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!


  1. Good tips! I would like to know more about the obnoxious and loud ringtone reserved for ALARM CO. Is it Nickelback? That would probably only make me angry/more frustrated. Better change it something fun like Selena Gomez "Who Says" !

  2. There's construction going on in our building right now, and the construction crew sets off the burglar/door alarm every day!