Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bright Ideas

In our library, we collect almost 40 different newspapers, from all over Oregon, in addition to the New York Times, the Seattle Times, and the Wall Street Journal. The retention varies for some, but we generally keep a year’s worth of papers in our stacks. These papers are stacked in piles on the outer wall of one of our tiers of stacks. Every month, it is necessary to weed the oldest issues. It is a rather exhausting task, especially when you have to lift up piles of heavy newspapers again and again to check the dates. Finding where the oldest month ends can be rather difficult, especially when each newspaper puts the issue date in a different area of the cover. It is almost as if newspaper businesses made a pact to keep things interesting for people in libraries! Personally, when I am completing a task that requires a lot of exertion, my mind constantly thinks of ways to make it easier. I thought, “What is the most difficult part of this?” Shifting the piles takes physical effort, but there is not a lot of struggling involved. Lifting stacks of issues over and over, however, can be very frustrating.

Then it hit me! Why not turn the newspapers sideways, alternating direction for each month? This would work with daily papers and those published less frequently. I would simply turn every four issues a different way for a weekly, every 30 or so for a monthly, etc. This made it much easier to grab the entire pile. Of course, I double check the issue date on the top and bottom, but I don’t have to “guess and check” to find where one month ends and the other one starts. Genius! Of course, I didn’t personally come up with this pile alternating procedure, as you see it with stacks of paperwork all the time. But the idea of applying it to the newspaper stacks did come to me (eventually…). So I am not trying to “toot my own horn” but simply to say, even if it takes a while to think of it, a good idea is still a good idea. And now, I often have someone else to do the big monthly weeding, so it is even easier for me (because I don’t have to do it very often!) Regardless, when I do perform this task, it will be much easier than it was before. Does anyone else have a bright idea that you or your organization have put into practice?

Jessica Rondema

Oregon State Library

Friday, April 2, 2010

Support for Professional Activities

In a recent post on this blog, SSD Past Chair Cathy Zgraggen solicits nominations for SSD officers for the coming membership year. In Library Journal's Paraprofessional of the Year award article , award winner Allison Sloan credits a former boss with encouraging her to become involved in the Massachusetts Library Association.

Unfortunately, the current economy may have created conditions in which may be difficult for support staff to participate in professional activities. Recently, some SSD members with an impressive history of involvement in the organization have been unable to continue that involvement. This makes me both sad and worried.

I certainly understand libraries are trying to do way more with considerably less these days, and that giving staff time off for professional activities can make it difficult to provide the service patrons expect and deserve.

I don't know if MLS librarians are having the same experience of no longer being supported in their professional activities. I'd like to think that it's spread over all levels of staff, but suspect that support staff are more likely to be effected.

I've been lucky to to have significant support from my library for my involvement in OLA. I know it has, at times, taken me away from my usual job duties for significant amounts of time. Yet I also know that I'm a better employee because of the opportunities for growth I've had by being involved in OLA and SSD.

There's no easy answer to this problem. But here are a few suggestions:

For managers: Make sure you're treating staff at all levels fairly regarding support for professional activities. Be flexible. Realize that your staff will have opportunities to learn and network, which will make them better employees.

For support staff: Make sure your boss and co-workers know how much time you may be spending on professional activities, and what you'll be doing. Be flexible. Be willing to do some professional activities on your own time.

Professional organizations like OLA depend on the participation of their members. Let's hope that we'll continue to receive the support we need to make that participation possible.