Volunteering, Job Duties .. and an apology

OK – first for the apology. Some of you have told me I was dismissive in my last three post, especially when I used phrases like “up in your grill.”

I apologize for that. I really didn’t mean to sound dismissive – it was an attempt at humor while talking about a difficult subject. Honestly, it usually works – but it’s also not usually about such a sensitive issue. In this case, I failed miserably, and for that, I definitely apologize.

Now on to the next part of the post – While my views on names and pics on websites haven’t really changed, it does bring up an interesting issue I’m seeing. With the name/pic thing, some of you have asked for what you would see as a more reasonable “opt in” approach. Here’s where I fall on that – opt in/volunteering usually doesn’t work to it’s full potential. In Topeka, it’s either someone’s job or it isn’t – we’re not fans of the opt-in approach.

That said, of course we get staff buy-in for new projects first, which makes the whole “this is now part of your job” thing much easier.

But this opt-in idea … in many libraries, it’s not just for whatever personal info goes on the library’s website. It’s also for other job duties, even for services of the library, like programming, teaching classes, or IM reference. I’ve seen volunteering for posting to a blog or for maintaining the library’s Facebook presence.

I think a much better way to do things is for the library to set strategic goals, with staff input into those goals. After that, it’s management’s job to change/adapt the work to be done to meet those organizational priorities. There’s really no room for opt-in there.

See where I’m going with that? And I know – some of you strongly disagree with me about the name thing – I get that. But isn’t an opt-in approach in disagreeing, you’re also asking for a sort of wishy-washy implementation, from an organizational perspective?

Isn’t it better to have an either do it or don’t do it approach?

  • http://nicolepoliti.wordpress.com Nicole Politi

    I believe when setting policy for circulation, programming, etc. it is ideal to have system-wide buy in and implementation. When you start telling staff to contribute personal information, you are going to see differing reactions.

    For example, my library has embraced a diversity inniative. Four committees were formed (one each for diversibility, african-american heritage, latino heritage, and glbtq). Staff from around the system and at various levels give input, set annual goals and hold programs/training for staff and patrons. It works beautifully. This is an example where system-wide goal setting with buy-in really works. At no time in this process is staff asked to contribute personal information to patrons.

    Is it important for patrons to be intimately aquainted with their librarians/library staff? Can Librarians be welcoming and friendly without actually being ‘friends?’ I will provide the same level of service to a patron, whether I know their name, or whether they know my name. Staff come and go, but shouldn’t it be the Library, as an institution, that brands itself to its community? Why is it so important that a patron knows a Librarian’s last name?

  • http://andromedayelton.com Andromeda

    Hm. I think even if you had a “do it” approach, even one with a lot of staff buy-in, there would have to be an opt-out option. People, e.g., with a history of stalkers would have to have a way to get out. And you’d have to have a policy that let people opt out without forcing them to share really sensitive personal information, which means you might have to set the bar for opting out pretty low. So from the patron perspective, how much difference would there be between an opt-in system, and a just-do-it system with an opt-out process?

    (For the record I can think of plenty of situations where there would be a striking difference between these two systems. But I’m not sure they’re clearly distinguished in this case.)

  • http://twitter.com/misskubelik Angie Manfredi

    Wow, thanks for the apology and by then following it up with “but, if you disagree with me, I guess you’re just wishy-washy.”

  • http://deborahfitchett.blogspot.com/ Deborah Fitchett

    No, it’s not. It’s better to have a default approach and a strategy for dealing with situations where the default isn’t appropriate.

    If the default is for staff to provide last names, then there needs to be a very clear and open acknowledgement that in some situations this won’t be appropriate and in those cases the staff member can {use nothing, use an initial, use a pseudonym}.

    And in this sort of situation, it needs to be *easy* for them. If they’ve been stalked in the past or are being stalked now or have a close friend/family member who’s been stalked then, you know what? they’re going to be emotional. They’re going to be stressed. And as an organisation you need to not add to that stress by citing stats about how rare stalking is, or demanding they justify their fears, or all the other things you’ve been doing in this series. The conversation should go like this:

    Staff member: “I’m not comfortable using my last name.”
    Organisation: “Okay, here’s our policy on alternatives, does that work for you?”

    Easy, matter-of-fact, non-confrontational. Nothing wishy-washy about it.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Nice. As long as the process is clearly spelled out, I think that works fine.

  • http://twitter.com/theGoLibrarians steven v. kaszynski

    once again, i’m coming late to the party. but i think this is an interesting topic.

    a few months ago, i wrote a brief marketing piece on my blog (http://golibrarians.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/who-are-you/) suggesting librarians’ name, photo, and education/expertise be displayed for student and user guidance. since then, i’ve had several conversations with colleagues regarding privacy and each of them mentioned the stalking issue.

    David, i’m glad you’re facilitating discussion about this thing, as it’s become clear to me that many people in the profession have been harboring a quiet fear of exposure. i’ll have to come out from under my rock more often. perhaps i should alter my own post to suggest first names only? as for opting in, some people will call it, as you do, ‘wishy-washy’, while others will call it ‘democratic.’

    in any case, i’m currently among those with no personal need for the security of anonymity and still believe there is, as my article suggests, some utility in professional disclosure of this nature.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Hi Steven! Glad you’re thinking along the same lines. I wouldn’t alter your
    post – it’s a great place to start for discussion. Ultimately, it’s up to
    individual libraries as to how they handle it – but they shouldn’t set
    policy on unfounded fears, or on staff who work in the public sector but
    don’t want to be very “public” – I’m not sure the two really mix.