Thursday, April 26, 2007

Getting back on the organization wagon...

If you haven't noticed from both the topics and (ir)regularity of my posts lately, life's been a little nuts this past month, as we've been settling into the new ILS, dealing with the traditional end-of-semester reference and citculation crush at the same time, and--oh yeah--sorting out our requests for next year's budget. Everything that was not mission critical went on the back burner--writing blog posts, keeping up with most RSS feeds, any purchasing and cataloging that could wait a few weeks, and a lot of my GTD routines like reviewing my next actions at the beginning and end of the day, and keeping a log of my completed tasks. I even got to the point where I stopped writing things down for a week or so, keeping them festering in my inbox or worse, trying to remember it all in my brain. In short, I didn't do all the stuff I carp on you guys here to do, with the predictable result of a messy office and a frazzled brain. You all may now point, snicker and generally feel smug. :-)

While my skipping of a few weekly reviews and stacks of stuff festering in my office didn't result in any major disasters, that was more dumb luck and the leftover inertia of my prior good habits than anything else. I've had enough lost paperwork or forgotten deadlines in my time that I know that's the ultimate result of disorganization. I worked a shift last saturday, took a look at my desk and inboxes, and inwardly groaned. The worst of the storm had passed, I had 8 sleepy saturday hours ahead of me to dig out, and I'd run out of emergency items that gave me excuses to ignore the mess. It was time to pay the piper.

So...if you've been a little lax for a few weeks or months on your organization, and find yourself disorganized and flustered, how do you get back on track? It's not nearly as big a nightmare as it may seem--under those piles you still have the bones of a good system. What do you do to dig out?

First, forgive yourself. I'm sure that this did not happen because you spent the last few weeks nibbling bonbons at your desk with your feet up. most likely this is the aftermath of a major project or rush period, and you should look back at what you have accomplished during that time. I've noticed a perfectionist streak in a lot of librarians--especially newer ones. I think it's just part of being a geek and a lover of information. Well, you won't ever be perfect. Every few months I take the GTD mastery test as a self-check of where I am on my organization habits and to get ideas of areas for improvement. I most recently scored a 64, and I write a time management blog! One of the key things I learned in my career is to accept the occasional error. obviously I'd rather have every task in my life under perfect control at all times, but that is not going to happen. So I've put together systems in my life to accomplish as much of that as possible while still having a life and free time, and most importantly I've learned to forgive and shrug off the occasional slip. S#*t happens. Take a deep breath, give yourself a hug, and get down to work. It's not nearly the disaster it seems to be.

Part of the reason the situation seems so overwhelming and disastrous is that you simply don't know where everything is and what tasks need to be done! Well, that's easily mended. Get everything to in. all the scattered papers, books, etc floating around your office need to go to the inbox (or next to it if you fill your inbox) to be processed. open up your email inbox, and any catch-all folders you've set up for files that need to be dealt with. Now, grab a pen and paper, and make a list of EVERY TASK that's floating around in your head--get it all captured and on paper. then add those items to your inbox. Now comes the fun part--process all your stuff. set up next actions, add meetings to calendars, do short tasks--you know the drill. Just by the simple act of putting all that stuff in one place and processing it, you will feel much more in control of your workload. Even if you leave work with a stack of unprocessed items for the next couple of days--you know where it is, you have a general idea of what it is, and you know it'll all get processed shortly.

Now to the part I'm working on now. When you've emptied your inbox, and gotten all your actions done, delegated, or deferred, add one more action to the list to do when you have your next weekly review or other blocked-off planning time: post-disaster review. (okay, "disaster" is a bit extreme, but you get the concept.) Grab a notepad, or whatever you think best on, and answer the following questions.

  • What caused the initial slip into disorganization? a big project, an unexpected absence, an emergency "from above" that took several days to resolve, or just tackling too many projects at once?
  • does this sort of thing tend to happen this time every month/semester/whatever?
  • How long were things "out of control" before you took action?
  • What inspired you to get it back together?
  • What was easier/harder than you expected about climbing out of the hole?
  • How can you change your processes or routines to make a recurrence less likely?
  • Do you need to think about delegating some of your ongoing tasks to a less-burdened colleague or a talented subordinate?
  • If you had to do it all over again, what would/could you have done differently to avoid the mess? If there are ideas, incorporate them in your process going forward. if this slip was unavoidable (and they are at times) , see the beginning of this plan, forgive yourself, and move on.
Your effectiveness at Getting Things Done (or Covey, or whatever system you use), has very little to do with how well you can attain/maintain perfection in your system during the normal times. Instead, when times get tough, and the inevitable slips occur, how quickly and easily do you bounce back and regain control? Nobody is or should be perfect--heaven knows that life would be much duller if we were. Strive for excellence, and for resilience when the tough times come. If you can manage that, you'll find that organization--as well as most other things in life--become much easier and more pleasant.

See you next tuesday, with my first new and improved RSS digest. :-)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Public Service announcement

This is not going to be a pro-gun or anti-gun post. nor is this going to be a rant for or against mandatory counseling or in loco parentis. Smarter people than I are going to be debating those questions for the next few years. As I look over my college days and my subsequent higher ed career, I can think of people who desperately needed help who fell through the cracks, some of whom self-destructed via suicide or other less dramatic means. I also, unfortunately know a talented would-be future teacher in need of a little reassurance who was driven out of a certification program by hyper-paranoid administrators worried that he didn't sufficiently fit the mold. So, what can we as librarians do, and how can we strike a balance between fear of and indifference to our students' needs?

Take a look around the library next time you're at the desk. See that kid? the one with the downcast eyes and closed-off expression? The next time they come to the desk, strike up a conversation, even if it's just about the weather or last night's ball game. Look them in the eyes. Make human contact. take a genuine interest in the subject they're researching, and offer to give them a little extra help, if they seem receptive. It might well be the only friendly gesture they've had all week. No, I'm not saying that you should be all hearts and butterflies with someone who's behaving in an inappropriate or threatening manner--that's when you do what's necessary to keep your colleagues and patrons safe, and call the campus police/counselors if appropriate. Nor am I saying you should try to be an armchair shrink.

From everything I've read, the student at Virginia Tech had some very deep-rooted problems that went far beyond what a friendly gesture would cure--at least by the time April 16 rolled around. But what about 6 months ago? a couple years back? I don't know that it would have made a difference in this case...but I do know that there are a lot of young, confused college students who can be helped with a smile, a helping hand, or a few words of friendly conversation. It's our responsibility as librarians--and as human beings--to be hospitable to these folks and steer them in the direction of help we can't provide. College is a wonderful, terrifying, stressful time for most students. We, as the adults they see regularly, have a responsibility to give them the tools to forge a successful path in life--and not just academically or financially.

Friday, April 13, 2007

tech support request--SOLVED!

Could anyone who is familiar with setting up the unicorn label designer please send me an email/IM/carrier pigeon? it's doing bizarre things and not letting me set up the dimensions I need for our spine/pocket labels (details on request)

Thanks...and apologies again for the spotty posting schedule the past few weeks, I hope to be back at something resembling my normal routine in another week or so.

Update: After much searching (and headbanging), I was finally able to get the problem sorted out thanks to some posts on this topic at the client care forums. Thanks so much to those who sent me tips and suggestions!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Two landmarks I have to share...(and my 5 bloggy heroes)

I'm sticking my head up from being buried in Unicorn minutia for the last 2 weeks to make a couple comments.

1. This morning I passed 50 subscribers in bloglines--and based on my daily traffic I seem to have about a hundred regular readers. Thanks for taking the time to read my somewhat OCD babblings!

2. Walt at Random » Blog Archive » Five blogger heroes (sort of)


The sentiment is mutual. I know Walt's a regular guy, but it's still kewl to get kudos from a guy whose articles you read in library school...

And on that theme, my 5 Blogging heroes--most of these are obvious based on who I mention in my RSS digests, but if you haven't followed any links to their blogs, you should...

The Well-dressed Librarian As I've mentioned in previous posts--he's witty, makes incisive comments about the state of librarianship, and fashion tips to boot!
Thoughts from a Library Administrator The kind of administrator I wanna be when I grow up.
The Other Librarian Always a unique spin on current issues.
Library Stories this blog focuses on events and issues in my home state, run by Adri Johnson, one of the more illustrious nextgen voices around my parts. Full disclosure: I'm a co-writer on the blog, but I admit that I just shamelessly ride her coattails. :-)
Caveat Lector I understand why Dorthea doesn't allow comments on her blog, but I'd love it if she did, because many of her articles make me think so deeply that I wish I could write a detailed response...

And one last thing--If anyone reading this is familiar with Unicorn workflows, especially circulation reports, could you zap me an IM? I'm still getting my bearings and I ran across an odd problem this morning. it's basic enough that I don't want to bother the Sirsi mailing list with it unless I have to, but all of you already know I'm a doofus. *smirk* I'm on yahoo as scatteredlib (in fact, you can generally find me there during standard work hours). Thanks, and if I can think of anything profound-ish I'll talk to you tomorrow! Thanks again for all your support.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Student workers & how to use them effectively...

Earlier this week on COLLIB-L, a library director dealing with an administration looking to freeze her student worker budget turned to the group to get some ideas for projects she could add to their workload to justify their existence. in the course of composing my own response and reading others, I was struck by just how much we rely on our student workers, even relative to the other librarians who posted about their student workers' tasks. At least at our institution, it's a lot easier to justify another student worker position than another "real" employee, which means that a lot of the time consuming, easily trainable ongoing tasks have been delegated down to our student workers over the years as the student staff has grown. Below is my response to the mailing list, followed by some thoughts I've had based on how this thread evolved.

Well, here’s what we do with our student workers…I’m the access services guru so I’m mostly thinking of circ-related tasks, though I know there are a few other ongoing student projects I’m forgetting.

1. Circ desk stuff (check in/out, pulling holds, the usual)
2. Shelving, book shifting, general stacks tidying and shelfreading
3. Pre-processing/labeling of books
4. Inventory (I set up the initial reports in the system, they scan the books into the wizard)
5. Catalog clean-up projects (item type fixes, re-barcoding older items, etc.)
6. Periodicals checkin
7. Govdocs checkin
8. Compiling monthly new book lists for the website, searching in the collection for potential items for subject area pathfinders, etc.
9. ILL (pretty much anything that isn’t a faculty request)
10. Front line reference when students are so intimidated they head right for the youngest face at the desk
11. front line tech support when students are so intimidated they head right for the youngest face at the desk :-)
12. keeping the printers/copiers filled with paper/toner
13. more special projects/data entry chores than I can think of right now (ex: I’m going to have 2 helping me this summer with the annual reserve room clean-up)
14. artwork/posters for PR/Marketing stuff (we have several VERY talented art majors on our team)
15. extra pairs of eyes watching the state of our supply room for reorders.
16. Mentoring the newbie student workers as they come in (nothing official, they just naturally take them under their wings for the first few weeks).

Essentially, any ongoing task that doesn’t involve money, MARC records, instruction, or involved reference work is fair game. Don’t underestimate your student workers’ abilities or interests—several of our long-time student workers could probably do most of my job (but don’t tell my director that! :-) )

Whoops--I think I did just tell my director that! (for reasons that elude me, my boss seems to think this blog is worth reading...) Anyway, after posting the laundry list above, I began thinking a bit more about what libraries typically do and do not use student workers for, and the various issues that have to dealt with. For instance, we interview and select our student workers, and are able to pick out outgoing students with good GPAs and solid work ethics. The few inevitable glitches aside, we've generally had very good luck with our student workers, and I'd pit their customer service, professionalism and performance against any other department's student staff on this campus. Apparently some schools have their student workers picked and sent over by financial aid, and have to make do with what they get. I'm sure that impacts the tasks they can and cannot assign their students. Also, turnover is a factor with students--at least at our library workers tend either to leave the library after a semester or stay with us through graduation--we don't have too much middle ground. Our veteran workers (at least two of whom have worked here longer than I have!) are a big reason we can outsource things like ILL to them. In fact one of our long-time workers has been considering going for her MLIS after she graduates! :-)

So, how can you use your student workers' time more effectively? Obviously, every library's circumstances are different, but the biggest thing I can say is not to underestimate your students. When I first became the access services librarian, I attempted to personally handle any and every task related to circulation management, and quickly got overwhelmed. I couldn't do everything, and many of the most time-consuming tasks simply weren't the best use of my time. We also had student workers bored, needing more things to do. Around that time, our director came back from a program for academic library directors that he attended at Harvard, and asked all of us to look at our tasks for things that we could delegate to students, as he had several new projects he needed our help in implementing.

With that comment in mind I took a hard look at the things that ate up the biggest portion of my time, and found several ongoing "maintenance" projects that could be partially or completely delegated. Yes, I had to spend time training the students--but usually no more than an hour or so for the particular task/student, checking their work for the first few weeks, and jumping in for a few minutes here and there when they hit a stumbling block. my schedule opened up almost immediately, and I was able to spend more time on a lot of high-value projects that had been on the back burner.

I could probably write a full-length article and/or presentation on the effective use of student workers (and now that I'm thinking about this issue, I just might!). However, it really comes down to hiring good people, taking the time to train them well (and it doesn't take near as much time as you may think), and giving them opportunities to stretch. All of our student workers have to take their turns with the oh-so-glamorous tasks of shelfreading and inventory, but I think the fact that most of them also have a special project helps them feel like they are an important part of the library, and in turn gives them the motivation to do their best. does your library use your student employees?