Tag Archives: Problem Solving

Thrills & Spills in ILLs

You know that awkward moment? The one when you’re walking along the street, or browsing through the supermarket, maybe you sit down on a train, and you look to the right, and there’s that face; you sort of recognise it, can’t quite place them, you smile, there’s a little eye-recognition and then Oh god, dammit, why didn’t I just look away or pretend that I… “So, hey, hi, how are you, good to see you, how long has it been?”

Oh come on, we’ve all been there. Like 10 minutes ago, when I saw the WordPress bookmark, tried to log-in, forgot my password, reset it, and then discovered to my horror that I haven’t posted anything since 2012!

Very poor.

Anyway, I’ve been spurred back into action. I’m back on the horse, all dusted down and reinvigorated with professional blogging related impetus.

By why I hear you cry?!

Well, since my last post I’ve rotated again, and am now working in Inter-Library Loans and Acquisitions: and on Friday we had a lovely visit from some colleagues at another University library who came to see how we do ILLs, and it was so nice to share some time with colleagues who seemed genuinely interested in our work, and it made me want to write about it.

I think my motivation also stems from the fact that due to some ongoing pressures at work (we won’t mention the dreaded ‘R’ word), the fact that we had a great day and seemed to make a good impression spoke volumes about the character and professionalism of the fabulous people I work with- that even in the face of testing times, our spirit remains undiminished. Sigh.

ILLs is great. My ILLs manager is a legend in the field, known by name and for her inimitable style, and we have a lot of fun. Whilst she seems baffled by the fact, like my predecessor, I rather enjoy posting Jiffy bags, sticking labels and stamping things, I marvel at the substantial number of variables associated with the job and her ability to remember them all.

ILLs is at the same time idiosyncratic, processional and completely ad hoc. One minute I’m sending through a straightforward request to the British Library, the next I’m exchanging pleasantries with a librarian in Germany. You spend a lot of time communicating with people- students, lecturers, librarians- and a great deal of time chatting with each other, sharing progress on orders, and laughing in the face of ‘rules’.

One of the things I have noticed, and wasn’t necessarily expecting, is that ILLs is often the first port of call for people using the Library for the first time. This puts us in a unique position, as it’s our job to not only solve an inquiry, but to make a good impression and do the best we can to direct staff and students to the other services and resources we have to offer. I actually spend a lot of time helping people with using databases, Google Scholar, promoting our Librarians, Subject Guides, and other facilities like the British Library or the public library.

ILLs also pushes you, in the sense that if you like problem solving, you’ll want to keep searching, to check SunCat or WorldCat again, to challenge your stamina and professional resolve. I think my competitive side, that intrinsic feeling of determination not to be beaten, particularly by the system, is often tempered by a ‘need by’ date, or the fact it’s 5.45 and it’s still bugging me.

I couldn’t begin to cover all of the things we do, even though I technically only do it two days a week- but Friday’s visit reminded me that what we do is interesting, fun, and above all quietly satisfying; we help people find the information they need, often by hook or by crook (if ‘by crook’ means emailing an author in America directly and hoping beyond all hope that politeness and a good spell-check might just do the trick…).

Given the uncertainty zeitgeist that seems to perpetually plague both us and the sector in general, I would feel sad if my time in ILLs heralds the end of my Library experience. I hope the old adage about an ‘ILLs wind blowing no one any good’ doesn’t come to pass.

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This Time It Was Personal

One of the biggest challenges faced by anyone working in a front-line customer service role is dealing with difficult scenarios.

Scenarios. Not people.

I make this distinction because I’m uncomfortable with defining the ‘other person’ as difficult when, let’s face it, I can be just as difficult or pedantic as the next person. I’d much rather focus on the particular scenario first, and then consider the behaviours of the individuals concerned afterwards, in the proper context.

Challenging scenarios can be anything, from handling a telephone inquiry and not being able to understand the person on the other end of the line, to handling a direct complaint from an unhappy/upset customer. Over the years we attend courses on customer service, engage in training sessions etc. but even with training and experience, there are those moments which come along, out of the blue, and test your professional resolve.

I recently experienced such a scenario, during which my refusal to carry out a transaction resulted in a customer becoming agitated and confrontational, in a passive-aggressive way. Normally this wouldn’t have fazed me, but in this instance I was at a different location; and, unlike in my usual day-to-day work (where I am supported by senior staff) operating in isolation, one-on-one. This intensified the interaction between myself and the customer, the dynamic definitely having an effect on my behaviour, and unfortunately the customer decided to submit a complaint.

Immediately after the incident, I felt extremely upset and uneasy. In 10 years of working in academic libraries, I can’t remember anyone ever making a complaint about me personally (at least, not one I was informed of…) and in the aftermath I began questioning everything that had taken place, analysing, ruminating, regurgitating.

I realise now that there is a difference between self-reflection and beating yourself up.

Everyone is going to have a bad day, a less than successful exchange, an awkward outcome. It’s about treating these scenarios properly, considering what happened, and then trying to learn from the mistakes in order to move forwards. Of course, it’s helpful to have the support of your colleagues (which I felt I had) but ultimately it’s about you (or in this case me) and how you develop professionally.

It’s also about recognising & owning up to personal error. I’m not going to pretend I embodied the perfect customer service provider in this scenario, a point I was happy to discuss with senior members of staff. But I am now comfortable with the fact that I was actually carrying out my job requirements correctly, I tried to handle the situation properly for as long as possible and, whilst I’m still unsatisfied that a customer had a poor experience, I am more able to see this incident as a positive learning experience.

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2012: The Year of Living Dangerously (well, as dangerous as it can get working in academic libraries…)

It’s not about what your workplace can do for you, but what you can do to make your workplace work.

Bludgeoning historical quotations aside, I spent some time over the festive break reflecting on the working year, both in terms of the positives & negatives, and found my thoughts coalescing around the same specific theme- problem solving strategies. I started thinking about the particular scenarios I found challenging, and the possible steps I could take to face up to them.

I then started to broaden this out into a general consideration of the complexities of the workplace dynamic in relation to problem solving. Based on my own experiences, and those of friends and colleagues, a number of questions/points began to circulate in my head:

  • How difficult is it adopting a proactive approach to dealing with issues which are ostensibly outside of one’s control?
  • Does apologising make “There’s nothing I can do” an acceptable?
  • Who’s responsibility is it to make something happen?
  • How much of a personal investment in the workplace should an individual make?
  • Is disagreement always negative?
  • Are problems really ‘problems’ or just situations which need addressing/rectifying?
  • If work is enjoyable, is enough hard work being done?
  • What’s the point of office politics & is it possible to disregard them?
  • What is the best strategy to employ to effect change, either as a customer or employee?
  • Can you learn to differentiate a dead-horse-flogging, from a genuine opportunity for change?

There’s always an inherent danger when self-reflecting that issues become exaggerated, perspective is lost, and too much time is spent focussing on negative perceptions. There’s the danger that others may not share your enthusiasm or perspective, or indeed they may question your own ability to do your job adequately. But there’s also the danger that ignoring/accepting patterns which are unsatisfying can lead to disillusionment & resentment.

Returning to my personal challenges, I’m not naive- I know there are always going to be things which are out of my control, situations which will remain unresolved. I also am not crazy enough to think that I have all (or often, any) of the right answers. I’m also not stupid enough to burden my day with unnecessary worries and stresses over, what are mostly, trivial matters.

But perhaps 2012 is the year to start living a little more dangerously.

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