Challenging. Time-consuming. The first semester of this academic year has been…well, just that. I can’t remember a more busy time in my career as a librarian since 1998/99. (That’s another “perfect storm” story altogether.) And most of what I have been entwined with recently comes from outside my typical sphere of duties. Our institution is currently involved in the re-accreditation process, and I have landed on several self-study committees either as a chair or a resource person. Anyone who has been through the re-accreditation process (this is my 2nd go-around) understands what that means.
Honestly, most of my work energies over the last 3-4 months have been devoted to something outside of the library, and I kinda miss my job. (I should also note that I lament being socially MIA on Twitter, etc. with my peeps.) Special activities like re-accreditation are beneficial and much-needed. Nevertheless, at times I feel like a school kid wandering the streets in the middle of a weekday looking over my shoulder for a truant officer. (Am I abandoning my post?) Other times, I feel like Cinderella must have felt to be left scrubbing the floors while her sisters went out to the big event. (Am I missing the fun?)
I’m ready to be a librarian again…and in more ways than one. I’m ready to get back to what I know and love best. At the same time, I have been reflecting on just what it is that I know and love best.
Perhaps one of the benefits of this time away from my normal duties has been the ability to step out of the mix somewhat and reflect. I have been doing some soul-searching, or–more precisely–some mission-searching. Actually, I’ve been reflecting on “mission,” “purpose,” and the like for about a year now. Maybe this semester was the match to throw on the charcoals that I have been soaking in lighter fluid. When I heard from some of the library staff that they had a good conversation this week about the library’s purpose and identity, I knew that I was onto something.
So here’s what we as a library staff are going to do. In January we are going to hold an informal library staff forum to talk about our library and its role in our institution and higher education in general. We will reflect on:
- Who we (the library) are.
- What we do.
- How we do it.
A family meeting, so to speak. Who knows? We may even invite the academic dean and the president. (Open communication is golden.) The plan is simple: Talk, listen, and respond and then see what happens.
New year resolution. Spring cleaning. A first step. Utter nonsense. Call it what you will. We’re going to talk and listen, and hopefully we’ll come out on the other end all the better for having done so.
Time to go. I’ve got more re-accreditation work to do before breaking for the holidays.
I let the cat out of the bag in a post last week about my natural tendency to pay attention to signs. Recently I participated in a board meeting which required travel. On my way to the meeting, I spotted the following sign on the side of the road.
It was hard to miss. The bright yellow canvas, the size of the letters and numbers, the exclamation mark, and the proximity to the road (it even had a slight lean towards the road) all seemed to animate the sign. It was as if the sign was anxiously and passionately begging to be…well…put to work. I’m not quite sure how or why my mind works this way sometimes, but I immediately began seeing an analogy with my library. (Yes, I know.)
Are there underutilized things in the library that could be better employed to advance the cause of our mission? Things that, in some cases, may be practically begging to be put into service?
[SIDEBAR: Granted, the ultimate purpose of this sign is for someone to make money--certainly the person on the other end of that phone number and quite often whoever decides to lease the sign. Libraries are not in the money-making business, but the methods being used with that roadside billboard do translate to the library: advertising and resource deployment. In order for the resources and services provided by our libraries to be used, people need to know that they exist. In order for people to know that the resources and services exist, we need to tell them. We need to advertise. And how do we advertise? By identifying and using the tools we have at hand which best get the word out. What do we advertise? Resources and services that have been carefully selected and made available.]
For most of the remaining 60 miles to the board meeting, I held another, hastily-called brainstorming meeting in my head. (No pun intended.) I suppose what follows counts as the minutes of that meeting. I asked myself: What things are already in our library–perhaps right under our noses–that are potential candidates for better utilization? Here are some initial possibilities that I came up with:
- Spaces. Are there any physical spaces that could be reworked or reorganized to house and enable better usage of our resources and services? What about that unorganized room in a fairly high-traffic area that has become a catch-all storage room over time? Could it be cleared out and repurposed as a study space, etc.? Or what about the entrance area? Could this foyer space be more inviting to those entering and better made to encourage return visits? Could it be used for promotional purposes? What about digital spaces? Are we making the most of our online presence (library website, social networking profiles, library content embedded in other online spaces across the campus and beyond)? How about the monitor screens on computer workstations? That’s prime real estate for advertising and promotion in the library.
- Resources. We all have invested a lot of time, energy, and money into acquiring resources for our library users. Are we using them to their fullest potential? I have to ask myself that very question. What about the reference collection? Ours is sizeable, but used less and less each year it seems. Are there ways that we can alter the makeup or presentation of this collection to let it work to draw users? [David Lee King shared a post on customer service last week (excellent post, by the way). There he challenges libraries to consider processes that hinder a self-paced, self-serve library experience. He mentions "the reference section that can’t be checked out (even though those books aren’t used much)". Food for thought.] Or what about our greatest resource of all–the library staff? Are there certain skill sets that we are not fully allowing to shine?
I hear things in my library saying (like that billboard sign and Jerry Maguire), “Help me help you!”
What about you? Take a look around. Are there things already at hand where you are that with a little creativity, encouragement, and elbow grease you could better employ to advance your mission?
In last Friday’s post we had some fun with a billboard sign about illiteracy. As promised, here–upside down–are the “answers” to the top 3 things that came to my mind as lessons to be learned from the sign. If you don’t want to take on the challenge of reading upside down, just click the image for properly-oriented viewing.