Newsletter of the Association of Library and Information Science Students (ALISS)




 title of the newsletter: The Silverfish


March 2004

Vol VIII Issue III

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PLA…for the Manager

By Peter Cole, MLIS Day
I attended PLA last month with the goal of gaining some insight into good management practices (I also got a coffee mug from the Government Publications Office, shook hands with Elvis, and drank lattes from ProQuest. Such fun!!). Read on for information about dealing with deadwood staff, the Fish! Philosophy, and motivating front line staff.

Deadwood: Staff Members Who Don’t Work and Can’t Be Fired
Charlaine Ezell, management consultant, focused the group of 600 or so interested folks on the issue of Deadwood. Non-productive staff were described as benign or malignant whose contributions to the organization are minimal, nil or historical. For a manager, the question becomes “Can I live with this person on staff or is their effect on the workflow and staff morale so deleterious that I need to muster the energy to fire them?” The message for every eager person in the room hoping to hear of an easy way to make non-productive staff change their behavior was –Forget it. It’ll be hard, it might get nasty but it’ll be worth it. The productive members of your staff will appreciate the increased time and energy you have for them and your marginal staff will benefit from knowing that expectations are clear enough and high enough to encourage smarter, better work. Regular and honest performance reviews are key to helping reduce the chance that people get stagnant and complacent. A third party might be useful to help mediate attempts at improving performance and also help to establish benchmarks which justify an ultimate firing, separation, termination – whatever you’d like to call it. For managers new to an organization – like most of us will be –persistent statements of performance expectations and clear systems of work evaluation will be vital.

Swimming with Fish- Using the Fish! Philosophy in Customer Service
Want to avoid deadwood?? You might try the Fish! Philosophy borne of those lovable fishmongers at Pike Street Market. Turns out, their shared workplace philosophy was created after they all decided they wanted to be world famous several years ago. A workplace consultant taking an extra day in Seattle before flying home saw the team in action and has helped them market their 4-part philosophy of work and customer service. 1) Play 2) Make their Day 3) Be There and 4) Choose Your Attitude. What? Surely Librarians can’t sling books around and yell out “ Hogwarts and Donna Tartt -Goodbye!! Mess ‘o Serials -Out the Door!!” Maybe not, but several librarians were on-hand to tell the packed audience how they translated Fish! Philosophy into practice at their libraries. Librarians Vicky Baker of Mid-Continent MO and Suzanne Scro of Ocean County NJ had several examples to share. The Jersey folks created a calendar of leather-clad librarians for fun. Racy!. The MO library closes each night – not by flicking the lights and announcing THE LIBRARY WILL BE CLOSING IN 15 MINUTES PLEASE BRING ALL MATERIALS TO THE FRONT…” but rather, they play “ So Long, Farewell, auf Wiedersehen Goodnight…” Corsages on Staff day and candy for all on Patron Day all help to create a fun, upbeat mood in the library for both staff and patrons. One panel member said, “Being professional should not be confused with being boring.” A caveat - no work group becomes fun and positive overnight or by mandate. Work with your colleagues to see how they might see some of these changes taking place and start together with something manageable. Visit The Fish! Philosophy website where ideas abound from many businesses and organizations which have succeeded with this approach to customer service and shaping the workplace.

Motivating Front Line Staff
In this session, staff members from Multnomah County Oregon shared their insights into motivating front line staff. The information was familiar and rich with calories. A certain brownie recipe was mentioned as responsible for much of the positivity of the circulation staff which is certainly the first and last and maybe the only staff that much of the public interacts with. It’s paramount that the front desk staff Be There for each patron and have Chosen a (Good) Attitude with which to Make (a Patron’s) Day. While the sentiments of the presenters overlapped with the FISH! Philosophy presenters, they have adopted different guidewords: 1) Respect 2) Involvement and 3) Acknowledgement. In my experience it is a manager’s involvement of clerical staff which is the least likely to be done well. And it makes wonderful sense to empower the experts who know best. At Multnomah, clerks have had important roles in evaluating sorting equipment, have been given responsibilities for solving problems and have been part of the hiring process.

For you would-be managers out there, I hope this summary/ reflection was of interest. It is always possible to apply principles of good management to any collection of people. I didn’t see the movie Master and Commander but I’m told it is a great study in management, for example. The iSchool could be another venue to train your management eye. Many thanks to SALA for creating scholarships to attend PLA; I certainly benefited and encourage others to apply in the future.

To get a virtual tour of the PLA event after the fact you can visit the PLA 2004 National Conference Program to view summaries and many session handouts.

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