Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Unexpected Manager: 8 Lessons Learned from Being Made a Library Manager Right Out of Library School, by Peter Shirts

Gif of person spinning 6 different plates at the top of wooden poles.

[Editor's Note: This post is good reading for anybody in charge of something, not just for those just out of their graduate programs who are unexpectedly put in charge of something.]

After finishing library school, I accepted the first job offer I received as an academic subject liaison. I soon found out, however, that a major part of the job was not quite clear in the official position description—after a short, 9-month training period as co-manager, I would become the sole manager of an academic branch library with 8.5 full-time positions and around 20 part-time student workers. All of the full-time staff were older than I was, and some had been working at that location for over 20 years. While I would not wish a similar situation on other recent graduates, I gained valuable experience. Should you find yourself as an unexpected manager, here are 8 key lessons I learned:

1. Spend time listening. When learning about your new organization, listen more than talk. Acknowledge staff members’ feelings, strengths of the current way of doing things, changes desired by staff, and feedback about your new management.

2. Remember that change takes time. Ingrained procedures are not always a bad thing, but sometimes it is important to revisit why a procedure or policy was adopted and assess whether the conditions that led to its adoption are still the same. Try to frame discussions in terms such as “let’s think about this another way” or “I’ve heard it is done differently elsewhere…what do you think?” instead of “now we’re going to do it my way.” When change is needed, make sure all the stakeholders are consulted and find ways to honor the past while forging ahead.

3. Learn to translate others’ productivity for supervisees and supervisors. Because each member of your team has a different function and area of expertise, communicating work accomplishments to each other can be difficult. Most people want to do their job well, but conflicts between staff can arise when one person’s idea of “well” is different from their coworkers' or your ideas. Because of this, you may need to explain a staff member’s output to their coworkers. If an employee really is not working up to par, translate what the employee is doing (or not doing) to your supervisor, and allow the underperforming staff member to supply their own perspective. You are not exempt from reporting, so find ways to communicate the work you are doing to your staff, also. For instance, I both produced and requested monthly reports. Finally, praise your staff in public and private for what they do well.

4. Run meetings efficiently. People want to feel that their opinions and concerns are heard, but they do not want their time wasted. Here are some strategies I used:
  • Make an agenda, invite new agenda items well before the meeting, and during the meeting keep to the agenda as much as possible.
  • Have someone (besides you) take notes and archive these notes in a shared drive
  • Follow up on unfinished items from past meetings.
  • Keep announcements brief and make as many as you can via email outside of the meeting.
  • Keep the tone light and fun (by making on-topic but not demeaning jokes or acknowledging a situation’s humor), while still keeping the meeting brief.
  • Make sure everyone understands what decisions have been made.
  • Avoid doing creative things, such as writing or workflow analysis, in a meeting.
  • Instead, use the meeting to gather opinions on writing or workflows that have been drafted already outside of the meeting.
  • Everyone enjoys an early dismissal or even a cancelled meeting—but do not overuse these options.

5. Make connections with your staff. Keep relationships professional, but also find out what makes your staff tick. Sometimes you can use staff members’ hobbies or interests to enhance the library’s offerings or collections. Relying on staff members’ unique expertise helps them feel needed, too.

6. Keep good notes. When juggling management of many people doing many different tasks, it is easy to forget what happened even a few days ago. Keep a paper trail of meetings, conversations, and decisions. For instance, when you make an assignment orally, confirm the assignment in an email. You never know when you will need to review decisions again or remind someone of an assignment.

7. Be smart about delegating. My staff had a lot of experience doing their jobs, and I tried not to stop them from using that experience. Most of the time, they could perform their jobs skillfully without my intervention, so I kept out of their way. If someone had expertise in a certain area, I would assign tasks in that area to them instead of tackling them myself. However, when the staff looked for me for leadership, I prioritized learning about and dealing with the relevant issues.
8. Set boundaries for yourself. In almost any professional library position, there is more work than one person can possibly complete; this can be an even more acute problem for a first-time manager. Instead of working yourself to burnout, stick to a reasonable work schedule with only occasional extended hours. Include a dedicated lunch break in your schedule.

Peter Shirts is a little less stressed than he used to be, now working as the Music Librarian at Emory University. He shares occasional musical thoughts at and on Twitter @SignifyingSound.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Any Topic Requests?

If you've been following this blog, you know I get tapped out for ideas every once in a while, then something comes along and I suddenly have a surfeit of ideas. I've got a few things lined up that I can't publish just yet, for a few reasons, so I'm going to use this week to ask if anyone has anything they'd like me to write. But I need your help to get over the hump, the dry spell, the idea desert I'm currently inhabiting.

So, do you have anything you're trying to handle for which you think advice would help?

Are you curious about my philosophy about a certain part of librarianship?

Do you have a topic you'd like to write yourself, but are afraid of the fallout that might occur if you spoke about something publicly?

Comment here; respond on Twitter or Tumblr; send me an email - librarianjessica at gmail dot com!

I'm ready to help!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Interview Post: Bryony Jane Ramsden


Bryony Jane Ramsden

Current job?
Subject Librarian for Human and Health Sciences at the University of Huddersfield. I mostly look after students in nursing and allied health professions, but as the other health librarian and myself are both part time, we provide support according to what day somebody needs help! My role has changed this academic year though, as I’ve been given a user experience role (brand new to our library).

How long have you been in the field?
What feels like a LONG time! I have that common tale where I got a shelving job at the local public library when I was an undergrad, and liked working in the environment and the nature of the interactions so much I ended up working towards qualification. So, if you count when I started my shelving job, I’d say around 19-20 years. That IS a long time, then!

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
We have an office for all the subject and academic librarians and all the subject assistants, around 20 of us altogether, with our own personal desks. My desk is like my house, a personalised, organised mess – I know EXACTLY where everything is, even if it doesn’t look like that! We used to live in separate subject-related offices, but they were gradually removed to be (rightly) dedicated to student use instead. I don’t always manage to work very well when it gets busy and noisy, but I love working with everyone here. We have a good team.

How do you organize your days?
Thinking about it, today is probably the first day I’ve had a chance to organise my day because I’ve been so busy this last term! They are generally split between meetings in the school for course committees and student panels, appointments with students or academics [Editor’s Note: I believe that translates to “faculty” for those of us in the US.], providing training for information skills (plus this last couple of months I’ve been running a number of internal UX methods training sessions), and staffing the help desk, although we do that from our office now instead of actually sitting at the desk. But as I wrote this I only had desk duty, and we were winding down for the holidays, I had a to do list of things to sort out before I went on leave.

To do lists are the best way for me to keep track and organised, as I can do all the calendar scheduling/planning I want for tasks but if the phone rings or I get an urgent email asking to advise on a tricky query, I could easily end up spending my scheduled time on that instead. We don’t provide a systematic review service for our academics, but academics and higher level students often ask for support on making sure their search strategy is working and is comprehensive/systematic enough. That can be challenging and time consuming, but is just fascinating!

What do you spend most of your time doing?
It depends on the time of year. In term one, mostly inductions and teaching, and then as it gets further in I have a lot of student appointments. In term two, I’ll have a few January-intake classes, but it’s a lot quieter than in September, so I spend more time on student appointments than classes. Once things are calmer in the new year, I willspend more time on revising my teaching content and looking at stock purchasing/editing before the next round of assignments are due in and the course committee meetings and student appointment requests increase again.

What is a typical day like for you?
It will start with me coming in and having breakfast because the bus service isn’t amazing, so it’s just easier for me to set off earlier and have a calm, relaxing start to the day. I’ll check my calendar for any meetings/teaching etc, go through all my emails, and check ‘TopDesk’ (an online enquiry management system we’ve adopted at the University) for anything that might have been designated to me to respond to. That can include students asking for help with referencing or requesting an appointment, or staff asking if we can buy a new journal or resource. If I’m on the rota for the desk first thing, I also go on to Twitter/Facebook and Questionpoint to see if anyone has sent us a question out of hours. Then I’ll write up a to do list of what I want to get done that day, which might be checking what has been added to the reading lists for any out of stock titles, or planning training sessions, or working on what will be in the next display.

What are you reading right now?
I just finished The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, which was brilliant, and have moved on to re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, as it’s a long time since I last read it, and I want a reminder before the new book comes out…

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Ask for forgiveness instead of permission ;-) This isn’t always appropriate, but it works very well a lot of the time, and even then you don’t have to ask for forgiveness that much!  

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Crafting! This is an academic library, so most of my time is spent talking to people about research on wound care and that kind of thing, but we’ve been running regular sessions for anyone to attend where we make things, help people de-stress, and if they want to (they don’t have to) they can ask us library-related questions. All of which means I get to knit and paper craft as part of my job! Yay!

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?
I have lots, changing depending on the day, all of which are normal words, but because of the job have grim meanings. Today’s will be crust…

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
I’d quite like to try working in a baking co-operative like the Handmade Bakery in Slaithwaite. I imagine it can be stressful like any service is, but the idea of making delicious bread and other baked goods in a co-operative environment is appealing.
What profession would you never want to attempt?
Working in a call centre: a thankless task where they get blamed and shouted at for things that aren’t their fault.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Incredible physical strength, kind of like Hulk but with a bit less anger.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I think it’s that my relationship with the students in the school is as strong as it is. Health students are generally encouraged to speak to library staff by their tutors, but they know there are no stupid questions with me.
If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
Oh good grief, there will be plenty I’ve made! But there is one big one I’d share if I knew I was allowed to! Let’s just say it was many, many years ago, and involved money… In the end it was all fine, and there was nothing we couldn’t fix, and that’s the key thing to remember in a subject librarian role: if you make a mistake, it can almost always be fixed and sorted out.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
I love walking. I live in a beautiful town where the wilds of the moors and the Pennine hills are just on my doorstep. I can make it to work using public transport in 30 mins door to door on a good day, but I can also walk out of my door in the other direction and be in the countryside on foot in 15 minutes. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I also love making things. Give me some yarn or fibre or some paper and ink/a pile of coloured pens and I’ll be really happy. Having said all that, I also love my PS4...

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Jessica Haigh

Bryony tweets at @librarygirlknit.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Leaving Facebook

I realized a couple of days before I planned to publish this, that I was writing about something I'd done to preserve my mental health just in time for #lismentalhealth week. How fortuitous! So what did I do to help my peace of mind? I quit Facebook.

It all started when I read about yet another data breech shortly after reading about how their policies aid the disinformation efforts of foreign governments. I had been spending less and less time there, but that pushed me over into actually leaving. The policies and selling my information and targeted ads and everything, including the smarmy face of Zuckerberg, were finally too much. (I deleted my Instagram forever ago and never had WhatsApp, so I really am Facebook-free.)

I know this is going to come across as deluded or hypocritical, considering I haven't left Tumblr or Twitter or Google. I'm realistic and know I can't completely disengage. I also know that with a mini-computer in my pocket which tracks my whereabouts whether I have the GPS on or not, I'll never be completely off the grid.  Also, I know there is no such thing as ethical consumerism, but I'm trying to be thoughtful and to pick my battles. In my mind, since Twitter is where I connect most with my friends and colleagues, I'm going to fight for it. As for Tumblr, it used to be a safe haven for queer youth and sex workers, so I'm going to fight for that as well. It's just that I have only so much fight in me, and I feel like it would be better served elsewhere. I really do think Facebook is important for some people, but I'm going to have to leave the fight to restore it to what it could be to others.

I did this to protect a little of my sanity, and I don't regret it at all.

It's been about a month now, and I've only had the twinge a few times other than every Tuesday and Thursday when I - for years and years - posted new blog entries to three social media sites. I've got to tell you, though, my hits haven't gone down noticeably and I don't miss the morass that was Facebook.

How about you? Are you still on Facebook?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Just for Fun: Valentine Stuff


A day to celebrate all things romantic love, especially cisgendered, heterosexual love, makes pretty much everyone feel less than. Even those of us in relationships that look - at least on the surface - like the stereotypical, media driven ideal, can feel less than. Further, there is so much hype that accompanies this holiday that it makes everything such a hassle. Case in point: I am in a healthy, happy romantic relationship, but we decided to put our plans to take advantage of half price night at a local museum on hold rather than deal with the nonsense around today.

Having said that, I still kind of want to share some of my favorite Valentine related things I've seen this year.

First, there's #ValentineASpecies over on Twitter. I have long contended that #SciComm twitter is the best twitter, and this fun trend is just more proof of that. Here are some fun ones I saw, but I recommend perusing the hashtag if you need a laugh:

Then there's the neural net written candy heart messages. I encouraged people to tag themselves. For the record, I'm definitely "My Hag":


Finally, I've written about how much I admire Jeffrey Marsh before, and their public reminder that aromantic and asexual individuals are just as loved and wanted and supported and seen made me admire them even more:

So, whether you're happily in love and in a romantic relationship, or happily single and looking forward to half-priced chocolate tomorrow, or some other state that combines those two or is a completely other thing, I hope you have a great day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

How to Survive a Bad Job

A lot of the reasons I was so miserable at my previous institution are no longer a factor there (personnel changes all the way from where I was to the very top of the reporting structure), but I can't lie: I was fairly miserable at my last job. There are a few people in my life now who are just as miserable as (if not more miserable than) I was. I've given some version of this pep talk a couple of times recently, and I thought I'd pass it along to a broader audience.


The first thing you need to do in order to survive a bad job is to know it's not you. It's them. Trust me. Bad jobs are never bad because there are reasonable people around you who have attainable expectations and support you while you're doing the work. A job is bad because you are treated poorly in some (usually many) ways, whether it's an unrealistically small budget or unattainably high standards or colleagues and supervisors who are absolute nightmares.

So, repeat after me: "it's not me; it's them."

No. Say it again. I don't think you believe it yet.

Still with me? Okay. The next thing you need to do in order to survive a bad job is you have to figure out a way to get out of there and work towards that goal. That's going to look different for each person with a bad job. Sometimes, it will mean moving states away. Sometimes it will mean changing industries or sectors of an industry (like academic to public or law to corporate). This step is going to take a loooooooooooooong time for some of you. Spend 15 minutes minimum every day on this. It took me 4 years that last time I wanted to get away from a bad job. (Yes, sometimes you can ameliorate the shite. Talk to your supervisor's supervisor if you trust them. Talk to your union representative if you have them. I'm assuming you've already tried all that before coming to this post.) So what do you do in the mean time? You have to deal with what is instead of what you think it should be.

This is going to sound kind of obvious, but find your real reason for staying there (most likely $$ or educational benefits) and remind yourself of it every time shit gets shitty. The next time your boss throws you under a bus and doesn't apologize when you prove them wrong, remember the core reason you're there.

Next, make sure to take care of yourself. Find a therapist. Find something to do in your not-work life that brings you joy. Find someone to spend time with and cook with and laugh with, or all three at once! (This can be romantic or friendship or both, as suits you.) Get sleep. Eat nutritious food. Also eat junk sometimes, like chocolate or salami, but try to avoid eating your feelings because that will only make you feel worse. Do one thing for yourself, purely and selfishly for you, every day. Drink more water.

Also important, find ways to stay present. When that spike of anxiety or that fog of depression hits, recognize that it is what it is, but you can also be more in your own skin with a little effort. Here's a list of ways I've managed to bring myself back to the moment:
  • Look around the room where you are and count something like everything blue, or everything wood, or everything rectangular.
  • Close your eyes and identify the source of every single noise you hear. As I type this, I hear a colleague on the phone, the blowing of our heating system, the clacking of my typing, my own breath, and another colleague walking around their office.
  • Think of a word that starts with every letter of your name. First name if it's not horrible, first and middle and last and title if you're drowning in anxiety/depression. Jumble echolocation sibilant sonorous ichor calamity alleviate. Do it again and again if needed.
  • Take a slow breathe in, counting to five, and then let it out. I like the constant in and out of breath, but you could also breathe in, then hold, breathe out, then hold.
  • Walk around the entire perimeter of the building you're in. Internally of the weather is crap, but externally if you are at all able to. Getting outside and feeling wind/sun/etc. is very very good for you.

Look, it sounds trite, but it's true that the only thing you can absolutely count on always happening is change. Maybe the change will be you, and you'll find a new job. Maybe the change will be them, and the people making you miserable will retire. You have to be intentional about survival when things are horrible, but you got this.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Less is Less, by Donna Lanclos

We can start with the end of this particular story first: There was a call for papers, it didn’t originally contain a critical spin, and now it is much closer:

screen shot of a tweet from CILIP_ARLG, the link to which is included below,
link to original tweet

When I first saw the original call for papers, my immediate response was this: It is unhealthy for libraries, for anyone, to suggest that “more is less” should drive or organize your work. If we have less we have to do less. Budgets are political documents. When we lie to ourselves and others and suggest we can do even the same with less, who benefits? Not workers, not researchers, not teachers, not students.

My train of thought was sparked by one particular call for papers, but the fact is that public and academic libraries in the US and the UK hear this sort of thing all the time, and it’s just not sustainable. Many public libraries in the UK are being shut down; that is where “more with less” ultimately ends. I would like the profession, across all of its sectors, to find a way to have a conversation about how, when presented with budgets that make things impossible, we say so, and make sure that the people making budget decisions understand that they are, in essence, saying they are happy to not-fund particular kinds of work or resources. I want to support people in speaking truth to their local powers that be, to be able to say to decision makers, “Admit that you don't value this, and that is being reflected in the ‘less’ part of your budget. Say it out loud.”  Because rhetorics of “care” that are not backed up by resources are not sincere. Every budget proposal should be annotated with what will be lost if that piece is not funded. “You want a repository without staff? This is what it's gonna cost you in terms of effectiveness.”

What happens when we try to do more with less? We fail, just like the K-12 schools in the US are failing (or hey, like our entire damn country is failing without a funded and functioning federal government) and then the teachers get blamed when in fact they are being failed by people above them and budgets that do not support public schools or services. I am put in mind of the discussions around “resilience” and how that can be damaging to individuals in difficult institutional contexts. To what extent are we, through the “more with less” discussions, perpetuating the same harms, asking individuals to weather the pain of dysfunction and austerity, rather than collectively organizing to try to shift discussions and take action towards fixing structural problems?

I appreciate that professional organizations want to try to create space for people to share strategies to deal with this kind of austerity. It makes sense. But making-do in a larger context of budget cutting won’t stop the budget cuts. It is for this reason that I want these conversations to be much more heavily weighted towards voices critical of austerity measures that ensure that the "more with less" theme will persist.  If you are in a leadership role in a professional organization for libraries, what can you do as an organization to advocate for more resources for your members?

I would encourage anyone presented with a “practical strategies” conference call to stop and think about submitting a “critical approaches” paper, panel, or other contribution. In my experience, library conference presentations tend towards the “here’s what we did” content in the first place. But there are critical strands everywhere, to be found in conferences, on social media, in journals such as Library with a Lead Pipe, and in our face to face networks. Critique and critical inquiry come from a place of care, and engagement, and I wish they were more easily recognized as such.  

I would also encourage conferences who are interested in exploring issues of the impact of austerity on education and library institutions (and the people who work in and use them) to think about providing funding so that people without resources who are actually living this reality can attend. No point in having these conversations only among people who have enough resources to get to the conference in the first place, because while their budgets might well be cut, they at least have enough budget to be in the room without assistance. What resources can be used to widen participation in these public conversations? What digital places and tools, what money can be offered? It will require organization and action to shift what requires shifting. Professional organizations can constructively contribute, especially if they invite and facilitate critique, and lift voices that are not already heard.

Though she has inspired lots of posts, this is only the second time Donna Lanclos has written for LtaYL. The first time was an interview post. Donna tweets at @DonnaLanclos.