Archive for the ‘Library Staff’ Category

A Key to a Successful Workplace

October 22, 2013 Comments off

You can find many tips, strategies, techniques, etc. to employ in the workplace with the staff in mind. All are designed to bolster a staff’s productivity and yield positive results. Depending on your particular work environment, some can be successful; others, not so much.

While I don’t consider myself a guru in staff ascendancy, allow me to share one key to a successful workplace that I have found to be rewarding for the staff environment where I work (a library).

The key? Laughter.

If you walk into the staff break area at our library, you’ll be greeted by the following sign:


This sign represents the way in which our staff interacts on a regular basis. Laughter. Humor. Playfulness. Bufoonery. Whatever you want to call it, lightheartedness helps to keep things in perspective and make all those hours we spend together something to look forward to each day. Don’t get me wrong. We can set our nose to the grindstone and focus on serious productivity with the best of them. However, a shared perspective of we’re-in-this-together-cheerfulness flows beneath it all. In a nutshell, we are a family. We laugh together, cry together, rant together, struggle together, succeed together, fail together, get tired together, celebrate together, endure together. And through it all, the smile keeps us going.

A shared family-like joy in the job goes a long way. Skills can be taught over time. A smile can be shared during a quick pass in the hallway. Both have their benefits.

I am ready to be a librarian again

December 17, 2010 2 comments

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.


From Blog Post to Newsletter: Sharing a Story

October 28, 2010 Comments off

About 8 months ago I wrote a post offering kudos to one of our library staff members. It struck a cord with a fair number of readers. Now, with some new introductory material, it has been re-published in the October issue of OCLC Cooperative eNews.

Article title: “Success Story from the Back Room”

I did not agree to this because it would be something to add to my curriculum vitae and pat myself on the back. Rather, I did this because I saw an opportunity to use an available channel to cheer a well-deserving library staff member AND spread the word about the value of libraries and those who work in them.

May we all continue to collect our “success stories” and use them to advocate the value of libraries every chance we get. Whether it’s in a newsletter, newspaper, board meeting, YouTube video, or on the street corner, talk it up with anyone who is willing to listen.


Webinars and Virtual Conferences

October 5, 2010 1 comment

Do you and your staff struggle to find funds or time to travel and attend professional development events such as conferences, workshops, and seminars? If so, have you considered webinars and virtual conferences? A number of online staff development opportunities exist–many of them at very little cost. And in some cases…for free. That’s right. Free.

This is certainly true in the library world. Free (or very low-cost) webinars abound for library staff development and training. Likewise, virtual conferences can be very affordable alternatives when it simply isn’t feasible within your budget or work schedule to hit the road or take to the skies for overnight/multi-day events.

Marianne Lenox has written a post in praise of the free webinar over at the ALA Learning Round Table blog. Her post includes a handy Google Reader Bundle that she put together to keep track of free webinar offerings with relevance to libraries. You can add the bundle to your favorite RSS reader and learn about upcoming free webinars that may be of interest to you or other members of your library staff.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the one-day virtual summit, Ebooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point, presented by Library Journal. I have attended a number of webinars, but this was my first experience with a virtual conference. I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I heard some interesting speakers and took away some informative thoughts and ideas–all for a very, very reasonable cost well within our limited staff development budget this year. One thing that impressed me was how much interaction was available between attendees, presenters, and vendors. When done well–as was this conference–there is much to be said for virtual attendance at such events.

Do you know of any good sources of information on free or low-cost webinars? Feel free to share them in a comment below.

If you are reading this but don’t work in a library, chances are there are free or low-cost webinars, etc. related to your job or area of interest that are available. Search the web. Ask others in your profession. Check with professional organizations. With a little investigating, you just may find something of interest.



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5 Thoughts about the Applecart: #3 – Assessment and Evaluation

June 15, 2010 1 comment

This post continues a series on five thoughts with which I have been tussling concerning my library. To get caught up, first go here and then here. Thought #3 is perhaps the most overarching of all, touching on every aspect of what we do. It actually has two parts:

Thought #3: (Part A) Are our current methods of assessment and evaluation effectively doing their job? And (Part B) are we using assessment and evaluation outcomes to their fullest potential?

As a library administrator, I fully understand the role and value of assessment. Apart from mandates and professional responsibilities, I appreciate assessment simply because I care. I believe that any of us with genuine concern about the impact of our efforts grasps the merit of evaluation. It is from this vantage point that I have been conducting a mental assessment (so to speak) of our assessment efforts. This includes evaluation of the resources and services provided by the library as well as evaluation of the library staff. I am wondering if we can makes any changes in our assessment methods that will make the process more meaningful.

With our assessment efforts:

  • Are we asking the right questions? Quite simply, are we assessing the right things? Are we leaving anything on the table? Is there something that we do or offer about which our users would be more than willing to provide feedback if we only asked? Would the library staff find greater interest and value in staff evaluations if we totally redesigned the process?
  • Are we asking those questions the right way? Are we approaching our assessment efforts from the best angle to yield the best results? When assessment involves feedback from users, do we pose our questions in a way that they understand what we are asking? I love the recent blog post by Andy Burkhardt (Information Tyrannosaur) about librarians seeing the library with fresh eyes. Sometimes we need to remove ourselves from our everyday role and see what we do from a library user’s perspective. Andy offers some great suggestions on how to give it a try, including a reference to a brilliant idea posed by Brian Herzog (Swiss Army Librarian).
  • Are we asking the right people? When seeking feedback concerning a particular resource/service, are we asking the people who are actually using that resource/service? Are we considering input from every possible user group (i.e. students, faculty, staff, alumni, freshmen, athletes, music majors, etc.)?
  • Are we closing the loop? I’ll be honest; I have been guilty of going to great lengths to gather evaluative data only to let it collect dust. You can have the richest collection of assessment data in the universe. You can even prepare the sharpest and clearest report of evaluation findings known to mankind. But all of that means very little if you do nothing with it. Assessment for assessment’s sake generates a file of data. Assessment for the sake of improvement generates value. We must do something with that data that we collect.

I must confess that short of minor tweaks, many of our library’s assessment tools have changed very little over the past several years. When assessment is one of many tasks in a roster of duties, it is easy to just continue using the same metrics, collecting them the same way year after year. The reality, however, is that the playing field continues to change. It stands to reason that our assessment efforts must often do the same in order to remain in step and retain their relevance.

Are you trying any innovative methods of assessment that draws useful participation and feedback?

Are you conducting staff evaluations in a fresh way that is resonating with those being evaluated?

What steps are you taking to ensure that you are doing something to “close the loop” with your assessment data?

Pic credit: swannman



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5 Thoughts for New Librarians

May 17, 2010 Comments off

It is graduation season. Many graduates have just recently tossed their mortarboards into the air, and others will be joining them over the next few weeks. Among them all are those who will be entering the library profession, having earned a masters degree in library science. They are librarians–the newest among the clan.

Last week I was able to find time to read through the May 2010 issue of College & Research Libraries News. In it is an article by Rene Tanner entitled “Making the Most of Your Career: Advice for New Academic Librarians.” Reading this article turned my thoughts to a member of my library staff who was one of those individuals graduating this month with her M.L.I.S. degree. She joined our library staff in January 2006, and I remember very vividly that day back in 2007 when she approached me to let me know that she wanted to pursue a masters degree in library science. It has been a joy mentoring her and watching her learn new skills and develop her own take on what it means to be a librarian. And now, after three years of taking classes part-time while holding down her job at our library, she has completed her studies and officially claimed the right and privilege of being called a librarian. I look forward to the contributions that she will bring to the job as she accepts new responsibilities and challenges.

While there are wiser, more seasoned veteran librarians than me, I would like to offer a few words–5 thoughts–to the newest members of our profession.

1. Celebrate your accomplishments. You have devoted many hours to a graduate library science program. You have gathered wisdom from lectures, broadened your concept of what it means to be an information handler, collaborated with fellow students, tackled issues facing the profession, written your reflections about those issues, learned new skill sets, and shaped your dreams about how you can contribute to the work of libraries. You have come a long way. The real work lies ahead, but for now enjoy what you have accomplished.

2. Find your place. A public library. A college campus library. A K-12 school library. A law library or some other special library. A non-traditional library setting. You may or may not already know the setting where you feel you can most thrive. If so, congratulations. You have subdued half the battle already. If not, be patient, explore the options, talk with veteran librarians, and take note of how you feel about the profession in various settings. The same holds true not only for the setting, but also for the various roles within those settings. Study to learn those jobs/areas within the library where your skill set–your talents–make the greatest contributions and where you feel the most fulfilled at the end of the day.

3. Join the fray. When you land your first library job out of graduate school, remember that you will be joining a group of folks and a library with a history and a mission that is well underway. I guess what I am trying to say is: Acknowledge your role among the many and join in the team effort to provide and promote library resources and services.

4. Sing new songs. While it is important to recognize and work with the existing makeup of a library and its staff, don’t be afraid to bring your abilities and ideas to the table–no matter how new or untraditional they may seem. Be respectful, but be a contributor. Learn and join in with the tunes that are well-known among that library’s staff, but sing your new songs as well. You just may find others humming your new tunes or asking you to teach the song to them.

5. Bring the passion. Right now, do you feel the excitement that comes at the beginning of a journey? Do you have the passion? It is my hope that you are teeming with ideas and energy that will breathe new life into libraries. In a profession that can be underpaid and overlooked, never doubt the value of what you can offer as a librarian. Hold the banner high. With a well-placed passion and professional enthusiasm, you can encourage those around you and make a difference.

To all the recent library school graduates out there, I offer my heart-felt congratulations and my excitement in knowing that there continue to be those who hear and heed the call. Welcome to the ranks, fellow librarians!


Where There’s a Conference, There’s a Way

March 18, 2010 2 comments

In my previous post I wrote about the value of professional conferences and some of the challenges that can hold us back from attending. Two common obstacles (real or perceived) are lack of funding and an inability to be away from the office for so long.

Let’s face it. When times are economically tough, we look for ways to cut spending. And one of the first budget areas to often see the axe swing is professional development/travel. This really can be a legitimate show-stopper for professional conference attendance. And then there is the struggle of being away from the post for an extended period of time. Sure, the conference would be great, but things would be in utter turmoil by the time you got back–so much so that any benefit derived from the conference would quickly be lost by the need to focus all attention on catching up, extinguishing fires, and cleaning up messes that ran rampant in your absence. Been there? To those who can testify but wish it were not the case, consider the following suggestions.

1. Explore alternate funding sources and discounts.

Professional organizations (library associations, regional networks, etc.), vendors, conferences themselves, and other sources often provide scholarships, awards, and grants for conference attendance. If you or your library is a member of a library association (i.e. ALA, state library association), regional network (i.e. Lyrasis), etc., check to see if they offer discounts on attendance at certain conferences. Most do. lists some good examples of conference funding possibilities. Carefully check conference and organizational websites. Contact the conference organizers or professional organizations to see what offers might be available.

2.Find a partner to share the costs.

Ever split a meal with someone at an incredible but pricey restaurant? It can make for a memorable experience that is easy on the wallet when you can pull it off. The same principle can apply for conference attendance. Sometimes this can be the tipping point that makes a conference affordable. Do you know a professional colleague who plans to attend, or is at least contemplating, a conference that you are considering? [A colleague–also located in the southeast–and I have thrown around the idea of joining forces (and cash) for a pilgrimage to the SXSW Conference next year.] If you do know someone, why not share the travel and/or lodging expenses? Who knows, maybe you could even split a meal or two.

3. Go local.

Maybe the national conferences are simply too far away to even consider. Are there any local conferences available to you? A state library association conference? A local library-related consortium/group? Even one-day workshops, seminars, etc.–while not the same as a conference–can also be professionally beneficial. And they can do so without straining the budget or pulling you from the office for an extended period of time like a week-long conference. At the end of the day, local professional development opportunities can be just as engaging and worthwhile as the largest of the national events. To quote from an October 2007 post by Debbie Baaske (North Suburban Library System), “Don’t forget about your local conferences/symposiums. Sometimes the best ideas come from your neighbors just down the street.” So true.

4. Can’t travel? Consider virtual attendance/participation.

When travel/accommodation costs and being away are simply out of the question, there still are ways to “participate” in conferences. It’s like I tell students in library instruction sessions: Just because an item is not available in our building, don’t automatically assume you can’t use it. There are ways of bringing stuff from other places to where you are.

More and more, conferences are pushing content from the event through interaction with a conference website and today’s online communication channels. Slides, handouts, video, and audio from presentations are often posted for easy access from the internet. Sometimes a session is even streamed live online. Conversations can be tracked in close to real-time speed on microblogging services like Twitter or instant messaging services. Activities can be followed on a conference Facebook fan page. Photos from the event might appear on Flickr. The online sharing of a conference experience seems to become richer and more creative each year. Some conferences are even held online or “virtually” in their entirety through the use of web conferencing software.  There is no real substitute for being there, but following the activities of a conference online can be the next best thing.


So take a little time to identify those professional conferences of the greatest value to your job, consider your options, give it a shot, and reap the benefits of professional development and peer interaction. Let’s go conferencing!



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The Benefit of Professional Conferences

March 16, 2010 Comments off

Registrations. Travel plans. Hotel rooms. Name badges. Informational packets. Learning sessions. Vendor booths. Vendor goodies. Meals and camaraderie with professional peers. Sound familiar?

Professional conferences. Carefully planned professional development events (and, sometimes, the stuff of legend).

Some folks are the ultimate conference attenders. Let’s call them the “ultimate” class. If there is a professional conference being held in their field, you can count on them being there. (Counted here would be those regularly invited to present at conferences.) On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who never attend professional conferences or, if they do, it is a rare sighting. The “rare” class. And somewhere in between are those we might class as “moderate” or “middle-of-the-road” conference attenders. They attend their share of conferences, but not at the same level as the “ultimate” class. Perhaps they attend a conference every other year, or they have their one or two favorites that they attend regularly. (For the record, I fall into this camp.)

For those who find themselves in the class of “rare” conference attenders–particularly those who never attend conferences, I realize there are a variety of reasons why this is so. Three reasons often at the top of the list are: (1) I don’t have the money, (2) I can’t afford to be away from “the post,” and (3) I just don’t see the benefit. A lack of funds or the genuine inability to be away from the workplace for an extended period of time (i.e. one-person libraries) can be very legitimate reasons. (I, myself, needed to sacrifice–due to budget cuts–going to a conference this year that I immensely enjoy and have attended for the past three years.) And then there’s the third group.

If you are one of those that just can’t see the real benefit of attending a professional conference, I can appreciate where you are. I, too, used to wonder about the advantage of trekking off to a multi-day conference. Over time, however, I discovered their value by simply diving into the experience. For me, it was a simple need for hands-on education.

There are countless other librarians who would be much better ambassadors for professional conference attendance than me. I don’t burn the circuit by any means. Nevertheless, may I offer a few observations from my own experience? I believe there is much to be gained from attending conferences. I have been to enough to realize the benefits. At conferences you can:

  • Learn from others in your profession–and perhaps in your particular area of expertise (What works? What doesn’t work? This is real, practical professional development in action.)
  • Share with others your thoughts, experiences, etc. (Conferences are not just for taking. They are also excellent opportunities for giving.)
  • Take a break from the daily routine and tasks which can be refreshing and re-energizing (It is simply amazing how much a handful of days focused on your profession yet removed from the daily grind and countless interruptions of the job can encourage and invigorate your calling to the profession.)
  • Have a real opportunity to step back and reflect on your job and the bigger picture of your profession (Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. Conferences allow you to pull away from the daily mechanics and be more philosophic about your job, your profession.)
  • Network, network, network (I would argue that one of the greatest benefits of conference attendance is simply meeting other folks who do what you do.)

I would love to hear from those out there who count themselves as seasoned conference attenders. You know who you are. What else might you add to the list to encourage our fellow professionals to at least consider attending professional conferences?

For those who would like to attend a professional conference but count themselves among those who struggle with the cost or the ability to get away from the office, there is hope. Yes, there are creative ways to address these concerns and perhaps benefit from time spent with your professional peers. This will be the topic of my next post. Be sure to check back.

One final word. I had librarians in mind as I was writing this. However, my comments hold true for anyone in any professional circle. So let me encourage you–if you have never attended a professional conference, give it a shot if at all possible. You might discover ways to grow professionally. Perhaps you will return to your job with a renewed spirit. And, who knows, you may find that you simply enjoy it.



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Success Story from the Back Room

February 23, 2010 8 comments


I received an email last week from one of our library staff members singing the praises of another staff member.

First of all, it was very gratifying to see unsolicited kudos being given among the staff. I believe very strongly that one of my key responsibilities as library director is to encourage our staff in their efforts at the library. (This is a topic deserving of its own post. Note to self.) So you can imagine the joy that I felt in seeing someone who works under me share a recognition of the importance of encouragement. The word “proud” comes to mind.

Back to the email…

The email described how the efforts of one staff member allowed our rural SC college library to rub elbows with two top-5 research university libraries in the U.S. and assist one of those libraries (and, in turn, one of their library users). The praised staff member in question works in cataloging and has been involved (among other things) in an ongoing, long-suffering project to retrospectively add a group of older books in the collection to the online catalog.

Anyone familiar with the tasks associated with cataloging (or technical services) knows that this is not a high-profile, glamorous job. Cataloging tasks are done in the back room–away from the public spaces of the library. As a result, most people are not really sure what those “catalogers” do. Much of the work that is done in the recesses of the cataloging department goes unnoticed by library users. I mean, when was the last time you heard someone say, “We have the coolest library! Have you seen those records in the library catalog?”

The praised cataloger, while working on the retrospective cataloging project, added a particular 1901 publication to our online catalog at some point during the project. At that moment, our copy of the book was exposed to the world through the miracle of the Internet. The staff member who sent me the email told the story of how our copy of that 1901 book had recently been requested through interlibrary loan by the library at Princeton. In the interlibrary loan system, only two U.S. libraries were shown to own the book: Harvard and our library. After the initial shock wore off, this realization offered a beautiful success story of the value of cataloging librarians and their efforts. On an average day in the back room with no one around, our cataloger clicked the save button to add a record to our online catalog. Little did she know at the time that because of her unobserved efforts our library was positioned to connect a library user a thousand miles away with a book not widely held in libraries.

The moral of the story? Work diligently, and never underestimate the value of your contributions–even (and perhaps, especially) if they come from the unassuming back room. Look around. There are more success stories just waiting to be told.

By the way, a century-old library book is now on its way from rural SC to Princeton, NJ to make itself useful.

Pic by erskinelibrary


Categories: Library Staff