Sunday, December 31, 2006

Management is broken?

It seems that the end of the year has brought several management is broken posts. Librarian in Black, Meredith Farkas at Information Wants to Be Free, and Walt Crawford at Cites and Insights all have some good tips about library management and how we can generally improve library services. I particularly liked Walt's comments as it aptly identified most managers problems. You can't do everything:

"What Do Patrons Want?
That question comes up repeatedly in blogs and elsewhere. There are no easy answers, given the basic confounding factors:
Ø The patrons of each community are unique.
Ø Very few patron communities are homogeneous; different patrons have different wants and needs.
Ø Patron desires and needs change over time, and those needs they believe the library should fulfill are influenced by previous experience with this library and other libraries.
Ø There are no ways to gain complete pictures of patron wants and needs. Feedback mechanisms providing more than anecdotal evidence are expensive and clumsy—and they need to be continual, since the makeup of the community and tools available to the library continue to change.
None of these says it’s hopeless or that librarians shouldn't keep as much in touch with patrons as possible. They do, I believe, argue against knee-jerk “whatever patrons want” reactions."

Knee-jerk reactions are plenty. I once had someone suggest we go back to stamping due dates on books. "We have a receipt for that", "Yes, but I always lose my receipt, stamping the book is so much easier." "You should have a magazine rack for the magazines that are discarded." "Where can we put it, there isn't the space?" "Well, I am not leaving here until you do it!" and my recent favorite "You should have a light box for artist hanging out in the library making sketches" "These are quite expensive and not really where we want to spend our money."

I find myself waffling on decisions between how I can improve library services, but without causing too much strain on staff. Just because a patron wants it, doesn't mean we should do it.

However, going too far one way or another is bad. Let's look at Walmart, their model is to totally focus on the customer. Provide the lowest prices, even a $1 cheaper and you will make more money. They can slash their prices at the cost of their employees to point of people who work there hate it. If I try to create great services for patrons, the strain on staff can result in losing good staff. Sure Meebo is great, it is easy, it is simple, who will man it? If I add an extra piece that looks great, but its fluff, staff are not exactly happy.

If I go too far on the other end with staff saying no drinks, no cell phones, no this, no that, services suffer. As in Meredith Farkas' post:

"The second time, I dragged my husband there. We browsed the stacks for a little while and found again that there really was not much for us there (and I have pretty diverse tastes in reading). Then my cell phone rang and I got shot a nasty look from one of the women at the desk (and I don’t even have a loud annoying ring tone — mine just rings). So I sprinted out of the library and that was the last time I’ve been in there. It’s rare that I go into a library feeling like a little kid in a store full of glass figurines, who doesn’t belong there and is afraid of doing something wrong, but some libraries still do that to me. And geez, if they do that to a librarian, imagine how members of the community feel."

No cell phones, no this no that signs are unwelcoming to patrons. However, the signs are there because someone made a reason for it. How many times have you been in a library where there was an annoying cell phone ring, or someone who shouted their inappropriate conversations? A recent Unshelved cartoon (with a full discussion on LiveJournal demonstrates a definite annoyance at that. It is difficult to manage a group of people with different tastes, opinions, and perceptions of how a library should be.

Libraries try to provide the best service to a unique group of people. Patrons' opinions are just as abundant as staff members' opinions. Who is correct, and what is the best choice is the difference between good managers and bad managers. There are a million great ideas, but only a few will be really effective for your community. We can create a bookstore model with great displays and effect no change in circulation or usage, it just looks nice. We can complain to our budgetary authority that we can make no more changes unless we get more funding, which is usually a guarantee that you won't get your funding.

Sometimes, no one is happy, which is why I have a Fix-it Friday section, and sometimes everyone is happy, which is why I have a Successful Saturdays section. You will never really know if you are a successful manager or not since everyone has a new great idea that you are not doing. I always think the fable of The Stonecutter It is easier to be the person chipping away at the mountain of administration to get what you want rather than to be the mountain that is chipped away at.

I think the top reason people start blogs is to find an outlet to complain about the world around them. Most of the library blogs I read talk about how this or that can be improved. That is great, but I wonder how much of that is going to the right people. If that was channeled into changing the thing you wanted to change, such as at your library, it might be better to go that direction than to post it on a blog.

It is also best if you don't like something to tell administration about it or effect the change you want to see in your library or in your own organization. You don't have to be in administration to make the changes you want to see. If something is broken, anyone can fix it if they take the time and have the will to do it.

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