Thursday, February 22, 2018

Interview Post: Andrew Preater


Andrew Preater

Current job?
Director of Library Services at the University of West London

How long have you been in the field?
14 years, including my roles within libraries that were more IT-focused. I completed my LIS master's degree in 2011.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
I have the luxury of having my own office within our library, with a window that opens and a door that closes. I prefer my workspaces tidy without too much personalisation. I have some storage space for print books and reports, printed-out articles (for some reason I can only read scholarly work on paper), and those odds and ends that are useful to have around when you work in an office.

Otherwise, my office doesn't look that much different from when I moved into it. In the photo, my laptop is set up with an external monitor and the computer itself in 'tent' mode as a secondary display.

How do you organize your days?
As much as I love a nice pen and notebook, my university uses Microsoft Office / Office 365 so I organise my work using Outlook for calendaring, OneNote for note taking, and OneDrive and SharePoint for sharing and collaborating on documents. My calendar is open so everyone I work with knows my whereabouts and availability.

My method for organising work is modified from Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD). My iron rule is not using my email inbox as a to-do list. Though I prioritise using software and systems hosted or subscribed by my employer for work one concession is Trello, which I use for a high-level overview and prioritisation of things and a to-do list.

For the record my preferred text editor is Vim.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
Meeting and talking with people takes up much of my time, as does preparing for and planning for upcoming meetings, following up on them where necessary, and ensuring I've not missed anything that I need to be involved with. Such is the library director life. I've really come to appreciate good habits in meetings, from both organisers and participants.

One thing I spend time on that was understated to me by senior colleagues is time dedicated to thinking about both individual issues and the bigger picture. That is to say, although experience and deeper expertise helps develop the ability to make decisions quickly and accurately, you really do need to take time to understand things from different perspectives and think deeply.

What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day sees me arriving around 8.30 am, having already checked my calendar and to-do list so I have an overview of the day. There is no typical structure to my day, but there are always meetings, collaborative project work to attend to, and email to deal with.

During a normal week, I tend to compartmentalise days into those with more meetings, especially those with longer or more formal committee meetings, and those with fewer into which I deliberately build additional unstructured time. This means I can avoid too many days with meetings back-to-back over the whole working day, and ensure there is unscheduled time for those inevitable issues where you need to drop everything.

Our library senior management have settled on our own meetings running mid-week, and one-to-one catch up meetings with my direct reports at the end of the week. We also meet for a brief conversation at the end of the week to note and reflect on the main achievements and issues.

Whatever I am doing, I try to ensure I walk around the library a few times during the day, to gauge how staff and students are using the space, and to say hello and catch up with library staff in passing.

What are you reading right now?

I read a fair amount of scholarly work within and beyond LIS for professional development, so I usually also have an article or two on the go and a highlighter pen to hand. Alongside the rewards of learning in encountering new, challenging ideas beyond my experience, I have found this extremely good value for the time invested.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Taken as a whole my professional mentor's advice has been incredibly helpful and I am immensely grateful to her for sharing it with me. One thing that sticks out is the importance of seeking understanding beyond the limited perspective of your team or department when dealing with difficult problems, and fully considering different viewpoints before making decisions.

In higher education I've found there is great depth of knowledge embodied in the multi-professional teams I’ve worked with, but focusing that knowledge for transformative change is easier said than done. You have to actively work at seeking out and understanding each others' viewpoints.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
A previous line-manager once advised me that at a senior level, much more of the volume of work than you expect is about personnel or human resources issues. What wasn't explained to me was the extent to which emotional labour, relational work, and care work is implicated in these aspects of management roles. One thing I value a great deal in my current role is being able to place recognition and reward appropriately for emotional labour. 

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
I have some I know I over-use. Interesting, subjective, discourse (especially 'the discourse'), wonderful, problematic, fab.

What is your least favorite word?
I don't have any particular least favourite.

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
At one point, I would have loved a career in Unix / Linux system administration. Happily I ended up doing a little of this in systems librarian roles.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Anything that involves working at a height.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
The ability to manipulate time while remaining unaffected myself. In saying this, I am just wishing for more time…

What are you most proud of in your career?
Personally, it is affirming to see those I've been able to support and mentor in their professional practice go on to achieve the goals they set for themselves and to fulfill their potential.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
Years ago, I was a technical lead on a systems project that was ultimately reworked into a completely new project under new leadership. My mistake was thinking that stakeholder engagement and communication wasn't within my role but was that of the overall project lead, as I knew they had the political influence and capital required to get people together and engaged.

It turned out this wasn't enough. I learned such engagement works at multiple levels, and from an advocacy point of view is most effective when it comes from a position of an existing trusted working relationship. Leadership from the 'project executive' is needed, but is not the foundation.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Spending time with my wife and with friends. We value time in the countryside, and try to combine that with as much bird watching and cycling as we can.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Rosie Hare (@RosieHare), Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos), and Anne Welsh (@AnneWelsh).

Andrew tweets at @preater.

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