Reflections On a Year With RISWS, by Valerie Neylon

I’ve really seen a big change throughout this project! I started as a new librarian, and I was faced with a staff very resistant to change. Although, aren’t all staff resistant to change? I think that’s a normal thing.

And I came in ready to make changes. Big changes. I was not happy with the way the library had been running, specifically customer service, and I was hired on the condition of making those tough changes. I was not a department chair, just a full-time faculty member, but I had the support of the department chair to be a supervisor. I implemented a hands-on management technique, which was very new to the staff, and not very welcome at first. I checked in with the staff every day and asked how they were doing. I organized meetings that focused on ways to improve customer service. I let staff know what was allowed and what was not allowed (for example, cell phones are not allowed while you’re covering the circulation desk).  Over time, I started to see improvement. We’re far from perfect, but the school’s administration has acknowledged that there were no student complaints about the library this year!

We’re a unionized school. I’ve never worked in a unionized environment before. Now that I am, I sure did see both sides of the coin. When I implemented the weekly emails with the top challenges and accomplishments, I was faced with a grievance. The circulation staff said that this was not a duty outlined in their contract. Luckily, the grievance was decided in my favor, and the weekly emails continued.

At the beginning of the weekly reports, there were tons of challenges. And, we worked through them. We fixed a lot of things, and a lot of things, like the absence of IT support in the evenings, was something I was incapable of fixing. But we talked about these things as a team and had regularly scheduled meetings and went over these things. It got to the point where the staff started complaining that they couldn’t think of three challenges. Yippee! That means it worked! I’m not sure the staff all had the same level of excitement as I did, but generally I saw some smiles.

In fact, as we progressed, staff members would say to me during the day, “Hey! I found my accomplishment!” I cannot even begin to describe the change in attitude this was. These were staff members who seemed fully checked out, and now they were on board with accomplishments and being proud of what they did. One staff member even asked if they could start reporting accomplishments for co-workers, sort of a “giving a pat on the back” situation. This teamwork was new, and exciting.

I won’t say that it was all easy or all good. There are still times when I have a hard time motivating staff to do something, and there are still most definitely issues. But, I will say that the challenges have been easier to find and solve, and the staff felt they had a hand in that. And positivity erupted from it (but let’s be clear: positivity did not erupt everyday).

Overall, I feel much more confident about my skill as a manager. I was promoted to department chair in the middle of the RISWS project, so that makes me feel that other people feel confident in my management style, as well. I’ve learned quite a bit, and although there are still some day by day challenges that I’m not quite sure how to tackle, I feel better equipped to think about it.

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