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David Lee King

More on Community



Nicole Engard (great blog, by the way – y’all should be reading it!) just left a comment on my post It’s About the Community. I was starting to reply to her comment when it dawned on me that my reply might work better as another post, so…

Nicole says: “David, I totally agree! But what about those public service librarians who are “too busy” to maintain these tools? I know that that is the case in many libraries – the staff who should be in charge of the project claims to be too busy (or are too busy) and then the maintenance is passed back to the IT staff – who probably are too busy – and then the whole thing falls apart … sometimes it’s not that the IT staff wants to control the technology – but that they were the last resort.”

Yep – that’s true! How can you deal with that sorta backwards philosophy?

Here are some suggestions (please add yours!):

  • The biggest challenge, in my mind, is getting staff over the fact that the new service resides on a computer. Think about it – Telephone reference is a great example. Does the library’s switchboard operator answer telephone reference questions? No – even though those questions come via phone. But there seems to be a disconnect with web-based interactions. Blogs, Social Networking tools, flickr accounts… those come from the computer, right? Wrong. You are interacting with real people, just like with telephone reference.
  • “I’m too busy” – this isn’t the fault of front-line staff. I think this excuse (that’s what it is, after all) falls squarely into management’s lap. Is a blog important to your library? Is the interaction and growth that can be had via a social network part of your library’s strategic plan? If not… you should talk about it. If so… you should be setting priorities and goals for front-line staff. Maybe the staff member needs to NOT be doing something, so they can focus more on the blog.
  • If participating in and supporting your library’s community via emerging online tools is important, why not add it to job descriptions? Why not include things like “post to the blog,” “respond to comments,” or “create a weekly videocast?” We do that with other important job duties – don’t just tack on an “oh yeah, do something with the web, too” line. Focus on strategic goals, and realign job duties to meet those goals.

Any thoughts?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://tscott.typepad.com/ T Scott

    Your second point is critical — the front-line staff probably ARE too busy, and they can’t just decide on their own that they’re going to stop doing other stuff. It has to be a priority that is fully supported at the top.

    That being said, getting librarians to stop doing things is very difficult. We’re going through a major planning process in my place right now that is intended to help us do just that — but it isn’t a matter of deciding “this is important and that isn’t”. It’s all important. But you have to let some of it go anyway, so that you can focus on the most important.

    The one quibble that I’d have with your point is that I don’t think it’s up to management to “be setting priorities and goals for the front-line staff”. If it’s going to work, the setting of priorities and development of goals has to be a group process in order to get necessary buy-in. My job is to lead, not to dictate.

    For more on the challenges (and necessities) of learning how to STOP doing things, I strongly recommend Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great”, and its supplement, “Good to Great and the Social Sectors”.

    My constant mantra to my staff (and this has been the case for over fifteen years) is that we have the talent and the skills (or we can figure out how to get them) to do anything — but we can’t do everything. So we’ve got to be sure that we’re putting our efforts where they’re going to have the greatest results.

  • http://tscott.typepad.com T Scott

    Your second point is critical — the front-line staff probably ARE too busy, and they can’t just decide on their own that they’re going to stop doing other stuff. It has to be a priority that is fully supported at the top.

    That being said, getting librarians to stop doing things is very difficult. We’re going through a major planning process in my place right now that is intended to help us do just that — but it isn’t a matter of deciding “this is important and that isn’t”. It’s all important. But you have to let some of it go anyway, so that you can focus on the most important.

    The one quibble that I’d have with your point is that I don’t think it’s up to management to “be setting priorities and goals for the front-line staff”. If it’s going to work, the setting of priorities and development of goals has to be a group process in order to get necessary buy-in. My job is to lead, not to dictate.

    For more on the challenges (and necessities) of learning how to STOP doing things, I strongly recommend Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great”, and its supplement, “Good to Great and the Social Sectors”.

    My constant mantra to my staff (and this has been the case for over fifteen years) is that we have the talent and the skills (or we can figure out how to get them) to do anything — but we can’t do everything. So we’ve got to be sure that we’re putting our efforts where they’re going to have the greatest results.

  • davidleeking

    T Scott – I’d agree with you on the management thing. Group input is essential! I also didn’t add this – you should be meeting actual customer needs/wants. So not just “let’s start a blog and see if customers think it’s cool” – instead, how about asking customers if they read blogs, and if they would read yours. Then go with demand.

  • davidleeking

    T Scott – I’d agree with you on the management thing. Group input is essential! I also didn’t add this – you should be meeting actual customer needs/wants. So not just “let’s start a blog and see if customers think it’s cool” – instead, how about asking customers if they read blogs, and if they would read yours. Then go with demand.

  • http://libraryrevolution.com/ Emily C

    I think your first point here is the one that resounds the most with me. Folks really need to get over the whole technology hang up. I see way too many libraries where initiatives get shoveled onto the “tech guy” or that one “techie” librarian who already has too much to do… just because it, as you say, “resides on a computer.” I have a real problem with that, especially since the whole point of a lot of these 2.0 technologies is that they make it easy to do yourself. Yet these projects so often seem to get assigned based more on the format than on the content or goals.

    I agree that administrators play a huge role in setting priorities and making sure that staff have time to tackle prioritized projects. However, I don’t think that the “not enough time” excuse is always entirely justified… In my experience, those librarians who cry about not having enough time are the ones that spend their reference shifts doing online shopping. The folks who really don’t have any time are usually in that predicament because they are more than willing to take on new challenges — and are not terrified of it! I suppose that boils down to a management issue, too, though.

  • http://libraryrevolution.com Emily C

    I think your first point here is the one that resounds the most with me. Folks really need to get over the whole technology hang up. I see way too many libraries where initiatives get shoveled onto the “tech guy” or that one “techie” librarian who already has too much to do… just because it, as you say, “resides on a computer.” I have a real problem with that, especially since the whole point of a lot of these 2.0 technologies is that they make it easy to do yourself. Yet these projects so often seem to get assigned based more on the format than on the content or goals.

    I agree that administrators play a huge role in setting priorities and making sure that staff have time to tackle prioritized projects. However, I don’t think that the “not enough time” excuse is always entirely justified… In my experience, those librarians who cry about not having enough time are the ones that spend their reference shifts doing online shopping. The folks who really don’t have any time are usually in that predicament because they are more than willing to take on new challenges — and are not terrified of it! I suppose that boils down to a management issue, too, though.

  • http://pegasuslibrarian.blogspot.com/ Iris

    It all comes down to priorities, like you said. And, like you said, sometimes when administration and staff work together and lay out all of their priorities, sometimes “too busy” isn’t a myth at all, or a question of stubbornness, or even a question of mistaken priorities. Sometimes priorities dictate that for your community and your situation, blogging is actually NOT a priority, while face-to-face research help is. And while this is essentially what you said in your comment above, I would argue that the primary reason that administration shouldn’t set the goals of the public services staff may not be because of the potential for lack of buy-in. Sometimes it’s because administrators, many of whom have never been public service people, may not understand what goes on out there in the public areas. It may not look “busy,” and there may not be many things processes or tasks to count to prove busy-ness, but that doesn’t mean that those staff actually aren’t absolutely swamped.

    I know you hadn’t seen my calendar when you said I might just “think” I was too busy to blog as part of my job duties. (And yes, I know, you weren’t talking to me, but I’m a prime example, so I’ll use myself.) But I’m running around helping people all day long, every day. I’ve had an average of not quite 2 hours of time outside of appointments, classes, and reference desk duty on any given day. That’s not quite two hours to plan all my classes, answer all my email, eat… little things. So when I blog (and I do), it’s usually from home, on my own time. There’s simply nothing about my public service here at work that I can give up without failing in my mission to serve my students as they do their research. I’ve already basically given up maintaining and developing the reference collection in my liaison areas, even though that’s in my job description, because it just doesn’t rank against actually meeting with students and working on their research needs. (You’ll notice, it also doesn’t rank against all the nice social things I do online in my own time.) My co-workers and I do a lot online, but we’ve all done most of that exploring at home, in the evenings, and on weekends.

    So I guess my point is that sometimes telling us to look for things to give up isn’t a good answer. Sometimes talking about taking 15 minutes a day to “play” isn’t an answer (you didn’t, but it’s an admonition I hear all the time). Sometimes you have to come right out and say, “You know what, if this is important enough to you to do on your own time, great. If not, we either need to chalk it up as one of those many things we’d love to try if we had unlimited time and resources.”

    Sorry to get ranty on you. But I think there are a lot of admonitions going around to give up parts of our work, or to take a small amount of time each day, or to check priorities, but there’s less thought given to noticing that I could have the greatest blog in the world going for my library, but if I gave up the time I spend helping people actually do their research, I wouldn’t be much of a librarian any more.

  • http://pegasuslibrarian.blogspot.com/ Iris

    It all comes down to priorities, like you said. And, like you said, sometimes when administration and staff work together and lay out all of their priorities, sometimes “too busy” isn’t a myth at all, or a question of stubbornness, or even a question of mistaken priorities. Sometimes priorities dictate that for your community and your situation, blogging is actually NOT a priority, while face-to-face research help is. And while this is essentially what you said in your comment above, I would argue that the primary reason that administration shouldn’t set the goals of the public services staff may not be because of the potential for lack of buy-in. Sometimes it’s because administrators, many of whom have never been public service people, may not understand what goes on out there in the public areas. It may not look “busy,” and there may not be many things processes or tasks to count to prove busy-ness, but that doesn’t mean that those staff actually aren’t absolutely swamped.

    I know you hadn’t seen my calendar when you said I might just “think” I was too busy to blog as part of my job duties. (And yes, I know, you weren’t talking to me, but I’m a prime example, so I’ll use myself.) But I’m running around helping people all day long, every day. I’ve had an average of not quite 2 hours of time outside of appointments, classes, and reference desk duty on any given day. That’s not quite two hours to plan all my classes, answer all my email, eat… little things. So when I blog (and I do), it’s usually from home, on my own time. There’s simply nothing about my public service here at work that I can give up without failing in my mission to serve my students as they do their research. I’ve already basically given up maintaining and developing the reference collection in my liaison areas, even though that’s in my job description, because it just doesn’t rank against actually meeting with students and working on their research needs. (You’ll notice, it also doesn’t rank against all the nice social things I do online in my own time.) My co-workers and I do a lot online, but we’ve all done most of that exploring at home, in the evenings, and on weekends.

    So I guess my point is that sometimes telling us to look for things to give up isn’t a good answer. Sometimes talking about taking 15 minutes a day to “play” isn’t an answer (you didn’t, but it’s an admonition I hear all the time). Sometimes you have to come right out and say, “You know what, if this is important enough to you to do on your own time, great. If not, we either need to chalk it up as one of those many things we’d love to try if we had unlimited time and resources.”

    Sorry to get ranty on you. But I think there are a lot of admonitions going around to give up parts of our work, or to take a small amount of time each day, or to check priorities, but there’s less thought given to noticing that I could have the greatest blog in the world going for my library, but if I gave up the time I spend helping people actually do their research, I wouldn’t be much of a librarian any more.

  • http://tscott.typepad.com/ T Scott

    Emily — yes, if the reference librarians are spending their shift doing online shopping there is definitely a management problem!

    David — we’re trying to use a structured approach to setting priorities. I’ve asked everyone to go through the list of all of our routine activities, all of our current projects, all of our proposed projects and describe what the outcome is for the people in our community — how does/will that activity make a difference in their lives, help them achieve their goals, help advance the overall mission and goals of the university. Once we’ve identified the areas where we think we can make the biggest difference, then things like staffing the reference desk or creating a blog or developing an online tutorial or licensing some expensive database or cranking up the popcorn machine out on the plaza during library work are all evaluated according to how effectively they’ll help us achieve that objective and make that difference in the lives of the people in our communities. If you can’t make that link, then you shouldn’t be doing it.

  • http://tscott.typepad.com T Scott

    Emily — yes, if the reference librarians are spending their shift doing online shopping there is definitely a management problem!

    David — we’re trying to use a structured approach to setting priorities. I’ve asked everyone to go through the list of all of our routine activities, all of our current projects, all of our proposed projects and describe what the outcome is for the people in our community — how does/will that activity make a difference in their lives, help them achieve their goals, help advance the overall mission and goals of the university. Once we’ve identified the areas where we think we can make the biggest difference, then things like staffing the reference desk or creating a blog or developing an online tutorial or licensing some expensive database or cranking up the popcorn machine out on the plaza during library work are all evaluated according to how effectively they’ll help us achieve that objective and make that difference in the lives of the people in our communities. If you can’t make that link, then you shouldn’t be doing it.

  • http://otherlibrarian.wordpress.com/ Ryan Deschamps

    One of the problems I see is related to your first point. If you end up being the “techie” for which everything half-web-based gets dumped on, you can end up in a very isolating position. Being isolated is not very helpful for productivity. It leads to lack of motivation, and that’s where I think the “i’m busy” starts coming out. “I’m busy” may very well mean “I’m sick of being the only person who is enthusiastic enough to get technology-related projects off the ground.”

    These “techies” need teams that can help keep motivation up across the board when resistance starts happening. People need lifelines, and input and, well, community to keep the technology (which are not really about technology) project going.

  • http://otherlibrarian.wordpress.com Ryan Deschamps

    One of the problems I see is related to your first point. If you end up being the “techie” for which everything half-web-based gets dumped on, you can end up in a very isolating position. Being isolated is not very helpful for productivity. It leads to lack of motivation, and that’s where I think the “i’m busy” starts coming out. “I’m busy” may very well mean “I’m sick of being the only person who is enthusiastic enough to get technology-related projects off the ground.”

    These “techies” need teams that can help keep motivation up across the board when resistance starts happening. People need lifelines, and input and, well, community to keep the technology (which are not really about technology) project going.

  • davidleeking

    Iris – you point out some great stuff. And serving our customers should be our number 1 priority, most definitely.

    Here’s what my director just said about that very thing, in our weekly management meeting: if we only focus on the customers that physically visit our library everyday, we are only focusing on a small portion of patrons using our library.

    You said “but if I gave up the time I spend helping people actually do their research, I wouldn’t be much of a librarian any more” – how do you help customers that don’t physically visit the library? How do you point out new tools, new library services, etc to them? How do teach them?

    My library’s goal is to reach those customers and to provide the same level of service as we provide to walk-in customers. It might look different – walk-ins use actual PCs, they walk up to the reference desk, they check out books at circ. But important customers nonetheless. Just some thoughts!

  • davidleeking

    Iris – you point out some great stuff. And serving our customers should be our number 1 priority, most definitely.

    Here’s what my director just said about that very thing, in our weekly management meeting: if we only focus on the customers that physically visit our library everyday, we are only focusing on a small portion of patrons using our library.

    You said “but if I gave up the time I spend helping people actually do their research, I wouldn’t be much of a librarian any more” – how do you help customers that don’t physically visit the library? How do you point out new tools, new library services, etc to them? How do teach them?

    My library’s goal is to reach those customers and to provide the same level of service as we provide to walk-in customers. It might look different – walk-ins use actual PCs, they walk up to the reference desk, they check out books at circ. But important customers nonetheless. Just some thoughts!

  • http://pegasuslibrarian.blogspot.com/ Iris

    You ask: “how do you help customers that don’t physically visit the library? How do you point out new tools, new library services, etc to them? How do teach them?”

    Perhaps this is a quirk of my particular campus (small, residential campus, and one where the library is the single most-used building on campus because it’s comfortable, has computers, is a hang-out spot, and is a great place to do research), but for those students who don’t come into the library our online guides, presence in the campus course management system, IM names, and especially our email address seem to do the trick. We also go into classrooms on a regular basis and in various other ways take ourselves physically out of the library and into other spaces on campus. I also probably do as much research help via email as I do in person, so I’m right there with you on the idea that research help is research help whether it’s provided in person or not.

    But in my experience, if I once walk into a classroom, or attend a student function on campus, or in other ways make my *physical* self known, I get much more response (both in person and online) than I do if we try any other means of outreach on our campus. The difference is staggering. Last year, attending one performance of the campus comedy club sparked as many requests for research help as did our launch of IM reference.

    And now I’ve gotten kind of off topic. As I’m sure you know, I’m all for this stuff in libraries. I’m all for reaching my community in the way that’s most relevant to them. I’m so far and away all for this stuff that I spend a good 20 to 25 hours of my own time doing work stuff and playing with tools and keeping up with my own online version of professional development. The point is, “I’m busy” is absolutely not a myth. Instead, it’s a sign that librarians really are relevant and needed… it’s a sign of success. I rankle when we try to figure out who’s “fault” it is that the front line is busy because it should only be somebody’s “fault” if the library has become so irrelevant that the front line is no longer busy. And I’m sure that was your point, as well. I just wanted to be sure that the emphasis wasn’t so much “front line staff complain” and more “figure out what your community needs most, and give them that rather than what we think it’d be cool if they wanted.”

  • http://pegasuslibrarian.blogspot.com/ Iris

    You ask: “how do you help customers that don’t physically visit the library? How do you point out new tools, new library services, etc to them? How do teach them?”

    Perhaps this is a quirk of my particular campus (small, residential campus, and one where the library is the single most-used building on campus because it’s comfortable, has computers, is a hang-out spot, and is a great place to do research), but for those students who don’t come into the library our online guides, presence in the campus course management system, IM names, and especially our email address seem to do the trick. We also go into classrooms on a regular basis and in various other ways take ourselves physically out of the library and into other spaces on campus. I also probably do as much research help via email as I do in person, so I’m right there with you on the idea that research help is research help whether it’s provided in person or not.

    But in my experience, if I once walk into a classroom, or attend a student function on campus, or in other ways make my *physical* self known, I get much more response (both in person and online) than I do if we try any other means of outreach on our campus. The difference is staggering. Last year, attending one performance of the campus comedy club sparked as many requests for research help as did our launch of IM reference.

    And now I’ve gotten kind of off topic. As I’m sure you know, I’m all for this stuff in libraries. I’m all for reaching my community in the way that’s most relevant to them. I’m so far and away all for this stuff that I spend a good 20 to 25 hours of my own time doing work stuff and playing with tools and keeping up with my own online version of professional development. The point is, “I’m busy” is absolutely not a myth. Instead, it’s a sign that librarians really are relevant and needed… it’s a sign of success. I rankle when we try to figure out who’s “fault” it is that the front line is busy because it should only be somebody’s “fault” if the library has become so irrelevant that the front line is no longer busy. And I’m sure that was your point, as well. I just wanted to be sure that the emphasis wasn’t so much “front line staff complain” and more “figure out what your community needs most, and give them that rather than what we think it’d be cool if they wanted.”

  • davidleeking

    Iris – “figure out what your community needs most, and give them that rather than what we think it’d be cool if they wanted” – MOST DEFINITELY!

  • davidleeking

    Iris – “figure out what your community needs most, and give them that rather than what we think it’d be cool if they wanted” – MOST DEFINITELY!

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