September 22, 2008
Where have I been?, you might ask (or maybe not, if you’ve quit reading this blog for lack of any posts). I’ve been working, day and night it seems, for the last several months. My VPN software was both a blessing and a curse, allowing me to get a lot done in a day, yet work beyond my 40-hour week. It wasn’t just one week, but several weeks in a row, all connected to become a month (or more- I’ve lost count).
Why so much work? I don’t know. When it rains, it pours, right? Several projects converged at one time, like overflowing streams flowing into one river that overspread its banks. I was swept away in the ensuing flood, caught up in the powerful current and pulled downstream away from familiar landmarks. I was planning my nights and weekends around work, cramming it in when my family wasn’t around, finding myself disappointed when my evening plans prevented me from working additional hours.
Then the unexpected happened. No, I didn’t burnout in a ball of flames. My laptop died on me. My whole absurd work-from-home obsession came to a screeching halt in one failed boot of my laptop. I’ve never felt so lost. It wasn’t that I lost files or programs; those were backed up. It was that I lost control. I lost myself.
I’m happy to report that I have a new laptop and most of my files and programs have been restored. We’re learning about one another, sort of like a very long first date. I’m re-installing the VPN software, but will not be obsessed with using it every night and weekend. I can’t read, relax, write or spend time with my family if I can’t wait for them to get out of my way so I can just get some work done. The work will be there in the morning, waiting for me as it always has. If it doesn’t get done by 5pm, then too bad. I can’t lose control and lose myself again. If I do that, then who will be there to do the work– at any time of the day?
August 21, 2008
My to-do list and projects lists are expanding at a mind-boggling rate these days. It seems as though I just get a few things done and checked off my lists, then five more tasks magically materialize to replace them. I’m juggling more balls than a circus clown on speed. I have tasks and reminders scribbled on scraps of paper, recorded in my Outlook tasks, and listed on my Excel spreadsheet. Some are overlapping while others are listed only once– and subject to being lost among the growing piles on my desk (again!). Will I ever return to the peaceful days when I sometimes grew bored with routine tasks and long gaps between special projects? Most days now there’s hardly time for me to catch my breath, much less daydream.
I haven’t written much in this blog lately because I’m finding it impossible to relax long enough so I can think, which enables me to write, which enables me to think some more. My brain needs periods of quiet and introspection in order to digest and absorb the dozens of random thoughts running wild through it. Writing helps me to lasso those thoughts into an orderly herd, so I can lead them to productive outcomes at work. Without introspection and writing, those thoughts get jumbled up and tumbled up, stepping all over each other in their frantic dance. If too many of them are dancing about in my brain, no to-do list or priority list can tame them. The end result– my brain freezes up and I accomplish nothing. I feel like a scratched track on a CD– skip, skip, skip– no forward movement through my day.
I collapse into bed every night, despite having so many thoughts buzzing through my head up until it hits the pillow. I find myself hungering for the weekends, hoping I can rest and renew my energy, both physical and mental, before I face yet another hectic week. I often wonder how long I will be able to keep up with this breakneck pace of managing so many new projects, most of them with no end in sight. I know I should be thankful for my job when so many people are losing theirs in this economy. It’s just that sometimes it’s hard to appreciate what you have when you’re so close to the beast that you can’t see the whites of its eyes.
August 6, 2008
My technical services department has faced more changesin the last ten months than we’ve had in most of the fifteen years I’ve worked there. Since last September, we’ve tried to retool our work flow, cross-train staff, move materials through the department faster, outsource some work, and evaluate the work of our outsourcing vendors. Then this summer we lost a staff person to retirement, we’ve started RFID tagging all new materials, we’re evaluating digital project management software and later this month, we’re going to be changing hundreds of the internal codes we use to identify our shelf locations.
Amidst all of these changes, I’ve tried to simplify our cataloging and processing procedures, but with limited success. A consultant and three outsourcing vendors have told us our cataloging and processing procedures are complex– and they were right! But changing old ways of doing things is tough, if not downright impossible at times. My challenge is to define the problem areas, research possible solutions, and determine costs for continuing doing things as we’ve done them. Before stopping or changing any of our procedures, I need to ask our public services staff for their input on making specific changes. There’s nothing worse than making a decision without good information to back it up, then reversing that same decision because it wasn’t well-thought-out to begin with. It can be embarrassing– and definitely not good management practice.
The final step is selling my staff on the proposed changes. This is the ultimate challenge, especially when they probably feel like nothing is sacred any more. I know my own first thoughts when hearing of impending change are: “What’s wrong with the way I’m (we’re) doing it? It works fine the way it is. Why change?” I know these thoughts run through their heads too, so I’m trying to be sympathetic to their discomfort and fears surrounding change. But I believe they may be more willing to implement changes if they understand the reasons behind them.
One thing’s for sure– the only library science management class I took never mentioned I would have to develop research, sales, and persuasion skills if I was going to be an effective manager. Nor did it mention I would need a dash of psychology sprinkled over everything in order to manage people and processes. Change is difficult, but not impossible.
July 30, 2008
I have a problem with delegation. Not with having things delegated to me, but with delegating things to my employees or to other people who should handle things I don’t have time for or the expertise to handle. I have this awful sense of “here, just let me do it” or “that’s okay, I’ll look into it and take care of it” that often mires me in problems and projects I really have no time to deal with.
I can mostly blame myself for the delegation dilemma. It’s been easier to keep tasks for myself because they required specialized knowledge or software authorizations my staff didn’t have (and were tightly controlled by IT staff). Most of the time I get assigned (i.e., delegated) a new project by my boss, I figure out a new routine or process, then I continue to do it for eternity. The new projects and routines continue to pile on and therein lies my problem…
I’ve never thought to delegate routine tasks to my employees nor have I thought of using delegation as a tool to develop them into higher-skilled, more knowledgeable employees. The current arrangement leads them to assume I’ll handle everything really important while they do same old thing year in and year out. That’s poor management on my part. And the really dumb thing about the new routines I develop is that I type up step-by-step instructions for myself, so I don’t forget how to do them if they occur monthly or annually. So I really have no excuse not to train someone to takeover a task, because the training documentation already exists…
I recently read a fabulous book that spoke to the heart and soul of my problems. The title is It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor, by Rebecca Shaumbaugh. Her theory of why women don’t advance to the executive suite isn’t because others hold them back (the glass ceiling), but because they hold themselves back through hidden behaviors (the sticky floor). She says there are 7 sticky floors, one of which is being a perfectionist and not delegating tasks to others. I’m guilty as charged! Delegation is the solution to freeing myself from that sticky floor.
As busy as I’ve been lately, I realize now I should spend my time figuring out new projects and developing new routines, then figuring out which staff are best suited for training so they can take them over, allowing me to spend time developing more new tasks and routines…
Don’t get me wrong, but I think new projects are like flypaper– they stick too me way to easily and are impossible to get rid of! Over the course of this summer, I was appointed to two new committees, bringing my total to five– yes, that’s five committees, to generate ever more projects for me. I hope the two newest committees are temporary assignments as my library implements two major, yet interconnected software applications, RFID and floating collections. These committees are on top of a new committee generated from a consultant’s recommendation for my department last fall and two permanent, longstanding committees I’ve had for a number of years. None of them were optional, so opting out wasn’t possible.
In addition to the two new committees, my library is evaluating CONTENTdm (digital project management software). I’m heading up this evaluation and trying to get my cataloging staff trained and on board to use it (at no cost to the library). To complicate matters, I’ve lost one employee this summer and her workload is now shared among the cataloging staff until replacements can be hired later this fall. And this week, one of my most productive catalogers is on vacation. Can you say too much work, too few people?
I’ve spent the last several months working overtime way more than I wanted to, sometimes as much as 7 hours per week. Do I earn more money for this? Nope. Does it get me farther ahead? Probably not, although at the time, it seems like the right thing to do because a deadline looms or my mind is fired up about an assignment following a meeting. Will I ever learn to stop working overtime? Who knows? I wonder if other people in similar positions in other professions are as overloaded as I am.
I’m starting to feel the squeeze of too much to do, day after day, unrelenting and overwhelming. Pushing my brain and my body to keep working on a project long after everyone else has gone home and the sun hangs low in the sky isn’t good for me– I know that in my heart. It’s just hard to turn off my stupid brain, because it enjoys working on creative and challenging things until it’s exhausted. Problem is… I’m feeling as though I’m moving towards burnout or a meltdown…unless I can figure out how I can delegate some of my routine tasks to my cataloging staff. With the current situation in my department and library, I know they’ll be thrilled to receive one more thing to do. :(
June 28, 2008
On Friday I survived an early morning wake-up, 2 flights through three timezones, and a day that ended at 1am in my home timezone. That makes it nearly 22 hours of being awake! I slept like a rock last night, despite fireworks going off at the nearby Disneyland park. I’m tired tonight, but more than happy to be at ALA, learning new things and meeting old friends.
Today I attended a CONTENTdm session that was both an overview of OCLC’s CONTENTdm software and their Digital Archive services and an in-depth demonstration of how to use their Acquisitions Station software to catalog compound objects. Cataloging compound objects like yearbooks, books, and postcards made me rethink my priorities when I return to work after the conference. They can be very complex and require specialized knowledge of PDFs, full-resolution images, and filenaming conventions. I’m definitely going to delegate more everyday stuff so I can spend time on CONTENTdm and other projects.
The OCLC Symposium was thought-provoking. Although the theme was mash-ups, the keynote speaker, Michael Schrage, didn’t spend much time talking about mash-ups in the sense that we’re used to hearing about them. He talked about innovation and said it’s the conversion of novelty into value, although the definition of novelty depends on the perceptions of individuals. He said libraries should find out what our customers think is the most innovative thing we do. Four actions libraries should take are:
1. Learn from our lead users- find out who they are.
2. Think about who we want to collaborate with to create value for both parties.
3. Market our best internal arguments & disagreements.
4. Establish “Liberatories” that attract talent and inspire hypotheses.
He finished with a quote that I really liked: “Success comes from not taking the path of least resistance, but the path of maximum advantage.”
A panel discussion followed with David Lee King, Mary Beth Sancomb-Moran, and Susan Gibbons discussing their mashups and answering questions from the audience. David discussed mashups like RSS feeds linked to resources in their catalog, a Meebo IM widget for reference and dead links in the catalog, bookmobile stops on a Google map, patron comments that can be added anywhere on their website, and how they used outside software like MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter for user-contributed content. Mary Beth showed a map mash-up of the Minnesota Sesquicenntial banner’s travels through 11 counties and 35 public libraries. She also used a map mashup to show legislators and constituents which libraries they represented. Susan discussed how they asked students and faculty to give input as to what they liked, disliked, or thought was missing from the library’s web page. Students wanted things the library never thought of, like dining room schedules, IM, Facebook, and course-specific information. The libarary worked with the registrar to create a mash-up of subject guides with course names, meeting times, professor names and a dynamic link to a librarian, whose title was different depending on the course associated with the subject guide.
June 17, 2008
I’m just now putting together my schedule for the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim, CA, next week. I’ve been meaning to sign up for sessions and receptions for a few weeks now, but haven’t been able to find the time to sit down and do it. So I’ve been working on my schedule for the last few days, squeezing it in here and there between projects, problems, and routine tasks.
As always, there are lots of great programs in the same time slot, in hotels spread across a huge city. Years ago, ALA conference planners were supposed to organize programs into tracks so that we could see what was being offered in our area of interest. They were also supposed to put programs in the same hotel so that when we were attending programs of interest, they were together in the same location.
HA!–I’m here to tell you it didn’t work out according to the theory. There are lots of competing programs in the same time slot in different hotels on the same day and within the same track. Gaaahhh! So much for following a program track and attending programs in the same hotel. They’re still scattered around the city, sometimes a mile or two apart. One thing’s for sure– I always get a good workout when I go to an ALA conference.
Better get back to planning my itinerary. It looks like I have some time slots double-booked (some could be triple-booked if I’m not careful). Better find a quarter so I can flip it and decide when I get there. Sometimes the location rather than the topic of the program helps me decide which one to attend– after I consult with my feet, of course. Ya just can’t be in two places at once.