So, you’re just looking for any job that’s not your current one, then?
  • “Library” has two “R’s,” thank you.

Okay, going trough the resumes and cover letters I find annoying, but the worst part, the absolute worst part is having to call that finalist and tell them that you went to the other candidate. I had to do this, again, and this time there were tears. Not blubbering and wailing (I’d guess that came after we hung up) but quiet disappointed tears. That was the absolute worst. While I’m confident I made the right choice, I felt like a terrible person. There was booze later.

In my earliest blog posts I concentrated on my job search. I did that because I really didn’t have anything else other than the persistent Hell that was my old job. I’ve been in this job less than two years and I still feel like a new-hire in a lot of ways. I also still remember what it feels like to be a job seeker and how frustrating that whole process is. Because of that memory and some of the horrible experiences I’ve had made a particular effort to be sure that I treat all of my applicants with as much respect and dignity as possible. Anyone that I give a telephone interview to gets an email response of a thanks-but-no-thanks that is either generally or specifically encouraging. Anyone who is brought in or otherwise gets a second interview gets a phone call from me, personally. Again, the phone call is personal, supportive, and encouraging.

These are small acts, but so many would-be employers don’t bother. When you have dozens of applicants for a position it’s not practical to email each of them individually, obviously. Hopefully, HR informs them eventually of their status, but many times they don’t. No one should ever be left to guess what their status is for any open position. Job searching can be such a bleak and horrible valley. It is an undignified chore, regardless of your skills or qualifications. It really doesn’t take much to treat others with even the smallest amount of respect; the respect they deserve.

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.

 

 

 

The Ambivalent Librarian

About six months ago I wrote about the perception of professionalism in libraries. About three months ago I began a post with the above title. That post was begun at a point of emotional nadir in which my depression had had a significant resurgence. I was in fear of losing my job, and I really didn’t know what I was doing in the profession anymore. Fortunately, that time has passed and I have since deleted all of the content from that depressive would-be post.

Why Am I an Ambivalent Librarian?

I was twenty-six years old and halfway through my undergraduate degree when I began working in my first library job. Over the next two years I began to really enjoy the environment and the work I was doing and decided to make libraries my new career. I knew that for the best paying and most career advancing jobs I’d have to get a Master’s degree in Library Science. But, as I looked around at the librarians and paraprofessionals I worked closely with I saw no significant difference in the work they were doing. Even my department head was little better than a retail manager. What then was the purpose of a library degree? Later, I worked at a local public library, where again, the librarians in charge were little better than retail management and they did many of the same tasks as the paraprofessional staff. What was the degree good for? Later, still, I got my first full-time library job at a university library and again, I couldn’t tell what was so special about the library science degree. As far as I could tell, all of the specialized work that was being done — in the front of house, at least — was stuff that was relatively easy to learn through one-on-one instruction and trial and error. Now, I was never involved in library instruction, subject selecting, and the like, but I still didn’t see what was so important about that library degree.

I did see that I was never ever going to get a better job without it, though.

I enrolled in library school and spent the next four years mostly complaining about the lack of depth and generally low instructor expectations from something that claimed to be a Master’s degree. I was not a happy student and did not make many friends in that time. With only a few exceptions I felt that I was required to work much harder as an undergraduate than a graduate student, which seems upside-down to me. Furthermore, I was learning that that for so many jobs in academic libraries one was expected to have a second Master’s degree in a certain subject. Still, the question persisted, what was the purpose or use of a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science?

I Call It “Librarian Hazing.”

It’s the gauntlet; the basic training, of a profession that rarely looks like what is presented in the classroom. I’ve talked to librarians from all across the country who went to any number of library programs. Some, seem to had wonderful and challenging experiences in library school that they are grateful for. Others, like me, had disappointing experiences that really put into question the value of the whole process. I, for one, think the whole thing is done incorrectly.

I’d endorse a medieval-style apprenticeship program that placed a novitiate in the library on day one in which they develop skills based on actual library work, rather than relying on textbooks and theory. Textbooks and theory are important, of course, but can’t convey the realities of the work. Ever. This approach would not only make better librarians, but also stem the market flood of inexperienced library graduates that hit the streets every year. This would also greatly extend the time required to train librarians and be so relationship-based — rather than classroom-based — that it would be financially unfeasible for universities to implement. So this won’t happen, but it’s a dream.

When I began thinking about librarianship as a career, I was thinking of getting into ILL or cataloging (i.e. back of house operations), but by the time I was half-way through my librarian education I had realized that while I do have a cataloger’s brain and could be very successful in that kind of work, that the lack of variety and patron interaction were something that I’d miss. I’d accidentally become a public services (i.e. front of house) librarian. I couldn’t have made that change without direct experience in the field.

I would get very frustrated with classmates — who usually were lovely people — who seemed to enter library school on a whim; who did not or had never worked in a library. People who seemed to have romantic notions of what library work was like and saw it as the greener grass on the other side of the septic tank. Library schools, by not being able to provide these people with hands-on work, only did these people an expensive disservice. I wanted to shake them by their shoulders and tell them that they were wasting their time and their money, especially when they would look you in the face and say they could never relocate from their tiny Missouri town because they had children or whichever honorably sentimental excuse they were using.

After I received my Master’s degree it took me two years to get another job, and even that one only required a high-school diploma. I’m still not a “professional” librarian by industry standards, regardless of the work I perform. The reasons it took me that long to get a job are complex and we can’t ignore the significance of sheer dumb luck, but there are two relevant professional reasons that my job search was longer than advertised:

  1. I had no full-time employee management experience (student assistants only).
  2. I had never been a teacher.

Lack of management and teaching experience disqualified me from ninety percent of the jobs out there. If a decade’s experience as a student assistant and paraprofessional weren’t enough to qualify me for librarian job after achieving my master’s degree, my wistful classmates wouldn’t have a prayer.

So, we have a situation in which the library degree, by itself, is not enough for the best-paying, most advancing careers, and is sometimes seen as secondary to your other Master’s degree. Furthermore, librarian education is uneven, at best. Yet, we have this culture that only says your a “real” librarian if you been through the MLIS degree process. Library school is truly librarian hazing: an expensive, difficult, and time consuming process with few tangible rewards.

That’s Library School, Yeah, but the Work…

The work. I really like the work. I get frustrated like anyone else, but I get to come to work every day and work with college students on both sides of the desk. I get to work with these remarkable and ambitious people and be a small part of their education. With the youngest of them who work for me I get to be a small part of finishing their journey to adulthood. I get to support my amazing colleagues who are teaching research skills and information literacy. I get to lean on talented technicians making sure the information is findable.

The thing about the work, though, is that it is largely moving away from what is stereotypically seen as library work. The traditional reference desk is dying the slow painful death of suburban shopping malls as more and more information is readily accessible online. SMS and Chat services mean that many questions about library access can be managed from any computer. With the advent of RFID tagging and self-checkout stations, plus, tablets and web-based circulation software the traditional circulation desk will soon begin to die out as the reference desk has. Neither will disappear completely, but if you can purchase an iMac at the Apple store without a cash register, then why do we need a massive piece of furniture dedicated to book circulation or ready reference consultation?

My colleagues in the back of the house are performing work more akin to a computer scientist than the catalogers of the past. Newer features like makerspaces and whole departments like my library’s new “Knowledge Production” group are asking fundamental questions about what an academic library can or should be. We’re putting in audio and video production studios, video editing suites, 3D printers, and a GIS lab. None of this is covered in any library school I’ve ever heard of. It’s almost like the term “librarian” doesn’t mean anything anymore. That’s not bad or good. It is just reality.

I’m an ambivalent librarian because I see the wonderful work and true value of us dedicating our professional lives to ensure students and faculty have access to the resources they need to be successful in their studies, but I also see the anachronistic approach to librarian education and credentials that do not reflect the future — or even the present — of the profession.

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.

Transition Points

Today (02/01) is the first day of the rest of my career. It is also the first day that my hiring manager no longer works here. It is the first day that the department is really mine.

We are a department in transition and a department struggling to just stay afloat. Not only has there been a change in management, there was a change in ILS and discovery tool. A new hire is starting at the end of the month and soon a second new hire will join us, both filling open positions. Looming over all of this, though, is the fact that another team member is suffering from a serious illness. It is a time of uncertainty and a time for growth. To everything there is a season. Turn, turn, turn. These are the things they don’t teach you in library school…

…Oh! and one of my employees really hates me.

I’m getting support. My AD and I have been building a good relationship. She likes to be the mentor and I am finally getting the guidance that I didn’t get before.

finding-dory-movie

All of my employees work really hard and are dependable. Sure, with the one being ill and everyone having learn the new workflows in the new ILS some work isn’t getting done, but we’re keeping afloat. We’re basically in Dory the fish mode, “just keep swimming.”

I’m optimistic. One of the great truths of library work, and one of its greatest virtues, is that we’re not a hospital. When we make mistakes, when plans don’t work out, no one dies. There is room to fail and try again here. Administration understands the strain we are under and is willing to work with us to get us what we need.