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If you are interviewing for a shiny new library job, and you hear these words:

"This position has a lot of freedom. You can really dig in and make it whatever you want!"

... run.

If you let that very neatly packed statement draw you in, you'll quickly learn that they mean:

"We're not going to train you. Or supervise you.

'Here's two file cabinets full of paper files (oh and maybe some stuff on the computer too*) from the three people who had this job over the past five years, who each had to piece things together from scratch after the previous one left (with gaps in between in which seven different staff members were sort-of doing the work and left no records) and did things completely differently, especially filing. If you ask us how things were done before, or even ask what would work best for us, no guidance will be forthcoming - but then, if you miss something, you'll hear about it and then some. After all, the several managers have all sorts of wants and needs, but they don't want to trouble you by letting you know that - don't worry, they'll let you know what you should have done and how, after the fact.

'Oh, and here's your brand-new, maddeningly part-time assistant - we expect you to thoroughly train and supervise her and provide her with plenty of structure, and we will randomly grill you on her assignments and schedule."

But I bet a fair number of you already picked up on that nuance, being fluent in Librarese. I wish I could find a copy of the phrasebook - it would be a huge help with the peculiar idioms of the dialect like that old colloquial phrase, "All these librarians will be retiring really soon, the field is a goldmine!"


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 13th, 2014 06:28 pm (UTC)
I know this pain, my school library job was like this. Go build a program, but we don't know how to properly support you and won't take you seriously when you point out that it can't be done by one person. I'm out of it but its taught me so much about what to ask in interviews, if they can't tell you what your job is then it will be painful and messy.

Good luck and I hope you can find a more functional place.
May. 14th, 2014 05:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you, thank you. it's really soaking in, now, that most any workplace these days is going to consist of hiring the fewest people possible, and devoting the least resources possible, to do the most work possible, and riding that line of keeping your employees JUST on the edge of being completely unable to take it.

I always had this image of a career as being constantly busy but, if you work hard enough and long enough at your job, you get to feel that pride of having a good grasp on things and see that you're always getting better. And that sustains you through the tough spots.

Sadly, every job I've had out of library school has been shambling through knee deep mud and struggling to catch a target that's always twenty feet out of reach, while higher-ups make decisions based on the belief that we're springing nimbly ahead through fields of daisies with energy to spare.
May. 14th, 2014 06:57 pm (UTC)
I love your last sentence, it feels so true though I haven't had as much luck finding jobs. I know they exist but its a tough market but I keep hopeful and I feel like I made it through one awful place.
May. 13th, 2014 07:02 pm (UTC)
I don't know if you've already tried this, but I would suggest emailing all of the managers about their 'wants and needs' to be answered by a set date. After each reply, send another email stating, "Ok, I understand you want/need xyz." If they don't reply by the deadline, send a follow-up stating that since they didn't respond, you take that to mean they have no input for you and that you will set up a system as you see fit. You see where I'm going with this, right?

When they complain, you have documentation. That marvelously, sneaky way of saying that you gave them a chance, and if they have problems with that then they can argue with the email they sent you. You now have an electronic trail of paperwork showing due diligence on your part.

As for the assistant, I would ask your higher-ups what exactly they are looking for in responses from you as her supervisor. Again, email so you have documentation. Are the ones grilling you your supervisors? If not, refer them to your supervisor. Ask your supervisor in email how often you are expected to relay your assistant's assignments and schedule. Do they want weekly updates to her schedule & assignments? Every other week? Monthly? Oh! Look at that! Aummunition. Documentation.

I'm hoping that soon these chickens with their heads chopped off start getting the clue that they will very shortly not have a leg to stand on in pestering you. I also hope matters improve tremendously for you. Now, go in there and kick some ass, take some names, and know that we're rooting for you!
May. 13th, 2014 07:14 pm (UTC)
Seconding all of this. An email trail is your friend.
May. 13th, 2014 07:14 pm (UTC)
oh perfect response.
May. 13th, 2014 10:58 pm (UTC)
This is great advice.
May. 14th, 2014 06:27 am (UTC)
Agreed. Documentation trails are the very best thing to build at this point, if for no other reason than to be able to prove that the people who are giving you that "freedom" have zero clue what they mean.
May. 14th, 2014 03:16 pm (UTC)
This is all very good advice, and I will definitely work on being consistent - indeed, maddeningly consistent - in writing. It will be a project. Admittedly, this job has done me the favor of helping me realize that my own strengths are working within a framework that I've been given and providing support and filling in the details - I work best with structure and am actually not very good at making something from nothing. (If they hadn't had to work within civil service, they would have undoubtedly gotten more qualified candidates than me for this particular job, but that's another story.)

Technically, I report to the director, who is fairly famous for not responding to e-mails. She said to me once that her "management" style is very open, and she is content to let me do my own thing (read: I don't care to invest resources in providing my employees with a solid introduction to their jobs when I can just keep doing what I've been doing and let them flounder) but if I need a more structured approach, I should let her know. I asked her for weekly meetings, and we met a total of once before she silently scheduled something else at the time of our meetings that meant she wasn't in the building at that time, so that fizzled out practically before it began. That was early on, when my job was comparatively calm.

I was advised to call together a group consisting of a librarian from each branch, so that I could bounce ideas off them and learn what had been done in the past in terms of programming/get their expectations down in a formal manner. What I got was the three library branch managers, who stepped right up and insisted that they would be the best people for the job. The meeting was an hour of barely maintaining control and watching them sniping and "me me me" and contradicting each other, and I'm not planning on ever calling them together in the same room again if I can help it at all. WHEW.

Thanks very much for your sage advice. Lord give me the strength to implement it. The last girl made it 7 months before she moseyed on elsewhere.
May. 13th, 2014 07:33 pm (UTC)
This post is a thing of beauty. Well said.
May. 13th, 2014 08:17 pm (UTC)
Wait, are you my (newish) boss?

May. 14th, 2014 03:17 pm (UTC)
Haha... I don't think so, as my assistant isn't herself a librarian. If by some freak chance you are, then I give you my deepest apologies, because I'm a terrible supervisor. But it warms my heart to hear that I'm not alone, and this is apparently rather common. :)
May. 19th, 2014 07:19 pm (UTC)
I thought this level of disorganization was normal!
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

Authority Record

the fuck
The Society for Librarians* Who Say "Motherfucker"
For all of those times when the gatekeepers of the world's knowledge are called upon, in their professional capacity, to use the word "motherfucker." Or at least to seriously consider it.

*Open to librarians; library associates, specialists, technicians, and paraprofessionals of all kinds; library school students; library aides and volunteers; and all of those who love libraries, or even just love a particular librarian. Welcome.

Date Due

June 2017
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