TTW Mailbox: “Take Responsibility”

This kind librarian agreed to let me publish this email in response to our talk at CIL2008:

Dear Michael:

I attended the presentation about transparency given by you and Michael Casey at CIL2008, and I wanted to share a comment I had directly with you. 

As you talked about transparency, the one concept that seemed intrinsic to all you said, but I thought should have been said is


I think it needs to be said because so few people actually do it when it comes to libraries. When I worked as a paraprofessional in a large library, I saw it from the other paraprofessionals. The library did a libqual survey where customer service was the only low score. This same library had an article written about the ‘rude library staff’ in the student paper. Yet all I heard from anyone was  “Well, they’re not talking about me”, even though I knew exactly who it was.

Not only did one person not want to admit they could be nicer, but no one above her took responsibility for those under them and directly took notice of their interactions. If everyone had taken responsibility, everyone would have treated the patrons better, and the patrons would have treated us better, and everyone would be better off in the end. 

In contrast to the large library, where you could avoid taking responsibility through anonymity, I now work at a very small library where taking responsibility is even more important. One of the first things I learned from working in a small library was that if I don’t pull my weight, the other librarian becomes overworked, and vice versa.

So if I screw up, and the other librarian catches it – there’s no one to blame but me. That’s a quick lesson in owning up to your errors! Fortunately, the other librarian and I have a great working relationship, so if we call one another out on something it’s easy to say “I’m a knucklehead” and take care of the problem. But can you imagine the frustration if we didn’t have that? 

At any rate, I just wanted to share that experience with you. My husband attended a work seminar once where they had a guy whose big thing was “See it. Own it. Do it.”  I think if librarians would take that approach more often, and stop being passive aggressive, libraries would be better overall. 

See also: