Today I was working on a presentation, and I realized I needed some more information. After a quick check of the online catalog and a brief browse of the stacks, I turned up 8 books on the topic I was researching. This took me less than 15 minutes.

Despite the committee meetings, the endless complaining about lack of resources, and all of the planning that seems to go nowhere, working in a library does make me happy.


On Fridays I will post some random things that make me happy and might make you happy too:

  • Blog: decor8–Nothing to do with libraries or happiness research but full of beautiful pictures that will inspire you to make your surroundings a little more beautiful, and I’m sure that will make you happier.
  • Book: The Thirteenth Tale–My husband bought me this book for Christmas. I’m glad he did. “Settle down to enjoy a rousing good ghost story with Diane Setterfield’s debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale. Setterfield has rejuvenated the genre with this closely plotted, clever foray into a world of secrets, confused identities, lies, and half-truths. She never cheats by pulling a rabbit out of a hat; this atmospheric story hangs together perfectly.”
  • Music: Beirut–Someone (I forget who) mentioned this band on a blog. It combines elements of Eastern European and folk songs. You can listen to the band for free at their Web site. I would like to know why the band, which I guess is really just one guy, is called Beirut, though.
  • TV: Lost–I’m so excited that Lost is back. Check out Sawyer’s nickname generator, so you can get your own nickname from the TV hunk. Although I really prefer Jack!
  • Movie: U23D–My husband made me go see this. But it was actually pretty fun. The 3D is pretty freaky; you feel like you’re actually close enough to touch Bono and The Edge. But it’s also just a really good concert movie and after awhile you sort of forget about the 3D (except for the Bono-like glasses you are wearing.)

Hope you all have a great weekend.

I read an interesting post at ACRLlog called Dissin’ the Director. The blogger made some points about what library directors and library staff could try to do to get along a little better. I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a good library director. It seems like sort of an impossible job, and I do think that the staff of most libraries don’t really understand what the job entails.

The blogger asked the question “Are we experiencing an unprecendented wave of out-of-touch, incompetent and power hungry library directors or are frontline library workers increasingly less respectful of the library administration than in the past?” I started thinking about this question again when I heard Chris Matthews, a political commentator, (yes, I’m obsessed with the presidential primary race) say that Hillary Clinton was losing because she had applied for George W. Bush’s job and the voters are not interested in someone new (even someone much more competent) as the President, they are interested in having a totally new job description for the position. Therefore, Clinton’s argument that she’s the candidate with the better resume is not carrying a lot of weight with the voters.

We can certainly argue whether or not that is an accurate assessment of the political climate, but I’m willing to say that he has a point. And I wonder if something like that is going on in libraries. Libraries, like the country, are living in a time of huge change. Because of the Internet and companies that have taken advantage of its capabilities, libraries now have a lot of competition in providing information to users. In order to compete and better serve our users, libraries need make some really big changes. It is possible that a lot of library directors are quite good at the traditional library director job. But maybe it’s time to rethink the position. I’m sure some libraries have already done this, but maybe ACRL should put together a group to make sure that library director position descriptions are really keeping up with the times.

This week I am working on a presentation for a women’s leadership conference on campus. The conference is pretty small, and the audience will probably just be people from our campus. But I decided to submit a proposal because it has been awhile since I’ve done a professional presentation.

For both professional and personal reasons I have not been actively doing presentations or research for quite a few years. I think now is a good time for me to get back in the saddle.

This is definitely not a requirement for my job, so why bother creating extra work for myself by presenting at a conference? I’ve been asking myself this very question!

As librarians, we are often in a gray area when it comes to presentations and publications. Teaching faculty don’t really have this dilemma. It’s publish or perish for them. But requirements for librarians seem to vary greatly between institutions, and I think sometime it’s not even clear within the institution exactly what the expectations are. But the requirements for my position are quite clear. I am a professional staff member, not a librarian (although I do have an MLS), so I don’t really have to do anything except show up from 8 to 5 and do my work.

So the first answer to why I am pushing myself to work on presentations and eventually write some articles is so I can get another job someday. That seems pretty obvious. But I also think that presenting at a conference will do long-term things that will make me happier at work (even if I have to go through the short-term aggravation of preparing for the presentation). One, I will get to learn something new. I am not presenting on something I am already an expert on. I’m presenting on something that I know a little bit about, but because of the presentation I am going to need to learn a lot more so that I don’t make a full of myself. Learning new things definitely makes me happy, and I think that is true for most people. Two, I will get to meet new people. Some people call this networking. But for an introvert like me, the word networking makes my skin crawl. So I prefer to think of it as relationship-building (I guess that’s better). But I’m sure that by attending and participating in this conference I will meet some like-minded people, hear about some interesting stuff, and get enthused (at least for a little while).

If you have to give presentations, check out the great Presentation Zen blog.

Libraries and librarians spend a lot of time being worried about or mad at Google. For librarians Google has become synonymous with all that is wrong with the way non-librarians interact with information. Google allows people to be lazy. It gives them information that is quick and dirty, not complete and authoritative. It allows people to bypass libraries and librarians completely.

At the same time, most of us are aware that Google (the search engine) is a useful tool. One that we use all of the time. And more and more we use Google Scholar and Google Books to do the types of searching that we just can’t do anywhere else. (It’s a long sad story to explain why we pay vendors for products that are so much less uesful than what Google provides for free.)

Anyway, to add insult to injury, we now know that people working at Google are also pretty happy, at least according to Forbes magazine. For the 2nd year, Forbes magazine lists Google as the best company to work for. There is a great video on the Forbes Web site that shows an example of why Google is a good place to work. At Google, employees are encouraged to try new things and to work one day a week on a project of their own choosing. The employee in the video started out as an assistant to one of the Google founders but became, on her own initiative, the head of its green technologies group.

Now compare this to how most libraries work. Is there flexibility? Are we encouraged to try new things and to branch out into new areas?

Obviously, not all libraries are the same, but I would say that there are a lot of ways in which libraries can allow for flexibility in work activities. Many librarians have become involved in areas that they never imagined when they were going through library school. Blended librarians are librarians who deal with instructional design. A lot of librarians are more heavily focused on technology and Web design than answering reference questions or cataloging books. Personally, my current job doesn’t even have “librarian” in the title. My focus is on marketing and fundraising for the libraries, so I definitely have the opportunity at my institution to develop new skills and follow new interests.

But, unfortunately, I don’t think that libraries do always take full advantage of some of the Google ideas of being flexible and trying new ideas to get things done. And I think it can make for some burnt-out librarians and library staff. I’ve been in a couple of meetings in the past few weeks in which lower-level librarians and support staff got excited about some idea or some new process but then everyone just says “oh well” because it doesn’t fit into the ideas of the library management team (or the ideas are never even communicated up the chain of command because everyone thinks they know what the response will be).

A lot of research shows that people need meaningful work in order to be happy. It also shows that meaningful work can vary a lot from person to person. I think libraries could probably kill two birds with one stone, create happier employees and encourage more innovation, by taking yet another cue from Google and emulating some of their workplace ideas.

Wellness at Work

February 1, 2008

This week I’ve been involved in a couple of “wellness” activities that are sponsored by my workplace. My workplace (besides being a library) is a large research university and despite employing a huge number of progressive people is a surprisingly unprogressive place. So it’s pretty exciting to me that they are making a big push to promote wellness for employees. They are emphasizing physical activity, nutrition, stress reduction, and smoking cessation.

As part of the stress reduction component, meditation sessions are being offered at various locations throughout the campus. I went to one on Monday, and I liked it so much that I went again on Wednesday. I hope to do some more research about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and post on that in the future.

On Tuesday, I went to a luncheon for Wellness Ambassadors–volunteers, like me, who agreed to help get the message out about wellness on campus. It was a lot fun. We got free pedometers, learned about a lot of cool things going on, and I even ended up talking to the wife of the University Chancellor. She wants to start lunch time dances!

It is interesting to think about why a workplace would be interested in the wellness of its employees. They did not get into this at the luncheon, but I am sure there was a lot of talk by the higher ups about retention of employees and cost savings when employees aren’t out sick. They did mention that we have a responsibility to take care of ourselves because it affects others, such as our family and friends. I don’t think it’s too big of a stretch to say that the wellness of the library employees could affect the library users.

And that gets me to another idea about wellness and about happiness, it may seem like it’s selfish for me to think so much about my own well-being. But I really don’t think that’s true. Gretchen Rubin who blogs at The Happiness Project explained it best in an interview she gave at Dark Party Review:

Striving for happiness may appear to be a selfish goal, but it’s not.

Studies repeatedly demonstrate that happy people are generally more sociable, creative, forgiving, and tolerant of frustration than unhappy people, while unhappy people are more often withdrawn, brooding, and antagonistic. Happy people tend to be more responsible to others and to maintain relationships better. They’re more confident, optimistic, energetic, and likable, and they tend to be more successful in their personal lives and at work. They do more volunteer work and give more to charity. They’re healthier. They commit fewer crimes. When people are in a good mood, they think more clearly and are more open to new ideas. Although depressed people are more vigilant against making mistakes, people think more flexibly and with more complexity when they’re in good moods.

Just think? What if you were surrounded by happy people at work? What if our users came to the library and always (or almost always) encountered happy staff? It seems pretty obvious that focusing on happiness and wellness at work can lead to better serving our users. Not so selfish after all.

Happiness Research?

January 31, 2008

In my first post, I mentioned my interest in happiness research. That may not be a concept with which too many people are familiar. A few months ago I started stumbling across all of these references to happiness research or positive psychology, basically academic research that tries to explain who is happy and why. Probably the expert on positive psychology is Dr. Martin Seligman. He has a great Web site that has all sorts of questionnaires and resources about finding “authentic happiness.” This may sound new-agey to some of you, but Dr. Seligman is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and was the president of the American Psychological Association. Another Ivy League expert on the subject is Tal Ben-Shahar, who teaches “Positive Psychology” at Harvard. (They, of course, both have books, which I read. Seligman’s is called Authentic Happiness and Ben-Shahar’s is Happier. I would recommend Ben-Shahar’s as a good starting place, although they are both good.)

Anyway, I started reading everything I could get my hands on about this topic of happiness, and I have become sort of obsessed with the idea.

Of course, we all want to be happy ourselves, and it turns our that there are some pretty specific things we can do (or try to do) to make that happen even if our personalities do hamper (or help) us in our quests. But what about our workplaces, and in my case, what about libraries? What can we do to make them happy places? I don’t know. But I’m willing to do a little investigation, and I hope some other people may be interested too.

I decided to start this blog to combine a personal interest with my professional interests. My personal interest is research about happiness and my professional interests are libraries, marketing, and fundraising.

It’s not always that fun to work in a library. We don’t have enough money, enough staff, enough time to keep up with the technology that threatens to overtake us. And we definitely feel unappreciated since supposedly everything can be found on Google. (I guess some people think that Google is the Internet. I guess Yahoo and Google are the Internets.) Plus, there’s that shushing, bun-wearing stereotype that we just can’t shake, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. Check out the NY Times article, “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers.”

So this blog will focus on what is good about working at libraries and how we can make them happier places to work, to study, to do research, and (don’t tell anybody about this part) to have fun.

I hope some of you will join me in this endeavor. I would love to hear what other librarians and library lovers (and maybe even some non-library lovers) have to say about what makes them happy and how we can incorporate a little more happiness into our libraries.