Tag Archives: Management

Are Cataloguing Departments experiencing the “Acceleration Trap”?

I read an interesting article in the April issue of the Harvard Business Review. The article, written by Heike Bruch and Jochen I. Menges introduced the idea of the “acceleration trap”, which is essentially departments, companies or organizations that take on more than they can handle. They:

“…increase the number and speed of their activities, raise performance goals, shorten innovation cycles, and introduce new management technologies and organizational systems.”

Having come across this description within the first paragraph of the article, my interest was peeked. I started to have an eerie feeling that they were describing a cataloguing department at any public library! While we can’t apply all of the characteristics of an acceleration trap to our cataloguing departments, there are some key issues that we face that resemble this business model “trap”.

According to Bruch and Menges, organizations (or in our case, departments) that are over-accelerated exhibit at least one of these three signs:

1. Employees are overloaded with too many activities, which results in a lack of time and/or resources to complete these activities.

2. Given the wide range of activities, employees cannot focus their expertise or time in one single area or on one single task, resulting in haphazard and unfocussed work. (I call this being a jack of all trades, but master of none.)

3. Employees are faced with ongoing, high performance projects that provide no “downtime” between projects. In essence, employees work in an environment that operates close to capacity limits, feeling constantly overloaded.

Hmmmm. Facing the retirements of experienced staff, the hiring of inexperienced staff (if the position isn’t eliminated altogether!), as well as budget shortages, old software/computers, and increasingly diverse collection and the ongoing threat of outsourcing…it appears that we have been experiencing an ongoing form of the acceleration trap in libraries for some time.

With the backlogs, increasing demands on our cataloguing staff and pressure from management, many of us have been asking our cataloguers what they need to increase productivity – including innovative ideas to cut corners and save time. In fact, some managers in cataloguing departments often stress getting the items out and circulating over actually cataloguing properly (or even uniformly). However, that’s a whole other blog post!!

In this article, there are several ideas for breaking free of the “acceleration trap” or, at least, ideas to help alleviate the stress and burnout that can result in a department due to these demands. You’ll find that many of the suggestions are ones that we have been implementing in our departments, due to necessity.

They include:
•Halting less important work
•Clearly outlining strategy
•Creating a system for identifying projects and how they will be completed
•Identifying the causes of the continuous demand for high-pace and energy intensive projects and indicating how and when these projects will end.

Here are two ideas/quotes from the article that we can all benefit from:

“If you demand that employees give you the same level of accelerated effort every day, month after month, their energy will fail and the company’s performance will suffer.”

“Regularly ask yourself, your managers, and the whole company: ‘Which of our current activities would we start now if they weren’t already under way?’ Then eliminate all the others.”

Bruch, Heike and Jochen I. Menges. “The Acceleration Trap”. Harvard Business Review. April 2010. (p. 80 – 86)


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Bridging the Gap between New Generation Librarians and Boomers

How do you view your new librarian? Would you have more faith in a librarian who is older but a recent graduate, or a younger librarian with a few years behind her?

Bridging the gap between the different generations of librarians is a difficult issue to tackle. No matter whom you ask, the finger tends to be pointed at the other party and often, the real problem is a lack of wanting to compromise on opinions and ideas. After all, the assumption is that “the problem certainly can’t be me!”

This concept of bridging the generational gap was first introduced to me at IFLA this past August. Since then, I have joined the New Professionals Special Interest group and have taken a considerable interest in this area of librarianship.

Are you a “boomer” or “new gener”? Where do your biases fall? Whether you’re a boomer or a new gener, biases work both ways. As a next gener, you don’t want to be looked at as a “wet-behind the ears you have so much to learn” librarian. But, as a boomer, you don’t want to be seen as a “washed-up, your career is over” librarian. So, how do we meet in the middle? And, how do these biases present themselves in the workplace?

I once heard a sermon where the priest reminded the older parishioners “that they weren’t born martyrs”. Basically, while you have lived a few more years and have life experience, you’ve had a chance to try out your ideas and to make your mistakes. It’s not up to you to judge the younger folks and their ideas. Obviously there was some sort of generational gap issues happening at that parish.

Personalities, perceptions, insecurities and experience all play a role in dealing with these situations. For myself, whenever I feel slighted or pushed-aside because of my age, I set out to achieve something. I’m kind of an “I’ll show you” type of person. I’ve achieved some of my best accomplishments due to someone’s offhanded comment about my skills, my age or their lack of faith in my abilities. You could say that’s my “RED” button – danger, do not go there!

However, other individuals withdraw, ceasing to take advantage of opportunities that are presented, severing professional relationships or declining to contribute new and innovative ideas. In some cases, these professionals might never recover or reach their full potential. That is a shame and a problem.

Here are some simple facts (as I see them) about generational gaps and bridging them:
Age. No one wants to be reminded how old they are and no one wants to be reminded how young they are.

Frequent reminder of age. While an occasional comment meant to lighten the mood regarding age might be regarded as funny once, continual comments about age serve as a reminder to that individual that they are either a.) Older and perhaps their knowledge and ideas are outdated or b.) Younger and their ideas are not developed or worthy of consideration. Either way, it’s a put down and it’s inappropriate.

Acknowledge that a gap exists. This is not a new concept and can be found in workplaces, organizations, clubs, teams, social groups and so on.

Gaps occur in experience as well as age. There are new professionals who are 50 and more experienced professionals who are 40. Taking pains to point out levels of experience or exhibiting actions to create “barriers” is just as much of a gap as the age factor.

Perceptions and Insecurities. Believe it or not, your job can be done without you. You are replaceable. This goes for boomers and next geners. While there is only one you (and of course you’re special!) your job requires someone with a skill set – and we all learn this skill set when we go to library school. If you have the opportunity to work with a rising star, don’t feel threatened by their potential, nurture it. If you’re a next gener and you have the opportunity to work with a talented and energetic boomer, don’t make remarks about taking their job or stressing how you would do things differently if you were them. Learn from each other.

Arrogance, insecurity, self-preservation, jealousy and envy are all at play here. An off-handed comment, your own insecurity about your age or even doubt about your skills are all it takes to create a gap.

Respect and compromise. While there will always be a gap among the generations, there are ways to take advantage of it. Rely on boomers for their experience, knowledge and expertise. Rely on next geners for their enthusiasm, ideas, energy and drive. In essence, it is a great partnership because the gap provides qualities that complement each other.

One thing I’ve come to understand as a librarian working primarily with “boomers” is that a generation gap will always exist. I haven’t lived as long nor do I have the perceived life experience. I have my own experiences, perhaps more than some for my age, and a satisfactory list of professional accomplishments (with hopefully more to come!). I also do not apologize for my age any more than I expect my co-workers to apologize for theirs. I don’t want to be older, I don’t want to rush forward to get past this gap. And perhaps, this is where the gap is finally bridged – in an acceptance of where we are at in our careers and our lives. This comes from within and, as professionals it is our responsibility to attempt to achieve this.

Related Posts
Talking about management to new professionals

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Qualities of Successful Managers

The Palinet Leadership Network recently posted a new article, Qualities of Successful Managers.  Part of the article consists of one of my earlier blog posts, Talking about Management to New Library Professionals.   The remainder of the article features additional bloggers and their posts, discussing management and leadership. 

This is a timely article, given that graduation is right around the corner and there will soon be a flood of new professionals looking for opportunities and learning experiences.  As leaders in the profession, will you choose to help them? Mentor them?  We are, after all, responsible for shaping the next generation of librarians. 

I am extremely fortunate in my current position.  As a relatively new professional, I have outstanding managers.  They continue to provide me with opportunities and encourage projects and ideas.  As a result, I have become a better manager.  I have also seen managers in the opposite extreme – professionals who are published and well-known but lack the desire to encourage and foster an environment for professional development opportunities and ideas.  What type of manager (what type of LEADER) are you?

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Talking about management to new professionals

Several weeks ago I was invited to speak to the management class at Dalhousie University’s School of Information Management (SIM). This was my first speaking engagement as a professional librarian and I was honoured to be asked.

Although eager to speak to a group of new professionals about management, I wondered what advice and anecdotes I had to offer. Should I talk about professional conduct? Presenting yourself as a professional (even when you look 20!)? Managing staff as old, if not older, than your parents? How to go about gaining the trust and respect of your staff when you’re still learning and they’ve been in the field for years? What about making management decisions that aren’t popular?

How can I share what I’ve learned in 15 minutes? I wanted to highlight the most valuable lessons that I’ve learned as a new professional and provide the class with concrete examples. I also wanted to create a dialogue that the students would feel comfortable pursuing further.

Dr. Fiona Black, the Director of SIM, provided some guideline questions to all the guest speakers which assisted in shaping my talk.

1. What type of changes have you witnessed in organizations since you began your professional career and how have you been involved in “change management”?

2. If there is one thing about management you would emphasize to a new professional, what would it be?

3. How do you motivate your colleagues (now or in past positions) around learning new things?

4. How do you (personally) demonstrate accountability within your organization?

Using these questions as the foundation for my talk, I stressed the following points:

Always appear confident (or as I like to say, “fake it”)

Acknowledge what you don’t know.

Give credit where it’s due.

Praise your staff.

Be willing to learn from the ground up.

A first impression is vital, but so is maintaining a day-to-day professional appearance.

Graduating doesn’t mean that your professional development is over, it’s just beginning.

Respect your staff. An MLIS doesn’t give you the right to talk down to anyone – EVER.

Lead by example.

Be fair and be honest. Don’t expect your staff to do anything you aren’t willing to do.

Let your actions and achievements represent your commitment to the profession. If you don’t have library experience, or very little experience, look for opportunities. Volunteer to write book reviews for publication, join committees and become involved.

Perhaps I have a stronger desire to participate in the shaping and education of new professionals because it hasn’t been too long since I was in the classroom. But I think it is the responsibility of all professionals to take a hand in educating and mentoring young professionals. How will they learn the necessary lessons and skills without us?

Classroom perception of the profession and reality of the day-to-day requirements of the profession are all part of a new professional’s education. One of the best kept secrets that I realized early on is that new professionals and those professionals in the twilight of their career are not so very different. While more mature professionals have experience under their belt, twinges of anxiety still creep up when writing a report or making a major management decision. We don’t always know everything, even though we learn how to look like we do. And, all of us want to make a difference in the profession in some way.

In my limited experience, I have found that emphasizing the similarities between new professionals and mature professionals bridges the gap and takes away some of the fear of inadequacy young professionals face when starting their careers. It also opens the door for opportunities; opportunities for collaborating, mentoring and creating. Young professionals have incredible ideas but mature professionals know the rules and the processes. Long-standing professionals have the knowledge and young professionals have the drive. We all have a lot to learn from each other.

As information professionals, we’re all about access to information. Why aren’t more of us improving access between students and current professionals? We, as professionals, are the information that students need. We are the resources. Let’s work on the access. I urge all of you to get involved in your area information school programs – both at the college and university levels. Become a mentor or host a student. There are so many ways we can participate.


Filed under Our Profession, Professional Ethics