In the Workplace

#protip: Too Much Information

I’m slowly reading Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford as an exploration of making, but this caught my eye for a different reason.

“In the real world, problems don’t present themselves in this predigested way [like a textbook math problem]; usually there is too much information, and it is difficult to know what is pertinent and what isn’t. Knowing what kind of problem you have on hand means knowing what features of the situation can be ignored.”

It’s tempting as librarians to get ALL THE INFORMATION, but often when dealing with sticky situations in our buildings, some of that needs to be filtered out. Figure out the real issue and address it; everything else is noise.

In the Workplace

Putting the “cat” in catapult

spoon catapultThis week we had an amazing training day to exchange program ideas. It was a blast — we got to be customers for little bits of time and connect with fellow librarians in the process. The final presentation was from a RAFT specialist, who let us try a few of their premade low-cost STEM kits. Armed with spoon catapults, the cotton balls and pompoms were flying, and we even got to keep the catapult, which I did, because hey, I own a catapult!

And this is where the cat comes in. It turns out a spoon catapult is the perfect delivery device for a cat treat and adds a bit of enrichment for the cat, who gets to track it down. I’m not entirely sure how the cat felt about the activity itself, but the total number of treats distributed has increased significantly since the training day, so it’s going over fairly well.

To build your own, you will need a plastic spoon, a rubber band, and a cork (one from a bottle of wine works great). Use the rubber band to attach the cork to the spoon. That’s it!

It’s also a great physical science learning activity. In an all-human environment, substitute pompoms, cotton balls, or other soft objects for the cat treats.

Spoon Slinger Instructions from RAFT (PDF)

In the Workplace

I would like a donut, please

The Art of Asking by Amanda PalmerThe Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer is one of those books I instantly wanted to put on five different coworkers’ desks the second I returned it. As someone who is asked questions for a living, it was fascinating to dive deep into the other side. And it definitely has value to reference librarians thinking about relationship building with customers.

That is not why I chose to blog about the book.

Amanda bravely talks about how she has made it through the years and how taking is continually a challenge for her. It is for many of us.

“To the artists, creators, scientist, nonprofit-runners, librarians, strange-thinkers, start-uppers, and inventors, to all people everywhere who are afraid to accept the help, in whatever form it’s appearing:

Please, take the donuts.”

Seriously, librarians, how do we make this list in a musician/artist’s book?

It’s not the act of taking that’s so difficult — it’s the fear of perception of accepting help in a service profession. What will people think?

“Try to picture getting angry at Florence Nightingale for snacking on a donut while taking a break from tirelessly helping the sick. It’s difficult.”

Take. The. Donuts.

Sprinkled donut

This is harder for me now, in a job I love, in a job where I could easily spend 60 hours a week trying to do more. Accept the help, the love, the donuts. Take vacations. Leave work in the library. Do great work, but don’t be a martyr. You can get eight hours of sleep, have hobbies, enjoy life, even with a job that requires selflessness.

In 2015, in addition to being quick to offer help, I’ll also be quicker to accept it. Because donuts are awesome.

In the Workplace

On compassion

This has been a rough week, hasn’t it?

It’s easy to be angry. It’s easy to be filled with rage. And from my comfy seat on the corner of white and middle-class, it’s even easier to sit back and ignore it. Let it go.

I cannot do that. But I also have been reminded that rage gets us nowhere. It’s unproductive, a waste of energy. And in my very public-facing job, it’s not exactly an appropriate course of action.

Compassion is.

My challenge to myself has been to think about how I can encourage positive change in my communities. To help people open their minds, their hearts, their arms, and see the world a little differently than they did before.

Not sure how this works? Start with the two blog posts that have soothed my spirit and helped to remind me of the good each of us can do for one another:

And of course, there’s this video on empathy, “feeling with people” and helps us feel compassionate.

Challenge yourself today to feel compassion for someone you normally would brush off. Try for just a minute to see the world through their eyes. Listen to their story. And then take that experience into your next customer interaction. Grow your compassion, grow your community. Let’s do it.

In the Workplace

What I Learned About Library Services from a Hellish Day at the Airport

View from the plane
View from a flight that day.

I started this post in 2011 while sitting at the gate waiting to finally get on a plane. As travel goes, it wasn’t the worst of experiences, but I had never seen so many clear miscues. After reading Courtney Young’s tweets this morning, I was inspired to finally finish it. Here’s to you, Courtney!

In the nine hours since I woke up, I have had two cancelled flights, one missed connection (and am on pace for a second), and a brain scrambled by confusion. This isn’t my first bad day of air travel, and it definitely could still get worse. However, these circumstances were only worsened by my work as a public services librarian and my interests in user experience. Rather than brushing it off as drizzle-related delays, I cannot help but cringe at every service-related misstep the two airlines I have tried to travel home on have made. I have leveraged this opportunity to examine what about this experience has me as a consumer so frustrated. Weather cannot be helped; people’s reactions can, and this is where good service can mitigate an otherwise poor experience.

Help me help myself. I actually had a fairly easy time getting a new flight. Each gate desk had cards with a phone number to call if I didn’t want to wait in line — perfect! Then it went downhill again. I was rebooked on a different airline. After walking nearly the full length of Philadelphia International Airport, I was greeted by nothing but empty counters. Already six hours into this affair (and with carry-on suitcase in tow), I was determined to find someone, and eventually did, stopping her as she was walking down the hall. She unsympathetically told me that agents were only available an hour before the flight and that no, there wasn’t anywhere else in the airport I could get help from the airline in person. She also did not have any additional information about the delays, nor would she be able to confirm I was on the flight. I returned to my gate and looked for a URL, a phone number, anything that would put me in touch with someone who could assure me that I did still have a chance of completing my trip. If you can’t help me, make it possible for me to help myself.

When you have the opportunity to win over non-users, do it. My original airline had canceled numerous flights that day, and those passengers had scattered throughout the rest of the airport, desperately trying to find a way to their destination. I had never flown my backup airline as an adult, and given my first impression, I don’t plan to again. You may only get one chance to win over someone who isn’t sure about this whole library thing. Can you do it?

Great SERVICE still cannot make up for a poor PRODUCT. I had originally booked on Delta because I had generally had a good experience with them on the plane, at the gate, and online. But the end of the day, great service alone still did not get me from Philadelphia to the Upper Midwest. Likewise, customer service is only one piece of the library experience. The physical space, the website, books, DVDs, computers — all of these contribute to how our customers experience the library. What do the people and stuff in your library say about your organization?

In the Workplace

#alamw14: Some questions

From the conference, from Twitter, and from conversation.

WHY is the big question HOW? Do we spend enough time talking about the underlying motivators of our actions? (Guerrilla Storytime executed this perfectly. I learned a ton by lurking on the side and smiled a lot in the process.)

How do we bring library assessment into the digital age? Are online reference, presentations, etc., getting the credit they deserve? I’ve long been a proponent of highlighting actual library use, rather than focusing on physical data (cough, circulation statistic, cough). It’s good to have a clear picture of what’s going on, but if you are doing good work, you need to gather the statistics that back that up.

What kinds of research are happening before new services are implemented? Does the shiny new thing meet a stated need?

How do you know when to stop?

Re: librarians in the LMS. Do you have the relationship with the people running the show to get the access you need? And more importantly, do you have the knowledge you need to have a conversation with them about what’s possible?

How do we facilitate experimentation? If I want to try a new tool, who can help me? Let’s find a way to work together more. As much fun as it is to chat with yourself in four browsers on three computers, why not take the opportunity to connect with someone else? You’ll learn more and have some fun in the process.

Communications & Marketing, In the Workplace, User Experience, Weekly Links

Lonely, Lonely Links

Long time, no links (on the blog). These guys would really like to be shared.

I keep watching this video. It’s worth the three minutes.

(Side note: Even my empathy comes with sandwiches. Jimmy John’s cures all.)

What should you stop doing? I bet it’s one of these things.

In not-shocking news for most librarians: Bosses say they want outside of the box thinking until it happens

How To Tell The Story Of Your Idea Using The ‘Value Proposition Hack.’ Does your idea add value? Should it matter? Who cares? This trick will make deep thinking much simpler.

Stop Thinking So Much Like a Damn Librarian. You are not your user. Learn to see through their eyes.

Eight Ways to Stay Calm in the Middle of Chaos. Don’t let a busy period at work destroy you. Librarianship is (almost never) not life or death. Step back from the panic button.

In the Workplace

Leading Academic Libraries to Excellence (Program Recap)

I spent Friday at the ACRL-Delaware Valley Chapter spring program, Leading Academic Libraries to Excellence. Even as a nonleader, I found the day’s talks and the panel discussion to be incredibly inspiring. Here are selected notes and comments.

Steven Bell, current ACRL president, opened the day with a talk about grassroots leadership, which he defined as leading from anywhere, not just the top.

A few key points from his talk:

  • Leadership is about creating change.
  • There are some things formal leaders just can’t do.
  • Look for opportunities and gaps libraries can address with our resources, and then do it.
  • Recommended reading: Enhancing Campus Capacity for Leadership

Joe Lucia, who will be moving to Temple University this summer (who else is excited to see what happens when he and Steven Bell are in the same library?), talked about getting everyone involved in change. Libraries can be paralyzed by culture, he said, but we have to be willing to try the unknown and take real risks. We need a compelling shared vision and shared celebration of success. Partner and collaborate. Encourage experimentation at all levels, and cultivate a sense of playfulness.

Overall, I loved the positivity put forth by the speakers and attendees. When I signed up for the conference, I was hoping for a palate cleanser, something to push me from getting through the day-to-day to truly being excited about the profession. This was all that and more. Thanks to everyone involved. Let’s go do great things!