Monday, July 29, 2013

Get the Best From Your Employee

What makes a job "a great place to work?" One of the top responses to this question may be "people," and it is true that your coworkers can seriously influence your work experience, but as this Times article suggests, it may not be just your coworkers influencing your work day. "Make sure you have the tools to be effective" and "Understanding Expectations" are the top two ways Time suggests improving your work environment.  Not surprisingly, these two headings fall under the category of Training. Let's take a look at these in more detail:

If an employee is unclear on anything, it can make for a stressful work environment.  And let's face it, there is a lot to be unclear about: job descriptions, policies, procedures, etc.  Just within the day-to-day tasks such as shelving there is a lot of room for confusion.  This is a critical training issue.

Trainers must work closely and develop a good, communicative relationship with managers in order to set clear expectations.  Before training any employee, it is essential to completely understand the expectations yourself so that you can transfer the knowledge accurately.  Within the training, expectations should be communicated again and again through objectives, learning outcomes, and follow-up.  Once the training is completed, staff will learn through repetition and with the encouragement of management. Communication is key for staff to recognize what is expected of them.  Once communication stops, doubt creeps in.  It is essential for staff to always know where they stand within the organization: reiterating their roles and purpose can keep employees from becoming disengaged or, even worse, actively disengaged.  Telling a staff member they are doing a great job is nice, but telling them why they are doing a great job is even better.  It's not just about the keeping lines open between employee, trainer, and manager, it's about the quality of information that is passing through those lines.

But it's not just about communication, it's about giving your employees what they need to do the job well.  17% of employees are actively disengaged, meaning they spend work time acting out their unhappiness. And with only 29% being actively engaged, this means most employees are just there to do a job.  But those numbers don't have reflect your organization - not if you put effort into engaging all your employees through training opportunities.

Giving employees the tools to be effective in their job is more than teaching policies and procedures - it's about providing the means to get the job done.  In a library, training your employees on databases, eBooks, reader's advisory, etc will help them perform well.  There is no job satisfaction in being asked a question and having to stumble through the answer.  If nothing, it can be embarrassing.  You can engage employees by listening to their needs and providing the tools for them to be successful.  If training does nothing but break up a monotonous workday for staff, it has at least accomplished something.  As little as that seems, it means a whole lot to employees who get burned out doing the same routine.

Sometimes, what people want to know and learn may seemingly have nothing to do with their jobs - and that's okay.  Professional development can often lead us into strange territory, but that's the whole point.  Take, for example, my desire to learn HTML.  It doesn't really have much to do with my job unless you consider the occasional customer who asks a reference question. When given the time to learn it, however, I accomplished two things: (1) job satisfaction and (2) career growth.  Just because coding is not my job now, doesn't mean it can't be in the future, and that's important to remember. As trainers and managers, it is highly rewarding to help staff reach professional goals - even if it results in them leaving the organization or pursuing a different career - because goals which develop employees both professionally and personally are an ideal way to keep your library innovative.  By taking advantage of staff knowledge, you can simultaneously grow your organization and its employees.

It's important to remember that professional development is key for all staff - not just the degree holding professionals.  All library staff have skills, talents, and interests that could possibly benefit the organization.  Through training and professional development, you create more opportunities to engage staff and, ultimately, inspire organizational growth.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

English as a Second Language, But Don't Forget Your First

My husband and I have recently embarked on a journey of teaching Spanish to our daughter.  Using the One Parent, One Langauge approach, I speak only Spanish with my daughter and my husband only English.  The library has played a huge role in supplementing materials for both me and my daughter as we immerse ourselves in the language and heritage.  In my quest to only speak Spanish, I've discovered just how difficult English can be to speakers of other languages.  If you've never really thought much about your foreign language, bilingual, or multicultural collections, I hope I can help shed some light on these critical materials.

The argument against foreign language collections usually comes down to two things: money and language.  I'll talk a little more on money later, but let's discuss the driving force behind the language.  While the concept of libraries in general are not American, from the Andrew Carnegie Libraries of the 19th century to the New York Public Library's iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman building, the history of public libraries are rooted deeply into America's past.  With the largest amount of immigrants being English speakers well into the 19th century, English, has also become a long standing American tradition. Combine the two traditions and you get a library full of books in English.  That may have suited early 20th century America, with its relatively small population of ESL speakers, but for the 21st century America that boasts a 30% Spanish speaking population (Making it the world's 5th largest Spanish speaking population) and with Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean speakers each in the millions, foreign language materials are needed now more than ever.

But shouldn't English materials suffice? After all, libraries have long been cornerstones in helping newcomers learn English.  If you've ever studied a foreign language, then you know how tedious it can be.  Now imagine learning a foreign language and being unable to escape back into your own language.  When we learn Spanish, French, or German in high school or college, classes last for one hour before we are able to carry on our lives in English again.  But if you've ever studied abroad in a country whose language is not English, then you probably understand the frustration and loneliness that comes with language isolation.

For 2nd generation immigrants, the primary language as a child is not English (since ESL learners are more likely to speak their native language in the home.)  English is learned from watching television programs like Sesame Street and from attending daycare.  The 2nd generation can often benefit from foreign language materials in early childhood, but as the child advances in school, English becomes the prominent language.  While 2nd generation immigrants have learned to speak a language other than English, by the time they begin school, the focus of reading and writing is on English.  As any linguist will tell you, reading and writing are the last two steps of language acquisition.  Since most 2nd generation students continue reading and writing in English, language acquisition for their native language is never fully developed.  A lot of this can be attributed to the lack of materials available for students at this critical age.  Once the 3rd generation immigrant is born, preserving the native language becomes even more difficult.

For children like my daughter, who is 4th generation and has learned English as the primary language, the idea of creating a total immersion environment is not possible without the help of the library.  Your library most likely collects plenty of language learning books, CDs, and DVDs.  But learning the grammar rules of language are not nearly enough for acquisition.  This is where total immersion comes in.  In order to learn a language fully, there must be additional materials provided that go beyond the basics of grammar drills.  Whether the materials are being used by 1st generation immigrants or the 20th generation, the importance of literacy, whether it be English or other, is one of the cornerstones of libraries worldwide.

Unfortunately, the reality of library budgets across the nation are less than ideal. So how does one decide what to purchase?  A community friendly collection development policy is the best place to start.  If the collection development policy states that purchases are made based on the needs of the community and the community is 30% Spanish speaking, then a collection with only 1% of materials in Spanish may not be meeting the needs of its community.

When considering the total immersion approach, it is important to not only consider the percentage of native speakers, but also the percentage of language learners who may benefit from the material as well.  If 30% of a community's population are speaking another language, then it stands to reason that those in the community wanting to learn a language, are more likely to choose the predominant language to learn.  For example, if the second majority language spoken in the community is Chinese, then English speakers within the community are more likely to choose Chinese as a language they would like to learn.

Let your collection truly reflect the community you serve.  While I have specifically hi-lighted foreign language materials in this post, a community based collection is applicable to all materials.  You probably already have a good idea about the people you serve in your community.  Back up what you know with some facts and figures.  You can easily view U.S. Census data to determine the make up of your community.  Start with these figures to reexamine the library's collection. If, like me, you have no control over what is purchased,  you may at least have power over how the collection is marketed.  When making displays, ask yourself "do these books accurately reflect the lives and/or interests of my customers."

Multiculturalism is such a broad topic that I highly recommend Multicultural Communities: Guidelines for Library Services from for more information and research.

Monday, July 1, 2013

ALA: Days 3 & 4

There have been lots of great presentations these past two days.  Here's more of the great work being done in libraries:

I was most fascinated by the NYPL and Goethe Institut-New York German Traces New York App.  This app uses GeoStoryteller and Augmented Reality to give students, visitors, or anyone else who wishes to do a "walking tour" of the city's German influences.  At the tap of your mobile device, you can see the instant history behind a piece of architecture or landmark and see it both pictures of what the building/location looked like then and now.  NYPL created the platform and logos and have given it a Creative Commons licensing for any library to use and adapt the technology.

Orange County Library System is also doing great things with their Right Service at the Right Time kiosk and app. This program, in conjunction with local service providers ranging from healthcare, shelters, to immigration, quickly matches up the right service to an individual depending upon their needs.  OCLS developed the platform and it has since been added as a statewide program.

Not surprisingly, I attended quite a bit of training presentations and I took away a lot of information. Here's what's going on at these awesome library systems:

Notre Dame University
When the university library underwent a huge reorginization, the library had to do a lot a change management training for overwhelmed staff.  They developed a training model for this that I think could be adapted well for new hire orientation.  The training program utilized several different methods including retreats, followup activities, reinforcement, and one-on-one training. The training lasted over the course of one year and gave many opportunities for staff training and retention. Adapting this format for new hires allows you to keep in touch with your trainees after the initial learning period time. Maybe retreats are not in your budget, but face2face meetings after six months on the job (and again after 1 year) will give a forum for new hires to talk about their experiences and ask questions in a safe environment.

Idaho Commission for Libraries
The biggest take away from this presentation was the the critical role of supervisors assisting learners after training.  If you are a trainer, then you are aware of the three different roles of training: the trainer, the learner, and the supervisor.  In order to see that learners retain information acquired in the training, supervisors must be a part of the process.  Trainers can help supervisors by giving them a plan/course of action.  For example, after a training program, the training manager can communicate to supervisors what the learners were taught, what the learning outcomes were, what the expectations should be, and what supervisors should provide to their staff in order to solidify the training.  When learners return to their work after the training program, that is when the real learning happens - putting the training into practice.

Suffolk Cooperative Library System
If you've worked in any organization, then you are probably familiar with strategic plans.  There are strategic plans for the organization as a whole, plans for capital projects, technology plans, and collection development plans.  But a strategic training plan?  You may be lucky to have a blurb about staff development in one of these other plans, but a fully developed strategic training plan that aligns itself with the library's mission statement and vision is hard to come by.

Library Journal Mover & Shaker, Emily Clasper, spoke on the importance of a strategic plan to keep sight of long-term goals for the library, to bring consistency and complimentary training programs together, and training focused on the competency levels of staff.

Western Maryland Regional Library
Julie Zamostny is a great presenter.  The focus of her presentation basically boiled down to making training less boring by mixing up the asynchronous classroom.  Using Skillsoft* as the basis of the training content, she incorporated Ted Talks into the instruction as well as face2face meetings to discuss what the learners viewed online.

Some training buzzwords popped up in her presentation that are very important: learning fatigue and learning anxiety.  In order to combat these two unwanted effects of training, Julie suggests being surprising and being consistent.  Two seemingly juxtaposed concepts but, if worked correctly, can be highly effective.  For example, throwing something into your training that may be completely off the wall is memorable to learners but scheduling weirdness or rescheduling can be off-putting.

*Skillsoft is now available to Georgia Librarians through GLEAN

Siera Learn
Pat Wagner is a training professional who advocates that every supervisor be a trainer first because, in essence, after the training has ended it is up to the supervisor to keep learning a top priority.  But not only are the supervisors and staff learners, trainers are learners too.  Training should be equitable and if one needs to know something, then everyone should know it as well.

Three different library systems presented on the the importance of idea innovation and implementation in libraries.  Fostering innovation is key to both library relevancy and staff morale.  Here's what these three library organizations have done:

Monroe County Public Library (IN)
In theory, there are two types of innovation:

  • Incremental - small improvements that bring better products to established markets
  • Disruptive - simple, low cost initiatives that appeal to a relatively small audience (these "beta" innovations are usually unattractive but have the ability to grow into wider markets.)
In order to understand the types of innovations your library may want to implement, you must consider where you may be with your three different types of customers:
  • Undershot Customers - the customers who want more and are frustrated when the library does not have the capability to provide that service.  These customers ask "why can't I . . .?"
  • Overshot Customers - the customers who just want the basic, incremental innovation. This customer may get upset over disruptive innovation because it "disrupts" the service they may be used to.
  • Non-Customers - the potential customers who currently lack the motivation to use the library and it's services.
By understanding the types of customers and the types of change innovation, as well as understanding the 6 levels of change -
  1. Awareness - participants learning of change that is about to occur
  2. Knowledge - gaining information about the change that will be occurring
  3. Skill - acquiring the new skill that comes with change
  4. Behavior - adjusting to the new skill that came with the change
  5. Condition - Using the skill and being comfortable with the change
allows a safe environment for change to occur

Indiana University
Robert McDonald added more weight to Sarah Laughlin's presentation by discussing the specific environment that needs to occur for innovation.  He mentions two specific types of innovation forums:
  • Discover Session - a group of people that focus on a "what" question.  This type of session usually has a scope and and must answer specifically "what do we need?"
  • Jam Session - a group of people that focus on a "who" question.  There may be no specific goal in mind but the question is "who are we designing for?"
Just the act of coming together to bounce ideas off one another can be a great way to get the ball rolling

Orange County Library System
I talked about this library system in ALA: Days 1 & 2 and it shouldn't have surprised me that they would be the forerunner of innovation.  Mary Anne Hodel, the director of OCLS, has based her organization on Marissa Mayer's (former Google Innovator, CEO of Yahoo) 9 principles of Innovation.  Just a look at their webpage will give you a sense of the innovation happening in Orlando.  But when I asked Ms. Hodel about the specific procedures in place to funnel staff ideas to the top level of administration for consideration her answer was very simple:

I visit every branch regularly at staff meetings and ask them directly for ideas

Ideas are often implemented in "beta" form with one branch trying it out to see if it succeeds before other branches adopt the initiatives.  This ensures that ideas are tried and allowed to either succeed or fail.  And if the ideas fail, it's nobody's fault.  It's better to try something and fail than suffer from the not knowing.