Tag Archives: administration

Draconian policies save my supplies!

9 Apr

There is a little-known problem that happens (I would imagine) in many school libraries: office supply theft.  You know how it goes…

Innocent-looking student: May I borrow a pencil/textbook/calculator/stapler/tape?
Librarian: Of course!  Please return it when you’re finished.

3 days later…no returned supplies.  I don’t think it’s intentional, I think our students get caught up in their work, realize they’re late for class, and dash out.  With my stuff.

So, after scratching my head about how to stem the flow of equipment money wandering out, I decided the only way to resolve the problem was to make sure the student had motive to return to me.  You want a pair of headphones?  Or a calculator?  I want your ID.  I don’t care if it’s your student ID or a driver’s license, but something that tells me your name is staying with me.  This is because I can now bill you, if I must.

Pens?  Have one.  They’re 50 in a $2.00 box from OfficeMax, good luck getting one to write.  Oh, my nice pen?  It came from personal funds and I don’t lend it out.

I realize demanding ID is draconian, and that we could just check them out as circulating items.  We tried that, in fact, and all that happened was the students would drop out and we had an old address.  Goodbye, stapler or headphones.  It may be harsh, but if I take something you’ll miss, then the student is likely to view it more as a temporary trade than as “borrowing” from a place that can’t enforce its ownership after you leave.



10 Jan

I love Library Journal‘s articles this month.  I also love Annoyed Librarian, but that’s an unrelated comment I just had to add.

For me, LJ is typically a love/like/hate relationship because I use it for collection development (the love), the occasional article (the like), but what doesn’t work is the seemingly single-minded focus on public libraries with the passing nod to academic libraries (the hate).  My library doesn’t fit into any of those, so for the most part LJ gives me information I have to do Pilates on in order to derive some applicable meaning.

Not this month.  January 2012 has a great article called “Moving from Outputs to Outcomes” and if you’ve ever wondered or had to justify your existence to anyone, I recommend you read it.  There are a lot of great ideas in there, but one stuck with me: librarians like numbers we can show to people, like X% increase in circulation over last year with only Y% new volumes added to the collection, all with a budget of $Z!  Those are all output numbers, and are important in the running of any business.  As we (should) all know, libraries are indeed businesses.

The article then discusses a logic model that suggests a new measure for your library’s value, based on outcome instead of output.  They called it “squishy” versus “hard”, squishy being outcomes.  The formula is something like: In this year, we will implement X policy/procedure/etc, which will lead to Y result/action/skill, ultimately leading to Z outcome for the library/patrons/the community.  It’s assessable because it has steps that must go in sequence and each step is measurable.  Did you implement X?  Why not, or how did that happen?  Did it lead to Y result, and why or why not?  What was Z, and was it what you expected?  The outcome itself is intangible, but think of it like the workshops we conduct, on a larger scale.  A person comes with X goal, we teach them Y, and they leave knowing how to Z.  We can certainly say that by doing a workshop on Facebook, patrons come to learn how to use it, we teach them to set up a profile/timeline/page, and they leave better able to connect with family and friends or market their product.

What do you think of this outcome-based assessment (OBA)? Do you think outcomes are more important than outputs, vice versa, or equal?  If outcomes are more important, why haven’t we taken to illustrating that import in a way that makes sense for what we attempt to accomplish, instead of numbers?  Does your library use any methodology like this?  I’m eager to hear your thoughts!

Book burning, deaccessioning, and all the hatred

17 Oct

The background to this post is found over at Annoyed Librarian, and Cracked’s article on why we’re in a book-burning period of history.  You don’t need to read it, but I recommend that you do.

I read the latter article late last week, and AL’s this morning.  I like Annoyed’s writing and don’t take it too seriously, so I found myself nodding in agreement as I went through her very kind rebuttal.  I found myself shaking my head at the comments on Cracked’s article.  Cracked is a site I enjoy in my off-time, its wit bringing a dose of hard-bitten ire or misanthropy to my day.  It’s a shame the readers are such fools.

I don’t say that lightly.  But their comments are, by and large, clearly from the perspective of someone who’s never had to work in a library or deal with excess stock.  Books are treasures, and I am a person who will hold out against e-readers for the foreseeable future (or until I need large print books).  But saving every book because it’s a book, because it’s old, or because it might be worth something, is idiotic.  The library is in fact a type of business, albeit a non-profit and publicly funded one.  Well, technically public libraries are government organizations, but they run more like businesses…so if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, I’ll call it a duck regardless of nomenclature.  The readers of Cracked don’t seem to grasp that as they complain about noise level, or lost books, or weeding, they also demand more hotspots for their phones, free Wi-Fi, subscriptions, and an ever-evolving presence on the internet so they don’t have to come to the library itself.  You cannot demand both left and right simultaneously.

Perhaps it’s our profession at fault: have we done ourselves a disservice by encouraging a certain view historically, that minimized the fact libraries are susceptible to politics and government?  Was it a defense, where we endeavored to convince others we were independently valuable and that we were not at the mercy of government, so if need be the public would be outraged at meddling by politicians?  I don’t know, but I suspect the answer is at least partly “yes.”  When you create an ideal and then don’t live up to it (as no organization can), there’s outcry and indignation.

I understand what the readers at Cracked, and many library patrons around the world, feel when they discover items have been weeded.  But the point remains that librarians, archivists, and curators of collections, need to make decisions based on the needs of the whole, with input from the whole, and with a degree of professional knowledge developed by training in subject matter.  That’s what makes librarians, archivists, and curators, uniquely qualified to decide which books to deaccession, and our love of knowledge transcends a single volume.  We take the biggest picture possible: if it’s preserved out there in a format of some kind, and the current format isn’t inherently valuable (think Gutenberg Bible format), then we have done our duty to information and we must make way for new ideas and exchange.

So I toss the question to you all: what do you think of weeding?  What do you think patrons think of it, and what would be the best practice?

Great Management 101

19 Sep

If you haven’t heard of Nero Wolfe, look him up.  I’ll wait.  Back?  Good.  You might or might not like Nero Wolfe, but he definitely commands respect.  The man, aside from being a genius, is an incredible manager, and we can all learn something from him when we find ourselves in a position supervising others.

What do we know about Wolfe?

  1. He is a genius, nonpareil in the field of detective work.
  2. He views detective work as a means of subsidizing his expensive lifestyle (requiring over $50,000 to live in 1943?  Obscene!)
  3. He has habits.  Oh does he have habits, and a schedule that is so rarely disturbed that when something does upset it, it merits comment.
  4. He employs Archie Goodwin, Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin, and Orrie Cather as leg men, Fritz as a butler and chef, and Theodore Horstmann as orchid nurse.

Aside from noting how eccentric this makes him, think about why he’s such a good manager.

Obviously, being a genius means he knows what he’s doing.  What about his prices?  Well, he’s the best, and he charges accordingly.  We can all learn something about being unafraid to value ourselves appropriately, and if we’re good at what we do, we should ask for what we’re worth instead of what we think we can get.  Wolfe gets away with it because there is no one else who does what he can with the same degree of competence.

His habits prove that he has effectively made a schedule that everyone is aware of, and honors.  He’s set his hours, his staff and clients know his availability and they work around it because he will always be available when he says he is.  He also frees himself to focus on the task at hand, instead of doing 50 things at once, allowing for the production of quality work.  Something else we learn is that he doesn’t allow his work life to dominate his personal interests or time unless absolutely necessary (there’s a great storyline with Arnold Zeck where Wolfe must completely break with his established patterns in order to save his own life).  He enriches his work by having outside interests, and realizing that passions don’t have to be about our day-to-day jobs.  This gives him some perspective.

Last, and most important, he employs the best possible people to do for him what cannot or will not do himself.  Archie, Saul, Fred and Orrie handle the investigation part of the work; they diligently pursue lines of inquiry as assigned by Wolfe, and then report to him once completed or as instructed.  Wolfe keeps their assignments from overlapping, and he synthesizes the information, coming to the solution.  Fritz and Theodore make his life easier by performing tasks he cannot always do: with his appetite and sans Fritz, Wolfe would be cooking for himself all day and have no time to earn the money for his food; without Theodore, his hobby wouldn’t be possible because the orchids would die without the care he gives them.  From this, we learn that it’s ok to delegate as long as we put our trust in people who are competent, and that we don’t have to do everything ourselves, even in our personal lives.  If we can streamline processes and free ourselves to do what we do best, then we’re on our way to being great managers.

What do you learn from people who you think are great managers?  Are there similarities?  I’m curious to see what other people think.

ROI and what it means professionally

29 Aug

How many of you have heard the acronym ROI?  How many of you know what it means?  If you don’t know what it is, or haven’t heard of it, you should make yourself familiar with it.  Glancingly familiar, at the very least.

ROI means “return on investment”.  It’s commonly used in the private sector, but I think it can apply to a library in any sector.  The wonderful thing about ROI is that it performs a very unique job, determined in part by how you choose to set the parameters.

See, return on investment doesn’t have to be narrowly defined by your monetary investment, or does return mean profit, exclusively.  “Investment” can be anything from monies, to time, effort, and brainstorming sessions with others.  You can define how much investment you’ve put in (and it’s good to use some sort of  number or value-indicating statement) based on the work that went into a project.  “Return” can range from direct profit, to increased sales (in the case of libraries, usage statistics or circulation stats), community feeling/goodwill, visibility/press, or reduction in other costs.

So obviously, knowing how much investment was put into your goal of “increase community visibility” for the library helps you evaluate whether or not your strategy was successful when you look at your usage/circulation stats for your return.  On a personal professional level, looking at the investment in your career could include time spent reading publications, travel expenses to conferences, time spent on professional organization activities and message boards, writing blogs, keeping your LinkedIn account current, and so on.  The return on investment could include knowledge you glean from professional organizations, getting your name more visible within your local network of professionals, visitor stats for your blog, earned a chairmanship in your professional organization, etc.

The only limit on your investment and return is you!  It’s up to you to determine the parameters, but make sure you do so consistently and with honesty, otherwise your calculations will be erroneous.  The whole point of calculating ROI is figuring out how much you’re getting out of your investments, to see if you need to change your methods or shift focus to something else.  Never lose sight of the goal: keeping your return higher than your investment.