You can’t learn library management from a book (and you can’t rollerskate in a buffalo herd)

It’s inevitable that we’ll work under managers of varying qualities if we are in the workforce (or volunteer-force) long enough. And once you become a supervisor or manager yourself, sometimes your opinions may change about other managers. Sometimes not.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I find myself observing and being introspective about management, mostly because I want to learn how to be a good manager. I want to analyze what makes certain qualities good or bad. And after having a reasonable discussion a couple days ago with the head of a volunteer-run library resource website, I’ve been analyzing what about this person could improve. What makes the communication of poor quality? Why does it feel unsatisfying to work with this person? Why did I always feel like I was walking on eggshells?

Some things you can’t learn in a class or a book. Management is one of them. No matter how much you study the theory of management, you cannot learn until you become a manager.

I took a management class for my MLIS, and the readings were rather trite and superficial. I think my detailed deconstruction and critical eye of these readings in our discussion boards didn’t go over so well with the instructor. Especially when I analyzed the weaknesses in the arguments of a couple of her favorite authors. Needless to say, I don’t feel like I learned a lot in that class.

I did learn a lot from observing my bosses and supervisors. I love one of my former bosses because he always took the time to talk about the rationale behind projects and plans, future and current projects, and even library theory. He was a good listener, too, and I felt like he really supported my professional development goals. He was honest, and appreciated feedback. That, I really appreciate.

I love another one of my former bosses. I was skeptical of daily meetings right before the library opened (heck, I was kinda skeptical of meetings altogether), but it turned out to be beneficial to talk about what we saw in our emails from Main, about patrons, about upcoming library events. She also pushed me out of my comfort zone in a supportive way. I felt awkward with library “walkarounds,” which is a smaller version of roving reference, but she kept nudging me to do so. I also turned into a bit of a “salesperson” for library events, so she’d task me with “selling” them to people. I surprised myself with that skill. And she also taught me how to deal with difficult patrons, sometimes by stepping in and talking with the person herself, and sometimes by talking to me about it afterwards.

Those two are my favorite so far. They were honest. They appreciated feedback. They provided real constructive criticism, and they demonstrated excellent communication skills.

Needless to say, I’ve also had a share of mediocre to bad bosses, whether as a paid employee or as a volunteer, and I’ve also taken it as a learning opportunity: Be patient. Let go of the little things. Don’t try to jump in and help if you haven’t done something in a while because you’ll probably mess up the whole system. Accept feedback–even from subordinates (within reason, obviously). Be willing to take suggestions, and do seriously consider them. Talk with your supervisees–you don’t have to be friends, but it is good to know what’s going on in their lives. Support your employees in their career goals, even if it means losing some of your best employees. Be honest and upfront. Don’t place the blame on them (or shift blame away) if something is really your fault.

Lessons like these are really hard to convey in the traditional management books–especially if it focuses on the theory and general principles. Straight-up I/O psychology is probably a better bet. Or communication, though it’s often pegged as a “bird course.” Guess what? It’s far more useful than management. Or even a book of stories and anecdotes.

Or reading one of those excellent websites that aggregates personal (and anonymous) stories about bad bosses. It’s like Aesop’s Tales, but for future and current managers. Just google “bad boss stories” to get yourself started.


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When you write, hold on tight to your copyrights

I learned a valuable lesson yesterday.

Always, always, always ask for a copy of the copyright agreement before you write for somebody’s blog. It’s better to say ‘no’ upfront than it is to operate under misunderstandings.

I also learned that if I ever run my own blog network, I will be sure to stay on top of distributing copyright agreement documents to everyone. Probably by posting it on one of the pages of the network in the interests of transparency, but at the very least by having a Google Docs or Dropbox with organized documents, which each blogger will have access to.

Such agreements should also include sections on the use of photos, video, and other documents.

It’s not that everything I write is spun gold and silver, studded with diamonds. To be honest, some of my stuff is crappy. But it is still my writings, and I prefer to hold onto my rights. My awareness of copyright issues, as pitiful as it may be compared to that of a lawyer, is a consequence of having taken a copyright class in grad school.

If you forget to give a blogger the copyright document upfront, but give it to them later, then all the posts prior to that document are not subject to that document, unless both blogger and the distributor agrees to make it retroactive. Which, in this case, I did not. I was proud of some of my writings, and wanted to retain those rights for current and future uses, although I was fine with this other blog network being another distributor of my work. Like posting them in full on my website.

When you give someone copyright rights to your work, it’s not temporary. It’s permanent, and it is a legally binding issue.

Unless the agreement specifies a temporary transfer of rights. You know, “You have the exclusive right to use and distribute my work for five years, after which the distribution rights return back to me, and I may use and distribute it myself again.” I’m more comfortable with that than with a complete transfer of rights.

I’m also more comfortable with signing over non-exclusive distribution rights that do not have a term limit. “Here, you can distribute this all you want whenever you want, but I have the right to distribute it all I want, too, and I retain all copyright.” This is how the blog network ChicagoNow operates, for example.

I’m comfortable handing over rights for tangible benefits, such as to an academic journal in exchange for, well, FAME AND MONEY AND MORE FAME, aka notoriety as a scholar in my field. I’m also okay if I get some money in exchange for my writings, whether it is a purchase or through royalties.

I’m comfortable if I give up (some) copyrights to a site that also gives up (some) copyrights. Creative Commons for the win!

But mandatory blogging for someone’s up and coming resource website for free as a part of a volunteer position (of which there was no contract), giving up all copyrights with no tangible benefits? I’m sorry, but no. I am not comfortable with that, because I can foresee legal copyright problems down the road because of it.

When you write, hold on tight to your copyrights. Don’t devalue your own writing unnecessarily, and don’t give up all rights to it unless you know you never want to use that work again on another website, in a book, etc.

Obligatory disclaimer that I am totally not a lawyer, and none of this should be construed as legal advice, but rather as a guide to go look up more of those legal advices and rules and wibbly wobbly timey wimey copyright and contract rules yourself.


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Sharing the “Librarian Job Ad Drinking Game”

This has been floating around on Facebook, and thanks to one of my fellow head editors for INALJ, Sandra Hoyer, I now know who to credit for this awesome game. Mr. Library Dude, you deserve many, many kudos. My favorite is the “3 yrs experience for entry level job.” And the “2nd master’s or PhD preferred.”

Oh, and especially the “innovative” one. That’s a whole ‘nother blog post. People like innovation in theory, but in practice…

I do have a question though. What happens if you get 5 in a row in only ONE job ad?


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Bridging Deaf Cultures @ Your Library (ALA2013)

I attended the Bridging Deaf Cultures @ Your Library presentation/discussion during ALA2013, and definitely enjoyed learning more about the special interest group and the idea of setting up a Deaf Cultural Digital Library in every state. Alec McFarlane was an excellent presenter and a joy to talk with after the session was over. (I and two other attendees talked for a long time afterwards. The old stereotype of deaf people being unable to say goodbye was very true here.)

Seriously though, having a resource center for libraries and their deaf/HOH users is sorely needed. As one librarian who attended said, if someone came in needing assistance, she wouldn’t know where to begin.

First off, people need to understand that there is a wide range of people who fall into the ‘deaf/HOH’ category. Not everyone is completely deaf. It’s a range. There’s people who have very little difficulty with their hearing loss. There’s people who can barely hear anything. and there’s people in between. Not everyone knows American Sign Language. Some may rely on SEE. Some may be completely oral. Some may be proficient in English, others struggle with English as a second language. We all have different needs and preferences, and for someone who is unfamiliar with this whole segment of the population, it can seem overwhelming.

That’s where a DCDL would come in handy.

There is grant money to help libraries provide services like captioning or interpreters to their deaf users. DCDL would be useful if it could help people find and apply for those grants, so assistive services don’t necessarily have to take a bite out of the general budget.

What kind of programs could libraries create in order to draw deaf users into the library? If you don’t know what the deaf community in the area need, it’s easy for programs to flop. Having resources for planning programs would be of use, and that’s where the DCDL could help.

One such program that we discussed at this session is essentially an ESL program. English IS a second language for culturally Deaf people. I remember growing up thinking that other deaf people were bookworms like me, just because it was so much easier to read words than to listen to people, but it is not always the case. That’s where captioning, as useful as it is, can fail.

Libraries should also do some outreach and work with organizations that serve the deaf community. You can’t always bring non-library users into the library just by holding programs in the building. You have to go out. Network. Have meetings. Attend deaf chats. Bring the library to the people, and give them a reason to come in. The DCDL could help with finding opportunities for outreach.

On a personal note, I’m not entirely sure having one of these libraries in each state will actually be able to happen. (I’m being rather pessimistic, I know. Budget tightness and all.) Certainly, I WANT something like this in every state, but some states do better than others in supporting libraries and resource centers. A DCDL in those states would thrive. Maryland seems to be the first state to even start thinking about a DCDL in the form of a taskforce. There is one small resource center, the Veditz Center, that is a sort of “pre-DCDL” organization trying to get funding together for a true Deaf Cultural Digital Library in Maryland.

But other states?

I think a national DCDL will better pave the way for local/regional DCDLs in a couple of ways. 1, it will  provide lawmakers with an example organization to follow. Not every state wants to be first and risk public derision (even more than usual, that is). If there’s something to point to or a path they can follow, then it might make it easier in the other states.

Also, a national DCDL to tie together these local ones would be beneficial. Looking at the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, the main organization provides a network, linking all of the regional/state-level libraries together, and provides a base of accessible material that each location can supplement with more local-interest items. Building DCDLs on a state level and then building up…it could work. I want it to work. But I suspect that it would definitely make it difficult to coordinate communication and pool resources without a national library or board to help codify the policies and streamline the processes, or provide the base of accessible material and resources.

There is not a whole lot of information about DCDLs online yet, probably because it’s still so new of a concept, and I have been unable to find any websites on the subject. However, for the basics of deaf services, the Red Notebook is a good resource. It first created by Alice L. Hagemeyer during her role as the Librarian for the Deaf Community at DC Public Library. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s been updated in a while, but it’s a start.


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ALA Battledecks = library presentations + ‘Whose Line’

“You need to go to Battledecks!” a Facebook acquaintance of mine told me.

Battledecks? I’d seen people talk about it on ALA ThinkTank on Facebook, but figured it was something akin to D&D, and way beyond my ken. The definition I was able to find online didn’t really help, either. Karaoke and presentations, mixed together? I had visions of people reading off of slides, which is the one major NO-NO of presentations. Nooooo thank you.

Then one person at ALA described it as like “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Improv presentations with slides they’ve never seen before. Oh? That sounds much more fun! Except…how will I know what they’re saying? Shoot, shoulda asked for an interpreter.

It was held on a Monday evening–the last day of the conference, and I ran to McCormick Place after work, and saw this.

And they had INTERPRETERS. Two of ‘em, so they can trade off before getting too tired.

Watch. All the way through, if you can. It was fantastic.

Maybe next time I’ll compete.


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