June 2015 | Volume XXXIII, Issue 3 »

The Way We Work

June 1, 2015
Anthony Auston, Palatine Public Library District

It’s an exciting time to be a librarian. Yet between the boundless ingenuity and enthusiasm of an engaged staff determined to deliver “yes, we can” results and the shifting social and technological expectations of our communities of users, there’s a well-worn path known as “the way we work.”

To support and strengthen our human resources as we embrace brave new industry trends in customer service, library leaders need to establish a framework for reinforcing libraries’ cultural values, customer service skills, and professional skills to transform our organizations from within. 

For many libraries, the recent economic downturn led us to evaluate our internal methods to help us make the most efficient use of our resources. Self-study and process improvement have helped us to work smarter, but are we also providing our teams with a sustainable model of trust, mentorship, stimulation, and motivation to promote our future vision? What strategies can we employ to better serve our most valuable asset, our staff? 


Set expectations for behavior, responsiveness, and performance. With contributions from all staff, define and articulate your library’s cultural values. Post these values in your workrooms, share it online, and make it as much a part of your identity as your mission and vision. Develop clear measures of quality and success; share that information with all stakeholders, and lead by example.The first thing that a leader can do to foster a productive and supportive office culture is to listen to one’s staff. Trust is established and teams are built when the entire organization feels valued in their daily contributions. When we acknowledge that leadership exists at every level of the organization, we become more responsive to our customers and more responsible with our resources. Inspire shared accountability for the organization’s success by demonstrating mutual respect, promoting active listening, managing emotional responses, recognizing team contributions, and welcoming feedback.

Continuously listen to your customers (both internal and external). Analyze your core services and their fulfillment. Study statistical and trending data about your community, collections, and services, and align your efforts accordingly. Advocate for your organization’s strengths. 


Support efforts to cross-train one another or trade roles for a day. Provide role reinforcement and articulate essential job duties through succession planning. Empower and deploy staff to their highest and best purpose through delegation of tasks. Make better use of volunteers. Create a wish list of which roles and services you’d create and fulfill if money were no object.

Acknowledge when it’s time to discontinue projects or services that no longer deliver enduring value. Banish silos and challenge “we’ve always done it this way” thinking. Creating training documentation and transparent knowledge resources can help to identify unnecessary methods and procedures. Help make duties easier and more enjoyable to improve employee engagement. Recognize idle behaviors and strive to eliminate the root causes of office conflict.

“When we acknowledge that leadership exists at every level of the organization, we become more responsive to our customers and more responsible with our resources.”

  • Don’t just provide and respond to comment forms, conduct an employee opinion survey and bravely commit to addressing the Involve your staff in the process each step of the way. Tap into the tacit knowledge and diverse skill sets of your team to inspire creative solutions. Some of our most successful initiatives have been led by cross-departmental teams.
  • Foster a healthy work environment and promote the wellness of your Provide the tools necessary to do the job effectively and ensure employee comfort. One needn’t have a radically permissive telecommuting policy—it’s amazing how simply replacing that old toaster in the staff lounge can make a difference.
  • Cultivate professional competence and develop skills by providing meaningful training and continuing education Encourage sharing of information from development opportunities with all relevant stakeholders.
  • Strive to support a facilitative mind-set. Help to stretch your team’s perspective by establishing consistency and eliminating Make way for adaptive change. Encourage staff to visit other libraries, network, and build connections in the community and beyond.


Make time for fun. Celebrate your successes in a meaningful way. Share stories and outcomes of your team’s efforts to not only serve the public, but also one another. Recognize birthdays and work anniversaries. Acknowledging both dates underscores that you not only value the individual, but also their place on the team.

Consider giving each department a stipend for treats and decorations for a special goodie day throughout the year. Make a specific day of the week special so staff has something fun to look forward to—“casual” Fridays are just one of many creative options. Reinforce your commitment by promoting your values, recognizing each member of your team, and projecting the library’s fun image through your social media channels. 

There is opportunity in every connection we make to improve the way we serve one another and model our vision for the libraries we wish to become.

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