ILS-565 Library management
©2004-2007 Amy Ranger
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This "in-basket" exercise was done by Amy Proni (now Amy Ranger) for the course ILS-565, Library management, taught by Dr. J. M. Kusack, Southern Connecticut State University, Spring, 2004.

The short speech on this is that you will imagine yourself a library director and you will be asked to respond to a number of issues arriving on your desk. You will have to prioritize and address each and justify your decisions.

Management styles: imagining myself a library director

Cast of characters:
MJB (myself, the library director)
Diane, my secretary
Hector, library trustee
Al Jonakin, Head of Reference
Ralph, Reference staff
Elmo, the janitor
Sylvia and Mia, Technical Services staff
Jane Anne Scronski, job applicant
Merle Baumgartner, Head of Access Services

I arrive at work at 9:00 on Monday morning, set out a box of bagels in the staff lounge, turn on the computer, grab a cup of tea, and sit down to work. Knowing that I have to leave by 11:40 to attend a luncheon in Portage, I take a look at the paperwork on my desk while my email is downloading.

Uh-oh, what’s this letter (item 2) from the District Court? We’re being sued? I’m being sued? Is this a hoax? I’ve heard of things like this happening – that companies claim non-payment for non-existent deliveries. It’s like spam – if one person takes the bait and pays the bill, well, it’s free money. I poke my head into Diane’s office and ask her if she knows anything about this, and to check with the other staff to find out if they know anything. Maybe someone ordered some supplies without telling me? Unlikely. Maybe the bill was misplaced and never paid? Hmm. I telephone Hector to let him know that I’ve seen this summons. We decide to call Fenway Office Supplies and request that they fax us the signed receipts. I take a look through my in-basket and accounts payable folders, but don’t find anything. Diane comes by a few minutes later to say that no one knows anything about this; while we are talking I hand her the court summons and ask her to fax it to Kent Krueger, our attorney at Dewey Cheatham and Howe. It may be premature to involve him in this, but a heads-up can’t hurt and he can advise me on a course of action.

I look at the clock – it’s almost 9:45 and I still haven’t gotten to the emails. I need another cup of tea. Back at the desk now and it is 9:50.

The first message (item 1), from Al Jonakin, has a subject line of Late employee. A quick glance tells me that Ralph was late again this morning. I see that Al has spoken to him about it but didn’t get the response he was hoping for from Ralph. I wonder if it would make a difference if we scheduled Ralph to work the afternoon/evening shift. Even so, this is the third time in three months. Sigh. I reply to the email:
Al, please write a formal reprimand, have Ralph sign it, and then place the document in Ralph’s personnel file. Make it clear to him that he will be suspended without pay for one day if it happens again. ~MJB
The library staff handbook clearly states that management’s first action following a verbal reprimand is to issue a formal reprimand. The facts of the situation must be documented, and the consequences of further tardiness made clear (suspension, then dismissal). A written summary, signed by the employee and manager, then placed in the employee's record, will prevent anyone from disputing the facts later on. Although this written reprimand may seem to be simply more words (not to mention more work), it is unpleasant enough for most people, and may work with Ralph. If nothing else, it will make further consequences crystal clear if the problem persists.

Item 4 is a phone message from Diane, who says Hector called to complain about the cleanliness, or lack thereof, at the front door of the library. As a matter of fact, I noticed that when I came in. I bumped into Elmo at the same time, and got a tirade from him about one of the toilets overflowing – and I see that item 5 is an email about it that he sent before we spoke. As it happens, I was able to calm him down and ask him to clean up the lobby at the same time. My side of the conversation went like this:
Good morning, Elmo, It sounds like Monday is starting off a little rough for you! I am sorry that this happened. Please mop up the bathroom and see if you can get the toilet working again. You’ve always had that magic touch before! – maybe our luck will hold out one more time. If you can’t repair it, though, just lock the door and ask Diane to call the plumbers. I noticed that the front foyer is a bit grungy this morning, and will need your attention as soon as you have a moment. We have a busy day today, so take a deep breath and then “dive in” (so to speak!). I stopped by the Bagel Shop on the way to work and have set out a variety of bagels and cream cheese for everyone in the Staff Lounge. I hope this gives you a burst of energy! Thank you!
Elmo was purring like a pussy cat after that, another sticky situation defused with food and a few kind words. No further action required on behalf of these messages.

Item 8 is from Diane, who says she can’t get any work done because her PC isn’t working. If I had time today I would troubleshoot the computers myself, but I don’t, so I’ll ask a close friend to look at the situation after work. One of the things that makes my job easier is a network of friends and allies that I have developed over the years. Reciprocal arrangements enable us to help each other in a pinch, and I enjoy helping my friends with reading recommendations and treating them to special dinners. I decide to respond to Diane’s query now because she is a person who needs her routine, and I want to keep her on an even keel. I won’t get into the dealer harassment issue because it’s the first time I’ve heard of it and I don’t have time. But I already know that if the computers need to go to the repair shop, I’ll take them myself. I dare say the old creep won’t call me “girlie” (not more than once, anyway!). My email to her:
Hi Diane – I am so sorry to hear of these computer problems. I have an older PC in my office closet. Please ask Elmo to help you move it into your office this morning. Call Mr. Crane at 21st Century Technologies (555-6677) and ask if he would stop by this evening and troubleshoot the PCs. He will be able to advise us if the computers need to go to the shop or can be repaired here. Stay calm, Diane. It will be okay. ~MJB
Items 10 and 11 are from staffers in Technical Services, and neither message includes a topic in the subject line. I can guess that those two women are at it again. I know that I can’t put this off. Sylvia says that the bright morning light bothers her the most, and seeing that they are in a corner room with windows to the south and east, I can understand that. I decide to send a quick email to both Mia and Sylvia:
Greetings – In the interest of keeping productivity up and animosity down, please keep the blinds drawn on the east window until 11:00 each morning. Use the tilt control on the blinds on the south window so that Mia can see the view, but the glare is reflected out instead of into the room to make it easier on Sylvia’s eyes. The east blinds may be opened in the afternoon, and the south blinds closed. I want you to try this for one week to see if it’s a compromise that you can live with. We’ll talk on Friday afternoon to see if this is a viable solution. ~MJB
I know that a big part of the problem there is due to the fact that we have not yet hired a Technical Services director. The next memo on my desk (item 3), in fact, is from the Search and Screen Committee, and I see that they want to hire Jane Anne Scronski for that position, even though I strongly recommended Shira Rozan for the job. Oh boy. It’s 10:40. I type an email to the Search and Screen Committee members:
Hello Search & Screen Committee – I appreciate your input on the hiring process for the open Technical Services position, but I disagree with your selection. I would like to meet with the committee Tuesday afternoon at 2:30. Thank you, ~MJB
The committee seem to have forgotten that it’s the library director who has the final say on hiring staff. I plan to remind them at the Tuesday meeting that “the library director is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations and for hiring and supervising staff” – item 5.2 on the contract between myself and the Board of Directors. Hiring a technical-services librarian will provide an individual to oversee the processing department, allowing myself and Merle Baumgartner (director of Access Services) more time to dedicate to other library functions. It is not in the best interest of the library, in my opinion, to hire someone who needs extensive training, nor do I think it wise to put a familiar friend into a position of authority when she knows nothing about the job. That’s a recipe for disaster! The library cannot afford to provide on-the-job training for a department head: we need someone who can jump right in and provide guidance on organizing and maintaining information resources in a variety of formats and see that they are processed in a timely manner. No, I’m certain about this: I need someone who is knowledgeable and professional and can raise the profile of our organization in a positive way.

I will call Jane Anne following the meeting on Tuesday afternoon to break the news to her.

It’s already 10:45. Time to visit the restroom. I return to my desk after a short break and continue scanning the emails.

Item 7 is an email from the head of Access Services, wondering if she should install filters on the internet computers. That’s easy to deal with: I have organized my computer files and bookmarks so that I can quickly retrieve important documents. I create an email that says:
Hello Merle, Thank you for letting me know about this. Please communicate to the weekend staff the need to remind computer users to exit the browser (Mozilla, Opera, Netscape or Internet Explorer) when finished. This is a good time to remind staff and patrons of our internet policies, and of our intention to enforce these policies. I understand that you would prefer to have filters take care of this problem, but our Board of Directors disagrees. (See memo, attached.) Please clear the browser memory cache on each public-access computers, then print the memo and post a copy of it next to each of the public-access computers. I have recently heard of an open-source program that can be used to automatically clear the browser cache, and plan to investigate that program before the week is out. I know you’re frustrated by this situation, Merle, but remember that our Board of Directors based the policy on the ALA Library Bill of Rights. Let’s do our best to provide unencumbered access to information! Thank you, ~MJB
The entire process took less than 10 minutes. Here is the attached memo:

Policy # 021 Adopted: April 27, 1998 * Effective: April 27, 1998 * Revised: March 31, 2004


Internet Access

Metrono Library provides access to the Internet to meet public information needs. Metrono Library does not provide access to the Internet for the dissemination of obscenity or child pornography. The Library is committed to preventing minors from viewing obscene matter, sexually explicit matter harmful to minors, and matter inappropriate for minors.

Unacceptable Uses of Computers and the Internet
The following are unacceptable uses of Library computers and the Internet and constitute violations of this Policy:

1. Uses that compromise the safety and security of minors. Computer use by minors which may compromise their safety and security when using email, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communications such as providing personal identification information about the minor or others. This includes, but is not limited to, giving out passwords, home addresses and telephone numbers, social security numbers, credit card numbers, drivers license numbers, or other personal information, and arranging face-to-face meetings with a person the minor has “met” only through the Internet without a parent’s or guardian’s permission.

2. Uses involving unauthorized access (“hacking”). Obtaining or attempting to obtain unauthorized access to other computers, networks, sites, or information systems, including so-called “hacking”, and other unlawful activities on line.

3. Uses which may cause harm or damage to property or systems. Uses which may cause harm to the Library or another computer system, such as down-loading or transmitting a “worm,” “virus,” “trojan horse,” “time bomb” or other harmful form of programming or vandalism. Using one’s own software programs on the Library’s computers; altering the Library’s computer settings; damaging or modifying the Library’s equipment or software.

4. Uses that violate confidentiality, trade secret, or copyrights. Uses that violate confidentiality of information, including but not limited to the State Library Privacy Act, being Public Act No. 455 of 1982, as amended, and downloading or transmitting trade secret information or copyrighted materials.

5. Access by minors to material which is obscene, child pornography, sexually explicit material harmful to minors, or inappropriate matter for minors. Access by minors to material which is obscene, child pornography as defined in 18 USC 2256(8), sexually explicit material which is harmful to minors as defined in 47 USC(7)(G), or inappropriate matter for minors. Inappropriate matter for minors is defined for purposes of this policy the same as material harmful to minors in the State Library Privacy Act, being Public Act No. 455 of 1982, which is sexually explicit matter which meets all of the following criteria:
(i) Considered as a whole, it appeals to the prurient interest of minors as determined by contemporary local community standards.
(ii) It is patently offensive to contemporary local community standards of adults as to what is suitable for minors.
(iii) Considered as a whole, it lacks serious literary, artistic, political, educational, and scientific value for minors.
6. Access by adults to material which is obscene or child pornography. Access by adults to material which is obscene or constitutes child pornography as defined in federal or state law or court decisions, including but not limited to 18 USC 2256(8), and viewing, transmitting, or downloading such materials or leaving such materials on an unattended computer screen.

7. Failing to respect the privacy of other Library computer users. Failing to respect the privacy of other Library computer users, including but not limited to, viewing or attempting to view material being used or viewed by others.

8. Failing to follow library policies, procedures and instructions. Failing to following Library policies and procedures in regard to signing-up for computer use, failing to comply with computer use time limitations, failing to follow the directions and instructions of Library personnel.

Posting and Enforcement of Policy.
Posting of policy and on-screen acknowledgement and agreement. This policy shall be posted in conspicuous places near computer terminals and shall be provided on-screen at the beginning of each computer user’s session for each user to acknowledge and agree to prior to using a Library computer.

Enforcement. A violation of this policy constitutes a violation of Rule 14 of the Rules of Conduct for Library Use. As provided in Rule 14, violations may result in the loss of computer privileges as follows:
1st violation – 30 days
2nd violation – 60 days
3rd violation – up to one year

It’s 11:00 and I have to leave in 40 minutes. Item 9 is another memorandum from Hector, and this one is priceless – can I prepare of list of positions to cut by tomorrow? Gee, I thought this Task Force was going to look for innovative ways to save money. I prepare an email to send to Hector:
Hello Hector, I’m sorry, but I can’t pull together a list of positions to cut by tomorrow. I do have some ideas, though, about cost-saving strategies that have not yet been explored. I will be happy to share these ideas with the entire task force on Thursday. Thanks for the reminder. Best, ~MJB
Does Hector honestly believe that the library staff don’t suspect anything? Why, library people are like sharks: they can smell blood in the water! Before we cut any positions, though, I would like the Task Force to do a cost-benefit analysis on some of our outreach services (is it really efficient to send a staff person with books to home-bound patrons? – maybe using the postal service would be cheaper) and I’d like to create a program that allows people in the community to honor a loved one by helping the library purchase resources. I have seen some libraries paste in a special bookplate, such as “Donated in memory of John Brown by Mary Lincoln” that honors and recognizes the gift to the library. I don’t know if the Task Force has considered the potential savings by cutting back on serials, reducing access hours, or potentially increasing fines, but I do know that once we lose a staff position it will be mighty hard to get it back. And with the loss of a position is the loss of expertise, training, and institutional memory. I don’t think we can afford that at all!

It’s 11:30 and I have to get out of here in 10 minutes, and hope that I make all the lights on Stadium Drive. What’s left? Oh, yes, item 6, another email from Merle. I wish she wouldn’t refer to our patrons as slimy and deadbeats. Can I deal with this in 10 minutes? I think I’d like to review the patron(s’) records first. I know that our library policy on privileges is that we reserve the right to restrict, suspend, or revoke library privileges according the judgment of the Librarian. In fact, the library handbook states that “The following situations serve as examples of when such action might be taken: numerous lost or damaged materials, chronic overdue materials, theft or attempted theft of materials, and/or other extreme cases.” I decide to send Merle an email:
Hello Merle, Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’d like to see the history on these cases – how many, how often, and which resources present a problem for these patrons. Can you pull that together for me by tomorrow afternoon? I’ll be out of the office until then. Thanks! ~MJB
Wow, it’s 11:40. I have to run!

Last updated 2007-09-10. ALR. Contact me.