follow-up on chalk notes

Over on FriendFeed, Dorothea Salo asked for a follow-up.

Jenica, I’m going to make bold to ask for a follow-up post. You are Head of Libraries. You answer to the Provost, who presumably has many more things to worry about than chalk on sidewalks. So, serious question: if your Head of Public Service (presuming you have such a position) had done this without consulting you, what would you have thought, said, and done? What if it had been a rank-and-file reference librarian?

Interesting questions.

First, yes.  I am the Director of Libraries, and I do answer to the Provost, who absolutely has more to worry about than chalk on sidewalks.  However, I happened to have an Academic Cabinet meeting on Monday afternoon, which is the Provost, the Deans, and me.  I mentioned this issue as we were discussing our local issues, and roughly outlined my intended response.  It seemed both fair and appropriate to offer the chance for my efforts to be redirected or informed by the opinions of that group.  As a result, I learned that the music school student association had raised similar concerns about our music library, and so I’m planning a response there, as well.

Also of note is that we have the world’s flattest library hierarchy.  There is no Head of Public Services to speak of, but we have many engaged and dedicated public services staff.  So, if one of the librarians or staff here had chosen to do this, I would have, first and foremost, applauded the efforts toward honest outreach and communication, because they’re principles I value.  The people on the front lines are also in a unique position of awareness of our users, and poised perfectly to do that kind of outreach.

But secondly, had they chosen to do this without consulting me, I would have been frustrated.  My frustration would likely have come from the fact that while I appreciate initiative and innovation, as Director of Libraries, I will be front-and-center for any fallout that comes of public actions made by The Libraries.  I want to find myself, in an ideal world, in a position where I can always back up the decisions and actions of library staff, and both defend and explain those actions as needed.  If I’m not informed of public statements and actions, then I’m left both blindsided by any reaction to them and also likely to be unable to defend and explain them effectively.

Therefore, though I did this quickly, if someone were to go to the Provost to complain about it today, I hope she would feel that she’s able to say that she knows that I consulted current and historical data about our hours before responding, and that I was attempting to be forthright and prompt in my response to sincere concerns from our users, and that she would be able to do that without double-checking with me first, because she and I already had a brief conversation to that effect.

So that’s what I would think, based on how I’d like to see our libraries operate on this particular campus.  What I’d say and do?  Would depend on the person, and the public-facing action, honestly.  If I disagreed with the action or the message, I’d request that we change it, probably ASAP, and engage the staff member in a discussion of why that was their response, and what I think is a better response, and why.  Regardless, however, I’d be likely to ask for a heads-up the next time there was a need for outreach, and explain my desire to be kept in the loop for all of our public-facing actions.  And I’d explain my reasons for that desire — it’s not about micromanagement or message control or the usurpation of the traditional roles and responsibilities of any one position, but about being the one who’s ultimately responsible for our presence on campus, and for supporting the efforts of all library staff.  The more I know, the better I can do that, and, yes, sometimes direct it, if that’s what I think is necessary.

How’s that for an answer?


  1. I’m a recent MLS grad and have already gotten myself into political deep goo by talking about recent library trends and possibilities for cheap/free customer service improvements around library managers.

    It’s very odd to me how there has been a deep disconnect in philosophy of libraries between department managers and library directors.

    It has begun to make me steer clear from applying to any libraries large enough to have department managers.

    You say in your post that your library has a mostly flat org. structure. Do you or anyone else reading this, have any idea about how a job applicant can find out about organizational structure and culture ahead of the interview?


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