Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Elusive Gift for Giving, by Keri Cascio


The traditional gift giving holidays are upon us. But with birthdays and other events happening throughout the year, one question often comes up: “Who gives to whom, and how much?”

As a library manager, I expect that I or the organization will be the gift giver. I don’t expect to get gifts from my staff. And business etiquette says you shouldn’t give them to me. Alison Green of the Ask a Manager blog has written on this topic many, manytimes.

My first manager position was at a public library branch with about 25 (mostly part-time) employees. We didn’t have a birthday party rotation in place, so birthday gifts were at the discretion of friends and colleagues. We did try to celebrate the larger milestone birthdays as a branch. As a manager, I gave them each of my staff a high-end candy bar and a personal card on their birthdays. It was easy to catch everyone, as we were all working in one small building and there were staff lockers to drop off gifts early in the morning. It felt like it was a little thing that would make a big impact, and I believe it did.

The end-of-the-year holidays were much harder to deal with for me. I live a very secular life, and I don’t really celebrate anything unless family or friends invite me along. My first year, I bought everyone cute holiday socks and wrapped them in a small bag with candy and a card. I also bought the holiday ham for the staff party (and as a long-time vegetarian had no idea what I was doing at the HoneyBaked Ham store!). The next year I bought $5 gas station gift cards and candy, it seemed fitting as we had a QuikTrip location down the road and made regular drink runs. I had two full time supervisors who reported to me, and I bought each of them something more personal and expensive.

My staff bought me presents for the holidays and for my birthday. There was a group present, and also something special from a few people if they felt like it. I have to say that I never felt comfortable getting gifts from my staff due to the differences in position and pay scales, but I was also touched when they did it.

I currently work at an independent research library, and the atmosphere is much more conservative. I have four departments who report to me, with four direct reports and over 20 indirect reports spread throughout a very large building. Three of my departments get together for a monthly potluck birthday party, so I don’t do anything additional. December 1 was my start date, and I when I asked around that first year I was told that nothing was expected from me for the holidays as a supervisor. The library hosts a catered staff luncheon, and I’ve used that as an excuse not to do anything on my own. I don’t feel as connected to my indirect reports in this position, as I don’t see them on a regular basis. Living life “upstairs” and apart in administrative offices makes for a much different work culture.

I occasionally feel guilty for giving up the “warm fuzzies” I had in my previous job and stopping my gift- and card-giving habits as a manager. And at the same time I would feel strange just starting them up out of nowhere even though I know I could do that at any time.

If you’re wondering what to do at your own library, you really have to get a feel for the culture and follow your best instincts. Just remember that you don’t want to start traditions that become too difficult to maintain, whether due to preparation time or costs. I’ve heard stories of epic baking sessions and expensive presents that can’t be repeated year-to-year. My best advice would be to keep it simple, and keep it sincere.

Keri Cascio is the Director of Innovative Technologies and Library Resource Management at the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology in Kansas City, MO. She previously worked at public libraries, a state-wide consortium, and an ILS vendor that no longer exists. She current serves on the boards for ALCTS and the Missouri Library Association. Keri was a member of the inaugural ALA Emerging Leader cohort in 2007. She earned an MA in Information Science and Learning Technologies, emphasis Library Science, from the University of Missouri in 2003. You can find her on Twitter at @keribrary.

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