Library Leadership

14. How to Engage Entry-Level Workers with Anthony Morris

Are you among those who started out in libraries accidentally? Many of us first discover librarianship through entry-level work only to find it is the perfect long-term career choice. That was certainly the case for Anthony Morris who we talk to on this episode of Library Leadership Podcast. 

Anthony published an article in the May/June 2018 edition of Public Libraries Magazine called, “Many Hands Make for Better Work: Enhancing the Library with Entry-Level Workers.” He shares ways that libraries can engage entry-level workers to utilize their unique talents while bringing great benefits to our organizations.

By listening, you will discover win-win ways to engage a person in library work that develops their passions and interests, while celebrating how many hands can lighten the work to make our libraries a success.

Transcript

This podcast is brought to you by the School of Library and Information Management from Emporia State University, where library leaders are created—with program sites in Kansas, Utah, Oregon, Colorado, and South Dakota. And, by the Park City Library, making film and podcasting possible with green screen, and sound recording resources.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Are you among those who started out in libraries accidentally? Many of us first discover librarianship through entry-level work only to find it is the perfect long-term career choice. I know that was the case for me, and that certainly was the case for Anthony Morris who we talk to on this episode of Library Leadership Podcast.

Anthony published an article in the May/June 2018 edition of Public Libraries Magazine called, Many Hands Make for Better Work: Enhancing the Library with Entry-Level Workers. He shares ways that libraries can engage entry-level workers to utilize their unique talents while bringing great benefits to our organizations.

By listening you will discover win-win ways to engage a person in library work that develops their passions and interests, while celebrating how many hands can lighten the work to make our libraries a success.

Today we’re here with Anthony Morris from the UVU Library. Hello, Anthony.

Anthony Morris:

Hello, Adriane. Thank you.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

So, great to have you here.

Anthony Morris:

I’m really excited to be here.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Well, you have a recent article in Public Libraries Magazine, and folks can find that in the May/June 2018 issue. It’s called, Many Hands Make for Better Work. Today we’re going to talk about enhancing the library with entry-level workers.

Thanks for writing the article. One thing that fascinated me about this is I started out as a page in a library, public library, many years ago. I didn’t plan to be a librarian, and yet here I am. I talked to so many leaders who find themselves in that same position. So, entry-level work in libraries is very important and sometimes we bring people into the field through this kind of work.

Anthony Morris:

It’s a big deal. My story’s actually very similar. One of my very first jobs was working at a public library as a page, and as a clerk. Doing a lot of the things, shelving the books, checking them in, looking for damage, shelf-reading the shelves—some of those very basic jobs that we get done. I did that for quite awhile. Later on when I was in college I actually worked for a vendor called Backstage Library Works. 

I was in the metadata department so I got to do cataloging, and working with records and books. With that first job in public libraries, even with that second job in library vendor I still didn’t know I wanted to be a librarian yet.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Yeah…

Anthony Morris:

Which is kind of funny, yeah. I was in college and just more, and more loving the academic experience. Thinking to myself, I love this environment. I love being around adult learners. Do I want to be a professor? I was looking in that direction and some things that weren’t the right fit for me were weighing more, and more heavily on my mind. So, I’m asking myself, Well, what do I do? I like this environment, but I’m not sure.

I had a friend who nudged me and said, Hey, Anthony, haven’t you been working for libraries for several years now, in one way or another? It was like the lightbulb went off in my head, I have! There’s libraries in universities, and I love being in there. So, that was my way into it where I didn’t intend to be, but since it was such a perfect place for me—it pulled me in. I think I see that in a lot of our students, too.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #1: Right, so let’s talk about that. So, first of all tell us a little about your library. You are at Utah Valley University, in Orem, Utah.  03:51

Anthony Morris:

I work at the Fulton Library. That’s UVU’s main library. It actually only just got its name a couple of years ago. Fulton Library’s history somewhat follows UVU Library’s history where UVU started as a very small technical college that has just been growing, and growing, and growing. I was talking to some other librarians earlier this week. They’ve seen some of the preliminary number of students registered at UVU and it might top 40,000 this semester, which is a huge, huge number. Something we’re still trying to grapple with. 

Fulton Library followed that same pattern where we started as a library that fit very well for a small technical college and now we need to be a library for a university, which naturally has some growing pains, but it also gives us just so many exciting opportunities. Almost every year, every semester we have something new we get to do, something new to look forward to. 

For this article, specifically, I started at UVU almost four years ago now. When I started—I’m the head of the technical services department. I manage a lot of the physical aspects of our books that go on in the backroom. I’m receiving them when they come from vendors, cataloging them, processing them, getting them ready for the shelf basically. When I started we didn’t have any students working with us regularly. I’ve been told by other staff that they had in the past, but just the way things are arranged right now I had my staff doing all the pieces of the work.

In another department there were many, many student workers. In circulation they were helping with a lot of the things I got to do as a page at a public library, things like shelving the books, managing desks, processing items—a lot of those basic tasks. Since we were a growing library our director got several of the librarians together and started asking some of those questions like, Do all these tasks fit in circulation? Some of them look more like technical services. Some of them look more like patron services. As we looked at that, it really started making more sense to move some of those tasks—then to also move students who could work on those tasks into my department.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #2: Wow, so—in your article you talk about structuring the needs for your department, which is great. We want our work to be meaningful for entry-level people. I mean, you’re lucky you’re in a university setting where you get a new group of students every semester. Not all libraries are quite that fortunate. Some of us have volunteers. Some of us have new people onboarding in some of our shelving tasks—like my cataloging department, in my public library. So, how can a library structure the needs of its department to both work for the entry-level worker and what we need in libraries?  06:19 

Anthony Morris:

One important thing to do is to really take a careful look at the tasks your departments are doing and ask whether a student, or that entry-level position—what parts they could do really comfortably. Before we split the students into multiple departments, we’re making some assumptions about some of the more basic, mundane things they could definitely do. But, maybe they didn’t have the skills, or the time, or the attention to do some of the more detailed tasks. I just don’t think that’s really true. Our students, our entry-level workers, are often people who have very varied interests, have a lot of different skills. I think we really need to harness those. There’s definitely been some surprises as we’ve brought students into different departments where their perspective is especially useful.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Definitely. People bring broad, and varied interests that help us all.

Anthony Morris:

One more general thing that we didn’t intend, but was a lovely surprise is that when we brought students into a more backroom department—someone who doesn’t get to see students a lot. That perspective of someone who’s closer to our patron experience looking at what we do and asking questions, Well, why do you do it like that? Why does it work like this? Why are you making it look like this?

A lot of our answers were sometimes, Well, we thought that’s what patrons liked best. And they’re saying, No, that doesn’t make sense. Why don’t you do it like this? Why don’t we try it a different way? That closer-to-patron experience brought into the other departments can really help show us their needs in a way that I don’t think we saw before.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Sure, they’re closer—they’re the ones out there oftentimes coming into our libraries, seeing what we’re doing, bringing that perspective into us and then asking the important questions about, Does it need to be done this way? Have you thought of this? Which is amazing. It’s great, and healthy for our organizations. So, I love that.

Anthony Morris:

Exactly. And I think sometimes as a librarian we forget what it’s like to be a patron—walking into a library for the first time, or hearing words like reference desk, or circulation, or catalog. That means a lot of things to us, but to a patron, or a student who doesn’t spend a lot of time in the library that can really be disorienting. So, getting some of those voices into all the spaces in our library has really helped us be more precise about how to help them.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #3: Excellent. So, what do you have these folks doing in your department? And, how did you structure that work? Let’s say somebody’s thinking about doing this in their library. Did you have some structured outlines of what people could work on? Did that develop over time? Can you give me an inside view of what it was like to put this together?  09:24

Anthony Morris:

As we looked at different structures we could work with, all my staff—I have someone doing receiving, a lot of paperwork, purchasing things. I have a couple of catalogers doing the heavy-duty cataloging. I have someone doing the processing work, the physical things—labels, covers, those kinds of things, and one person doing serial work, so a lot of those same things, but for our magazines, our periodicals, those kinds of things. 

They all had some student needs, but they didn’t necessarily have consistent student needs. Sometimes they’d have a big project that they’d need a lot of help on. Other times they wouldn’t have hardly anything. So looking at that, we tried to go with a flexible set-up where I hire the students directly, and I manage them among my staff. 

When I hire a student I let them know the expectation is they’ll be working with at least a few different staff. They’ll have some different jobs over the course of any given week. I have a calendar I set-up where I say, Hey, on Mondays from this time you’re going to be working in receiving and then on Tuesdays you’re going to be working on projects and cataloging. That kind of flexibility has worked really well for my department where they can go to where the needs are greatest.

I think that’s more interesting for the students, too, where they’re not spending all their time on one task, but they get a little more variety. They get to see a little more of what working in the library is like.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #4: Sure, and that seems so important. It’s interesting. I was talking to one of my clerks this morning, as a matter of fact. She just got a new opportunity, so she’s actually leaving the library, but she said, You know, I’m now an ambassador for the library. I didn’t know what went on behind the scenes. I was new to a library. I got to see these various aspects of library work. It’s not just magic, somebody doesn’t wave a wand and all of these books hit the shelf. So when I go out I’m talking to people. I’m excited about the library. I’m telling them about all the amazing programs, and things that go into making something that is a product for them that they can come and use for free in the case of a public library. So, I love that the varied work, the things they get involved with, whether they turn into librarians like you, and I did—or whether they move on to other things, they’ve got an amazing, broad picture of what’s happening in the library, which is so useful.  11:13 

Anthony Morris:

I really love to try and let the students explore to see what they’re most interested in. One example that comes to mind—I have a student who’s been getting an elementary education degree, and similar to a story like mine, she’s not sure if that’s the right fit. So, she asked me whether she can do an internship with some of our children’s collection. She wants to know what setting up a children’s display looks like and to really get familiar with some of those children’s books. As she and I were talking about it, I said, Well, one thing I know our library would really profit from—there are many, many different children’s book awards, the Newbery, the Caldecott, all those. We haven’t necessarily been consistent in recording what awards they got in the record, nor making sure that we have the complete list

Which is something that we need because I know for our elementary education students sometimes they have to read a certain number of award winning books in a semester for a class. That was a delightful experience for me because the student turns to me and says, Yes, I actually have a passion for this. I know several of these awards, I keep a list on my own. She even named some awards I hadn’t heard of as a librarian. These are a specialty for this group. She’s going to bring that expertise in for me, that none of the librarians necessarily had on their own. 

She wins. She gets to explore the idea of being a librarian a little bit and see if that’s right for her. And we win too, because we’re going to have a better collection by the time she finishes this internship.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #5: Oh, I love that. I bet your librarians have all kinds of great stories about how they now appreciate what this can bring to your university.  13:44 

Anthony Morris:

Absolutely. Another fun example is sometimes the students who are working for us will turn to us and say, Well, what do you librarians actually do? We might mention how we teach classes, we help with information literacy. And they’ll pause and say, Well, I think my class needs that, could I talk to my professor? We’re like, Absolutely, yes, please do. At which point we might get to setup an instruction session, make a connection with a faculty, or even with a few more students to get them what they need.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #6: Incredible. So many positives come out of this kind of work. I would encourage everybody to look at their libraries and see where this kind of work can be done. It just brings so much to everyone. In doing this it shows real leadership. You had to look at your organization. You had to decide what work would be relevant to both the entry-level workers and to the organization. I wonder, Anthony, do you have any models that you use, or leadership books that guide you in your leadership principles?   14:29 

Anthony Morris:

I do have a leadership book I want to recommend. This is one I was actually in a book club with. One of the things I get to do at UVU is to collect for the religion collection. That’s one of my subject specialties. I was recently in an interfaith book club and we had a book club called, Interfaith Leadership: A Primer, the author is Eboo Patel, who’s the founder of Interfaith Youth Core. 

His book is about how you can become an effective leader in interfaith groups, which was an interesting experience for me as a librarian. I have thought a lot about, How do I bring certain minority groups into the library? That’s something that we really want to do. I hadn’t necessarily thought about it as a religious aspect, religious minorities. 

Sometimes when we’re in public institutions we kind of shy away from religion. That’s not something we—not want to take a stance on, but don’t want to touch. So, this was a book that was really good about bringing to mind how we can help include religious minorities—what are ways to be really respectful towards them, to be mindful of their needs. Then for me as a librarian, some ideas—How can I improve our collection? How can I lead in a mindful way so that our library has some of those interfaith connections that I would really like to see grown.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #7: That’s fantastic, bringing a lot of perspectives, both in your collection and people you work with, and in this program, I’m sure. That’s wonderful. Is there anything else you want to share with us?  16:22 

Anthony Morris:

This is an idea I’ve been thinking about for awhile. I got to attend a few workshops about mentorship. I think mentorship is an idea we’ve been talking about this whole podcast. How do you take people who have an idea, or an interest—how do you take that and help them grow it? 

As I’ve been thinking about that and thinking about having become a leader, not necessarily intending to be, that sometimes when we talk about leaders we talk about the most negative aspects. The hardest parts are the parts are the parts that are the most stressful to us. But, I’ve really been enjoying celebrating lately how good it can feel to help people do the things they want to. That part of being a leader is to help them grow in the ways they’re most interested in growing, to get to be a mentor in some ways, but also a mentee. There’s a lot that I can learn from our students. There’s a lot I can learn from other leaders in my library, and then in turn there’s maybe some things I can show them, too. That’s just a fantastic experience to be part of.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #8: Oh, so rewarding, and inspirational. As we close, would you like to share a little something about what it means to you to be a librarian?  17:35 

Anthony Morris:

While I was trying to decide what I’d want my career to be—a lot of the things we librarians love, the love of learning, the love of free ideas, and getting to learn and collect things. Those are just some of the things that are most exciting to me. I love that we get to be in careers that can celebrate that, get to live that every day. That’s something I love.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

We’re very fortunate, aren’t we? 

Anthony Morris:

Yes, we’re very, very lucky.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Well, Anthony, it’s been a pleasure talking with you today on the show. Thank you for being here.

Anthony Morris:

Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I am your host, Adriane Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. More episodes can be found at libraryleadershippodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.

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