Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians

#36, December 10, 1999. Published every Friday. Permanent URL: http://marylaine.com/exlibris/xlib36.html


December 10: out of print kiddy books, greatest music videos, e-tailer evaluations, listserves galore, and more.

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What IS Ex Libris?

The purpose and intended scope of this e-zine -- always keeping in mind that in response to readers, I may add, subtract, and change features.

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Archive of Previous Issues

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My Favorite Sites on___:

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My Rules of Information

  1. Go where it is
  2. The answer depends on the question
  3. Research is a multi-stage process
  4. Ask a Librarian
  5. Information is meaningless until queried by human intelligence

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Guru Interviews

  1. Tara Calishain
  2. Jenny Levine, part I
  3. Jenny Levine, Part II
  4. Reva Basch
  5. Sue Feldman
  6. Jessamyn West
  7. Debbie Abilock
  8. Kathy Schrock
  9. Greg Notess

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Wanna See Your Name in Lights?

Or at least on this page, anyway? I'd like to print here your contributions as well as mine. As you've noticed, the articles are brief, somewhere between 200 and 500 words -- something to jog people's minds and get their own good ideas flowing. I'd also be happy to run other people's contributions to the regular features: RE:SEARCHING and Favorite Sites on _____. I'll pay you the same rate I pay me: nothing.

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To subscribe to a combined subscription to Neat New Stuff and ExLibris, please click HERE, complete the form, and click on "subscribe." To unsubscribe, use the same form but click on "unsubscribe." To change addresses for an existing subscription, unsubscribe from that form and then return to the page to enter the new address.
PRIVACY POLICY: I don't collect or reveal information about subscribers.

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Drop me a Line

Want to comment, ask questions, submit articles, or invite me to speak or do some training? Contact me at: marylaine at netexpress.net.

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Talk Back

Where I will post any comments you want to make public. E-mail me and use the words "talk back" in your subject line.

Visit My Other Sites

My Word's Worth

a weekly column on books, words, libraries, American culture, and whatever happens to interest me. For the subject index, click HERE.

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My page on all things book-related. NEW STUFF ADDED in September!

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Best Information on the Net

Still my favorite pit stop on the information Highway. This is a mirror of the real site, which has moved to http://www.sau.edu/bestinfo/.

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My personal page

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My resume

or, why you might want to hire me to speak at internet or library workshops or conferences, or have me consult on building your library page.


Did you see the "How Do You Manage?" scenario in Library Journal recently in which the library director introduced a new circulation system over the course of one weekend, without previously discussing this move with his staff? To me, this seemed implausible, given the amount of planning and training that should go into implementing a key system, but it does play on an unfortunate fact: some libraries ARE run as dictatorships. The directors decree, and the underlings do what they're told.

I would hope this kind of management is uncommon, because it involves such a tremendous waste of resources, knowledge, and ability. A library is a special kind of environment that attracts good minds. Many bright, talented people are willing to work at well below the salaries they could otherwise earn, just so they can work in a library.

Which means that they apply their minds to what they're doing. They're not just following mechanical procedures in a rote manner, they're thinking about how well or how poorly those procedures work, and whether they might be improved. They're not just chatting pleasantly with patrons, they're mentally noting what patrons are disappointed at not finding. They're not just enforcing library policies, they're noticing when those policies annoy people, and noticing new problems there are no policies for. When patrons don't find answers to their questions, staff members are mentally noting that the library needs more books in that subject area. Because they deal with patrons everyday, they have a good understanding of what library users want and expect to find.

Even if library directors don't want to consider their staff's ideas, they would be fools not to use the observations of their frontline people. If patrons prefer to print articles off a screen rather than using indexes and then trudging over to the journal collection to find the articles, the director needs to know this and think about purchasing full-text databases. If regular customers are being driven away by homeless people who have come in from the cold, the director needs to know this. If there are no rules in place for dealing with patrons who are hogging the few internet terminals, the director needs to know such a policy is needed. If patrons are having a hard time with our new machines, the director needs to know this and think about changing the interfaces or putting up instructions or offering training. But directors can only know these things if they listen to their staff, make them feel their comments are welcome.

But it also makes sense to ask library staff what ideas they have for dealing with specific problems. Some of them may have worked in other libraries, or worked on committees with staff from other libraries, and thus know how those libraries are dealing with similar situations. Each of them has some different perspective to contribute to problem solving -- one may have background in public relations, another may know something about law or local politics, another may have thought long and hard about ethics. They also are part of, and have insights on, the community the library is serving. Each of their perspectives or solutions may be too narrow in itself, but each can help in coming to a fuller understanding of a problem and the pros and cons of possible solutions.

Ultimately, of course, the directors are the ones who have to make the final decisions, because they're the ones who are going to be held accountable. They're the ones who have to take the flack from journalists and politicians and enraged citizens if their policies are not well-understood or well-received, and they're the ones whose jobs are on the line, so the final call has to be theirs.

But being a director is about leadership. If you want people to follow you gladly, solicit their ideas and give everyone a stake in the decisions and policies they're expected to implement. Even when you don't accept their ideas, the fact that you've given them a fair hearing goes a long way toward reconciling staff to your decisions. Listening to staff is the proof of respect, the surest sign that all the talk about being part of a team is not a slogan but a reality.

This isn't just my opinion but my experience. The libraries I know of that have continual staff turmoil and frequent turnover are places where dictatorial directors have discouraged or ignored staff ideas and observations. The library I worked in for 22 years, under two different directors, gave us a chance to contribute to every important decision -- acceptable use policies, budget allocation, hiring decisions, scheduling, even the layout and furniture selection for our work areas in the new building. We have a lot of long-term employees, talented people who could get more pay elsewhere but who prefer to remain in a place where they can look around them and see their ideas turned into bricks and mortar and policy.



I've posted the TalkBack page at http://marylaine.com/exlibris/talkback.html. If you'd like to post your responses to articles, please e-mail them to me and use "talkback" in your subject line.



Extremists think "communication" means agreeing with them.

Leo Rosten

Take all your overgrown infants away somewhere
And build them a home, a place of their own:
The Fletcher Memorial Home for Incurable Tyrants and Kings.

Pink Floyd


You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of my own articles (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain this copyright statement:

Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999.