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Giving Thanks to the Library (and My Job)

book-pages-shaped-like-a-heartThis Thanksgiving, as per usual, I give thanks to my family, friends, health, the abundance of food on the table, and so on. Coming up on my one year anniversary working at the Morrill Memorial Library though, I feel particularly grateful for my new job. Not only have I come to adore my colleagues and thoroughly enjoy entering our majestic historic building every day, but the shift to public librarianship has rekindled my faith in the future of the beloved free public library in American culture.

No doubt, many residents of Norwood and beyond share my appreciation for the library’s variety of programming and services, from Musical Sundays to passport appointments, as well as the availability of bestsellers on their release dates, and our bend-over-backwards staff. It warms my heart to see crowds in the library daily, showing that libraries still thrive, even in the digital age.

My gratitude for these 11 months of employment at MML also extends to the health and well-being that comes from work/life balance, supportive administration, and a relative lack of workplace drama. Clearly no placement is perfect and employees will likely face some conflict in any position at any institution, but hopefully not enough to impact stress and anxiety levels, sleep, or eating patterns. Although many dive into the job market seeking higher pay or career advancement, surely plenty just anticipate feeling “happier” elsewhere. Happy staffers, however, don’t get that way without deliberate efforts of their bosses and colleagues.

As I gained experience in libraries and eventually found myself in supervisory positions, I decided to supplement my degree in Library Science (MLS) with another in Management (MSM). As a lover of learning and self-improvement, this seemed useful for a conflict-avoidant introvert charged with managing a department. Lessons in leadership proved invaluable to my career trajectory. As I reflect on a year of contentment in my new office, I give thanks to Peter Drucker, Jim Collins, Anita Roddick, and other pioneers from whom I gained inspiration.

I owe a debt of gratitude to some whose wisdom truly struck a chord and followed me to Norwood. I read Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, originally published in 1936. I expected to roll my eyes at outdated advice and the beginnings of an industry of smarmy self-improvement books on how to get ahead in the rat race. On the contrary, I found Carnegie refreshingly gentle and charming. Suggestions such as, “Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them,” and, to get the best of an argument, avoid it “as you would avoid rattlesnakes and earthquakes,” remain as timeless as the Golden Rule. As both a leader and a follower I try hard to listen, remain calm, and empathize with others. I know that when fellow workers treat me with such respect it makes my 8 hours a day quite pleasant, and I’d like to do the same.

I must recognize John Kotter, whose writings on change management prove especially useful these days given the breakneck speed of new technological developments. Not just for books anymore, libraries deal in e-books, databases, streaming video and more. We offer instruction and tutoring on “tech” of all kinds. Internally, our software for checking out items, ordering materials, booking appointments, etc. is in constant flux. Getting used to new technology comes with a learning curve. Kotter’s The Heart of Change serves as a useful manual for getting buy-in and communicating effectively to get teams excited about imminent changes, assuring positivity rather than behind-the-scenes grumbling.

The Morrill Memorial Library has a mostly female staff, as is common in the profession overall. Interpersonal harmony on the job stems from sensing others’ frames of reference and spotting pitfalls in communicating with one’s own gender as well as others’. In Pat Heim’s Hardball for Women she describes the risk of female coworkers turning on each other. She calls this the “power dead-even rule.” It refers to an unspoken “pact” that women who work together should retain steady and equal power levels. Everyone gets along fine until one member of the sisterhood advances, and suddenly the others (usually subconsciously) act resentful and undermine her success. Heim also urges men to refrain from criticizing women for being “emotional,” and women to see frankness as practical, not intimidating. Let’s hope that all too common relationship breakdowns never happen, but for now I thank all of the MML “library ladies,” for their support as I got up to speed this year.

My own pleasure-reading led to an unusual recommendation for lessons on leadership and fostering peace in the workplace. Amanda Palmer, iconic musician and crowdfunding pioneer, wrote The Art of Asking, an autobiographical piece subtitled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help.” While “asking” may sound like the opposite of “thanking,” both actually benefit the asker and thanker alike. Asking for help tells your peers, “We’re in this together. I trust you and recognize your talents.” The boss who bears the weight of the world on her shoulders makes “underlings” feel weak, whereas she who asks, empowers. Not only can asking make one’s own load lighter, but rather than burdening others it gives them a chance to shine. They could always say no, but chances are they’ll thank you for it.

Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks again to Norwood, the library, and all of my coworkers.

Lydia Sampson is the Technical Services Dept. Head at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the November 22, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Lydia Sampson

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