08 October 2018

Reflections on the 2018 Software Licensing and Asset Management conference (SLAM)

Recently I was funded through a Queensland University Libraries Office of Cooperation (QULOC) Professional Development Scholarship to attend the Software Licensing and Asset Management conference (SLAM). I am very grateful to QULOC for this opportunity.

This annual event is organised by the University Software Licensing Community, a community of practice under the banner of the Council of Australasian Directors of IT (CAUDIT).The 2018 event in Brisbane attracted around 50 attendees, including procurement specialists from CAUDIT, delegates from universities (from areas including IT, finance/procurement, risk and audit) and vendor representatives.

The varied program included keynotes relating to strategic trends such as artificial intelligence and cybersecurity; case studies from CAUDIT member organisations of innovative approaches to software asset management and licensing; and vendor/sponsor negotiation updates and product showcase.

Why I attended

I’m responsible for managing my library’s portfolio of software applications, and there are significant licensing costs associated with this. Over the past three years, my team has conducted a rolling series of service reviews to ensure we are making the most of our systems, and I have more actively negotiated with vendors to try to achieve containment of costs in this area.

I wanted to further explore the methods and practices used by other professionals in the higher education sector. In applying to QULOC for funding, I said in my application:

University libraries benefit significantly from collaborative approaches to procurement of library resources, but we do not commonly apply similar approaches to software licensing. While the CEIRC (CAUL Electronic Information Resources Consortium) Terms of Reference do not preclude discussion of technical infrastructure, in practice the focus is strongly on information resources. As CAUL Statistics bundle technology costs with other operational costs, there is a lack of even basic information about software spend in libraries across the sector, however this should be estimated at a minimum of $10M and may be much higher. Consortial models for library resource purchasing may not transfer directly to software, but there is little professional discourse about what other collaborative approaches could be taken. Becoming more aware of best practice in this area would enable me to better take advantage of the expertise located elsewhere in my own organisation and also to promote different ways of doing things through my professional networks, including the new CAUDIT Library IT Community of Practice that I recently established. 
I will be reporting back to QULOC with a written report and in a webinar to be held in about a month (stay tuned for details). In the meantime here are a few key takeaways.

Takeaway 1: There are many similarities in the roles, organisational contexts, and issues faced by library staff and our counterparts managing software assets. 

Both groups:
  • provide resources/tools to staff and students that are essential to support the core business of universities in education, research and administration
  • are perceived as being cost centres and must increasingly communicate the value they provide to senior stakeholders and demonstrate alignment with strategic agendas
  • must ensure compliance with law and contractual obligations, in environments where users have ready access to “shadow” channels that provide quicker and easier solutions than official channels
  • manage portfolios of information assets with complex access management requirements for different cohorts (e.g. alumni, adjunct academic staff, industry affiliates), and 
  • deal with similar market conditions and vendor practices, including sole- and limited-supplier procurement, unsustainable pricing, and deliberately opaque licensing terms and conditions.
Given these similarities it would make sense for library staff who procure and manage software and resources to expand their informal networks to include software licensing colleagues, and to be aware of and contribute to best practice across their organisation as a whole.

Takeaway 2: Usage statistics for software, just as for e-resources, can be used to drive decision-making, inform negotiations with vendors, and contain costs. 

SLAM introduced me to the concept of licence optimisation through some interesting case studies.

On returning to work, I checked with my team on concurrent licence usage data for one of our bigger applications. This identified possible cost savings that could be achieved through licence reduction and configuration changes (e.g. by reducing the length of timeouts).

Unfortunately the terms of the three-year contract we have entered into for that product favour the vendor and will probably not allow us to achieve these savings. However, I will now be more aware for future renewals and new contracts of the need to negotiate an annual change in licence numbers as our business needs change (“true-up / true-down” in the language of the software licensing specialists – yes, they have their own jargon too!).

Takeaway 3: In other areas, vendors are being challenged to justify the value of “support and maintenance” costs on top of software licensing. 

A number of SLAM participants were critical of the value for money provided by annual agreements for software maintenance and support.

I am keen to find out from our software licensing support team what alternative models are being explored for non-library software. We already have one supplier who operates under a pay-as-you-go support credits arrangement that provides total transparency about the time and cost for each support ticket. It would be interesting to see how prevalent this model is and whether this could be rolled out with other library vendors.

I am not optimistic this would be possible in the short term. I imagine our vendors will be reluctant to give up one of their biggest cash cows. It is definitely something to feed into future procurement processes and renewal negotiations though. ​

Takeaway 4: There are untapped opportunities for libraries to collaborate on software procurement and licensing, but new structures and skills are needed to progress these. 

While strategic procurement was not as much of a focus at SLAM as I had hoped, I nevertheless gained a new appreciation for the level of cooperation amongst universities in purchasing all kinds of software to support education, teaching and university administration.

As the next two to three years will (hopefully) involve some important shifts in the library systems market, the time is right for university libraries to develop medium-term technology roadmaps and to start collective considering how procurement processes could reduce costs (including the burden of large-scale tender processes), increase transparency, and open up new forms of collaboration (including shared systems, an approach taken in other jurisdictions including Wales, the US and Hong Kong).

As mentioned above there is currently a lack of basic information about how much Australian university libraries are collectively spending on software. One recommendation I will make in my report to QULOC is for the QULOC ICT Working Group annual survey of library systems to incorporate some new questions (carefully worded to ensure commercial-in-confidence agreements are not breached) to provide the community with some baseline data to support further work in this area. 

The event provided an opportunity to reflect on the enduring value of previous training I have been supported to undertake (in particular, the CAUL Negotiation and Influencing Skills workshop, which I have highly recommended before) and to consider building on this with more professional development focused on procurement skills. 

Attending this event also reinforced my commitment to the concept of a Library IT Community of Practice operating outside of the vendor-driven user groups for major products. While there are also connections that need to be made with CAUL programs, CAUDIT structures usefully facilitate cross-pollination with other technology-focused communities of practice, not just in software licensing but also in areas such as IT security, enterprise architecture and project management. 

28 August 2018

Blogging for library and information professionals - notes from an ALIA panel

Last night I was a  panellist at an ALIA Queensland event on blogging for library and information professionals. My co-panellists were Alisa Howlett (www.acrystelle.com) and Amy Walduck (Pineapple Glam), and the session was chaired by Michelle Hughes.

The event was streamed on Facebook Live and is available to watch if you missed it last night. My raw notes for the event are below. Not all of these thoughts made it into the panel discussion, which was a lot more free-range!

My main takeaway from the event is that there is no one 'right' way to approach blogging. Although the three of us had similar motivations for blogging (sharing with others, contributing to professional discourse, maintaining a credible online presence), the platforms we used, the ways we come up with ideas, our writing styles, and our processes from inspiration through to a final product were all totally different.

The panel discussion is making me re-think my own blog and plan some improvements to it, including possibly moving to another platform, re-theming, paying more attention to visual communication (thanks, Amy!) and considering ways to highlight popular or curated posts better (thanks, Alisa!)

Tell us about your blog - is it professional or personal?

Mostly professional, though over time I have probably started to provide a more personal take on professional issues.

I know from feedback from readers that posts that I felt were verging on the too-personal have actually resonated the most. By nature I am a private person, so sharing thoughts about things like impostor syndrome, the negative impacts of being a perfectionist, and being ambivalent about stepping into a management role does not come easily. However the thoughts and feelings that I have shared reflect my experience of the complexity of professional life as a librarian in the 21st century, and having people respond with recognition and empathy has helped me to become more comfortable with opening up in that way.

Reasons for blogging and what you hope to get out of it?

I had actually forgotten this before I started preparing for the panel, but I started regular blogging for a work project well before I had my own blog. The funding agency required the project to communicate and it was free and easy to set up a Blogger blog to do that. The project team collectively wrote thirteen posts over about a year.

Once I had jumped into blogging I realised that it was a great way to write regular shorter pieces on topics that were of interest to me and hopefully others. I liked the immediacy and the non-scholarly nature of it, which made it easier to present more provocative or ambiguous viewpoints.

Do you set goals for how much time you dedicate?

I don’t have specific goals around writing time but I do include a blog writing goal in my performance plan with my supervisor. For the past two years my goal has been to write six posts a year so it is not a particularly hard one to achieve.

I participated in #blogjune for a couple of years, where the goal was to write a blog post a day for the month of June. It is intense but fun! I did write a post a day one year and a post a week the following year. Now I just stick to my own not-very-regular schedule.

I have been along to the ALIA Shut Up and Write sessions and used some of those for blogging. It was great to have some external impetus!

It’s probably important to note that there is also non-writing work involved in maintaining a blog, such as:

  • Sourcing images (with appropriate licences for re-use, of course!)
  • Setting up and renewing your domain name
  • Responding to comments (including dealing with spam, which is mostly filtered but not always)
  • Keeping static pages up to date and fixing broken links. 

Do you have a specific theme/subject you stick to?

Most of my posts are about career or professional development issues of one kind or another.

I sometimes use the NewCardigan Glam Blog Club theme as a starter.

At times I’ve used my blog for a 'behind the scenes' look at other people’s jobs. I find it really fun to do Q&As with colleagues that have jobs that are maybe a bit mysterious to other people. When research data management was still emerging, I did a couple of Q&As on that. Last year I did another series featuring colleagues of mine that include non-coding IT skills as part of their professional practice.

I’ve also used my blog as a place to publish submissions that I have made on industry issues, such as ALIA’s publishing strategy consultation and a letter to my MP about the de-funding of Trove.

I also often include references to further reading. Sometimes I wonder if a bibliography is unnecessarily nerdy, but a lot of my ideas for writing come from what I'm reading. Sometimes I like to review or reflect on the literature in a bit more depth, rather than just sharing a link on Twitter. Acknowledging that inspiration and encouraging others to do more professional reading is something I am always happy to do.

How do you keep motivated to write?

I don’t have to try that hard to stay motivated. I usually enjoy the writing and editing process. Unlike more academic publishing you also get the satisfaction of hitting the ‘publish’ button yourself when you are done and not having to wait months and months to see it appear in a journal.

I don’t really force myself to write now if I don’t feel I have something to say that people would be interested in. I would rather write fewer more substantive pieces on things that I hope will really resonate with people.

How do you attract people to read your blog?

I usually include the web address for my blog in my biography for events and publications and in my social media profiles.

Twitter is the main channel I use to promote specific posts. Three quarters of the traffic to my blog comes directly from Twitter. I also sometime link to my posts on LinkedIn.

I am pretty sure a significant amount of my Twitter traffic comes from the Aus GLAM Blog Bot, which autotweets my new posts several times on the day of publication. One thing that I have noticed is that the time of publication makes a difference to the size of the audience, so having a notification go out a few times at different times of the day really helps.

I try to provide reasonably descriptive titles. Looking at the stats for my blog, I can definitely see that a more provocative headline draws people in.

I’m not much of a visual communicator, but I do try to include at least one image in each post to make it more visually interesting.

Has blogging improved and made you feel more confident in your writing and is it a completely different style?

I’ve always enjoyed writing and I did a journalism major as part of my first degree. Although I realised quickly that journalism wasn’t going to be a career path for me, news writing training provided me with a good grounding in non-academic writing.

I’ve also done writing-for-the-web training with different employers, and that’s been helpful too. I would recommend writing-for-the-web training for anyone in the library sector as the principles will make all your writing better.

Blogging is different from other professional writing that I do. Scholarly writing requires a lot more time and a lot more effort to comply with style guides, referencing systems, and the general requirements such as including a literature review. If I am submitting to a journal or conference proceedings, I would usually run a draft past a writing mentor or peer reader when doing that kind of writing, as the standard is very high.

I also have to do a lot of business writing at work e.g. reports and project documents. There are a lot of similarities between blogging and that kind of writing, in terms of keeping paragraphs short, using plain English, and making use of headings and bullet points to structure your writing for easy reading by busy people.

Any interesting connections or opportunities that have come out of a blog post you wrote?

Last year I published a series of posts based on a presentation that I gave at the New Librarians Symposium. One of the things I showcased in that series was the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), a widely-used IT competency framework.

I received an email from one of the senior people at the SFIA Foundation saying that they found my application of SFIA to the library world interesting to read. As a result of that series of posts, I also had a number of students and recent graduates get in touch with me via Twitter, which was really gratifying and expanded my Twitter network quite a bit.

What tips would you give to someone who is wanting to start a blog?

I would encourage anyone starting out to think more about the audience than about yourself. Rather than thinking about writing as self-expression (what do I want to say?), think about what your audience needs or wants, and what new or interesting perspective you can bring that no-one else is currently providing.

You could try guest blogging or writing short pieces for newsletters like ALIA's InCite first to get a feel for the effort that is required. It is also possible to publish pieces via LinkedIn now; this could be a good way to get started on a smaller scale with your existing professional network.

Always be ethical and professional and make it explicit somewhere on your site that your views do not represent those of your employer. Being aware of any formal social media policies that your organisation may have is really important, as these policies can differ quite a bit depending on where you work.

24 August 2018

Trying on a new hat: acting/interim roles as professional development

About six weeks ago I took on some additional responsibilities as acting manager of two extra teams at my library.

In this post, I reflect on this experience so far in the context of some insights gleaned from some recent LIS research and practitioner literature on this topic.

As a result of a restructure at my place of work, recruitment was underway for some new positions, but until those were filled a number of teams did not have managers in place. My supervisor (the Director) was planning to manage these teams on top of her usual duties as well as leading the recruitment process for new position. This didn't seem feasible or fair, so I approached her as part of a regular one-on-one meeting about sharing responsibility for managing these teams.

As well as taking some of the pressure off her, I argued that this would be a valuable learning experience for me. I would gain some insight into areas of the library's operations that I am less familiar with, and would also get some experience managing a larger team of direct reports. (In my usual job, although I have responsibility for a team of nine overall, only two of those people report to me directly.)

It took me a few days to get my head around the idea of making this request to my boss. I still feel like I am finding my feet with a lot of aspects of my management role, so taking on more felt daunting to say the least. As the duties were more of a sideways shift into another part of the library, rather than a 'step up' into a more senior position, I knew that I would not receive any extra money for the extra time and energy I would need to put in. I also knew that I would be taking on the new duties on top of my usual job, so I would need to much more seriously put into practice some time management strategies such as delegation. 

I have been in this dual role for a while now, and am finding it challenging, exhausting, stimulating, exciting and many other things all at once. It is a bit of a rollercoaster really! There has not been a lot of time for reflection, with my number of direct reports increasing from two staff to eighteen.

Benefits and challenges: what does the LIS literature tell us? 

Although taking on acting roles is often spoken about informally as a professional development strategy (alongside other workplace learning through things such as projects, secondments and exchanges), there is surprising little in the library literature about this.

Partly this is due to terminology; when I was trying to find some relevant professional reading it took me a while to discover that what I've been doing is called "interim leadership". Interim leadership can include both acting temporarily in a role that you intend to apply for, as well as taking on alternative or additional duties. 

My experiences so far are consistent with what has come out of the surveys and interviews carried out as part of the research projects and case studies I've added below as further reading.

Noted benefits include:
  • New or improved skills that you may not be able to develop in your current role
  • The opportunity to showcase your abilities to senior stakeholders who may not be aware of your capabilities or career goals
  • A chance to try something new without needing to make a long-term commitment - this could help you apply for that role in future, or equally importantly help you to identify that this is not a career path that is a good fit for you
  • A change to grow professional networks, both inside and outside the library
  • New perspectives for example, finding out more about how your organisation as a whole works ("joining the dots") or getting more insight into how the library fits into its parent organisation (the "big picture").
Interim leadership is not without its concerns though. These can include:
  • Workload and time management - interim leaders report physical/emotional exhaustion and negative impacts on personal life and other commitments
  • Difficulties balancing responsibility for your usual position while undertaking the new responsibilities (particular where your substantive position is not backfilled)
  • Having the same accountability and responsibilities, but little guidance
  • Lack of training in advance, due to the often unplanned nature of the temporary role
  • Difficulty forgiving yourself for making mistakes
  • Relationships with others, as new relationships are formed and existing relationships change in terms of their dynamics - this can include feelings of isolation
  • Ramifications of acting in a temporary role that you intend to apply for, including disappointment if you are unsuccessful in applying for a role that you have already been doing
  • Transition issues at the end of the interim period, including dissatisfaction on returning to your substantive role after having done something different or more challenging.
For the teams being led, it can also be challenging to have to adjust to a departing leader, a temporary leader and then to a final more permanent leader. 

My lessons learned

If you are considering an acting role, it is well worth reading the articles mentioned below as they contain some valuable lessons learned.

The ones that seem most relevant to me as someone currently in this situation are to be clear about scope and expections, take good care of yourself, and don't be afraid to ask for help. 

Lesson 1: Be clear about scope and expectations

The readings I mention recommend a discussion and agreement in writing prior to the appointment. Things to cover should include:
  • the timeframe for the interim period - while in some cases this might be open-ended until another position is filled (and you should be prepared for unexpected extensions), knowing a rough timeframe is essential for you to determine an appropriate scope
  • the goals for the position, so that you have a clear understanding of the priorities that they will need to focus on
  • the authority that you are being granted, and the reporting lines both to and from the position
  • any contract and salary changes e.g. a temporary new appointment or a higher duties allowance
  • any other ways that the additional contribution may be recognised or rewarded beyond financial compensation, such as enhanced access to funding for course or conference attendance.
Before I took on acting responsibilities my supervisor and I had a conversation about the goals that I had set myself for the year. It was clear that I would not be able to meet my existing goals and that a number of things would need to go on the backburner for a period of a few months at least. While we did discuss organisational goals and authority for the acting role informally, I would make more of an effort next time around to document a plan in writing. I would also make an effort to update my own performance plan to be more explicit about my own goals for professional development during my interim position.  

Like many people, I have taken on my acting responsibilities on top of, not instead of, my normal duties. Whether this is reasonable seems to me to depend a bit on how long the time period will be and whether there is a definite end in sight. I have been able to re-shuffle some of my usual duties and delegate in the short term. In future, if I were in an acting position for a longer or indefinite time period, I would probably make an argument to have my usual position back-filled by another staff member under a higher duties arrangement.

Lesson 2: Take care of yourself

It is reasonably common for interim leaders in libraries to feel burnt out by their additional responsibilities. It's important if you are taking on acting responsibilities to think about how you will take care of your physical and mental health. 

I've been trying hard to maintain healthy habits such as eating well and doing my regular exercise. I've also planned a week of leave - I know work will pile up while I am away but I'm also aware of the real risk of burnout!

Lesson 3: Ask for help

There are a number of aspects to this:
  • asking colleagues to help, including by delegating but also by actively seeking advice and support from trusted peers and seniors
  • seeking help from family and friends
  • delegating or outsourcing personal tasks - for example, I recently got a fortnightly cleaner, which has made a big difference to me in terms of my ability to balance my work and other commitments. 

Further readings

Bielavitz, T., Lowe-Wincentsen, D. and Read, K. (2018) ‘In the Interim: Leadership Shorts from Three Interim Library Directors’, PNLA Quarterly, 82(2). Available at: https://arc.lib.montana.edu/ojs/index.php/pnla/article/view/1268.

Farrell, M. (2016) ‘Interim Leadership’, Journal of Library Administration, 56(8), pp. 990–1000. doi:10.1080/01930826.2016.1231547.

Irwin, K. M. and deVries, S. (2019) ‘Experiences of Academic Librarians Serving as Interim Library Leaders.’ Preprint available at: https://crl.acrl.org/index.php/crl/article/view/16994.

06 July 2018

LIS student placements - a host institution perspective

This post was prompted by several recent Twitter threads relating to LIS student placements.

These threads raised some serious questions from a student perspective, in particular about the financial hardship placed on students and the impact on diversity in the library workforce that may arise from placements being more accessible for some students than others.

Threads also presented concerns from the enrolling institution perspective, where LIS educators must meet ALIA accreditation requirements, determine how best their program might prepare students from an employability perspective and promote the benefits that a work placement can provide, particularly for students with no or little paid work experience in libraries or other information settings.
The threads also provided insight into a third view: that of a host organisation of student placements.
It is this third view that I wanted to flesh out in a bit more detail. I took on the role of coordinating student placements at my place of work about six months ago. The activities described below are those that I have personally undertaken as part of this role. I do not know how reflective this is of other organisations, however my goal as the student placement coordinator in my library is to ensure that the placement is a positive experience for both the student and for all the library staff that will be involved.

I hope that by presenting this view students undertaking placements will gain a greater understanding of the effort put in by host organisations. I am not presenting this information to diminish any of the points raised by others above, and I hope that further debate about the value (or not) of placements might be generated by these discussions. However, I would like to make more visible the labour involved from the host organisation's perspective. Yes, there is a big difference in that I get paid for the time I spend undertaking these tasks, but it could be interesting for students to consider the costs of my labour as an investment that my organisation is making in the library profession and its newest professionals.

So, with that, here's a list of what is involved in managing a student placements program:

1. Maintain internal procedures.

At my place of work we currently have a high level principles document but no written procedures. As I work through the process of organising my first few placements, I am trying to combine these two into one new document, which will then need to be approved by library management.

2. Ensure website content about placements is up to date.

3. Maintain an internal spreadsheet of possible student projects, and regularly ask managers and team leaders to contribute to this.

4. Manage a storage area for documentation relating to student placements and ensuring that this is appropriately shared.

5. Maintain a web form for receiving placement inquiries.

6. Monitor inquiries coming in through this form and provide an initial response within a reasonable timeframe.

7. Set up an initial phone call or meeting with the student to discuss their goals for the placement.

I ask the student to provide a CV or link to their LinkedIn profile, which I review before this conversation, and check the list of small placement projects to see if there is a match in interests / skills.

As well as getting a feel for the student’s goals for the placement, we discuss practical details including potential dates, working hours / pattern (if less than full-time), campus location/s, and any special requirements that we should be aware of (e.g. equipment, special needs, flexibility required for caring arrangements etc).

This session often includes some informal mentoring, for example, providing advice on the CV that I have asked them to provide, discussing how the placement with us fits with other placements and study activities, and providing advice on other avenues for gaining entry level experience. Part of this conversation also involves discussing students' previous work experience / career pathways to help them to make connections between work they have done previously and the library sector.

8. Complete paperwork with with the enrolling institution once a placement has been mutually agreed.

This usually needs to be filled in, scanned and sent back. I need to review the enrolling institution's requirements to make sure we can meet them. I also need to check insurance documentation is consistent with our own policies.

9. Develop a draft program in consultation with other managers and team leaders.

This involves a range of activities:
  • Multiple emails and phone calls with other managers and team leaders to identify one or more appropriate supervisors and teams for the placement 
  • Check the library's various calendars for induction / overview sessions
  • Identify upcoming events and workshops  that the student can attend or help at 
  • Identify upcoming events and workshops provided at or by other organisations that our staff are attending and that the student can accompany them to 
  • Identify meetings that the student can attend as an observer or participant
  • Identify staff members who can provide a verbal overview of other areas that the student is interested in, demo tools and services, and possibly even offer a more extended shadowing opportunity
  • Schedule a workplace project (if possible) in consultation with the supervisor
  • Use a shared calendar to add slots for all the activities noted above, while ensurig the student has adequate time for documentation / reflection to enable them to complete their placement reporting.
I take into the account the following when designing a program:
  • The requirements of the enrolling institution - some require work at a professional level and define this in a particular way
  • Areas in which the student is being assessed, to ensure that we cover as many of these as possible
  • Providing an overview of as many aspects of the library’s work as possible, so that students are exposed to areas that may not be so well-covered in their courses (e.g. library systems)
  • The student's express interests, as well as any gaps that they may be wanting to fill 
  • Previous work/life experience and transferable skills the student has that can be applied usefully during their time with us
  • The operational requirements within the library's teams, including when their busy periods are, to ensure that our own work will not be overly disrupted.
Overall, I am aiming to give students a range of experiences, and in particular to offer them a chance to complete a mini-project or participate in more substantial activities that will enable them to tell stories in writing and verbally when addressing selection criteria and interview questions. 

10. Request a visitor account to be created by Human Resources.

11. Request access to required central systems and services (e.g. email, calendar, internet, shared storage. This is an IT process that cannot be done until the visitor identity step mentioned above is completed.

12. Organise any additional access to any specialist library systems and services that the student needs for their program.

13. Request security card access from Security and a temporary name badge from the library's Business Support Officer.

14. Ensure an appropriate workstation is available and set-up at the location/s the student will be working.

15. Send the student a welcome email.

A few days before the placement I provide basic information required for Day 1, including confirmation of start date and time; arrival point and contact person (usually me); parking / public transport / campus maps

16. Write an internal staff blog post providing basic details of who / where / when so that staff are aware that the placement is happening.

17. Provide an induction / overview session to cover:
  • Organisational Chart
  • Library strategic and operational plans
  • Pointers to key documentation such as the University's strategic documents
  • Privacy and confidentiality requirements
  • Acceptable use of IT
  • Getting the most out of your placement (be involved, ask questions, etc.)
  • Overview of  schedule
  • Handover to supervisor
18. Arrange for someone to provide a campus tour for orientation purposes. Also check access cards are working and show food / coffee outlets.

19. Ensure an appropriate Health and Safety induction.

An initial tour should include a discussion of evacuation procedures for the workspace the student will spend most time at.

Depending on the duration of the placement, the student may also need to complete Health and Safety Induction, Fire Safety and Manual Tasks and Office Ergonomics online modules on commencement of the placement and this should be built into the program.

20. Midway checkin.

Halfway through a longer placement I have a meeting with the student. This enables the student and I to check in that the goals of the placement are being met and to 're-set' if expectations are not being met.

There may still be time to re-shuffle later parts of the program to focus on areas that the student wants to explore in more detail.

21. Coordinate production of the final report

This is an extensive exercise, as I seek and then collate feedback from all the staff who have interacted with the student during their time with us.

The most recent placement report I completed required a score and comments against 17 performance criteria. I received feedback from ten staff members other than myself and had to condense and summarise this as part of the report writing process.

After discussing a draft of the report with students at the debrief (see below), I need to send this the enrolling institution's placements coordinator or to the student as required.

22. Hold a debrief session.

On the last day of the placement, I have a debrief session with the student.

Generally I will have provided them a day earlier with a draft written report so that we can discuss the assessment that I will submit.

I sometimes provide additional verbal feedback to the student that might help them in their future career (including encouragement to participate in professional events such as those organised by ALIA), and provide them with an opportunity to ask any final questions.

I also seek feedback about how the placement went from their perspective to find out if there are ways we can improve how we plan and manage these.

23. Act as a referee.

As part of supervising a student placement, placement coordinators and supervisors may offer to be listed as a student's referee when they are applying for work.

This means being available for phone calls of up to half an hour, usually at short notice and sometimes years after the placement has taken place.

Last week I gave a phone interview for a placement student who was with my team over two years ago. I did this happily, even though the person had not given me a courtesy heads-up that they were still using me as a referee for their applications. (Top tip: your referees will be able to provide you with a better reference if you let them know what jobs you are applying for and who might be calling them.)

17 April 2018

Getting to “good enough”: thoughts on perfectionism

NewCardigan's GLAM Blog Club provides helpful monthly writing prompts for for people who work in galleries, libraries, archives and museums. This month's theme is Control.

If you move into a supervisory or management role in libraries, you will probably at some stage participate in a training course requiring you to take a personality test like the Profiles Performance Indicator or the DisC profile. The rationale for this is that understanding your strengths and weaknesses will help you to become a more effective manager or leader.

I’ve done several of these tests and the results have been consistent in revealing (to no-one’s actual surprise, let alone my own) that I have strong perfectionist tendencies.

So what? you may be thinking. Isn’t everyone that works in libraries a bit of a perfectionist? Isn’t perfectionism one of those fake weaknesses that you wheel out in job interviews when in fact you are quite proud of your 110% attitude to anything and everything? Wouldn’t libraries be better if we were all a bit more perfectionist, not less? If we reduce our focus on quality even by a smidgen, isn’t that the beginning of the end, the start of the slippery slope, the end of the world as we know it…?

Well, no actually. Unless you are undertaking the proverbial brain surgery or rocket science in your library, perfectionism is probably more likely to affect you (and others around you) negatively not positively. In the long run it will probably stop you fulfilling your leadership potential. Here’s just some of the reasons why:

  • You will get less work done and miss deadlines because you will be overly focused on completing each task to an unnecessarily high standard.
  • You won’t understand fully what constitutes good performance. You'll forget that you are being judged as much, if not more, on your ability to deliver outcomes and to deliver those in a timely fashion. You'll also forget that your time - all the hours that you are spending on formatting not content, on sourcing that one perfect image for your slidedeck, on consulting just one more person to be totally thorough - is usually someone else’s money.
  • You will never be able to enjoy finishing things and will rarely stop to celebrate your milestones because you are only focused on how what you have done could have been so much better if we had just been able to [insert unhelpful stuff here]
  • You will annoy more senior staff by failing to deliver what they need and wasting their time as a result. You won't realise that you aren't actually helping when your manager asks you for a 2-page briefing paper and then you deliver a 10-page paper full of background material that makes the issue more complex for her not less, that raises more questions than she had before, and that doesn’t make any recommendations because you still haven’t analysed all the information in the universe that might be relevant.
  • You will apply the same high standards you apply to yourself to your colleagues and people you supervise. Unsurprisingly when people fail to live up to your unrealistic expectations you will be disappointed and judgmental. Congratulations - you will be well on your way to getting a reputation for being hyper-critical and demanding, and for micro-managing.
  • You will fail to delegate because deep down you don’t believe anyone else’s work will be up to scratch. Sadly, you probably won’t even be aware of how arrogant this is.
  • When you finally do delegate, you'll disempower your employees by pointlessly reworking things instead of coaching them to improve, providing clear guidance and then accepting what is produced.
  • You will get frustrated because things aren’t the way they should be, and you express your frustration inappropriately through anger, emotional outbursts, cynicism, sarcasm, or more passive-aggressive means.
  • Or you will turn those frustrations inward, burn yourself out and end up physically and or mentally unwell. All because of your inability to say This is good enough now. I’ve done as much as I need to. Now let it go.
I don’t know why I am the way I am. There is probably some deep reason that would require hundreds of hours of therapy to reveal that! What I do know is that I have found it almost impossible to address this on my own. I’m getting better at aiming for good-enough rather than perfection, but this is after years of support from a manager that knows me really well and has agreed to provide me with firm-but-caring feedback when she observes me falling into my old ways. She doesn’t let me get away with it and so as time goes on some new habits are slowly forming. I also have a colleague who inspires me with his ability to make quick decisions and move things along. I admire his attitude that all we can do is make the best decision with the information we have available, that sometimes we will make mistakes but mostly things will work out OK if trust in our own judgments, and more often than not we are better off taking action rather than going round in circles talking about things and never actually doing anything.

So if a personality test reveals that you are a perfectionist, don’t see it as a badge of honour. Take a few days (or a few years, in my case) to reflect on the unconstructive behaviours your perfectionism might be leading to in the workplace, and elsewhere too. Talk to your supervisor, your colleagues, a mentor, basically anyone who can help you by gently and repeatedly pointing out when you go beyond what’s really required, when what you’ve done is already good enough.

26 January 2018

What I learned in 2017 (confessions of an ambivalent manager)

NewCardigan's GLAM Blog Club is out of the blocks for another year, providing helpful monthly writing prompts for for people who work in galleries, libraries, archives and museums. Recognising that the transition from one year to the next is often a time for reflection, this month's theme is the same as last January's: What I want to learn in the year ahead / What I learned in the past year. 

If 2016 was the year that I began to more fully embrace my role as a hybrid library/IT professional, 2017 was the year I lost my ambivalence about becoming a manager.

I transitioned into my first management role in late 2014. This happened after many years of telling myself that this was not the pathway for me. I was so convinced of this that I spent a year in a mentoring program ten years ago identifying career pathways that would help me avoid management roles without completely stalling my career progression or meaning that I couldn't have a leadership role of some kind.

In 2014 I saw a job ad that changed my mind for three reasons. Firstly, it was working for someone that I admired, who I knew would be a good role model, mentor and source of support. Secondly, I had been in the organisation for long enough to know it had good frameworks in place for developing staff who were moving into supervision and management. Thirdly, I was starting to realise that as lots of library profession leaders were transitioning to retirement, someone would need to take their place. Could that be me at some point in future? I felt scared to step up and take on a lot more responsibility than I had ever had before. But if I asked myself the question If not now, then when? the honest answer was There won't be a better time, you idiot! so I decided (with encouragement from my partner, friends and some colleagues) to go for it.

2017 was my third year in that management role, which recently expanded to cover both library systems and research repositories. Last year a lot of things finally starting 'gelling' for me. My learning has not just been about management in an objective sense i.e. what tasks are involved, and what is expected of someone at that level. I've also had to consider what management means (or could mean) to me. My ideas of what a management role involved were very limited prior to actually having one; I now know my existing knowledge and skills were more transferable than I thought. I also understand much better how some of my strengths can be expressed in a management role and how I might address some of my weaknesses over time.

Here are some thoughts on this process that might help you feel better about taking this plunge at some point.

Managers manage lots of things, not just people

I though most of my job would be about supervising people but actually a not-exhaustive list of the things that I manage includes staff, business processes, systems, time (my own and that of others), corporate information, risk and compliance, budget, procurement, contracts and vendor relationships, recruitment, projects, policies/procedures, a workspace, and health and safety.

Yes, managing people is a large and important part of this, but it is definitely not everything that I do.

You can't be good at everything, and that's OK

If you are managing lots of things (see above), it makes sense that you will be better at some things than others, right?

Of the list above, I'd self-assess as really competent at some, including a few things that other people probably find difficult or very very tedious. If you need to run a tender process or to review and negotiate a systems contract, I'm your go-to gal. I can spin up a position description and run a recruitment exercise for a new job, no worries at all. Spotting a copyright / privacy / reputational risk at a thousand paces or working well with pernickety folk responsible for compliance with IT architecture and governance are also things I know I can do. 

But then there are other things I still find difficult and will likely spend the next twenty years trying to incrementally improve. Finance-related tasks that do my head in seem to be a breeze for others. Managing staff remains a work-in-progress; as an introvert with a preference for logic and systems I find it really challenging to lead a group of human beings who all bring their own backgrounds, thought processes, motivations, emotions, interests and relationships to the workplace. On bad days I feel like I will never even really understand other people I work with, let alone be able to motivate or inspire anyone.

What I have learned is this: I don't need to be great at everything. Not only that, from three years of observing management-level peers and superiors, I now know that not only am I not good at everything, neither is anyone else! Everyone is just trying to do their best and everyone has their blind spots.

It's not even possible that any one individual could flawlessly handle everything a management role in a messy, ambiguous, ever-changing 21st century organisation might throw up. Three years in, I know that there are plenty of ways in which I am a good manager. I also know that the best way to deal with the things I'm less good at is to acknowledge them and ask for help. In my experience this will be freely given because our profession is full of lovely people who want to help other people succeed.

A big part of management is managing yourself

This recent Huffington Post blog article provides a neat introduction to what this might mean in the workplace. It describes self-management as demonstrating "self-control and an ability to manage time, priorities and decision-making capacity."

For me this has meant coming to grips with a number of things. Here are just some.

I'm being watched (and judged) all the time
This is an uncomfortable truth for those of us at the introvert end of the spectrum. Being a manager (or a leader of any kind, really) means you are a role model, whether you like it or not. People are taking notice of the way you present yourself (both in person and online), what you say and the actions that you take. You just have to get used to it.

I can be myself, but I should try to be the best version of myself
Does being watched and judged mean that you should pretend to be someone you are not? No. It's definitely important to be authentic and to develop your own management / leadership style that works for you (and your organisation). It's OK to be yourself, but important to think about how you are presenting that self in a professional context. Outside of work you wouldn't go to a wedding in the outfit you do your gardening in, or talk to your nana the way you talk to your friends. That doesn't mean you're being inauthentic or untruthful; it just means you are gloriously mutable, like every other human being ever. In management, as in the rest of life, there's a performative aspect that you can choose to be scared of or choose to control (most of the time I still waver somewhere inbetween).

My emotions have an impact on others
With heightened visibility comes heightened responsibility. If I am sad or angry or frustrated or stressed, if I roll my eyes at someone's idea or burst into tears in a meeting, that will have an impact on other people. This doesn't mean striving to have a poker face on at all times or to be an automaton without any feelings. It does mean acknowledging the feelings that you have (especially those you are trying to hide from others, and even from yourself) and trying to express these in timely and constructive ways that don't hurt other people. I'm not always very good at this and hope it's something I can get better at in future.

I need to be deliberate about how I spend my time
This includes being more careful about commitments I make and learning how to say no to things. It means actively managing time; blocking out chunks in the work calendar so that high-priority work can be done without distractions; restricting email checking to allocated times during the day; and ensuring meetings I make are not just talkfests but actually have outcomes.

Being in good physical and mental shape helps me do my job better
Librarianship is knowledge work, but don't believe for a second that being physically fit won't help you be a better manager. Losing weight and getting more active has given me more energy and concentration. It also reduces the risks associated with sitting at a desk in front of a computer for 40+ hours a week. I walk through native bushland once or twice a day, just taking the time to slow down and observe incremental seasonal changes in my local environment, and this reduces my stress levels and puts a lot of trivial work-related things into perspective. Reading fifty-plus novels a year gives me the same pleasure now that it did when I was a bookworm child; now it also gets me out of my own busy head for a little bit of time each day.

In 2017 I started to embrace my new role and to reflect more on what a satisfying career path in library management could look like. I don't have any firm ideas yet, but I am looking forward to finding out what comes next! If you have been thinking about a management role, but have been putting off applying for things through lack of confidence or lack of insight into what the role actually involves, why not make 2018 your year to explore this? You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.