CIL : Social Awkwardness at Computers in Libraries Conference

I am at my first library conference in several years.  I’m always amazed at the challenge conferences present to my social skills.  I  like to think of myself as outgoing and assertive.  These conferences  give me a chance to rethink these beliefs.  I realize something about myself:  I’ll basically talk to anyone.  I can hold a conversation with anyone about anything and feel comfortable.  However, I feel quite uncomfortable about the approach.  I always do better when approached as opposed to doing the approaching.

Maybe I should set a goal of meeting 3 or more people during the next 2 days.  I am here with a colleague; but, I see people who are obviously traveling solo.   Would they like it if they were invited to dinner?  Or if I sidled up to them and talked techie shop?  I’m always curious about these opportunities for human interaction that come so easy to some and are so difficult for others.  I imagine that there are folks that come to these conferences alone and never really interact with any strangers.  Isn’t part of the purpose of these conferences networking with our peers.

I have never really been a good networker and I wonder how my career has been effected by this weakness.

Since I have been out of the library field for 3 years while I recovered from a scooter accident, and I am recently returned; I have really been evaluating my career trajectory.  What parts of librarianship are important to me?  What parts of being a librarian offer me the most fun and flexibility?  What is my niche?  I’m a techie but not devoted.  I’m more of a curious and practical geek:  is it cool?  How will it make my life easier?  How will our customers use it?  How can we use it to reach customers?  That pretty much sums up my filter.  So, where do I fit now?

I know that my love of librarianship has a lot do with serving the public.  Just the existence of this blog will give a clue as to the direction of my interests.  Before my accident, a friend and I were conspiring about how I could find a job that I loved.  I was working part time at a large library system and was bored and rarely challenged.  I remember so clearly what I said:  I need to feel challenged.  I need responsibility.  I need opportunity to spread joy.

I have friends who don’t use their public libraries because they claim that the librarians and/or circulation staff are unpleasant, mean people.  I find this hard to believe; but, then they relay stories to me about incidents they experienced or witnessed.  It is these discussions that prompted me to think:  for some people are we as painful as the DMV?  are we as unpleasant an experience as the Post Office can sometimes be?  What are we doing wrong that members of the reading public don’t want to go to the library?

This is why I started Civil Civil Servant.  I want to address the simplest, cheapest thing we can do:  be nicer.  Of course this is a simplistic answer; but, Civil Civil Servant is going to explore the nature of “be nicer” and how we can manifest and create an atmosphere that pulls people in instead of repelling them away; how we can create an atmosphere where staff are happy and that spreads to the customer.  Putting the civil back in civil servant.

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Yes! Yes! Yes! I Want to Help You.

photo: Michelle Thompson

photo: Michelle Thompson

Seth Godin had a blog post a little while back about saying yes to customers that has stuck with me.

In my post about coffee in the library, my frustration really boils down to us saying, “No” and possibly alienating our customers when it’s completely reasonable  to say “Yes” and meet their needs.

I think that government and nonprofit services can be guilty of this because our customers are not buying anything.  There is no sales profit.  It is easy to fall back on old procedures and rules when we should be rethinking and reevaluating rules and procedures regularly to see if we are at a place where we can turn a no into a yes.

I love that Seth refers to this as looking for an opportunity to say yes. We should always be on the look out for these opportunities.   There are so many reasons to do this.  For one, we need to keep innovating and changing to survive.  It doesn’ t matter if you are a library or a DMV clerk, if your service becomes irrelevant you will not survive change.  Another reason to look for opportunities to say yes, is that usually this will involve problem solving and not only is that fun; but, it could also provide you with an opportunity to network with colleagues which is always good.

The most important reason goes back to our missions.  We are here to provide a service and we should be continually improving in order to provide the best service possible.  If an obstacle to excellent service can be removed, even if it requires time, labor, consensus to do so, it should be removed.

Can I bring my coffee in here?  Yes.  Can I register for programs over the phone? Yes.   Can I print from my laptop? Yes.  Currently, of those three questions, at my library, you receive 2 No’s and a sometimes.  Clearly, we’d be providing better service to our patrons if we could say yes every time when asked one of those questions.

Start looking for opportunities to say yes.  It can only improve the relationship you have with your customers.  It feels good too.

Lesson in Snark: Meghan McCain Tells Right Wing Talk Show Host: Kiss my Fat Ass

It’s all over the wires.  I saw it here.  A quick synopsis if you’ve been on a trashy news boycott and missed it:  Meghan McCain is a political blogger for The Daily Beast and daughter of John McCain.  In a column on March 9th, she comments on Ann Coulter :

I find her offensive, radical, insulting, and confusing all at the same time. But no matter how much you or I disagree with her, the cult that follows Coulter cannot be denied.

If you haven’t read the whole column, you should.  She actually presents an interesting position about extremism within the Republican Party from a unique perspective, and a perspective we rarely get to hear.  The media love to show us the extremes from both parties because it’s more exciting and provocative.  Here is the daughter of a recent presidential candidate, a self proclaimed “new Republican” thoughtfully wondering aloud about the health of the Republican Party and the ideology she feels they need to leave behind.

Ann Coulter herself actually had no response which is slightly surprising.  It was right wing talk show Laura Ingraham who took the discourse to a new low when she said McCain was “just another Valley Girl gone awry.”  She then joked that McCain was rejected for inclusion on The Real World because she’s a “plus sized model.”  McCain responded on her blog:

Instead of intellectually debating our ideological differences about the future of the Republican Party, Ingraham resorted to making fun of my age and weight, in the fashion of the mean girls in high school.

Forgive me for cherry picking the most mature and thoughtful of her responses; but, go read the whole post here.  Her whole response is clearly thought out and raises some good points without stooping to snark.

But, it was her appearance on The View that has sparked the most web chit chat.  When left to providing an impromptu monologue on the incidents and without the ability to edit, McCain succinctly sums up with this gem:  Kiss My Fat Ass!

At first, I was a bit disappointed in this response; but, the longer I thought about it, the more I came to accept it.  For one, it does not attack anyone’s attributes, competencies or even ideologies.  It is borderline empowering and I’m pretty sure girls who love and accept their bodies are cheering heartily.

As a big, unapologetic Lefty, I disagree with Meghan McCain on most things (though Kudos to her for supporting Gay Marriage!); but, I welcome her voice to the political conversation.  Rachel Maddow has already proven that you can be wildly successful without having to resort to yelling and mean spirited, snarkish commentary.  I urge Ms. McCain to leave the ass kissing behind and continue with her thoughful musings.

I have an odd track record at the last couple of libraries I’ve worked at, of befriending the person on staff who I have large, serious ideological differences with.  At one of my jobs, I teamed up with a gentleman who was my age, straight and married, and deeply religious and conservative.  On so many levels, there were a myriad of opportunities for us to not only dislike one another; but, to keep our interactions to the bare minimum.  Yet, he and I forged a friendship and I know that more than one coworker called us The Odd Couple because there was nothing that could be seen that would bring us together as friends.  But, we were friends.  And it was easy to be his friend.

We found common ground: love of vintage clothes…it probably helped that I tend to like old men cardigans!…and mid century modern design.  Every summer, he and 3 of his friends would fly to another city to watch a baseball game and go to museums, eat good food and basically have a boy’s weekend away.  I loved hearing about his trips and on a couple of occasions I gave him advice about fun things to do in a couple cities.  I was given one of the greatest compliments when he said that if one of the guys ever dropped out he’d want me to join in.    Clearly, the logistics of this probably wouldn’t work; but, that he shared that feeling with me, to this day makes me smile.

I was enriched by my friendship with him and I would have missed out on this awesome human connection had either one of us written the other off purely because we were soooo different.  He accepted me just as I am: queer, leftist, opinionated, Buddhist and I accepted him without judgement.

What would happen to us if we removed snark?  What would happen to us if instead of fighting with put downs and exaggerations, we stuck to intelligent dialogue?  What would happen if the airwaves were filled with thoughtful, skilled debaters on both sides of an argument?

No one is going to listen to you if you are mean.  You can still be critical; but, delivery is everything.