Friday, September 23, 2005

Think building relationships and trust within your community is hard? Try doing it within your own library...

There was a time I thought I would never, never work in a library again. After my first libraryesque gig of creating and managing a consumer health library (yes, I even had a budget, and yes, they had no business hiring me for the job because I was completely without library or medical experience...God bless paid internships at the V.A. and people who hire grad students with more moxie than expertise)....After building my little library and finishing grad school, I left for a "real" library job at a university that would also provide tuition remission so I could start my master's in English and not pay full price. I worked all of 18 months as an academic librarian before I bolted for the university's grants office to help faculty members develop proposals and write grants (if you're a librarian, and you're looking for a non-library job, check out research administration--particularly the proposal-side. It's a great job that usually not only pays better than normal librarian positions, faculty will love and even sometimes respect you).

That was when I started calling myself an escaped librarian. And I stayed away for three years. Then I saw a job add for a Web Content Manager at my local and well-loved public library, and I jumped at it. So, now I've been back in the asylum for almost two years. This is in no way a knock on my current institution--(because, you know I wrote the organization's guidelines for personal blogging ; ) --but really, I think most libraries are relatively weird places to work (taking into consideration that I didn't think about the "back-side" of the library until I started grad school in '96--post Yahoo!) . Why are so many libraries not the relaxed, intellectual, literary salons our patrons think we work in? A few reasons:

1. Librarians are perfectionists that build their ethos on knowing all the answers and know everything about information. That's a hard row to hoe in a world that is changing as quickly as ours.

2. We care as much as teachers, but we don't get our own world to rule. Unlike teachers/faculty members, librarians do most of their work without the autonomy of a classroom. We care deeply about what we do and providing great service, but since we don't work in a vacuum, and because managers like to avoid the situation where patrons all ask for the same "good" librarian (good because he/she gives incredible service, or good because he/she lets patrons get away with's the same deal)...we are often hamstrung by piles and piles of procedures and rules about what we can't do for people. For people who want to serve, having a million rules about what we can't do for people sucks.

I could think of other reasons, but I don't want to rant about libraries as workplaces--I want to think about what I can do to improve trust and build relationships in this world. This is a big deal to me, because we're a library with 12 branches and one central library, and since I'm the Web Content Manager for the library's Web site as a whole, it matters to me what the staff in each branch think, how they use the Web page, and even more important, how they use the Web page when working with patrons. So, here's my goal over the next few months: Each week I'm going to invite a different staff member to lunch. It seems simple enough, but since I'm in middle management, I basically sit in meetings with the same 15-20 people, give or take a few. Some meetings are productive, some aren't, but they aren't a great place to get to know people, or learn about their ideas--and I'm certainly not getting to know the hundreds of people who actually work on the floor with patrons. So, each week, a different staff member, from different branches, holding different positions. Stay tuned.


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