Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Talk: Cinderella Ate My Daughter

At some point during grad school, my nascent feminist tendencies took off and bloomed. Since I hadn't really read anything about gender issues or feminism before, I have really been enjoying reading some books in a totally new topic area.

I first noticed Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein at a Barnes & Noble but, since I have I-Spend-Too-Much-On-Books-Already-itis, I didn't pick it up. I requested it from the library instead! And I waited forever - apparently it is a hot read.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter is basically a crash course in, as the cover says, "girly-girl culture" and how it's affecting both girls and boys even into adulthood. It is definitely an overview book as opposed to a deep, academic study of a particular aspect of gender, but that is really ok. Some of it was really instructional, some of it I already knew, and some of it scared the ever living heck out of me. I particularly liked that Orenstein gave us anecdotes about her own experiences raising a daughter, because the book is they type of book that can benefit from anecdotal evidence without losing credibility. Peggy Orenstein writes mostly about girls and their development, but I haven't read anything else by her. What this book really prompted me to do was request the entire sources list from the library system (library plug - we have nearly all of them!)

I strongly recommend this for someone who is interested in gender roles, or anyone who plans on having children and isn't really satisfied with the options for girls. It's an easy read but very good.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Group Work is Rewarding?

In library school they always made us do a ton of group work in a slightly desperate attempt to teach us how to collaborate. This will mimic the real world, they said. Once you get your job, you’ll have to collaborate with your co-workers on projects. Why not start that now?

Well, for the most part, they were right, but for some reason “group work” seems even worse in the workforce than it did in grad school. I think that group work in grad school is tolerable because there is a pretty good chance you’ll get at least one team member who is on the ball. Also, the group work suffering ends at an appointed time (i.e. the end of the semester), so the diligent students feel free to work harder on their projects because there is an end in sight.

Reasons I am thinking about this: my library is currently in the middle of a massive shifting project. (At least it feels massive. There are only 2 floors to my library, so it’s not as bad as it could be.) In the midst of this project, the rest of the librarians realize that the library has NEVER been weeded. Ever. Since its inception. Cue massive weeding project. And now we arrive at my group work frustration.

Once everyone realized that project (i.e. the cataloger) participants were not pleased with the direction of the project, we had a big brainstorm group meeting to communicate our goals and plans accurately to each other (which should have happened in the beginning). Communication is not a strong point of my library, primarily because most of the employees have been there a while and understand how operations are supposed to work. We all collectively decided in this meeting that we would weed certain areas per our subject “specialties”, write the faculty for approval, and then remove the books. Weeding is a collaborative process: librarians, the cataloger, and faculty are all involved. Our workflow is

Librarian analyzes / weeds books >> Faculty approve or disapprove selections >> Books go to the cataloger for removal and disposal

The workflow works pretty well, except for the fact that it is a funnel: there are multiple librarians and faculty and one cataloger (who refuses to ask for help). Furthermore, the cataloger feels that it is her job to re-evaluate our weeds. I can’t quite figure out what bothers me about this. Is it because my authority and experience is questioned? Is it because this slows the process down immensely as our cataloger spends 5 minutes on every book? Is it because I feel that she is an interfering busybody? Is it her tone when she questions my weeds? I don’t know. I also realize that her input is important because she has been at the library so long, and she knows the collection really well. She doesn’t really have a firm grasp on how students use our resources, but she knows what books we have, why we have them, where they came from, what courses they support, and so on.

My boss has stressed over and over how weeding is a collaborative process. My boss doesn’t want to get involved in what I am sure she views as territorial scuffles. Meanwhile, the other librarians and I are getting very frustrated. In group work, everyone has a part of the project to complete. If someone doesn’t do their part, the other group members pick up the slack. Currently, we are all doing our work, so there is no need for others to pick up the slack. There is also a person at the end of the project who makes sure that everything is cohesive. It just burns my biscuit that the cataloger is that end of project person, and she doesn’t seem to share the same vision of an academic library as the librarians.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Game Face

One of the great challenges of life is maturing enough to be able to recognize that sometimes life requires us to remain calm and fully utilize our poker faces. Probably the greatest skill I've gained as a working adult is the ability to detach my emotions from the tasks I must complete as an employee and supervisor. Though I am passionate about many things in my personal life, I've had to realize that being ruled by passion at work almost never ends well.

Think about people you work with: consider the person who cries a lot or is angry a lot or is so mercurial they are difficult to interact with. Now consider the person who is able to talk reasonably about problems or calmly troubleshoot an emergency. I strive to be someone who is excited about making things better but able to temper that excitement with rationality and flexibility.

But I still want to tell the patron who told me to "go back to Hong Kong" to go fuck herself.

Not only am I a branch manager, but today I am the "librarian in charge." The LIC is the highest ranking staff member on duty on Sundays when most of our working staff is part-time. My staff can and should notify me about problems as they arise, especially when I am on-duty with them.

Today we had a female loudly complaining about asthma being contagious and asking that the man on the computer across from her be removed from the library because he was using an inhaler. Her computer session expired and she refused to relinquish her machine to the next customer. I overheard her call one of my librarians a bitch and walked over with the security officer as she continued to argue with another librarian. I introduced myself and asked if there was a problem; she asked me if I was "in her country" and continued to argue. As I more firmly tried to stop her tirade she finally told me to "go back to Hong Kong," at which point I advised her that the library would not tolerate disparaging racial comments or name-calling and that it was time for her to leave. She was escorted out by our security officer, promising that we would all be in trouble for her treatment. "What is your name again?" she asked. I repeated my name and position as branch manager, to which she replied "not for long."

All this to say, while on the inside I wanted to physically and verbally unleash the fury on this woman, common sense and my position held me back. This may be the hardest part of working with the public: the situations where people are entirely rude, ignorant, hateful and, oftentimes, smelly. I hate to admit that people are sometimes willfully ignorant, incredibly spiteful or mentally unstable - sometimes all three - and that no amount of calm lecturing or kind accommodation will change them. 

I can see that it's taken me this long to become a person who can handle these situations in a way that won't get my contract terminated. My younger self would've engaged in an argument or reacted in kind when put in this situation. I'm not sure there are any books or workshops to aid in this; my education has certainly been trial and error to create the "game face" I'm able to put on now.

But just for the record, I'm Korean NOT CHINESE!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout?

It's been a while since I've posted to this blog with anything even remotely interesting. For that, I apologize. I hope you've at least enjoyed my bizarre non-fiction book talks.

I've recently started a new position as branch manager of a medium/large city library. My thinking is that this experience, which I'm loving so far, will provide a lot of fodder for posts.

For right now, I'd like to talk about something they definitely don't teach you in library school: the practical realities of library facilities maintenance. This topic includes things like "negotiating maintenance contracts for your library" and "what to do when your governing body doesn't pay for pest control." I'd like to talk briefly about something that is beginning to impact every other day of my life: library fire and burglar alarms.

My library system operates buildings that are hybrids of municipal space and system function. The buildings we have are owned and maintained by the city of location and then the library provides the people and collection; they provide the building and we make it a library. There is a lot of what I consider hair-splitting, which forces us to differentiate between what is furniture and what is equipment - the city is supposed to purchase furniture and we can provide equipment as needed. I'm sure I'll talk more about this later.

All that being said, my building houses not only our city library, but also the library system's headquarters. In the day-to-day shakedown, most of the building maintenance facilitation falls on the side of the branch and not the administration. We are large enough to have a burglar alarm and of course we're required to have a fire alarm system. During my first couple of days I was given the appropriate keys and codes and shown where all the alarm panels are located throughout the building. I also had to contact the alarm company and make sure the contact lists were updated and in the appropriate order: 1) city maintenance, 2) branch manager and 3) a dept head. It's a good thing I did that pretty quickly because it seems like we've had issues every week.

The fire panel buzzes on occasion, indicating everything from low batteries to test failures through a variety of high-pitched and annoying noises in several different syncopations. My first week it was a low battery, indicated by a sustained, steady beeping. Yesterday it was a different part of the panel, indicated by a high pitched whine throughout the ENTIRE DAY. We also think we've had some homeless people hiding in the building to sleep in the air conditioning and then leaving and triggering the alarm as they go.

Most of the time, the company calls me first and then I have to decide whether or not to dispatch the police. It's a challenge to find that balance between making sure everything is secured and not annoying the police by dispatching them every night. Over the fourth of July weekend I got about six calls, which is what tipped us off about the homeless situation (which has apparently happened before).

All this to say, it's a lot of responsibility and another way that salaried library staff - especially those higher up the ladder - are always on call. I'm not complaining; I don't live too far away and if I respond I know it will be done correctly. However, it is something I hadn't really thought about that much. Here is some advice:
  1. When you start a new job, take the time right off the bat to enter your library's contact numbers and phone tree into your cell phone. This should include your immediate supervisor(s) and any staff that you directly supervise.
  2. Enter the contact number for your alarm company into your cell phone. I have mine entered as ALARM CO and include all of my passwords. I've also assigned them a really loud (annoying) ringtone so I'm less likely to miss their call.
  3. There are probably call sheets and specific instructions for emergency situations. Print off several copies and put them where they can be found in your office and at home. These will help in case you forget to enter someone's number in your phone or if you forget who you are responsible for calling. If your organization doesn't have something like this, take the initiative to suggest/create one. They are great for emergency closings, bad weather and a myriad of other things that can come up.
  4. Make sure your alarm company has updated information for your building/organization. Turnover can often leave former employees on contact lists long after they are gone. Some of the files I just updated still had information from three branch managers ago!
  5. Make it a point to review contact information for staff and alarm systems on a regular basis. Staff should probably be done every six months and alarm stuff will probably be OK if checked annually.
I haven't had any calls today and I'm considering that a win!

Book Talk: The Emperor of All Maladies

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer is an engrossing profile of one of humanity's greatest and most indefatigable killers. The idea is that profiling cancer is much like profiling a person because of its mercurial and elusive nature; it has evolved and entrenched itself into the international medical psyche and spilled over into the everyday lives of people. Siddhartha Mukherjee's work is personal, passionate and accessible to all readers. In my humble opinion it should be required reading for every person in the medical field and perhaps every person period. Don't worry if you are intimidated or even uninterested in this type of book - I guarantee it will capture your attention and not let go.