Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Coordinating with Librarians - Remembering to play nice

Again I was invited to write an article for  the 2013 Best Practices for Government Libraries that is edited by Marie Kaddell.  The full PDF is available from Marie's blog - Government Info Pro.

Here is my article - Coordinating with Librarians:

Several years ago a friend and I were talking about another librarian.  My friend made the comment that this other librarian was odd.  I asked, “Is he really strange or is he just library odd?”
Over the course of my twenty-five years of working in libraries, visiting libraries and attending library conference, I have come to the realization that librarians on the whole are a pretty odd lot.  Before anyone takes offense – be assured that I count myself among the odd.

Of course, being odd is part of what makes us interesting and part of what takes us into the realms of research and reference.  That’s why many of us think outside the box.  Some of us don’t even see the box!
Appreciating our differences:

We are all different.  Some of us are extroverts; some of us are introverts.
After taking a Myers-Briggs exam, I learned that I am an Introvert.  Then I read the descriptions of the various facets and combinations.  Lo and behold!  There’s nothing wrong with being an Introvert.  It is useful to know what our type is and understand the people around us so we can work better as a team.  Yes – we all have to be part of a team.  Even solo librarians work with other people.

I am an introvert who has learned to be an extrovert.  Sometimes I have to psych myself up to attend a party and interact with people.  And then I need some serious downtime.
The point of taking the Myers-Briggs exam is to learn better how you work and how you can be more effective with your colleagues.  It helps if other members of your staff take the exam so everyone can learn to work together more effectively.

There are other ways of accomplishing this – find what works best for your group.  The important thing to understand is that everyone on the staff is a little different.  They will each approach the same task in a slightly different manner.
Respecting our differences:

When I was working as a cataloger the library hired a director of Technical Services.  She wanted to sit down with me and review my work procedures.  I had a moment of resentment.  I had been doing my job for over a year and I didn’t need anyone telling me what to do.  Fortunately the moment passed.  I considered that was now her job to supervise me so she needed to see what I did.  And, since she had a lot more experience in libraries than I did, I just might learn something from her.
In fact, I learned a lot from her – including how to be gracious to staff members who can be resentful.  She was always fair showed respect for all of her colleagues.

Get acquainted:
In June I attended the SLA Annual Conference in San Diego.  The highlight of the conference for me was a presentation by Capt. Winston Smith, USN, Commander of the SanDiego Naval Base.  So much of what he said resonated with me and what I have been trying to do over the past year.

He says he spends 1/3 of his time visiting the ships at the navy base, 1/3 of his time meeting with the tenants and other commands on the base, and 1/3 of his time outside the fence – engaging with the local communities.
These visits aren’t inspection tours – he wants to know the people and them to know him so he can be approachable and better understand their needs.  So, in a library we should spend 1/3 of our time with our colleagues, 1/3 with our customers and 1/3 with our administrative stakeholders.

Some of these interactions will be formal such as staff meetings and presentations.  But don’t forget the informal – grabbing a cup of coffee or sharing lunch.  Find connections with others that don’t involve classification schedules or acquisitions.  But when you are working with your staff – make sure they know you appreciate what they are doing.  Remind them how their work fits into the big picture and serves the mission of the organization.
Know thyself:

This is an aphorism that dates to Ancient Greece.  And we still forget its importance!
Again I recall something that Capt. Smith said in his presentation in June - What is your psychological driver? Identify your own strengths and weaknesses. 

When we know our strengths we are free to let others be strong too.  Another person’s expertise isn’t viewed as a threat when I know that I have my own expertise.  Hopefully our expertise is complementary and we can learn from each other.  When we combine our efforts we can accomplish more for our organization.
Putting it into practice:

A year ago I started a new job.  I am a director of an agency library program.  I give support and policy guidance to my libraries but I have no supervisory authority over them.  They are themselves a consortium – each is independent of the other.  They are funded and supervised locally.
Fortunately I have a boss who sees the importance of my visiting the libraries and meeting with the librarians and the local supervisory and command staff.  This has helped me to understand the work in each of the libraries as well as get to know my librarians.

A few months before I started one of the librarians organized a monthly conference call to coordinate work on the eJournals resource.  I was surprised to learn that this was a recent development.
In addition to visits to the districts to meet the librarians, I started a weekly email to update everyone on what I was doing and sharing any agency information that I knew of.  I usually get some feedback on those –so that tells me that they are reading the messages.

My agency has several librarians who have been on board for many years.  I have made an effort to reach out to them to learn the history of the agency as well as the particular history of the library program.  They have been a big help and have saved me from making several mistakes.  They have pointed out matters of protocol as well as practical matters of working with the Department of Defense.
Email has become my default means of contacting people.  I have had to overcome that and pick up the phone and talk to my colleagues.

The personal meetings with my librarians and the personal phone calls have been the biggest asset to me in working with them and learning how to best support them in their work.  Nothing can beat that personal touch.  I learn a great deal by meeting others and it reminds me that I still have a lot to learn.
I encourage other librarians to be constant learners.  Learn from others at all levels of experience.  One librarian I know is also a potter.  She tells me that she is always intrigued to watch a novice potter throw clay on the wheel for the first time.  It allows her to observe an untrained approach and gauge what her instruction might be for that person.  And sometimes she learns something new.

No comments:

Post a Comment