Tuesday, February 28, 2017

When Things Go Wrong: Giving Correction

It's clear that they've never had to correct someone's behavior from how laid back this pud is.

One of the hardest things for a new boss to learn is how to give feedback to staff. If anyone tells you they had an easy time with it, either they are lying or they had a lot of coaching ahead of time. Well... I didn't have lots of coaching ahead of time, and I'm not going to lie to you. The truth is that I've had some missteps while talking to employees about their mistakes. And like I always try to do with my failures, I want to use it to help you avoid the same pitfalls

One major caveat: I have consciously waited to write this post until enough time has passed since the last conversation like this with someone who works for me. I know some of them read my blog regularly (*waving hello*), and I wanted to make sure none of those interactions were fresh in my mind while writing. This is very much written from a general perspective.

Without further ado, here are my rules of thumb for giving corrections:
  1. Avoid correcting someone when you're angry. I try to wait at least 24 hours, or longer if I'm still not calm. There will be times when I can't wait that long, so when that happens I take a deep breath and count to ten before starting. A bonus here is that waiting will give you time to think through what happened and consider alternatives.
  2. Avoid correcting someone in front of others. Most times the problem that needs addressing won't concern anyone else, and therefore won't be anyone else's business. Also, since you're trying to wait until you're calm to address an issue, it will be easier to arrange a time to talk one-on-one. If you absolutely cannot wait and cannot talk to the person away from others, be as respectful as possible.
  3. Don't just pull people into your office when there is a problem. You don't want to signal to others, in any way, that the conversation you're having is about correcting your employee's behavior. I make a point of taking to people in private about good things as well - especially important because my office walls are glass.
  4. Concentrate on behavior, not on personality. I've never done this to an employee because I've been on the receiving end of it way too often. You want to help them improve, not just make them feel bad about themselves. An example of behavior is "so I heard you said this thing," whereas an example of personality is "why are you so mean to John?"
  5. Explain why the behavior is a problem. Arbitrary rules are a no go for me, and should be for you. Same goes for "well, we've always done it this way" rules. Sometimes people won't realize why something is a problem, and will ignore a rule they don't understand.
  6. Understand that you may not (probably don't) have all the facts. If you walk up in the middle of a moment, you have no way to know what happened before. Even if you witness the whole incident, you don't know what lead to it. This admonition is especially true if someone is reporting a problem well after the fact.
  7. Always document these interactions. Even if it is the first such incident, even if you are sure it will never happen again, you need to be able to prove that you've had the conversation. You really never know when something is only the first of many problems to come. I learned my lesson with this the hard way. I recommend a follow up email to the person you had to correct, immediately after you meet, so that you also have a date/time stamp.
This is so important to me that I'm going to take another step and demonstrate all of the above in a made up conversation, with a very basic kind of problem, so you can see more of what I mean. (Imagine that our boss and our employee are already in a private space, and that both are relatively calm.)

Boss: I need to talk to you about what happened yesterday. When I got back from my meeting at the end of the day, your friend was behind the circulation desk with you and quickly left when they saw me. Can you tell me what happened and why?
Employee: I needed to show them something on my computer screen.
Boss: I can understand that, but we sometimes have private information showing behind the desk and privacy is very important here considering the sensitive information libraries sometimes hold. If this comes up again, please just turn the computer screen so that the patron can see.
Employee: I tried to do that, but I think the monitor might be broken because I couldn't get it to turn.
Boss: We'll reach out to IT today. From now on I need you to let me know about computer problems right away, okay?
Employee: Okay.
Boss: So, just to be clear, nobody but library staff or IT should be behind the circ desk, and you'll let me know about computer issues as they come up instead of later. Do you have any questions?
Employee: No questions.
Boss: Cool. I'm also going to email you a note about what we discussed. I am confident that this won't be an issue in the future, and I want to make sure we're on the same page about it. Thanks for your time.

One last thing: when you have your inevitable misstep with this kind of interaction, apologize when you're wrong and be sincere about it. How can you expect your staff to learn from their mistakes if you don't? 

How about you? Anything you would do differently? 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Interview Post: Jim DelRosso



Jim DelRosso

Current job?

Digital Projects Coordinator at Cornell University’s Hospitality, Labor, and Management (HLM) Library.

How long have you been in the field?

My first library gig was as a student assistant in 1998. My first full-time library job was as an interlibrary loan specialist starting in 2001. I’ve been at this library since 2006, first as non-academic professional staff, and then as a librarian starting in 2011.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

I’m lucky enough to have an actual office, with walls and a door and everything. I’m located in the reference suite of the Catherwood Library -- one of the three library locations that are part of HLM -- along with five other colleagues who also have offices.

More specifically, my office tends to be somewhat unkempt (though I have a monthly calendar reminder to clean it), is lit by a $9 floor lamp from Target instead of the overhead fluorescents, and is decorated with labor posters and silly internet stuff I printed out. I used to have more explicitly geeky stuff, but I pulled that down after reading articles about how that could be off putting. The Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness is still up, though, as are these:

How do you organize your days?
I actually have a specialized way to use my email as a to-do list (which I described on Twitter). Between that and calendar reminders, I usually have a good sense of what I need to accomplish when I’m not in one of my many, many meetings.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
It’s tempting to say “meetings,” especially after that last answer, and some weeks really are dominated by them. I also spend a lot of the rest of the time on email. What both have in common, though, is that they involve me working with my peers here at the Cornell University library, with faculty, with colleagues from my professional organizations, etc., to move projects forward towards completion, or provide sustained service.

What is a typical day like for you?
I’ll let you know when I have one. :D This is my calendar this week:

What are you reading right now?
The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander. The Prydain Chronicles were the first books I ever read, and I revisit them periodically. Right now seems like a very good time to do so.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
“The actor’s underlying motivation should be to get the hell back offstage.” Paraphrasing the late Stephen Cole, from whom I was lucky enough to take an acting class during my undergrad years. This advice has served me well as a teacher and a librarian. It’s helped me as I try to find that important balance between remembering that my interactions with those I work with are not about me, and not letting myself or my profession be erased or undermined.

Do what you need to do, get them back to doing what they need to be doing, but don’t let them forget about you, either.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Learning Robert’s Rules of Order. Driving a van to New Jersey to pick up books (copies of which the library already owned). Contacting state agencies all over the country to ask about their collections of public sector collective bargaining agreements.

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Acting. Every winter I grow a beard and tell myself I could play Henry in The Lion in Winter. Both help keep me warm.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Library consultant.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
That quasi-Akashic ability to tap into any piece of human knowledge that they had in the Matrix. Also super-strength and a healing factor, if I get to pick a whole suite of powers.

What are you most proud of in your career?
Probably contributing to DC@ILR, the open digital repository for Cornell’s ILR School. It’s really a peerless disciplinary repository for workplace issues, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

I’m also pleased with my contributions to the Academic Assembly Steering Committee here at CUL. The Academic Assembly is the self-governance body for Cornell’s librarians and archivists, and as such I think it’s one of the most important things I could have gotten involved with. I’m currently chair of AASC, and I’ve really believe that the work we’ve been doing will make the Assembly, and the library, stronger institutions.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
This is a tough one, because of the huge psychological distance between saying, “I mess up all the time!” and actually talking about a specific instance. Also, I have to be vague so I don’t put anyone’s name in the mix who doesn’t deserve it. So...

A few years back, I chose not to recommend someone for a leadership position due to aspects of their work history. If you’d asked me at the time, I would have been adamant that those issues didn’t matter to me at all, but that I was concerned it would upset people further up the chain, cause problems for the project, etc. etc. rationalize rationalize rationalize.

It was obviously a mistake, and even if the decision I made hadn’t caused problems for the project -- and it did! -- it would’ve been a mistake because I denied what I thought of as my better judgment to save myself some hassle. And because, ultimately, even if I really did believe what I claimed to, there was zero functional difference between the actions I took, and the actions that would’ve been taken had I believed otherwise.

It was a mistake, and a failure on my part. I still think about it a lot. And I like to think I’ve learned from it.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Playing some kind of game. Board games, RPGs, video games, these are very much my thing.

OK, that’s kind of a pat lie. I’m probably reading something on my phone. But there’s a decent chance I’m reading something about gaming, or wishing I was gaming.

And lately, more and more time has been spent reading and sharing stuff about politics. That’s always been there, but it’s getting more common, and I’m actually taking more action off of the internet in this realm, too.

That’s likely to increase.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Amy Buckland. Emily Drabinski. Fobazi Ettarh. Aliqae Geraci. Gr Keer. Kendra Levine.

Jim is on Twitter as @niwandajones.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Writing (and Righting) Library Policies

One of the first things that I did when I started in my current gig was to ask about policies and procedures. It turned out that we had these for pretty much every situation, but almost none of them had been written down. (I'll pause here for a moment to let you get over your shock, or lack of.)

After I got over being flabbergasted, I asked that everything be written down and double checked by everyone involved in enacting/enforcing the procedures and policies. That's when I finally got them, and started to work my way through the pile. The very large pile. In between other events, it has taken me up to very recently to finally review and, when necessary, rewrite these documents.

So what am I doing to celebrate this momentous occasion? I'm starting over.

I'm sure at least some of you are asking why I'd do such a thing? Why aren't I happy with the completed work of years? Well, here's a few reasons:

  • Things change. Shocker, I know, but it happens. For instance, I've already revisited the circulation and fines policy, only to find not a single mention of our board game collection. Our board game collection that we've had for 3 years now. You could also be dealing with new laws or changes in your consortium.
  • Personnel changes. It's not ideal, but sometimes you have procedures in place that are tied to specific people. When someone leaves, it's a perfect opportunity to revisit existing documentation. An example of this is that change in administration had us revisiting our inclement weather policies.
  • You change. My library should have had gender neutral bathrooms and a preferred name policy for our OPAC all along, but we didn't. We do now. And it's not that I would have said, "no! no way!" if someone had asked in the past, but I realized recently that people shouldn't have to ask. It's incumbent upon me to be leading the way with making members of our community feel comfortable and welcome in my library.
The thing is, we should all revisit our policies and procedures on a regular basis. Our goals and values may be constant, but the strategies we use to achieve those ends are (and should be) open to change. Our documentation need to be open to change as well.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

On the Psychology of Librarianship: Finding a Center of Gravity, by Catherine Jane Minter


On one of my recent forays into European library history, I alighted on a piece by the Austrian librarian Franz Grasberger (1915-81) exploring the “Psychology of Librarianship” (LQ, 1954). Vintage as it is, Grasberger’s account of the multiple – and often conflicting – responsibilities of the academic librarian will surely strike a chord with others as it did with me:
“The librarian must be equipped to combine in himself almost contrasting faculties: a mechanical and administrative skill with an understanding of spiritual content. To be scholar, organizer, businessman, technician, and administrator and to create a harmonious entity out of these contrasting elements of one’s profession would seem to be no mean task.”
Memorably, Grasberger frames this problem as one of a lack of a center of gravity in the librarian’s work -- producing what he describes as “a relaxing of the psychic tension required for top performance.” This is essentially a mid-twentieth century neuropsychological way of saying that the librarian is often spread too thin to be able to do anything very well.
The problem articulated by Grasberger was not a new one even in his time. As far back as the early 1800s, other European librarians were also aware that the requirement for a good librarian to be a generalist was inimical to the development of depth in any one area. Some recommended that librarians should avoid pursuing scholarly work of any kind in order to avoid crumbling under the pressure of trying to reconcile their generalist jobs with their specialized academic interests. More recently, Blaise Cronin made a similar argument that because librarians (unlike the professorate) have day jobs, they generally lack the focus needed to produce profound scholarship (“The Mother of all Myths,” LJ, 2001). The fact that Cronin expresses his views unkindly should not blind us to the truth of many of them; I would only add that, in my opinion, it’s not so much the day job per se that’s the problem, but rather the scattered nature of the work that fills it – which dissipates one’s energies on the intellectual and psychological levels.
Some of us have it harder than others, I think; and public services librarians may be among the least fortunate. As a subject/liaison librarian at a large public university, my responsibilities include building library collections across seven subjects, and providing research assistance and instructional support across these same subjects – the majority of which I honestly don’t know much about. In my case, having a job that essentially consists of keeping a lot of people happy and dabbling in a host of things that I don’t know well and will never fully master has stymied the development of a sense of specialized knowledge or expertise, or indeed of any understanding of myself as a “professional” at all.
Now more than ever, the practice of librarianship seems to be about pleasing people, as libraries struggle to retain their relevance. This trend troubles me, since the people-pleasing impulse decidedly places the focus of the librarian’s work – the center of gravity -- outside rather than within the individual. Will the next generation(s?) of librarians be more vulnerable to “burnout” or – as Grasberger and his contemporaries would probably have put it – “enervation” than those of the past? Insofar as their energies and focus may be increasingly scattered by the demands of their work, and by an outside center of gravity imposed by a “service orientation” run wild, I would say that the answer may well be yes.
Grasberger’s solution to the problem of how academic librarians can give their work a center of gravity is one that may interest a newer generation of librarians:
"The focal point of this activity [i.e. of the librarian’s work] must be sought in the practical effort of acquiring, storing, and rendering a collection accessible, and this, in turn, must serve as a point of departure for theoretical evaluations. […] The unifying approach is the […] method of using practical experience as the basis for theoretical insights. The librarian’s goal must be a synthesis of theory and practice.”
Or, in other words, the librarian should aim to inject into the practice of librarianship a theoretical perspective that serves to give the practice deeper meaning. In recent months, I have been encouraged by the inclination I see in some MLS students at my institution to do exactly as Grasberger recommends – to use their practical experience as the basis for theoretical (and often critical) insights, thereby injecting meaning into experience that in itself may be lacking in depth. For my own part, I’m working on a change, but it’s proving harder than expected, since somewhere in the midst of all the scattered practice I seem to have lost my center of gravity – and, with it, my direction.
Catherine is currently an arts and humanities subject librarian at Indiana University Bloomington. Prior to this, she worked at the Modern and Medieval Languages Faculty Library at the University of Cambridge, and at the library of the Warburg Institute in London. She holds a PhD in German from the University of Oxford, and became an academic librarian when her plans to be a German Studies professor didn't work out. She doesn't regret the decision too often.