Monday, December 10, 2007

How healthy is your organization? | Information Wants To Be Free

There is a great post by Meredith Farkas about healthy workplaces. This, in part, was inspired by a recent post over at Library Garden about why people leave?

There are several categories in the Library Garden post that discuss why people leave their jobs:


Vacation and/or Holidays-

Hours and/or Nights-

Professional Investment-

To which I commented:
The system should be performing an annual compensation and classification study. This will ensure that pay is equitable. If you are not doing that, you can't complain that people are leaving for better pay. I had someone leave from a part-time to a full time in another county. That one is tough because it wasn't in the comp and class realm, but most of the people who work for me get the same pay as any other library in Arizona. Librarians make 41K same as Chandler, Arizona, Mariciopa County, etc.

This is a common complaint and the burden of nights and weekends should be shared. How can one say one should do more than another? In some systems, everybody wants to work a night or a weekend and it works better for everyone. If one is unfairly taxed, that is a reason to leave, but if you do it along with everyone else, there is not much to say about that. If everyone is committing equally and there are problems, it may need a review of hours of operation.

Professional investment
Every library should have a training budget. It should allow as many library staff as possible to go to training, explore their interests, and pay for their trips to conferences etc. Most libraries can only afford to send a few people, and then only higher up, if it can be opened up to everyone, the results are interesting.

This one is the toughest. Most libraries are fairly flat institutions. They allow pay increases and there is some room for advancement, but not substatial. This has been an issue for me in the last three months. I lost a library assistant to a bigger system with more pay, I lost a librarian to become a library director in a neighboring town, and a I lost a senior library assistant who became a youth librarian in another neighboring city. There is no room for advancement at my small one library system. The only choice is to go to neighboring communities. It will change, but slowly. In the meantime, I will bleed because of it.

Meredith poses several questions from the book First, Break All the Rules. She repeats 12 questions from the book. I replied to them in her comments and am re-posting it here:

“1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

Yes because we issue job duties not job descriptions. It breaks all duties down and details percentage of time. There is flexibility, but it provides the general idea.

2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

I always leave extra cash in the budget plus I ask staff what they need around budget time. I also have a Friends wish list that staff contribute to.

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

Job positions are not static. One person cannot do the same as another and it is better to mold that position towards the person’s desire. If they like providing programming instead of cataloging, I would configure it as much as I can to make it work. Sometimes there is flexibility, sometimes not.

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?

I always do a manager walk around and complement staff on a job well done. I need to do more of that. Previously, I provided an employee of the month program so that staff would be recognized for good work and what they did that was so good. It has taken a brief hiatus. I will find an alternative.

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

Personal time is very important to me. If someone is going through something personally, they won’t be very happy at their jobs. It is better to extend as much leeway as possible so that they can resolve an issue. I once had a staff member needing to take three weeks off in a few days to go see their dying mother. I let them take it and use it as sick time. This was a total violation of policy, but the person was able to get there before their mother died. A few days later, she wouldn’t have made it.

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

I hope I provide enough encouragement for training and professional development. It is difficult because most of the training is in the valley, a 30 mile drive, so many are reluctant to go on their own. I put out a training program so that they can request any training they want and attend any conferences they want regardless of their status.

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
Meetings are usually feedback meetings. What is going on and what do we need to do about it? Do we need to adjust anything. Front line staff opinion is critical. If they aren’t providing honest feedback, I can’t make good decisions.

8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel like my work is important?

My library has a strategic plan and each staff members role is molded around providing active parts of the plan or support parts. I came up with a graph that represents each staff members role and displayed it.

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?

This wasn’t always the case, but with some training and some people leaving, everyone works more as a team.

10. Do I have a best friend at work?

I think that is established through after work programs. Some staff members set-up bowling after work or other events. Outside of work events help with this.

11. In the last six months, have I talked with someone about my progress?

Everybody gets a review from their supervisor. However, it is important that there is a constant discussion about expectations and mission. If you are just doing a review every six months, you may be missing the day to day stuff. It also minimizes surprises at the review bad or good. No one should be surprised if I think they are doing a good job.

12. At work, have I had the opportunities to learn and grow?”

This goes back to providing training opportunities both inside and outside of work. The library provides regular training and elective training. Staff are allowed to attend conferences and programs. Most of them can only go in state right now. Some can go to national conferences. It is tough to afford anything out of state.

Finally, I will point something I read on Tom Peters blog about morale:

Top 50 Have yous?
Have you thanked a front-line employee for a small act of helpfulness ... in the last three days?
Have you thanked a front-line employee for a small act of helpfulness ... in the last three hours?
Have you thanked a frontline employee for carrying around a great attitude ... today?

I would say the solution to all of these posts are the simple words thank you. I am surprised that in other organizations, people get so gaga over thank you. It shouldn't be this way. people should know they are doing a good job. There is a great point over at Slow Leadership about this issue:


Gratitude isn’t just a pleasant trait, it’s also a very powerful one.

Thanking others and recognizing how much we all depend on support and co-operation makes it far more likely that help will be there when you need it. Those who help others most freely are most likely to be helped in their turn—provided that gratitude as recognized for what it is: a major constituent in the glue that holds together groups of all sizes, from a few friends to society as a whole.


I would say if you want to improve morale, the best thing to do is to say thank you. It is a rare commodity these days.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Library card offers free key to helpful, often costly databases

Library card offers free key to helpful, often costly databasesEdythe Jensen

The Arizona Republic

Dec. 3, 2007 12:00 AM
Library cards aren't just about borrowing books and movies anymore.
In Phoenix and its suburbs, they're free passes to growing numbers of costly subscription-only Internet databases with genealogy research and auto repair instructions, foreign languages courses and antique appraisals.

Maricopa County and Valley cities are spending more than $1.5 million a year to make this information free to cardholders. But librarians say they're having a hard time getting the word out and call the free access one of their best-kept secrets. ....'Different library sites use different terms and links. In Phoenix you have to click on a "research" icon. In Chandler, it's "information databases." On the Tempe library home page, a drop down menu under "search and find" requires a click on "electronic resources."

Then there's the sheer number and daunting content of the databases. A patron looking for Price It! Antiques and Collectibles must go through Gale Reference Center on the Phoenix site. END SNIP

This is the continuing ordeal of the public library. Database are wonderful resources, but we don't market them very well. As I have stated before, we cannot even decide on what to call them. Lastly, some of these databases are so ubiquitous that there is too much information in them. When I have been providing my slideshare tutorials, numbers have shot up. I have run the advertisements in the local paper as well as link to them on the website through a program called database of the week. There are so many separate services within just one database, to perform tutorial on them all would take years. Ebsco masterfile premier is great,but to get to consumer reports takes some digging. As a librarian, I take it upon myself to cut through the database to give the patrons what they want (like creating a tutorial just for consumer reports), but it isn't easy. More librarians need to provide these online tutorial to help patrons get access to databases and not become overwhelmed.

Monday, December 03, 2007

MCLC Tech Talk

I recently asked and was accepted to blog over at MCLC TechTalk. MCLC stands (I believe) for the Maricopa County Library Council. This council includes all the cities in Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix, Mesa, Glendale, Chandler, etc. and the county library district.) Anali over at Grumpator and the group were kind enough to let me contribute. This is a really neat idea because they have a group of bloggers covering different types of technology and their experience, and this helps drive their continuing education council. So the contributions from the blogging group turns into something very practical for training instead of just informational. I have already contributed a post (of course I contributed before introducing myself, I guess I was too excited). Go over and take a look.

Library Advocacy or people like to bet on the horse that has already won

Library advocacy is a tricky business. Libraries can often advocate from a crisis perspective, which means "I need money or something bad will happen". A crisis perspective can sometimes work, but like many non-profits, people do not react well to a constant crisis or constant need. In fact, it can often be associated with someone who doesn't manage their money well. What would you say to a dear relative who constantly asked you for money because they were broke? You would want to know how they spent their money and how your donation is going to help them with the caveat that you don't get asked again.

It's an investment
Instead, people want to see their money as an investment in their future. If you were starting a business, you would come up with a business plan, ask a bank for a loan, then ask some investors for money. In this way, advocacy is presented as an investment not a band-aid. They want to invest in something that will benefit them, their community, and makes them look smart. Furthermore, nobody would want to invest in something that would appear as a risk, they want to invest in something that is already successful and will make them money. In short, people like to bet on the horse that has already won.

How would this approach work?
Here are some examples of the use of language from crisis to investment:
Example 1: We're out of space!

The library is out of space for materials, we need more building or we won't be able to add more materials!

The library is planning an expansion to provide an enhanced collection for your needs.

Example 2: Our computers are old and broken!
The library needs more computers to bridge the digital divide, otherwise people will be left without access!

The library is planning to expand its technology access with more computers. This enhancement will ensure that you will be able to get on a computer whenever you want to.

Example 3: We need a new main library!

Our current library is in poor condition. A consultant recently stated that the building was so bad, that it had a terminal lifespan of less than five years.

The library wants to ensure great library services that is always available to them and close-by. This new branch will enhance services for the future.

Good News versus Bad News
Don't get me wrong here, if the library IS in a major crisis, this information shouldn't be hidden. However, if you always lead with the bad story, it doesn't make anyone feel good. It makes the community feel like they don't care about their library. Worse, it makes the budgetary authority look bad, which will make the road for increased funding more difficult in the future. Furthermore, dramatic approaches like closing on Sundays only hurt the users of the library, it doesn't cut across to the right people. Bad news can be overwhelming.

Part of this post was inspired by two things. Walt Crawford's recent rant about non-profits where he talks about what works for him in getting him to donate.

"Somehow, Second Harvest (which gets incredible value for every dollar contributed) manages to get by with one or at most two mailings a year. No unwanted crap. No real guilt trip: They lay out what our money can buy, they lay out–succinctly, without horror stories or grotesque photos–what the problem is. It’s a pleasure to write a good-size check."

When I read that, I thought "That's true, people don't want to hear bad stories, at least, not all the time. In fact, people will begin to filter you out if your story is always the same and always bad." Hence, I wrote this post. I am also reminded of the failed property tax vote in Mesa, Arizona and the failed levy vote in Jackson County, Oregon. They both sold the vote as a bailout. All this demonstrated was that they were incompetent as opposed to providing an enhancement or improvement. Transparency helps in this process. If everybody already knows your situation, bad news doesn't need to be touted. Everybody knows that you are doing all you can to provide good services, therefore, when you ask for funding, it is pretty clear as to why.