Well it is that time of year again- annual evaluations! Despite it’s bad reputation, the annual evaluation is a good opportunity to look back on the year and take stock so that you can look ahead to the year to come with purpose and vision.
Fall semester of 2014 proved to be a time of rapid change for me and my colleagues. Like most reference departments, we had been engaging in a wide variety of discussions on the value, impending changes, and ultimate mission of the reference desk for what seemed to be forever. During that time we had made some minor and major decisions and investments. Here is a short list:
- 24/7 chat reference
- reduction in f2f hours
- redesign of the reference desk
- reduction in librarian hours at the reference desk
- predictability in librarians staffing the reference desk
In parallel to reference desk discussions, new initiatives were forming resulting in new demands and expectations on librarians. To many academic librarians these new initiatives are familiar:
- liaison responsibility
- classroom and online instruction
- data management
- retention and graduation efforts
- scholarly communications
We found ourselves in the all too common predicament- not enough time in the day! We recognized that we could not do it all and yet found it difficult to identify work that we could cease doing. So about 18 months ago we began the Workload Project. The Workload Project sought to answer one question: What’s the best use of our time? The Workload Project lasted about 6 months during which time we gathered statistics on our current work, reached out to peers to find out about their workloads, and read articles on best practices and trends in academic libraries. We made recommendations and implemented a few of them.
Then more changes outside of our control occurred: staff vacancies and budget crunches. Again we found ourselves in the same predicament- do more with less. We engaged in another exercise of self-reflection, this time seeking to align our best work efforts with campus strategic directions. Combined these two exercises culminated in the following changes:
- re-organization of our division
- re-location of the reference desk
The re-organization created four agile teams where there used to be one large department and two solo-staffed departments. Day to day decisions which used to require the consensus of a large department now are handled by small teams working towards specific goals. While I am still the instruction coordinator, I am also the lead for the Teaching & Learning team. The three other teams are Research Services, Data Services and User Experience.
Our reference desk moved from an isolated service point in a productive section of the learning commons to the main service desk of the library. We now work alongside circulation and IT staff. Because we are no longer isolated we have been able to shift from a double-staffing model to single-staffing, except during predictably high-traffic times. Most of these hours are staffed by our excellent MLIS graduate students.
The combined impact of re-locating the reference desk and re-organizing our division has led to a re-vision of our reference model. The re-vision incorporates recommendations from our Workload Project, emphasizes the expertise of our librarians, and capitalizes on the strengths of our graduate students. We are calling this the Triage Model.
Finally I arrive at the title of this post- reflections. What impact will these changes have on my work in 2015? How can I embrace these changes in order to achieve specific ends? What might be an unexpected consequence of these changes?
I hope that our organizational culture will change as a result of the re-organization. It may be ambitious to go from decision by committee to the “Think Like a Startup” mindset, but I hope that with smaller, more focused teams we will be able to make more mistakes, faster; learn from them so we can continue to do the best with the time and resources we have. In a small effort to shift the culture I have embraced the #fail by allowing time at all team meetings to discuss things that have failed or missed the mark.
Achieving the correct amount of staff and specific talents in those staff are perennial management problems, I suppose. But these significant changes have opened up opportunities to approach the problem with new solutions. Perhaps we need to be working more intentionally across divisions and units. With new responsibilities, now is the time to set new expectations and priorities.
By definition it is hard to predict the unexpected. Perhaps we will lose more staff and need to re-organize again. Or perhaps we’ll experience a spike (decline) in demand for instruction. Maybe we’ll end up reversing some of our earlier decisions about the reference desk because demand for our help with explode. Who knows! We cannot anticipate every outcome for our decisions, but we can and should respond when the unexpected makes itself known.