This week we had a soft launch for our new internal WordPress blog, running on the P2 theme. I’m hoping it will be a better way to get our local knowledge out of our inboxes and on the web so that all public service workers, even students, will have access to the same information.
An internal blog is nothing new to us, having used for a while in 2005. We moved from a WordPress blog a year later to a MediaWiki wiki because at the time, the wiki offered better organization of content. Our departmental wiki later merged with an organization-wide wiki, and now it’s incredibly hard to find the content that is relevant for our department. The wiki has grown too big for our department to use effectively, resulting in our searches returning false drops of someone else’s content.
Another problem with the wiki is that there isn’t a good way to view the most recent content. In a public service environment, we need to let communicate among our staff about printing outages, tough research assignments (with links to resources), workarounds for tech/computer issues, etc. In our big organizational wiki, the current issues get lost in the mix of archives of staff meeting minutes, cataloging procedures, and internal policy documents.
Therefore, we’ve started to blog again like it’s 2005. We’re using WordPress again, but any blogger knows that the platform has come a long way in decade. To make it easier for our staff and students to post, read, and comment, we are using the P2 Theme, which allows you to post and comment directly on the home page. Users don’t have to visit the admin page within the blog to add content, which will hopefully make it a lot easier for all staff to participate in the conversation.
A quick overview of the P2 theme is shown in the video below.
Also, Beau Lebens of WordPress.com explains the evolution of P2 and the future of O2. It’s really neat to hear how the folks at Automattic use P2 for 80% of their communication. Email is almost forbidden and highly frowned upon within the organization.
Update 4/13/20: The COVID-19 Pandemic has lots of librarians working remotely, driving some renewed interest in this post that I originally wrote in 2013. Sadly many of the links below have expired in the last 7 years, but hopefully the annotations will still be useful to you. I will try to update this post with some new links, or perhaps write a new post. In the meantime, one of my favorite books on the topic of remote work is free via Amazon Kindle. Stay well!
In addition to being a library manager, I’m a father who has to make (and often coach) the after-work basketball, soccer, and baseball practices, who has to lead the Cub Scout den meeting, and who has to occasionally stay home with a sick kid. Like many professional librarians, this means that I often do work outside the “normal” 8-5, Monday thru Friday schedule. In some cases the work outside the traditional workday is a means to stay ahead, in other cases it’s a way to make up for lost time.
I have a great office environment and I love to go to work each day. In our office suite — a cubicle environment housing me(in an office, with a door that rarely closes) and ten other staff members –I get great ideas, energy, and motivation from the colleagues around me. I really enjoy the conversations we have – some work related, some not – and appreciate our camaraderie. However, there are times when I love to just kick back in my recliner with my laptop, a cup of coffee, and my favorite pair of sweatpants, and really focus on a project (or my inbox). At other times I have done work in a different environment, sipping a hot beverage while mooching the wifi in one of our many coffee shops about town.
I’m a believer in giving my staff the resources they need to do their best work, and giving them the spaces and time to accomplish their tasks. In addition to reading some books on the topic of work, I looked around the library web/blogosphere to see what librarians have written on the topic. Below are some of the best articles and posts covering teleworking, working from home, and flexible work schedules/environments in libraries.
At a time when we’re looking at reduced staffing in libraries, reduced salaries, reduced benefits, and reduced morale, it might be a good time to ask your boss about telecommuting (working from home) opportunities. Maybe your union could concede a 5% pay cut if every staff member gets two telecommuting days per month. Maybe you agree to a transfer or a reduction in health care if you get to work from home a half-day each week. I can tell you from experience that telecommuting is a positive thing: for both the employee and the employer.
It also happens that I hear from a variety of librarians that they work for library administrators who don’t “like” or “approve” or “support” working from locations other than the libraries.
To which I say, “Why not?”
In my experience, offering library staff the freedom to intermittently do their work in the way they see fit isn’t a detriment to productivity, to collegiality, to collaboration, or to accountability. On the flipside, forcing attendance at the library can result in more paid time off being used, in lowered productivity from people who could have been more effective in a different environment, and some serious crushing of morale when the administration is perceived as being inflexible and unsympathetic.
Telework involves the relocation of an employee’s work site to his/her home or alternative work site on a scheduled basis utilizing telecommunications and computer technology. Telework is intended to enhance employee productivity, creativity, and satisfaction through a mutually agreeable work arrangement between the employee and the University Libraries. Telework involves a formal agreement for a set period of time as approved by the supervisor, division head, and the appropriate Associate Dean or Director.
On occasion, a staff member may, with the approval of the supervisor, work at home but this short-term or ad hoc change of workstation is not covered by these guidelines.
At the time of writing I am recovering from a recent operation on my foot and am housebound. Because I am no longer a frontline librarian but a manager and thanks to technology, this does not preclude me from most of my duties – the most obvious being that I’m not attending face to face meetings at the moment. Even so, Skype also allows a restricted version of that too. Thus, for most of the working day, I am sitting on the sofa, my right leg extended on a chair, laptop on lap, writing and responding to emails. Even a few years ago I’m not sure this would have been possible.
Traditionally, librarians have been tethered to a facility either because their public service role demands face-to-face interaction or because they work with materials housed in the building. As collection formats and service mechanisms change, however, librarians may be poised to take advantage of more flexible scheduling arrangements. In Spring 2007, I embarked on a six-month telecommuting experiment between Washington, D.C. and Logan, Utah that proved to me that most of my daily responsibilities are perfectly compatible with a more flexible work arrangement.
Many library services and jobs are almost completely virtual and some libraries are completely virtual now. I don’t mean to say that I think physical libraries will disappear. I think they will continue to thrive, since they provide so many wonderful services to their communities. Working virtually is just another option that some of us may want to try at different times in our lives.
Not all employees or positions are right for telecommuting, but for those that are, libraries can gain advantages by opening up a telecommute option. Such flexibility may be key for recruiting and retaining employees whose specialized skills are difficult to replace. Library employees who negotiate a formal telecommute agreement may find more job satisfaction and be less likely to seek out other employment. For both libraries and library employees, then, here are four factors to consider when considering telecommuting.
While not everyone has the liberty to do this, some kinds of tasks or positions are more suitable for telecommuting than others—generally tasks/positions that require little or no contact with the public, like cataloging, indexing, working on websites or the library’s intranet, developing user aids, virtual reference, and writing reports. However, even reference librarians might have time scheduled off the desk, which could be used for telecommuting.
Automattic, the company that owns WordPress.com, is an interesting study in organizational culture, hierarchy, and work. The Year Without Pants, a book I’m currently reading and learning a lot from, shows the inner workings of this very different (and very cool) company. In the book’s pages, I picked up on the WordPress creed, which can also be found on Matt Mullenweg’s blog. Looking at this from a library manager’s point of view, there’s a lot we can steal from those words.
I will never stop learning. I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me. I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers. I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything. I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company. I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day. Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.
I will never stop learning.
We should cultivate a culture of continuous learning whereby employees have access to exploration and experimentation, readings, webinars, conferences, professional development, and lively discussion with colleagues.
I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me.
We should empower employees to work beyond their comfort zone and encourage work with colleagues outside their department.
I know there’s no such thing as a status quo.
We need to know that change is always on the horizon, and we should do our best to welcome (and encourage) change, while also helping employees adapt to change.
I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers.
Libraries have to be a customer-focused business in order to remain relevant. Our strength these days is not necessarily in our resources, but in how we care about our communities. The people who use our libraries are our biggest advocates, so we must be passionate about listening to our patrons to understand their needs.
I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything.
There actually is an “I” in Library, but still. Good teams get things done. Bad ones just get in the way.
I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation.
Libraries are one of the most powerful ideas of any generation. What we do is for the common good, to educate, to make the world a better place. No one gets rich being a librarian, but they reap their rewards in other ways.
I will communicate as much as possible, because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company.
Communication with colleagues, patrons, peers, neighbors, customers, vendors, IT support, library boards, politicians, stakeholders, etc. is an essential function of our profession. We need to make sure our staff are good at talking and writing.
I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day.
It’s not a sprint, but that doesn’t mean you should dawdle either. Our profession continues to change rapidly, and if you aren’t at least moving, you’ll be left behind.
Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.
In libraries, no problems are insurmountable given enough time, staff, or money. Unfortunately, we don’t often have enough of either, so we have to get good at improvising and solving problems with creative solutions.
Worth counting too is the number of days you spend emailing someone who only sits three desks away. People go to the office all the time and act as though they are working remotely: emailing, instant messaging, secluding themselves to get work done. At the end of the day, was it really worth coming to the office for it? (my thoughts: very good question!)
Look around inside your company and notice what work already happens on the outside, or with minimal face-to-face interaction. You my be surprised to discover that your company is more remote than you think.
Of the three meetings that I have had today, two of them might have been somewhat easy to do remotely via Skype, WebEx, or Google Hangouts. Other than the three meetings, I’ve spent the bulk of my day responding and sending emails (yes, to folks three desks away) as well as reading/researching in library literature. I would bet that the solo tasks of reading and emailing could have been a bit more productive without the occasional office interruptions, though I would have missed the side conversations and the ability to interrupt/talk-to others.
If you’re one of the 3 readers of this blog, you may have noticed that the content of this blog has shifted quite a bit over the past year. When I wrote the “About” section of Library Voice three years ago, I said the following:
My primary purpose for this blog is to keep current with issues and changes in the library environment. As a Reference & Instruction Librarian, web manager, and Business & Economics Bibliographer, my interests (and job duties) tend to be all over the map. As such, the writings of this blog may cover a lot of different areas as well. Technology, reference and instruction, library budgets, even my own guitar playing (although not very good) may be discussed in this blog.
Over the years I’ve mostly written about libraries and technology, as evidenced by the categories of posts on my blog. However, like many folks, I’ve started losing interest in simply limiting my blogging to library issues. There’s quite a few library blogs out there now, so it seems that many of the topics are being covered pretty adequately. In looking at my blog statistics, it’s interesting to see that the most popular posts are generally not library-related. For example, there are posts that deal with resetting a Flip Mino, gaming, using the Plam Treo Browser effectively, and even Guitar Hero on South Park.
With the coming of spring, I’m getting really geared up for riding my bike. I’m trying to be better about logging my rides, and taking pictures or videos of the rides. One of the things I have contemplated the idea of just using this blog for library-related posts, and starting another blog for cycling-specific topics, and perhaps another for video blogging. The problem with three blogs is trying to figure out what content to post where. For example, if I take a video on a bike ride, would it go on the cycling blog or the video blog, or both? I’ve been trying the dual blog approach with a blog set up to write about cycling, but I’ve been ignoring it quite a bit. I’ve also found that I haven’t been giving this blog as much attention as I’d like to either. I know some librarians have one blog for library things, and another for other topics (knitting comes to mind for some reason). I don’t have enough time/content/ideas to keep two or more blogs running all the time, so, if I went the multiple-blog route, I probably would wind up having a bunch of dead blogs. However, with so excellent niche blogs out there, it is tempting to start a new blog for every single topic you’re interested in.
Several months ago I changed the tagline of this blog to say “Libraries, Tech, Games, and Bikes” to reflect the many topics that interest me, and started down the path moving this blog from a professional librarian blog to a more personal/professional blog that covers the topics in the tagline. I’ve probably shyed away from writing too much about bikes and games, mostly because the name of the blog is “Library Voice.” I’m going to be posting more content here that may not necessarily relate to Library things, but since I’ve got the domain name for another 2 years at least, I’m not likely to change the name anytime soon. I also have no idea what I’d change the name to, as ChadBoeninger.com sounds both boring and a little vain.
I suppose this is yet another example of how our professional and personal lives are merging. I’ve found that trying to keep the personal and professional separtate is too much work. In an effort to reduce that work while blogging more, Library Voice will now cover more of my personal interests as well as professional topics. If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, I hope you’ll stick around during this transition. Thanks for reading.