Short-Staffed! Lunch with a Friend, Part 2

So we are at lunch, my out-of-town friend and I, and she asks what is happening with this blog. A librarian friend had wondered if it still existed and was I still writing it.  I started to say how tough it's been over the past five months while we've been down a position. And, wise woman that she is, she said "Blog about it!"

I'm not sure I have anything insightful to say about what it's been like. I know so many of my colleagues across the country have been under such extreme duress with positions, funding and hours slashed. Short-staffing affects us and our communities on so many levels.  This is just a personal reflection on what we were able to do and not do (um, this blog) while work-time marched on, minus 40 hours per week in our department.

Everyone in our department shouldered extra responsibilities and desk shifts. They covered for our lost colleague (and me during the lengthy interview process which stretched over holiday closures, vacations and ALA; essay question answering and analysis and final interviews).  Our able desk assistant became uber-Jill of all trades and showed a welcome acumen for all things YS. We cut back on our programming and outreach frequency but developed early literacy initiatives like 1000 Books Before Kindergarten; Early Literacy centers; "Between-Storytime" coupon books and a new summer reading club for birth - 35 month old kids (thank you Naperville (IL) Library for sharing the Rubber Ducky Club with us). We also worked hard to partner with our schools and colleagues including a highly successful collaboration with the high school to bring in an YA author and have a "One Book, One Community" reading program.  These initiatives involved advanced planning but literally ran themselves once developed.

Little things were hard to keep going. We kept up with collection development and weeding but our PR was tough to cover. We field newsletters, Facebook accounts, webpage event updates, info to the schools, handouts and etc. Much of that was on a "way-beyond-deadline-whew-we-made-it" schedule, if it happened at all.  We felt lucky to have fewer programs so our lack of PR fabulousness maybe wasn't noticed. I, for one, got even more rushed and sloppy and 40 hour weeks, crept into 42, 45 and 50 hour weeks just to keep things going. The storytimes I covered weren't as good as I like to have them and though I kept all appointments, I stayed awake nights trying to keep it all in order.

This blog...hah!  Lucky if I got anything in. The hardest thing for me, though, was finding time to work with and support my colleagues.  Time spent with each of them meant time away from deadline-specific work and that was a balance I couldn't find. These are strong, tough people and they brought amazing resilience to the fore during this stressful time.  While we were getting towards the end of our short-staffed period, our much appreciated half-time outreach librarian announced her retirement.   With budget constraints we knew we couldn't fill this position, but the team stepped up again. 

And now, as of six days ago, we have a new full-time team member. She will bring new skills and perspectives into the department. We will re-assess what we can realistically do and move forward to serve our public.  And I wouldn't want to be anywhere else and working with anyone other than the team at my library.   

Image: 'Ivi is crazy -20080804_0233edbw'   http://www.flickr.com/photos/99037763@N00/2805780029

Can You Tell the Difference? Lunch with a Friend, Part 1

Today I had lunch with a dear friend who was on her way across WI (and parts of Minnesota) to pick up her son for spring break.  This friend is someone I got to know many years ago at my former library. As a homeschooling parent, she and her family use and have used multiple libraries and read and studied voraciously. With the collections of many libraries at her fingertips, she is a sophisticated library patron who really knows libraries, literacy and information.  Her engineering background gives her an eye for detail, analysis and the smarts to navigate and assess libraries like no one I've ever worked with outside the world of library staffers.

Its been almost a year and a half since she stopped at our library.  As she waited for me to wrap up a meeting so we could head out to a favorite local eatery, she browsed through the Youth Department. The first thing she remarked on after we hugged is how much the department has changed and how improved it was.  Wow, the stuff that our department has worked so hard on plus collection and content improvement; room rearrangement;  better signage and the whole changed atmosphere is noticeable?!?!?  I beamed! 

She gave me props for the change. But guess what?  I didn't make the difference!  My colleagues are the ones who stepped up to the plate when I asked them to look in new directions and be the agents of change.  They chose the books and materials. They developed new initiatives. They took charge of creating a welcoming as well as well-managed environment. My job was to throw down the gauntlet and encourage and support them in helping the department grow in new ways.

My happiness is in my team and hearing from someone well outside our daily sphere that the changes we are making are having the effect we hoped for.  So much of what we do in our daily work makes very small or incremental changes that we don't always notice.  It's great when someone can bring new eyes to appreciate what has changed - and improved.  That's a difference I think we all can be proud of.

Image: 'difference in hardness' http://www.flickr.com/photos/96703781@N00/2407761354