Wednesday, October 5, 2011

For better, for worse: Library Lessons

Working through my classes this semester, I've had some time (surprisingly) for introspection into my own thoughts and philosophy toward libraries. I've realized that, although not currently working in a library, I have definitely been shaped and influenced by those libraries in which I used to work. They've all been very different, and have each taught me lessons both good and bad.

First: A library is composed of two things: Information, and People. Without either, the library would cease to exist. You also can't ignore one or the other.

Second: Treating patrons with the simple courtesies and respect they deserve will get you far. At times, it may be difficult, especially with "those patrons." But extending a simple "hello" or smile as they enter the doors can go a long way in making the patrons feel comfortable in the library environment and also makes them more willing to let the librarians help them. Stop to greet someone you know as you're reshelving books. Make small talk at the front desk. Assure patrons they are neither interrupting you nor asking stupid questions. Put an emphasis on little things like these, and it'll make a huge difference.

Third: Office politics will happen. You have a choice: Keep it professional, or let it infect your staff. The results are drastically different. Differences of opinion are good and can be handled professionally. But if someone's not doing their job and you're asked to cover-- again? Fine. Bring it up with the management later. Word to the wise: no one wants to hear a string of expletives preface your help, not your employees, not your patrons.

Fourth: If you're going to hate your job, don't complain about it to your student workers. That's not professional, and it definitely deflates morale in a flash. It lowers your employees' opinion of you and makes it difficult for them to come to you when they have problems. It also makes your student workers complain more, both about their jobs and you.

Fifth: If you're going to have student workers, you must train them. Train them well, and TRUST THEM. Sure, you'll have a few along the years that disappoint and prove untrustworthy, but why would you not trust the student workers you interviewed, hired, and trained? Again, not being allowed to do the job for which you thought you were hired deflates morale quickly. I have worked in libraries where I was thoroughly trained. Awesome. I have also worked in libraries where I received haphazard training, and even where I received no training. Not cool, library "professionals," not cool.

Sixth: If you do trust your workers, it's a definite benefit to yourself, the library, and the workers. Having the privilege of working in at least one library where the administrative staff actually trusted the workers, I can say personally it was a huge boost of confidence to know that I was trusted with certain duties without being micromanaged every step of the way.

Seventh: Policies are good. Very good. They tell you what to do, and what not to do. But please, don't make the policies so incredibly convoluted that it actually prevents your employees from doing work they are certainly capable of if you'd only give them a chance. It's demeaning, it's frustrating, it's micromanaging, and... (confession time) it means some people still carry that chip on their shoulder. I left almost every shift at that library feeling like a useless employee and wondering why I was hired. On the bright side, this situation was an excellent reminder (one that I'll never be able to forget, honestly) of what not to do when holding an administrative position in a library.

The libraries which have formed good impressions on the library profession were such a blessing to work at. I enjoyed every day and the new challenges it would bring. Knowing that seemingly boring/meaningless tasks actually do have meaning brings a whole different sense of joy to both the jobs and the profession. It makes me excited to join these librarians as colleagues. And it means I will be forever thankful for the lessons they taught me about life and library science.

The library which has formed the majority of my bad impressions on libraries and the profession also came as a blessing. I doubt I would have seriously considered library science as a profession if I had worked there prior to settling on libsci as a career. But working there while knowing I would be attending library school the very next year gave me an insight which I truly appreciated. Seeing how this library treated its patrons, its employees, and its information taught me what not to do as a librarian. Perhaps even after these few years, I am still frustrated, mad, and hurt about my time there as an employee. It doesn't help that I find myself comparing their relevant services in my current courses this semester. But at the same time, I never forget those good lessons which it taught me as well. Perhaps this post did turn out more cathartic than intended.

But it's always good to look back and see just how far we've come.

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