thoughtful man

Taking Stock at Two Months

This week marks two months in the new job, and two weeks from the start of the fall semester. Let’s take a step back and see how things are going. In and earlier post I talked about how I was adjusting to the idea that I’m the boss of unit now and how difficult it was for me to make that transition. In the eight weeks since I started this position I’m feeling much more, if not fully, confident in my position. I’m beginning to take charge more and lead less by following and more from the front. That is going to be a longer process to complete and I don’t believe anyone should only lead from the front. I’m not a monarch or a dictator, so taking my lead from my employees is always something I will do.

In another post I questioned the wisdom of socializing with employees and colleagues. There is not a hard-and-fast universal rule to answer that question. Your employer may even strictly prohibit it. You’ll have to find what works for your work environment. So far, I’ve only spent social time with my any of these people in group settings. These are all fun and smart people and we all seem to understand where the lines are, so that helps. I’m building strong work and friend relationships that I hope will continue once we no longer work so closely together.

I’ve also announced that in October I’ll be facilitating a session at the MO Library Association Conference. I got official word today that I’ll also be attending the Access Services Conference in Atlanta in November. It is very heartening that someone so new to the organization would not only be allowed to attend professional conferences, but encouraged to do so. It’s possible that the MO conference will make it hard for me to go to ALA next June, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Not only am I feeling more confident in my leadership role, I’m also feeling more confident in my practical role and a circulation desk supervisor. It will take me a long time to learn everything, but I am certainly competent enough for most day-to-day activities at my circ desk. This is important because in two weeks we’re going to have up to 30k students come through this building every day, I’m told. The tradition here is that for the first two weeks of the semester between 08:00-17:00 the chairs behind the desk are removed and everyone has to stand at their stations because we are too busy to sit, anyway.

dudeist logo
Dudeist Logo

I really don’t know how to prepare for this semester anymore. I’ve never worked in a library that is that busy and the only analogy I can think of is Xmas season at the shopping mall. Even then, I don’t think I was ever that busy. I think I’m just going to have to go with the flow and take a Dudeist attitude about it. I fully expect to be exhausted at the end of my days for a while once it all starts. Hopefully, I’ll lose some weight at the same time. I’ll try to take it all in stride and enjoy being busy as much as possible.

So, that’s where I am right now. Things are looking up. My wife is starting to get interviews for local jobs, and here remote-working experiment is off to a good start. We should be together sooner than later. In the meanwhile we’re doing well and are optimistic about the future.

 

Announcing, Live, and In Person…

JobSeekersSupportGroup

ME!

Today, I confirmed that I will, indeed, be appearing at this year’s Missouri Library Association Conference moderating the JOB SEEKERS’ SUPPORT GROUP.

The description I submitted to them reads as follows.

Librarianship is a very competitive field to break in to. There are many more applicants than open positions and the struggle to achieve one’s career goals is extremely stressful. This breakout session is a round-table discussion opportunity for soon-to-be or recent graduates, or anyone else on the job market to come together to ask questions, commiserate, or share stories about their experiences. We can share stories about our success and failures, frustrations and hopes. It will give job seekers a place to show that they’re not alone in their search and hopefully provide helpful information to shorten their search. Questions that may be addressed: What happens in an all-day academic library interview? How soon should thank-you’s be sent? What is the difference between a CV and a Resume? What does “pay commensurate with experience” mean? What constitutes “professional experience”? How do you handle awkward moments? Etc. This will be an open forum for anyone to contribute to in a safe environment.

While I’ll be able to regale the room with stories of my own failures and lessons, as well as the positives of my 2.5 year job search, I’m hoping to provide some insight*, yes, but mostly I’m hoping to provide a safe space for people to come together and openly discuss their fears, frustrations, and experiences. It is an opportunity for us to learn from each other. If you’re attending the conference, this year, feel free to stop me and say “Hi.” I’ll be there all three days and can’t wait to see some familiar faces.

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Life Is Funny, Sometimes

 

*DISCLAIMER: I am not a licensed therapist. I have no degrees in psychology or any behavioral science. I have no experience working in human resources. I’m simply a librarian who was extremely frustrated when he had the idea for this session and saw the need for it.

a laughing man pushes a laughing woman in a chair in an office

Just How Friendly Is Too Friendly, Boss?

05-13-2014-friendly-boss-employees

When I moved from St. Louis to Las Vegas I moved from my true home city; from the area where I’d spent most of my life and where most of my family are. Due to circumstances beyond our control, my wife, DeLyle, wasn’t able to move with me. She’ll come later after she can secure a job. So this means that when I’m not at work I’m largely alone, and that’s…well,…lonely. So, I’m in a new city where I have no friends and no family separated by my wife by 1,600 miles and two time zones. The only people I’m meeting are my coworkers and they, by and large, are either people I supervise or are people who supervise me. How do I make friends or meaningful social connections in this environment? Should I, even?

I’m fortunate that, so far, I like everyone I’ve met. Some are introverts. Some are extroverts. Some are shy. Some are outgoing. We have a good mix. Being an outgoing introvert I like meeting people and spending time with them, preferably with an escape plan. I’ve gone to shoot pool a couple of times with one co-worker, who, actually I neither supervise nor are supervised by. He’s been fun to hang around with. The first night we were out with a group of people I made it clear that if I directly supervised any of those people I wouldn’t be there. It wasn’t appropriate, I thought, for a supervisor to party with his employees. What if something happened that affected the work relationship? What if we became good friends, then I had to discipline him or her later? Better to just avoid it and stay safe.

It’s probably best to keep it that way.

But I probably won’t, at least for now.

Being alone in a city is never easy. There are new streets, new cultures, new weather, etc. The people you meet at work are your initial lifeline to human interaction. I’m an introvert, not a hermit. I need that human connection as much as most people. When a different coworker — this time one that I do supervise — asked me about getting a group together for going to a bar, my initial reaction was to say “no.” That’s not appropriate. And the invitation should definitely not come from me. No one should ever be forced to socialize with their boss outside of work, and an invite to do Tapas from your boss, may feel like an obligation to the shy, less assertive, or anyone, really.

I saw another employee at Wal-Mart one day. We waived “hello” from twenty feet away and made no effort to chit-chat. While the self-conscious part of me thought, “Why wasn’t she friendlier? Does she not like me? What’s wrong?” The sensible part of me chimed in and said, “Dude, you’re her boss. She doesn’t want to hang out with you.” That felt right and I was able to move on with my life.

But if my employees do want to hang out with me, can or should I do it? Still, my initial reaction is to say, “no,” but another part of me — I honestly don’t know if its the sensible one, or not — says, “you should do this.” Why? Because,

  1. I like these people.
  2. I have no friends, locally.
  3. I want to be a friendly and available boss that is a part of the team, not above it.

Is it risky? Sure, but so was moving 1/3 of the way across the country. I do that sometimes. Also, I’m a grownup. I know my boundaries and I know my limits. I really think I can do this.

Big Changes: Or, Why I’ve not Been Posting or at ALA.

Well, it finally happened! After 2.5 years of laborious and demoralizing job hunting I’ve finally been graced with a NEW JOB! About two months ago UNLV offered me the position of Circulation Manager for their Lied Library. I agreed to it right away and my wife and I started preparations for the move from St. Louis, MO to Las Vegas, NV. To say that this was an exciting and frightening time for us would be an understatement.

True, we’d been talking about this possibility since way before I graduated with my MLIS degree, but now that it was actually upon us we had to adjust to the new reality that the abstract theory had become tangible fact. In a week we’d secured an apartment and arranged for our transportation. A week later we were on the road. It was that fast. I left a Jeffrey-shaped hole in the wall at UMSL as I left.

Leaving my house in St. Louis
Leaving our house in St. Louis

We drove between St. Louis and Vegas in twenty-eight hours, only stopping for food, gas, and stretching along the way. Sleeping when we could while the other drove. We moved into the apartment on May 26, and spent a week getting to know the area, buying furniture and housewares that didn’t fit in the truck, and doing our best to enjoy our last week living together for a while.

You read that right. My beloved wife is still back in St. Louis where she works and shares our house with her daughter. That is the absolute worst part of this move, not being with her. We’re doing our best with it, though. We’re talking everyday via phone or video, and we’ve always IM’ed and texted each other throughout the day. She’s actively looking for a job in LV and has made an arrangement with her boss to work remotely for short periods of time. This means that she’ll be able to visit for two weeks at a time and only take vacation time for half that time, so long as she spends the rest of the days doing her job from here. While the ideal situation is that she do her job remotely full-time, her superiors are not ready to make that commitment, yet. Maybe if she proves herself capable and trustworthy that day will come in the future. In the meantime she’s still looking for work and watching the calendar. If nothing changes in the next year, she’ll turn sixty-five next May and retire from her job after she can claim Medicare. So, absolute worst-case scenario is that we’re apart for a year. It helps knowing that there’s an upper limit to the situation.

The Job

Jeffrey at Lied Library
Me, excited to start my new Job

Previously, I was managing consortial lending for UMSL’s Thomas Jefferson Library. That meant that I’d spend 2-4 hours a day running reports, noting statistics, harassing delinquent students and libraries about overdue materials, and maybe processing the day’s incoming courier shipment. The rest of the 4-6 hours of my day were spent waiting for my student workers to get the rest of my work done. I mastered this position two years into it, and spent the next five years twiddling my thumbs.

The only good things about this were that I was able to get my library degree for 25% of the sticker price, do most of my classwork at work, make some pretty good work-friends, and stay in the field of my chosen profession. Not too bad.

The bad parts of this job were the caustic and cancerous work environment I was forced to stay in in which I was absolutely denied any opportunity to expand my professional experience, getting only occasional paltry pay raises (0.5%-1.5%) less than once every two years, being asked to do supervisory work for entry level pay, and being paid far less than the average for equivalent positions even in my own city.

Now, I’m in a position in which I’m directly supervising four full-time employees (soon adding two part-time positions) and am the authority figure at the circulation desk of a library three times larger and thirty times more busy (so, I’m told), for a university that has bucked the national trends and is actually growing to the point where they can build a brand new medical school in an environment where they’ve never had one before.. Oh, also, I’m treated with respect, paid a living wage in which I’ll receive regular cost-of-living increases, and am being encouraged to pursue professional development and activities even though I’m not in a professional librarian position (I was told that was “inappropriate” at UMSL).

To say that this has been a big change is an understatement.

So far, the biggest adjustment I’m having to make is that I have to get used to being “the decider” on issues. My first instinct is to run something by my boss, but now, I am the boss and my job is to keep problems off my supervisor’s desk. I’m not a naturally aggressive or ambitious person. Now that I’m in this position I’m finding that I have to grow into my power — limited as it may be.

While I’m ecstatic to get this job, I’m sad that the timing of it made it impossible for me to attend this year’s ALA Conference, especially since Chicago is one of my favorite places in the world. We’d ponied up for the cost, since UMSL was too poor to send anyone, and were set to have a working (for me) vacation. Luckily, we were able to get most of the money back.

I love going to conferences and playing Spot the Librarian as I go around town. I love meeting colleagues and seeing what they are doing at other places. I love exploring other cities, and bumping into old friends. I love having conference buddies to hang out with after hours. Happily, though, I’m probably going to the Access Services Conference in Atlanta (another former home city) in November, and I should be able to go to ALAAC18 in New Orleans (not one of my favorite cities) next year.

I know the shine will probably wear off the new job and living in Las Vegas sooner than later, but for the moment I’m enjoying my time as much as I can being so distant from my wife. I’m happy working in this beautiful library on a vibrant campus with really nice people. It feels good to be in a place that wants you there.

2016 missouri library association conference logo

Missouri Library Association Conference, Day 3

First thing this morning was a shower. I’m sure all my fellow attendees will appreciate that. Shower done I packed and checked out of my room. By the time that was done I didn’t have time for breakfast before my first event; visiting the Access Services Community of Interest meeting. (They had muffins!) This consisted of me and two other librarians discussing the difficulties in our underfunded libraries. Interestingly, I was confused for UMSL‘s Head of Access Services, which we do not have. We also discussed potential presentation topics for next year. Oh, also I became next year’s official recorder, which means in two years I’d be the vice-chair, chair in  three years, and previous chair in four years. Yes, previous chair is a real position for “institutional continuity.” The chances of me actually fulfilling these duties through 2020 are pretty slim, but I get more resume fodder for them, just the same.

After that, I arrived late to a presentation on how MST is revamping course reserves that was full of good ideas. Shelly’d devised away to determine which items needed to be on reserve based on usage statistics. Way to go, MST! I think this means that I’m an uber library nerd in that I can go to a presentation on ILS list techniques and think it’s interesting.

Currently, I’m waiting for “Sharing Managerial Wisdom” being hosted by a couple of SISLT faculty.

It was really good! It was about knowledge management and passing on institutional knowledge. Lots of anecdotes on how people, including me, have had to fend for themselves in new positions. They talked about the importance of succession plans and making available policies and procedures for colleagues. They also talked about how important it is to NOT keep your job details a secret. I have learned first-hand how that is detrimental to a department. My attitude is that no one is indespensible, and any sense of power you get from holding on to details is false. In the end, you only hurt your coworkers.

Next session, in the same room, is on positive customer service.

They had tech issues and seemed a little disorganized due to the fact that they were trying to pack a two-hour training session into forty-five minutes. Their content was good, though. It was all about the “getting to ‘Yes'” model of customer service. The idea is that by viewing your patron as a partner whom you are to help succeed resets the dichotomy between the service provider and served. It’s as much about attitude and word choice as it is about the actual work. This is actually a model I’ve tried to employ over the last several years. It is the service model I describe when I’m in a job interview. It is who I try to be every day I am at work. We would all be better off if we employed that in our daily lives.

I have to say that I had an excellent conference. Ever since ALA 2015 in San Francisco I’ve felt that I’ve really figured out professional conferences. I’ve been able to cut out the sessions that are wastes of time, generally. I’m comfortable talking to strangers and networking with new colleagues. I’m getting involved with committees and attending business meetings. And, the more local conference have several people from all types of libraries that I’ve gotten to know over the years and are some degree of friends of mine.

This conference was excellent in that I got to make new connections, build on existing relationships, get new information and reinforce old information. Furthermore, all but one of my sessions were actually worthwhile. Typically, if one gets three good sessions over a three day conference you have done well. I had way more than that. Next year’s conference is home in St. Louis. I expect I’ll still be around then. I’m looking forward to seeing my friends again and learning more cool geeky library stuff.

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Missouri Library Association Conference, Day 2

Missouri Library Association Conference, Day 1

Schmoozing Skills