Thursday, January 10, 2013

Frenemies in the Stacks: How Relationships Define Library Work, by Morgan Sohl


I graduated from Library School ready to take on the world in my new life as a professional librarian. I got a job 2 ½ months after graduating and I was doing awesome. I was great at my job, patrons and coworkers respected me, my bosses appreciated me, and everything was going according to my master plan. Then reality set in, I was good at my job but I didn’t have the relationships with my coworkers that I thought I had. They respected me but they didn’t really know or trust me.  When I figured this out, I was crushed, but I came realize (after a lot of brooding) that if I didn’t have the trust and faith of my coworkers then I didn’t have anything. If you’re in a similar situation, or know someone who is, here are my tips for fixing your relationships at work even if it’s your own fault.
  1. Figure out what your goals are:
    • Start with 1-2 goals. Any more than that and you are bound to be overwhelmed. Personal change is hard, so let yourself be successful and start small.
    • Focus on yourself: with any personal change, it has to be something you can control. If your goal requires that someone else change their behavior, then it won’t work.
  2. Identify situations where the you can practice your goals:
    • Examples might include meetings, one on one situations, or office drop-bys.
    • Figure out what triggers you. I found out that lack of sleep, stress, busyness, lack of caffeine, and generally not paying attention were the times I messed up.
  3. Apologize and tell people you are trying to change:
    • But first: Never apologize if you don’t mean it. People will pick up on your insincerity. To change you have to mean it.
    • Tell them about your goals and explain you want to have a better relationship.
  4. Gather your allies and request accountability:
    • Find coworkers that you have a good relationship or a trusted supervisor/mentor.
    • Ask them to tell you when you aren’t meeting your goals.
    • Give them permission to be really honest with you and then don’t bite their heads off when they do it.
  5. You will screw up again, and again:
    • Any goal that requires change is hard. Behaviors (good and bad) are built off of life experiences so failure is inevitable.
    • Talk to your allies and try again.
  6. Make new goals and repeat the steps.

Finally, I offer this exchange between James Spader and Jane Lynch from Lynch’s memoir Happy Accidents which helps me on days when I don’t feel particularly like changing:
James Spader and I had some really lovely talks, and I found him to be extremely smart and deeply thoughtful. Though I never saw him be anything but courteous to everyone on that set, I could sense that he was not a man who suffered fools. Almost as if explaining what I was thinking, he offered this: ‘A long time ago I asked myself, do I want to be right or do I want to be kind? I opted for kind.’ This little piece of wisdom reverberated through my occasionally bitchy self. (p. 218)
I have never regretted trying to change, only the times when I didn’t.

Morgan Sohl is the Reference Librarian at the Driftwood Public Library in Lincoln City, Oregon. Say hi on Google +.


  1. When I started as a shiny new librarian, I had so many amazing ideas and I tried to do them ALL. I'm great with kids, but I didn't connect well with the adult patrons, the shyness I'd struggled with as a kid coming back full force and whacking me in the head. It's taken me several years to build communication skills, relationships with patrons as families, not just the children, and to build rapport with the library staff. I know there will always be some that will never accept me (or forget the slightest mistake) but it's been a great growing and learning experience and when our attendance crossed 10,000 and our circulation 100,000 this year, I felt like I'd finally got it right! nd it doesn't hurt that our director is now the one implementing unwelcome changes so the focus is off me!

  2. That is an awesome title!

    Personal relationships at work are difficult to nurture, especially in a high-stress environment. Jennifer is correct - building rapport is important and the key to building rapport is the ability to empathize with our co-workers. The ability (not only to be compassionate) but to identify the things that (1) set them off, (2) make them passionate about their job, and (3) the expectations they have for themselves and others, including yourself.

    I worked with Morgan and we both seemed to strike upon the idea that (1) competition drove both of us to work harder, (2) we value transparency in our interactions, and (3) we made great frenemies! Once realized I think we had a much more furfilling work relationship.

    But as Morgan subtly hinted in her article; this process takes work and effort. It is an active process.