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.

Another year over

This year was an active one for me. It is nice to think back on your accomplishments to see the improvements that you have made.

New Computers
We started this year with 11 Gates computers from the 2001 cycle and 4 thin clients. We also had to sign people up to a computer by clipboard. With a $30,000 Capital Improvement Project from the city, and a $26,400 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we have 30 brand new computers with all the works, plus a time management system that signs people up for a computer and kicks them off when their time is up. We also received an additional $12,000 grant from the local Indian Reservation, but those won't be installed until next year.

Automation of Services
Usually automation is nothing to brag about, but if done in the correct way it can improve services and reduce wait times. Our Friends group purchased a new 3M V-1 Self-check unit. It still is not at 80% of our check-out, but we are getting there. We also automated our phone systems to call people for holds and overdue books. This saved a huge amount of staff time and stress. We also automated our inbound services too. Before, people just left a message and whenever a staff person got to it, that book was renewed, now patrons can do it themselves in real time. We also automated the computer sign-up.

Grant Writing
I was able to secure several grants. We were awarded three grants at a total of $75,000 for more computers and a bookmobile.

Public Relations
The library got on the map during our annual report. Our report on our adult literacy accomplishments got the front page of the local paper with an outpouring of tutor support. The local United Way is duplicating our program to our surrounding communities. With a little luck, we will have the same Adult Literacy/ESL program throughout the county. We hit the front page of our local paper three or four times.

I started the city's first adult literacy program in eight years. We will also add an ESL Component and bookmobile services. A recent interview process over the summer identified key needs for Spanish speakers. The resulting change in collections, services, and programs has brought an increase in usage from this population. Something our library has never been able to accomplish.

New Library
We passed our bond and we are already in the process of planning our new library. We will also expand our current facility.

New Databases/Electronic Resources
We have expanded our databases through agreements with the state library, our county consortium, and expanded our own budget. This also includes the purchase of Rosetta Stone that teaches English and Spanish. It does this online and you can do it from home! I revamped our website so that it looks like an actual library information portal. We will be rolling out a host of mobile services using library 2.0 concepts.

We have an increase in circulation, walk-in business, reference questions, database hits, and program attendance. This last June all of our service skyrocketed higher than expected. We have a host of well-behaved teens using our library (middle schoolers too, just not as well-behaved) and even have our own teen group.

AND I started this blog to talk about it all. It has been very cathartic to write about the bad stuff, that didn't work out. It has also emboldened me to try new things and MOST importantly, to brag about myself.

For those who read my blog and subscribe to it, thanks for reading and have a Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Successful Saturdays: The New Library

With our successful bond election, we will build the first library in 31 years. A brand new facility, planned with our own staff, and working with a local high school as a joint-use facility. A successful bond election can go to your head. It is an affirmation from the public of the job that you are doing. If it was a general city bond, it would be one thing, but since the library question was separate, a 66% approval rating can make you feel quite invincible in your decision making. It is so exciting to begin to plan for the library.

We are planning new bookmobile services, a new library, and a renovation of the existing library. We will have everything brand new in four years. Just a few years after that, we will plan for a new main (25,000 square feet plus) library. I have only been running my library for about two years and it is exciting to see the fruits of my labor so quickly.

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.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Successful Saturdays: The Future is bright

May you get what you wish for is a curse and for good reason. You say to yourself, "If I were in charge I would solve all these fines for patrons, more money for science fiction, and I would re-arrange how the whole library is laid out."

Since I have been in charge, I have been able to change many things with the result being increased usage from the public. I introduced public art, collection expenditure by circulation, programming to need, a strategic plan, new policies, re-aligned staff and space, over $100,000 in grant awards, over $100,000 in capital improvement projects provided by the city, and additional collection space.

The usage of my library has gone up dramatically. We were able to get a bond package together as a result of our success. Our bond passed by an overwhelming margin, allowing the library to grow, not just in our current facility, but also become a library system.

The next 18 months will be the most exciting in my career. We will build a new branch, expand the current branch, possibly buy land for a third site, or work with another division of the city to build a multi-generational site with a library in it.

In the next 10-15 years we may have 4 libraries as opposed to the one we have now. I have the opportunity to build a whole library system almost from scratch.

It is very scary, but so very exciting and awesome. It will be amazing to see what I can do with this place and this community.

We just had our first meeting designing the new library, plus we just hired a technology consultant that will create a floor plan for the expansion of the current facility. Less than a month after the bond passed, we already have hit the ground running. We even have the layout of how the new library will look and where it will go. Better yet, library staff, our Library Advisory Board, the High School Board, and the general public all took part in the decision-making. I will post about that experience separately.

Our bookmobile service will start in a month too. It is so exciting to see all these changes and to know that what you are doing as a manager is driving it. We will have the first branch library in our vicinity, we will double our library space, our staff, our collections, programming space, and computers. I am all a buzz with the possibilities. This was the reason I got into this business, to affect this type of change. I couldn't be more excited.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Fix-it Friday: Too Much Success

There is such a thing as too much success. It typically comes when all of your plans have succeeded. You did your strategic plan. It worked! You are getting all these new people getting library cards, checking out materials, using computers, using the library, and talking about how great it is!

Unlike a business, a public library, or any government entity, will experience a gap in service, between the success and the money. You realize that you are really successful, but then you realize you don't have the space, the computers, the collections, or the staff to sustain it.

You must trust that your library will receive the rewards of the success. Hit all of your budgetary authority, general public, and key figures with everything you have measuring the great success, especially when that success is in an area dear to some of those stakeholders. It will not always happen. When it does, it is great! When it doesn't, it makes staff very frustrated. Trust the system, because by denying a successful library, they are denying what their community wants. I have read it over and over again, about communities with no libraries, who demand it. One can see it in areas like Johnson Ranch, Goodyear, El Mirage, and Mesa, Arizona. There will always be a demand for library services, but never enough to go around. Things will turn around; one must always be vigilant to stand one's ground, to get what the community wants.

Here are some tips to make your library a priority in your community:

1. Find out what your budgetary authority prioritizes (Whether that authority is City Council, County Supervisor, Dean, whomever.) Anything they could possibly prioritize is an aspect of library services: education, economic development, workforce development, small business assistance, literacy, technology, fiscal responsibility, can all be demonstrated library impacts.

2. Create a Strategic Plan to help you find out not only the budgetary authority's priorities, but the community's priorities. You find that most of the priorities are the same. The more people you get, the more voice the library will have in the community.

3. Get advocates- sure you need more money, space, staff, and resources, but you it will always be you who asks. You need to get other people to ask as well. A request from the President of the Chamber of Commerce will go father than yours in many cases. (Plus the budget authority will see that person more often, making it harder to say no to them.)

4. Demonstrate impact in any which way you can. Typically, you need to send in reports, or demonstrate some sort of progress on library services. This may be the only time you can demonstrate the impact of library services. Make it clear, clean, and precise. Try to use as little data as possible. (Of course I don't always follow that, but the eyes of non-library people will glaze over if you don't.) The human impact is more powerful than data alone.

5. Advocate- Indoctrinate patrons, your staff, anyone who will stand still for five minutes. Every conversation is a segway to a conversation on the need of library services, even with those who have a complaint (especially a complaint).

6. Be flexible with your services. When we did our strategic plan, we didn't get any new staff or resources, but we were able to prioritize services and re-allocate staff to those needs. With some staff training, you can create adult literacy programs, teen programs, lifelong learning, and technology programs.

7. Find the need and make it public. When you see a huge need that you are servicing, make sure everybody knows about it. Contact the local newspaper, other new organizations, talk to community leaders, important people, and make sure no one turns around in your community without seeing it.

8. Market your library services, create email lists, rss feeds, podcasts, a running library news section in your local newspaper, magazine, and anything else that will reproduce print or talk to your audience. If something new happens at the library, EVERYONE should know about it. When our library broke 20,000 circulations in one month for the first time, we found the person who checked out the 20,000th book, gave her a goodie bag of library items, called the local newspaper photographer, and the picture was in the paper.

9. Engage the community- Put your services in your patrons' hands. Electronically or physically, they need a reminder that you are there and to know where they can find you. Outreach programs, books by mail, bookmobile, just get out and about and let them know you are there. They can perform their genealogy research from home by going to your website. They can repair their vehicles with the library's help, or learn a new language. Find services that will blow their minds. I will always remember something David Keeber, Director of the Sedona Public Library, told me, "People need to wake up and see the library like Mecca. How do we connect today?"

10. Thank them for their patronage. Our community passed a bond and we thanked them in the library's weekly news bulletin, in the newspaper, via email, and the website. The best signs I have seen are for the Chandler High School Bond. They placed signs advertising "Vote Yes" for the bond, and then when the bond passed, they placed a thank you sign on all of those signs. That makes you feel warm and fuzzy. It feels more personal.