Friday, December 08, 2006

Fix-it-Friday: Three Librarians equals Seven Opinions

Most people do not realize that the major problem with the field of library science is one of making a decision. A friend of mine once said, "If you put three librarians in a room, you will get seven different opinions."

Librarians, library staff, and library directors often have problems making decisions mostly because of the nature of our profession. Every reader his/her book is a daunting task. This is what makes the digital future like in the Long Tail so amazing. If you could offer everything, then you would not have to decide on purchasing one book over another, you can just make everything available and then everyone will get their individual book, song, or movie.

However, we are bit off from libraries providing that. In the mean time, we are stuck in committees trying to make decisions over minor matters and making big deals out of it. What should the Marc number be, should we put the CD that came with the book inside the book, or separate, what happens if we let patrons in and they destroy all of the books? It becomes analysis paralysis.

As a manager, it is important to keep staff on task and not bogged down with such decisions. Sometimes committees can be formed, but that is a sure way to slow down a process. I find it best to gather all the information, create a document, then let staff adjust it so they can give input. Otherwise, you will spend hours, days, weeks, months, even years creating a document and getting things done.

1. Identify the problem (is it REALLY a problem?)
2. Determine its severity (is this a crisis, or a back burner project?)
3. Gather information (first person information is very valuable, it lends weight to your final decision and more importantly, allows you to make a better decision)
4. Talk to other people (your staff, patrons, your vendor, other libraries, what are they doing?)
5. Make a decision as to the action plan
6. Create a procedure (update procedures)
7. Put people in charge of it (sometimes that is you)
8. Set its priority
9. Monitor the progress of the project
10. Adjust as you go.

Procedure manuals are always good things, just remind your staff to use good judgment, and talk to them afterward when they do. Reward them if they did a good job, with a thank you to start, provide explanation if they didn't. Don't criticize them if it was something unexpected that they could not handle. You can always coach them to think more critically about a situation.

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