Tag Archives: Reflection

12 Months Later

It’s August 2015 and I find myself exactly one year into my role as Senior Information Assistant: Inter-Library Loans.

On the whole, it’s been a good year. Busy. Challenging. But good.

The main thing I was worried about was breaking it. My predecessor, having been in post for about 12 years and who retired having worked at the Library for more than 40, was ILLs; so much so that, even after 12 months, I sometimes still feel as if I’m filling-in while she’s on leave.

Thankfully, despite several near-misses (and a couple of damn good tries) I haven’t broken it. Substantially. Cough.

The thing I’ve found most challenging has been the decision-making. No, that’s not true actually.

Decision-making is easy; it’s not making bad decisions which is hard.

In fact the most difficult thing I’ve discovered about stepping-up and taking on more responsibility is that you have to set your own agenda much more. Yes, the work ebbs and flows; but suddenly I’ve found myself self-directing and planning and managing my time in a completely new way.

Also, supervising. Whilst I don’t ‘technically’ manage anyone, I do have to operate in a ‘supervisory’ capacity in both departmental and service desk scenarios and, to be honest, I have absolutely no idea how that’s going/gone. I find myself obsessing about the tone of my voice; body language, things I say, things I don’t say, even more than I ever did- and given the fact that I self-reflect to an obsessive nth degree anyway, well, let’s just say I spend far too much time thinking about these things.

I think it was about 8 months before I finally felt a little more comfortable in the role- before I reached a point where I was accepting of the fact that:

  • Not everything is going to go right, and that’s okay
  • Some things will go wrong, and that’s okay
  • You don’t have to stay until 7pm every evening, and that’s okay too

But even today, scouring the country for music scores, I’m still finding certain elements of the job leave me feeling like I’m standing on the edge of disaster. When I say disaster, obviously this is all contextual. Nobody is going to die if I can’t find 100 Carols for Choirs by September 30th (which I hopefully have btw. #win).

The fact that I’m writing this blog post now is also perhaps an indicator of where I am at the moment; for much of the past year I’ve hardly felt motivated to write, despite hankering after an opportunity to be more expressively creative. I’ve just really switched off a lot this year, sort of put my head down, tried to work hard and be organised. I’ve become detached from the things which interest me, and even people who interest me- I stopped loading Twitter each day on my browser, whereas before I’d leave it on in the background all day, dipping in and out, keeping up with the world, commenting pithily.

To a certain extent I think I’ve got the balance wrong though. I’ve found myself mentally fatigued at the end of a day, even more so than when I was studying part-time alongside full-time work. I think without realising it, subconsciously I really have been working quite hard to stay on top of things, to the point where much of my drive, energy and capacity to do activities outside of (or around) work has been diminished somewhat.

So my target for this coming year is, not exactly to take my eye off of the ball- but more to remember that whilst it’s good to have my foot pressed down on the accelerator, it’s also good to shift gears every now and then. Hopefully it’ll make for a smoother ride.

There’s a great mangling of clichéd idioms to end on. I’m sure the blogosphere is delighted I’m back.

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Catalogue of Misery

Was today the worst Monday EVER?

Contextually speaking; clearly, plenty of people worldwide have experienced considerably worse in the last 24 hours, and I’m essentially being hyperbolically self-indulgent. So, allow me to clarify…

Was today the worst day at work in my library in the context of me and me alone: EVER?!

Well, actually no. I mean, for a start there was the time a student cross-examined me, accusing me of “preventing her learning” by not allowing her to subvert the £100+ on her record in order to take out textbooks. Oh, and the day some books were returned in a rather damp, yellow and odorous state- draw your own conclusions, we did, and those books were never issued again.

Looking at it rationally, today was just, well, normal. I did desk. I catalogued. My line-manager despaired inwardly as I asked the latest in a long line of inane, repetitive questions about the Dewey Decimal System which undoubtedly resulted in yet another poor, unsuspecting library angel losing his/her wings. Standard stuff.

Perhaps it was the post Olympiad blues kicking in, but I just wasn’t feeling it today. No concentration. Fidgety. Easily distracted. It also didn’t help that I stayed up into the wee small hours last night listening to the US Open final between Williams & Azarenka. Late to bed is sluggish to rise.

Unlike in other departments, I’m finding that the ‘bad’ days in Cataloguing are harder to shake off. When my mind starts to drift or go fuzzy, I find it extremely difficult to maintain focus on the screen- and everything is on the screen. Even the assorted other tasks which make up my workplace portfolio involve screen time. Eye and mental fatigue are constant foes. And like when Serena’s groundstrokes begin to break-down and she starts having to rely on that booming first-serve, so too does my limited repertoire of cataloguing skills falter, and I’m forced to fall back on my gimme shot; except in my case it’s a bit of an underarm shocker, dumped in at an extremely low percentage.

A laboured tennis metaphor, but you get the idea. It’s not pretty. I start grunting and eyeballing line-judges. Losing ugly.

Today was one of those days. I hope for better tomorrow. Though, I suspect my mood will be indelibly influenced by Andy Murray’s performance tonight. I’m listening at the moment, and he’s a break up in the 1st set. If it all goes pear-shaped, expect the next post’s headline to read something like WORST YEAR OF MY LIFE EVER, or similar.

An exaggeration? Wait until I upload a screenshot of the bib. record which crashes the LMS…

(Since typing the above, Djokovic broke back. Read into that what you will…)

 

 

 

 

 

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Out of the Frying Pan & into the Fire

After 12 happy months in Public Services, I am about to embark on a journey into the unknown- Cataloguing. I have not been to Library School. I am wholly unqualified. You say Dewey, I say Uncle Scrooge:

What can possibly go wrong?

Yes, in the crazy world of my Library, I am about to be rotated for the second time- from the dark, murky corners of the illuminati to the, well, lighter (and temporarily more spacious) corner of ‘proper Librarianism’.

I’m going to get into a lot of trouble for this last comment.

It’s just that, Cataloguing strikes me as pretty much the closest I’ll ever get to being part of that classic, nostalgic, rose-tinted world of tweed, dust and good old-fashioned stamping. Yes I know, Libraries are about e-resources, and iPads and fancy tools, and information literacy. And yes I know that dealing with customers, equipment and systems is crucial to building a successful learning environment. But Cataloguing, well, it looks sort of librariany. There are reference books involved.

With just a few days to go, I’m filled with excitement and trepidation. Excitement in that I’ll be learning something new, and sitting somewhere different and changing the whole tempo of my daily work. The trepidation comes from a genuine fear that I’ll be useless at it. I really am starting from a low knowledge base. No, lower. Lower than that. Keep going. Yep, that low.

From what I can tell so far, grammar and punctuation are big themes in cataloguing which pleases me. I’m obsessed with both, love rules and think everyone should read Lynne Truss’ masterpiece. However, it also looks like it involves computer systems and someone called Marc. This pleases me less. I don’t like numbers or technical things. Boo science. And I don’t like meeting new people. On the up side, I’ve already re-written the title of this blog post three times; first, as I would normally, second as it should look on the catalogue, and third as above which breaks both mine and AARC rules. At least I think it does. Is it even called AARC? No wait, it’s AACR isn’t it? Haha! See, I was paying attention. What? I’ve missed out a number? Really?

Anyway, I also found out today that Mr Dewey (allegedly) had a thing for Max Mosely-style alleged shenanigans (allegedly). In conclusion, I plan to document my journey through Cataloguing in the hope that some good will come from the metadata damage I will undoubtedly do.

In the meantime, I’m in the process of wrapping up my time in Public Services which, contrary to the indications of colleagues (whose doomsday utterings left me concerned that I was headed into the jungle with Martin Sheen) has proven rather fun and uplifting; and I don’t think this is entirely down to the gallows humour either. The fact is, Public Services is both challenging and rewarding. You’re simultaneously managing your workload, motivation levels, personal discipline, professional manner and general ability to be social. I’ve felt under pressure to be ‘on’ most of the time. You get asked more questions than you have answers for, and the sense of treading water and frustration at being powerless to solve certain issues can be a little overwhelming at times. But then, the sense of achievement when something works, when customers are satisfied, becomes even more intensified- even the smallest, littlest success, like finding a missing book, or answering a colleague’s question, suddenly becomes magnified into a much more emphatic win. I’ve also learned a lot from my Public Services colleagues about problem-solving, thought processes, strategic planning and attention to detail; not to mention the skills of personal resolve in handling extremely difficult/challenging scenarios with dignity and care. I’m actually sad to be saying goodbye to a job I’ve enjoyed, and to the tasks I never quite got round to finishing.

But all things must end, and in that spirit I shall stop now.

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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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