Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Wrapping things up.

With my last post having been over a year ago, it may go without saying that I've decided to step back from blogging, indefinitely. It wasn't until a month or ago that I realized it, though.

Starting around the time of my last post, Free Geek went into overdrive on a major reorganization of its management structure. The dust didn't really settle on that until April of this year or so. Over the summer, we renegotiated our contract with Communication Workers of America Local 7901. In the fall, following the re-org and finalized contract and maturation of an ongoing strategic planning process, we faced the reality that our 2013 plan of "accept an operating deficit while we figure stuff out" was quite literally unsustainable. The result: joint problem-solving with the union. And layoffs.

There was material there for dozens of blog posts. I learned a lot, and more importantly, I learned a lot that I think other people in similar situations might find useful, and even more importantly, I learned a lot that I found fascinating to ponder and expand upon. Every last bit of it, of course, has been unprintable. Ethics and pragmatics conspire to keep my lips thoroughly sealed.

I'm not really an indifferent blogger. If I'm going to write, I'm going to write about whatever is preoccupying me the most. If I can't write about that stuff, I'm simply not going to write. Strike one for the blog.

During the re-org, I was also contacted by Multnomah County Library. I was on a list of qualifying candidates for a number of library assistant positions that would open up at the start of the new fiscal year. (Those lists are valid for a year. They pushed it right to the last minute; I had applied back in January 2012, I think, when I was brand new at Free Geek and paranoid enough to be hedging my bets.) More interviewing and customer service evaluation ensued, and I found out in May that I would be one of the new part-time library assistants. Training happened in June. My first day back doing reference work in a library was in early July.

You might think--with reason--that I would find libraryland to once again be a fertile ground for blogging. It turns out, not so much. When I started this blog, I didn't have any peer co-workers. Plus, I knew I was going to be job-hunting in the near future. These factors were my primary motivators: Don't get cabin fever. Be visible. Keep options open.

Now, I'm smack in the middle of the org chart of what is arguably the most kick-ass public library organization in the country. I have many, many peers. I plan on being part of MCL until I have to stop working entirely. (It seems like a lot of folks here treat on-call status as a standard part of retirement. I like that idea.) When I want to share my ideas about libraryland, I can do it in person. Strike two for the blog.

If I felt like I had a unique perspective to share about library issues, I would probably still share them. If I felt that I had an uncommonly large or specialized audience of readers, I would probably still share too. But I don't. The value of me saying "me too," or even "me too with this subtle twist," is low in the online world. I'm not letting anybody down by ceasing to blog. Strike three: blog's out.

I'm leaving it up, naturally. It's a record of my professional mind and heart over a period of a couple years, and when I read through it, I'm pleased to have evidence that I'm not a total idiot. A lot of what I wrote about isn't especially dated, either. I hope the occasional person finds occasional value in it.


As a parting thought, there is one thing I want to briefly write about. Namely, I am completely done with the idea of  having "difficult," "courageous," "messy" or "frank" conversations about diversity in the workplace. In one's social circles or family or faith community or national discourse or maybe even professional associations, okay, sure. But at work, we're there to do a job. We aren't there to catalyze personal growth for our colleagues or to make the workplace a utopian microcosm. Respectful workplace behavior is a performance expectation, not a virtue. (If your workplace doesn't have policies setting expectations for respectful behavior, first of all you have my deepest sympathy, and second I wouldn't expect management to have your back if you decide to try to wage a campaign for hearts and minds, so please do be careful with yourself.)

As such, a conversation about diversity in the workplace is remarkably straightforward. It goes something like this:

In Oregon, people have some legal protection from discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex (including gender, pregnancy and sexual harassment), sexual orientation, religion, association with a member of a protected class, age (18 or older), marital status, physical or mental disability, and family relationship.  We have these protections in place because experience has shown us that they are needed. The kind of social attitudes and behaviors that have led to discrimination have also made conversations about these personal characteristics a source of pain for many people. We expect you to exercise extreme caution when asking questions or making statements about any of the above characteristics. Whatever your intentions, the potential negative impact on your co-workers can diminish effectiveness and efficiency in fulfilling our organization's mission. It is generally better to let people bring such topics up themselves in a time and manner they find comfortable. Of course, you should feel free to talk about your own life and experiences, and you may find that others respond in kind. However, they may not. We trust that you will have productive working relationships anyway. As with all our performance expectations, we intend for co-workers to provide and accept constructive feedback on this behavioral guideline when needed, as part of our culture of continuous improvement.

Every objection to this approach that I have heard boils down to, "But what if I really really want to satisfy my curiosity or get up on my soapbox?" To which I respond, "Tough." There is no bona fide operational purpose for those two activities.

To anyone who thinks I am oversimplifying things, I would like to point out that libraries have institutionalized these kinds of expectations for decades. Someone wants information about, well, anything? We don't make assumptions, we don't judge, we don't interject our own opinions or wishes. Sometimes it is hard to meet these expectations; people want something exceptionally cool or exceptionally distasteful, and we can be tempted to engage in questionably professional ways. But we don't. We do our damn jobs. End of story. There is no reason, no reason at all, that workers in other kinds of organizations can't do the same thing.


Thanks for listening, everyone. It's been a good ride.