or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk




Reference Dept. Goals for FY10

   June 9th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Dilbert comic about annual reviewsAnother year has passed, which means another round of staff reviews and setting goals for the next fiscal year. Bleh.

In contrast to past years, I was encouraged to be brief. So this years goals are a bit more quantifiable, and a bit less "well, that's part of the job description anyway." You know, the way goals should be.

GOAL #1: Improve access to information resources and library services

  • Weed the reference collection, refine the ref standing order list, and reevaluate how the reference shelving area is used and begin to develop a plan for alternate uses1
  • Work with Tech Services to refine standing order list and evaluate reclassification of subjects to better group similar topics together
  • Continue with staff-assigned sections for weeding, straightening and order suggestions

GOAL #2: Expand and improve the library's technology offerings

  • Work with web committee to migrate website to new content management system2
  • Add more website subject guides to tie together print and electronic resources, and link to expanded offerings of BPL and other MVLC libraries3
  • Work with IT staff towards expanding technology offerings, such as wireless printing and loaning laptops
  • Review current offerings utilizing new technologies, prioritize those needing ongoing maintenance, and document procedures to support maintenance by other staff

GOAL #3: Maintain and/or support web-based resources beyond the library's core collection

  • CommInfo: utilize staff to contact and update organizations every Jan-Feb
  • ChelmsfordVolunteers.org: work with other departments and organizations to keep listings up to date
  • ChelmsfordHistory.org: provide leadership for the Chelmsford History project, coordinating with other organizations and volunteers to locate and index Chelmsford's historical resources
    • Look for ways to better organize and provide access to the library's historical collections, such as the Vertical File, microfilm records, etc.

Admittedly, much of this still falls into the "continuing things we're already doing" category, but that is a large part of my job. And something else covered elsewhere in my review is encouraging all staff to attend at least 5 hours of some kind of training or professional development.

I think it's all doable. I can probably even manage to squeeze in helping patrons at the reference desk, too.

 


Notes:

1. I'd like to interfile the ref books with the circulating non-fiction, and put into the reference area more quiet study rooms or subject tables --Back to Goals--


2. Right now we're using Dreamweaver, but I'd like to see us move to a real CMS - NELA-ITS' CMS Day workshop is this Friday, so yay for good timing --Back to Goals--


3. Patrons like our genealogy subject guide, so I want to make more, incorporating Delicious bookmarks, and also linking to resources at other library to supplement what we offer --Back to Goals--



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Different Kinds of Staff

   March 5th, 2009 Brian Herzog

chess gameThe serious stuff first:
We've been reviewing and updating all of my library's policies for the last few weeks, so I've got policy v. procedure on the brain. Because of that, it occurred to me this week that most library staff can be grouped into two types: "policy" staff and "procedure" staff.

  • Policy staff - like to be given broad goals, not explicit directions. This is an asset in that they take initiative and can be innovative
  • Procedure staff - like to be given explicit directions, and will follow and enforce limits and rules like a checklist. This is an asset because they are consistent and treat everyone the same

Neither type of employee is better or worse than the other, just different. Managers (and coworkers) can be more effective at their jobs if they identify staff's needs and strengths and play to or accommodate them. I know this isn't some huge insight, but I had never noticed the parallel between work habits and policy/procedure before.

The jokes second:
Here are my favorite "There are X kinds of people in the world" jokes:

  • There are 3 kinds of people in the world: those who can count and those who can't
  • There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don't

Ah, yes - bad jokes makes the web go 'round.



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Work Like A Patron Recap

   October 16th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Working like a patronI hope everyone enjoyed Work Like a Patron Day, and found a way to make using the library easier for your patrons.

I didn't get to spend as much time as I had hoped, but I did notice a few things:

  • We need more scrap paper at the workstations
  • We need to clean up the litter and leaves and sticks and other debris around the front steps
  • We should rename our wireless network from "CPL-g" to something an uninitiated patron will recognize and feel safe with
  • It turns out that staff congregating and chatting at service desks is every bit as distracting as patrons on cell phones

But what struck me the most wasn't what I noticed, but what kinds of things I noticed. I mean, I already know that the patron catalog interface needs improvement, and that not everyone understands how to log on to a computer or where the photocopier is.

Everything I noticed yesterday were little things. Even though I'm among the public computers every day, and we replenish them with scrap paper when we see them empty, if you're a patron sitting there and there is no paper, it doesn't help that staff put some there that morning. It's not there now. And the junk around the front door is easy to miss when you've got on the blinders of familiarity - it's always there, so I stopped noticing it. But when you do notice it, it looks kind of bad.

So in addition to the original list, I'm also going to make a point of looking for the subtle things, like:

  • Is there a glare on computers by the windows at certain parts of the day?
  • Is it too hot/cold in here?
  • Does it stink in here?
  • How easy is the phone menu system to navigate?

Even if I can't change them, staff being aware of them is a good thing, because I'm sure our patrons are.

So thank you to everyone who supported and participated in the day. I got lots of emails and saw many posts and comments about it, which is great. In fact, I only saw one negative comment about it. It astounds me that someone who writes for Library Journal would criticize the idea of making the library a better place, but there you go.

Be sure to remember this day next year, too. More information is available on
http://www.libsuccess.org/index.php?title=Work_Like_A_Patron_Day and http://www.flickr.com/groups/worklikeapatronday.



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NELA-ITS Spring 2008 Workshop

   June 12th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Library-Wide Proficiencies PresentationLibrary-Wide IT Proficiency Workshop
New England Library Association, Information Technology Section
June 12, 2008 - Bryant University, RI
Gary McCone & Grace Sines

I'm writing today from the NELA-ITS Spring 2008 workshop. The handouts are available below, so I'll just be annotating with a few points throughout the day, and also trying to add pictures to flickr.

Here are the handouts, that were provided to all attendees on a flash drive:

Part I
Overview of the National Agriculture Library, and the services they offer. Being a national library, they are a resource for everyone, so check them out.

Library-Wide IT Proficiencies

  • Why are IT proficiencies important? It's important to get IT support right the first time with the end-user, so front-line staff need to feel comfortable in both doing the support and managing expectations (we cannot "fix the internet").
  • Keys to success Enable non-IT staff, excellent communications, understand end-users (needs, vocabulary and skills), know where knowledge or information lies within the organization, don't get stressed - we're all working towards the same goal
  • Get to know your users Know their generation, but get past stereotypes - teach based on how different generations learn
  • Expect things to change Technology will change, staff and users needs and skills will change - must expect change and be flexible to accommodate it
  • Listen to end-users Meet with end-users in a non-threatening way to learn directly from them what they need (although it might be delicate, focus on what is wrong, because no one is happy with IT), and work to get ongoing feedback

Part II
Roadmap to creating an IT-Savvy Library Staff

  • Technology Core Competencies Abilities, knowledge and skill required to do the job - can be itemized based on areas or tasks, such as "printer & copier," "operating system," "email," etc.
  • Types Can be task-based (skill: refill printer paper) or descriptive (knowledge: know how to surf the internet)
  • Get involvement from everyone Everyone should be involved in defining them and what is needed to achieve them (management, professional staff, front-line staff, etc)
  • Plan implementation Everyone knows what's happening and what to expect, and how competencies can be met
  • Resources
  • Why have them? Promote customer service, increase motivation, address fear/threats of technology or people with limited skills (and don't be afraid of providing incentives and praise)
  • IT Liaison Program Designate one person from each department to be the lead liaison with the IT department - hopefully someone interested in IT, to be the first point of contact
  • Ideas for training Experts in the library leading sessions, creating fact sheets (your own knowledge base), online training/webinars (free and fee), weekly tips. mentoring programs, regional trainers, keep track of what library staff don't know (FAQs)
  • Topics for training Evolving technologies, real-world issues (spam, phishing, flash drives, etc), tour the library website, Google labs, digital rights management, RSS, media formats (flash, audio, interactivity, etc), hardware petting zoo (new gadgets, gizmos and games)


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Staff Performance Review Time

   May 22nd, 2008 Brian Herzog

The end of May is always staff performance review time in my library, and it seems unpleasant for everyone. Staff doesn't like it, department heads don't like it, and town hall doesn't seem to like it. So why do we do it?

One reason is because we always have done it. But other reason, as cheesy as it sounds, is because it really can help. Whether it provides an opportunity to address an ongoing problem, a pat on the back for a staff person who otherwise might go unnoticed, or just to make you sit down and really think about the way things are going in the library, as awkward and uncomfortable as they are, performance reviews and setting goals are beneficial.

That being said, I loath them. And I'm even lucky - I only have four staff people at the reference desk, and they're all pretty good.

This year, the union requested we use a new, much more simplified form for staff reviews (down from eight pages to three). As department heads, we modified a form that the town already used in other departments and customized it for library staff. The most challenging part was defining which each job criteria entailed, but I think the result works pretty well:

And as ever year, I developed goals for the reference department for the coming fiscal year (if anyone is keeping track, you might notice much repetition from last year):

Reference Department Goals for FY2009

  1. Continue to improve patron access to information resources1
    • Look at ways to improve access to the collection
      • Continue to weed and refine print reference materials to coordinate with non-fiction collection
      • Continue to work with Tech Services to improve standing order list and recataloging of computer books to better group similar topics together2
      • Finish weeding and shifting of the non-fiction collection, and then maintain collection by implementing a continual review through assigning sections to staff members for weeding, shelf-reading, straightening, order suggestions, etc.
      • Continue to add online access listing to the website's comprehensive print periodicals listing
      • Add more website "Subject Guides" to tie together print and electronic resources3
      • Continue promoting database usage through existing methods (bookmarks, signs, links, staff training, etc.) as well as new technologies, and link to expanded offerings of BPL and other MVLC libraries
    • Continue with website improvements, both to Reference section and all of website
      • Work as part of web committee to revamp entire website to meet new design goals and accessibility standards
      • Assist with development of town-wide events calendar
    • Provide better access to the Vertical File, now that indexing is complete and files reorganized4
    • Maintain Chelmsford listings in MVLC's Comm Info database and try to improve data and access
    • Work with Childrens, Teen and Community Services departments to finally launch and maintain a local online volunteer resource5
    • Work with IT on patron-related technology issues, such as timer software for public computers, internet access issues, printing from wireless computers, public faxing, etc.
    • Help coordinate town-wide historical records project to improve access to historical resources both inside and outside of the library
  2. Continue to refine desk area and operations
    • Ensure all procedures and policies are documented and easily available to desk staff
    • Review new technologies and tools to see if paper-based methods can be improved upon
  3. Concentrate on professional development
    • Keep current on journals, literature and blogs, for articles, book reviews and library trends
    • Attend MVLC, NMRLS, NELA and other regional reference meetings
    • Participate in staff, local, regional and national training opportunities
    • Promote training opportunities to staff

Brian Herzog
Head of Reference
5/22/08

Footnotes

  1. Like last year, my base assumption is that there is no different between print and electronic resources - back to note 1
  2. Such as, we want to make sure all "powerpoint" books are together, all "sql" books are together, etc., instead of being shelved by dewey and then by author - back to note 2
  3. By this I mean creating subject pages that list research databases, print resources, and links to websites (via del.icio.us), to display all related materials in one place (like this) - back to note 3
  4. Reference staff went through and indexed everything in the vertical file into an Excel spreadsheet, and now we just need to find a way to make that easily searchable by patrons - back to note 4
  5. Our Chelmsford Volunteers resource has been in the works for almost a year; any comments are suggestions are welcome - back to note 5


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