Setting departmental goals: The process of one department head

As my fellow blogger Justin wrote about earlier this week, the start of a new year means a focus on developing goals to guide us for the next 365ish days. As a department head, the development of individual goals means it’s also time to think about departmental goals. I’m a firm believer that if departmental work is going to get done, it needs to be thoughtfully incorporated into individual goals and co-created by all members of the department. Departmental goals can create focus and point the team in the same direction. I figured I would focus my blog post this month on my thought process behind co-developing yearly departmental goals. 

Last year when it was time to set departmental goals, I was about five months into being a department head. A few months into the job, I worked with the team to co-create departmental mission and vision statements and we had developed our plate of work. Our plate of work was a visual of the areas we focused our team’s time and energy. When it was time for departmental goals, we used Jamboard to brainstorm potential goals, mapped those to our plate of work priorities, and established a series of goals we thought we as a team could achieve in 2022. I then worked with individual department members to either assign team goals to them or organized small groups who worked towards some of our goals. Throughout the year I would glance at the departmental goals document and make note of our progress. 

This year, with more than a year under my belt, I tried a different approach to brainstorming departmental goals. To start, I wanted to get some insight from the team about what they felt went well in 2022. I had everyone review our 2022 goals and reflect on the year. Then we had a group discussion, using the questions below as guiding questions:

  • What went well in 2022 for us as a department?  
  • What were some of our challenges (beyond budgetary concerns)?  
  • When were moments where you felt like we were firing on all cylinders? 
  • When were moments where you felt like we were out of sync?  

I particularly liked the last two questions, which really focused on getting everyone on the team to articulate high and low moments of collaboration and cooperation. These questions also brought up times when the department made good progress and also times when other institutional constraints got in our way. We had a great discussion and it helped lead us into thinking about 2023.

As we transitioned to talking about 2023 departmental goals, I had already kick started this conversation at the end of 2022. I had begun to get feedback from the department about the scope and deliverables for two projects I wanted us to focus on in the spring (one around LibGuides and one around instructional videos). I then asked the department to reflect on our 2022 goals, think about what they’d like to do in 2023, and begin to brainstorm potential goals in a shared Jamboard. When I looked at the Jamboard, I was so proud to see how aligned the team was on our potential goals. What had been brainstormed were things we as a department have discussed previously and or built off the work of our anticipated spring projects. It was amazing to see this alignment and made me so excited about what we as a department could accomplish this year.

To round out our brainstorming, I had the department do an activity that I call “Remix a Goal.” This is an activity that’s part of the 75 Tools for Creative Thinking toolkit I use in my participatory design practice. In the activity, folks are asked to brainstorm wishes (in this case, goals) that seem “normal.” Then, folks are asked to brainstorm more whimsical wishes/goals. These are goals that do not have to be tied to reality and are truly an exercise in imagination. The activity wraps up with the groups pairing a normal goal with a whimsical goal and looking for ways this can create a modified/amplified/innovative goal. When I used this with my department in our meeting, I saw more large scale programs being developed. I think these are the types of stretch goals that could be used to help push us throughout the year, even if we don’t fully implement this idea in 2023. 

At the end of the meeting, we had a myriad of potential goals. Now it’s my job to put those goals into a document, map them to our plate of work, and bring it back to the department for some prioritization. This prioritization will work concurrently as I meet with each individual in the department to finalize their 2023 librarianship goals. I’m hoping that once again this year we can tie departmental goals to individual work. I’m feeling excited about what goals were offered up by the team and cannot wait to see where we can take them in 2023. 

How does your department or unit decide on departmental goals? And how much do they tie to your own individual goals? Would love to hear your experiences in the comments of this post! 


Featured image by Possessed Photography on Unsplash

New Year, New Job

With the fall semester well underway, we’re all adjusting to more classes and services on the 25 campuses of my university than last year. There are more students on our campuses which is lovely, though there are still lots of hybrid and online classes and services, too. And this year has also featured a different kind of adjusting for me: this past summer I started a new position as director of the library at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center.

I’m enjoying my new job which is an interesting mix of similarities and differences from my last position. I’ve worked in the CUNY system for 15 years, 8 of those as a director, and spent most of that time at a comprehensive college that offers associate and baccalaureate degrees. I’ve also been on the faculty in two programs at the Graduate Center for a while now (and have blogged before about that teaching), so I came into my new role having some familiarity with the GC already. I’m most grateful to know about some of the university’s bureaucratic processes, and since our libraries are consortial and highly collaborative I have that insight and familiarity, too.

But as with any new job, there are lots of differences and lots for me to learn. The GC is an interesting place — while some of our faculty are solely at the GC, many teach undergraduates at the colleges across the system as well as masters and doctoral students at the GC. And our graduate students are also both here and there — they take courses and do research at the GC, and (many) teach courses at CUNY colleges. And while our library services and resources support the GC community in their academic work, as at all academic libraries, it’s been interesting to think about the local and distributed ways that we do and might work with students and faculty and students who are faculty.

Though I miss my colleagues at my prior institution, it’s been lovely to get to know my new colleagues and to work with such a terrific team. We’ve started a strategic planning process in the library, and our relatively-new administration is also beginning the strategic planning process at the GC this semester. I’m really looking forward to thinking with my library faculty and staff colleagues about our vision and mission, and how we can advance our broad goal of equitable access as we work with our patrons in their different roles.

I Love How We Laugh: A Year into Being a Department Head

Last week, I celebrated my one-year anniversary as a department head. The day consisted of teaching students, celebratory cookies, and a few reflective moments on the last 365 days. I can’t believe it has been a year! 

The last year has gone by quickly. We’ve adapted to changing pandemic seasons, dealt with staffing changes and hiring freezes, and continued to support student success. I feel like I’ve grown so much, as a librarian and as a manager. This job continues to be challenging in positive ways and I feel like I’m stretching and learning every day. I definitely haven’t had the perfect year; I’ve made mistakes, tried stuff that didn’t work, and dropped some balls. However, on the whole, I think last year was successful. I got the chance to work with the team I lead, participate in the work, and dream about what we can do as a department. I think this work builds so nicely from my experience as the Student Engagement Coordinator and allows me to take that work one step further. As a department, we collaboratively created our own mission, vision, and scope of work document, and continue to find ways to maximize the various expertises and experiences we each bring to the group. I’ve made connections with colleagues across campus and have had the chance to do what I think I do best, promote the library and envision new ways we can collaborate to support our students. 

One thing I’ve thought about a lot the last few months is the energy of the department I’m a part of. Even during my interview, I felt the enthusiasm and excitement for information literacy and students in the department meeting. That hasn’t changed since I arrived. The group I lead is always willing to try something new, talk through the pros and cons of a situation, and collaborate with one another to put an idea into action. It’s great to be on a team like this and I feel lucky to support and champion our work. 

The other thing that this department loves is laughter (as the title of this blog post suggests). In the past year, we’ve collected several inside jokes and I appreciate the department meetings where something funny happens and we’re all doubled over, laughing. There’s so much joy in that kind of laughter. I appreciate the space we as a department create for that joy. We can disagree and debate, but there’s something really nice about our ability to come together, share some stories, and laugh. For me, despite the stress I feel in this job or some of the dynamics outside of my control, I feel grounded knowing we can laugh as a department and figure things out.

As I think about my second year, I know we will continue to make changes and try new things. I’m excited to continue to learn from my colleagues and grow as a manager. And I’m thankful the laughter will continue. 

Tell me – what are some things about the team you work on that you appreciate? Would love to know from others if this idea resonates with you!

Things I Didn’t Know I Needed to Know

Hindsight is 20/20, right? In this collaborative post from our ACRLog team, we’re reflecting on the lessons and truths about libraries, librarianship, and higher ed that we wish we had come to understand sooner — the stuff we didn’t know to ask about earlier on in our careers, the stuff we didn’t know that we needed to know — and how our current understanding can perhaps help us to more clearly see the things we need to do differently. 

What’s something you wish someone had told you or that you wish you had asked in a job interview in order to get a clearer picture of the work, institution, or culture? 

[Alex] I wish I had the foresight to ask for more detail about what the tenure process looks like for a librarian, as this was not something I had encountered before. I had the rare opportunity to choose tenure-track or fixed-term when I was hired, and I assumed tenure-track was inherently the “better” choice and did not give it much critical consideration. 

[Hailley] A colleague and I were just talking about this recently – we wished we had asked about what the culture is around start and end times. At my current institution, we have a pretty standard 8:15-4:30 workday (university-wide). Knowing this might not change your mind to take or not to take a job, it is helpful to know what the general rule of thumb is before entering a new institution. 

[Veronica] It’s incredibly important to ask what the organization is doing to ensure their workplace is equitable, inclusive, and accessible. Both the answer, and the way that it is answered are especially important for librarians with marginalized identities, but should be a concern for all librarians. You can usually get a sense of a place by how the people you are talking to react to that question. 

What’s an unwritten rule at your current or past institution(s) or within your area of librarianship that you had to learn as you go?

[Alex] At each institution I’ve worked at, the unwritten rules are mostly workplace culture, processes for the way things are done. My best example is that I have had scheduled reference shifts at both of my librarian jobs, and it is done very differently at each: on a weekly basis vs. six months at a time; in hourly shifts vs. 90-minute shifts; all open hours vs. a six-hour period of the day on weekdays only. It demonstrated to me that not only are types of libraries very different, but so are individual locations. 

[Maura] When I started at my current institution as Instruction Coordinator 14 years ago, I also noted a few things about workplace culture that were perhaps a bit more formal than I expected. Most of my library colleagues dressed up a bit for reference shifts and teaching, and across the college when faculty referred to each other in front of students they tended to use “Professor So and so” rather than first names. The former has definitely changed somewhat since the pandemic though I’m not sure if the latter has.

[Jen] When I moved to my current institution to take on this job almost five years ago, it was my first time in a faculty position. I had already worked in libraries for a long time by that point but always in positions classified as staff. I didn’t take this job because it was classified as faculty; I saw it as a plus, but certainly not the deciding factor. It’s taken me some time to fully grasp what it means to have faculty status in terms of planning my work and organizing my time, as well as in terms of my opportunities and responsibilities–not only of the position itself, but also as a faculty member. Of course, faculty classification while working in a public service-oriented unit and also being an administrator and manager is different from a typical faculty role. But I think this vantage point has given me new perspective on what a position’s classification can mean with respect to autonomy, advocacy, and the like. Having worked from both sides of this coin now, though, I still believe that it is up to us to not only practice and embody the full potential of our roles, but to also challenge it (or, perhaps more accurately, to challenge others’ assumptions and expectations of our roles). Whether because or in spite of classifications, we can play a significant part in making our places in our library and institutional landscapes what we want them to be. 

What’s something simple or fundamental about higher ed, libraries, or your current/past job(s) that you wish you’d understood sooner?

[Hailley] Something I’ve been thinking about a lot is how decisions are made. Overtime, and especially as a current middle manager, I can more clearly see the many people above me who might influence, inform, or make a decision. Even if I don’t love a decision, I try to keep in mind the bigger picture and context for that specific decision. 

[Angie]  Absolutely what Hailey points out. I try to share this perspective with others as well.  Another reality I wish I knew sooner is how people in higher ed – from students to faculty to administrators – understand so little about the work of libraries, and how even those who communicate well, it remains a constant endeavor.  I am starting to accept this as work that is never done.

[Jen] I decided to go to library school without much library work experience, really. I had a job at the circulation desk in my college library, but my experience doing research for my senior thesis played a much bigger part in prompting me to take this path. While in grad school, I worked at the reference desk in one of my university’s libraries. This was a valuable experience that helped me solidify my grad school (and job search) focus on reference, instruction, and outreach work in academic libraries, but I don’t think I gave other areas of librarianship as much thought as I should have. All that to say, I didn’t come to this field with much pre-existing foundational knowledge about libraries. I feel particularly lucky, then, to have had a supervisor in my first professional position (a one-year stint) who took great pains to connect me with colleagues and projects in a wide range of areas and departments to help expand my awareness and skill set. And I feel very lucky, too, to have spent a significant chunk of my career early on at a small liberal arts college library. Because our library team was relatively small, collegial, and collaborative (read: everyone wore a lot of hats), I had many opportunities to get involved in projects outside the scope of my specific position. Moreover, the daily work of each person and department was literally visible to me. As such, I feel like I got a broad view of how libraries work. My current position at a small branch of an enormous university library system still requires me to wear a lot of hats and also still regularly offers me new insight into how libraries–and higher ed–work, too. But had I started my career in a system of this size, I don’t think I would have had occasion to participate in or observe so many aspects of academic library work so closely. I would have very little understanding, for example, of the technical work of my cataloging, serials, and licensing colleagues or of what’s involved in implementing a new discovery system. I regularly rely and expand on the broader, foundational understanding those early positions afforded. I’m grateful for the opportunities I had to build it.

[Veronica] Like Jen, I also spent a significant chunk of my career at a small liberal arts college library. What that time taught me, and what I wish I’d realized sooner, is that everyone in higher ed–staff, faculty (tenure track, adjuncts, lecturers), librarians–is trying to do their best with the limited time, bandwidth, and resources that we have. There can be this tendency in larger institutions to feel like it’s us versus them, or fall into victim-villain thinking, when in reality everyone is trying their best and no one is ignoring you on purpose. Yes, there will always be people who are rude, but the vast majority of folks are really just trying to get by as best as they can. I think the more that we can listen to our colleagues and get to know them and their wants, needs, worries, and hopes, the better we can support one another and show solidarity in higher education. 

What’s something in higher ed, libraries, or your area of librarianship that everyone just does but doesn’t work well or should be re-thought?

[Angie] I truly don’t understand how, especially as information scientists, we haven’t prioritized the problem that is email. When I first moved into my own place after college, I remember the internet offerings advertised “up to 5 email accounts!”, and I thought why would anyone need that many? In my work within technical services, we have more than that; I know their purpose, and still wonder why these systems can’t serve us better. Many band-aids out there endeavor to help us “manage” email, but not a lot of solutions recognize the problematic level of reliance on email in the workplace. I don’t want to manage email. As ubiquitous as email is, it ought to more effortlessly help or at least get out of the way.

[Maura] I am so grateful to my colleagues that we are a well-functioning, kind, and thoughtful team. Not that we don’t have challenges, because every workplace has challenges, but we’re committed to asking questions and taking responsibility for our inevitable mistakes (because everyone makes mistakes). I was in academia right after college and then took some time in the publishing industry before returning to academia as a librarian, and I’d forgotten about the conflict avoidance that seems endemic to so many academic settings. I wish that institutions offered more support for doing the necessary work of moving through conflict thoughtfully and respectfully.

[Jen] We need to increase transparency around salaries. To withhold salary information from position descriptions and during the interview process can make what is already a difficult undertaking even more uncertain and fraught–not to mention a waste of time for everyone involved if candidates drop out late in the process after finally learning that salaries don’t meet their needs. And then, once hired, the lack of communication within and across institutions about salary data leaves library workers siloed and in the dark about potential earnings equity issues and missing key information with which to advocate for themselves. On a related note, we need to create more internal advancement opportunities in libraries. It seems that the general thinking is that in order to move up, one has to move out. I agree with that approach to some degree–transition is typically healthy for an organization and individuals (fresh perspectives and new horizons!). However, the lack of growth potential for folks within an institution can result in stagnancy, frustration, and low morale. While an organizational culture that supports experimentation and innovation can keep motivated library workers interested and invested, the lack of structural elements to support such folks to move into new positions (with real salary growth) is hurting us on both individual and organizational levels.

[Veronica] Like Jen, I definitely feel as though pipelines to leadership are something that need to be addressed within libraries with equity in mind. There is a strong push towards diversifying the profession, but it often stops with the hiring and onboarding process. What happens after that? Why do people leave the organization or the profession? At my library we are looking into how to help all librarians access professional development and support that will help them advance their careers within our library or elsewhere. Some things we need to ask ourselves are: Who are we sharing leadership opportunities with and why? Who within the organization has access to training, mentoring, and coaching? Who is missing from conversations about leadership potential and career advancement? If we, as a profession, spent time on these ideas we might be able to ensure that people stay within librarianship.

What are some of the lessons and truths that hindsight has helped you to see better? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

How are you doing? (redux)

Bird sitting outside a window
Photo by Ziba Maghrebi on Unsplash

We’re coming to the end of another year of grappling with pandemic-related changes across higher education, and the ACRLog blog team thought this might be a good time to check in on how things are going for all of us in our libraries, as we’ve done around this time for the past two years.

What’s the situation at your institution at the time of writing?

(Alex) As the College of Medicine’s library, we are attached to medical facilities and have the same masking requirements in place, visitors are still not permitted into academic spaces, and library employees are all still hybrid or entirely remote. The rest of our university, though, seems fairly back to normal; they don’t have the restrictions we do, but they do allow remote work on a case-by-case basis.

(Maura) Our campus and library fully reopened last Fall, and with the increase in in-person instruction at the college for the Spring we’re definitely seeing more students in the library than we did last semester. Still, it’s quieter than it was in the past, perhaps not surprising as about 50% of classes are still online this semester (we struggled a lot with crowding and noise pre-pandemic so this change is not entirely unwelcome). The university (and the college) lifted the mask requirement a little more than a month ago, though many folx are still masking on campus, both students and employees.

(Emily) We fully reopened last Fall as well, and in early March (coinciding with the CDC’s updated guidance), our school dropped the mask requirement, although as Maura said, many on our campus are still wearing masks indoors. Having more students on campus has meant more business for library services, both at the desk and over chat and email. I chalk it up to students becoming aware of our virtual communication options during the pandemic, and some finding that they prefer that mode even when face-to-face is available.

(Angie) My campus resumed in person classes last fall with a vaccine and mask mandate in place for a brief period. The summer prior, the Libraries began transitioning remote faculty and staff back to hybrid work that was at least 60% onsite. In the Spring semester mask mandates continued in all indoor campus spaces as Omicron was peaking. Then in March they became optional in non-classroom settings, and later that month became optional in classrooms. My impression of the physical spaces is they still seem sparsely populated by normal comparisons,  and request volume in technical services is still only 30-50% of pre-pandemic levels. We have had a lot of employee turnover and are in the middle of 3 of 5 faculty searches. This has definitely affected morale, especially since many, if not all, were already experiencing significant burnout before taking on additional duties these vacancies may have left to them. 

Do you anticipate changes in your library or campus situation in the Fall semester?

(Alex) We were recently asked how many days per week each person would like to work in-person after Labor Day, so the plans are being made for changes, but they aren’t finalized yet. It’s hard to say what other changes may come at that time.

(Angie) It’s hard to imagine *not* anticipating changes, right? But I hope the drive for normalcy will hold some sway in keeping major changes to a minimum. Orienting some new faculty and staff will bring positive, new change. In my area of the library we’re also seeing an urgency to support new orientation for all students – not just new ones. With the university experience of the past few years being so irregular, many haven’t had the chance to experience the usual things libraries offer students, like our spaces, the help desk, or ILL. Talking with my leadership, I’ve learned there is actually a campus-level priority to ramp up outreach as a matter of mental health as much as academic success. I love this acknowledgement of my favorite philosophical problem (not knowing what you don’t know) and the stakes and responsibility involved in helping solve it.

(Maura) We do anticipate that there will be more students on campus in the Fall, with an estimated 80% of classes scheduled fully in person or hybrid next semester (though that can certainly change as students continue to register throughout the summer). We’re starting a strategic planning process here in the Library that we aim to complete by the end of the Fall semester, so in many ways we’re not anticipating changes as much in the short term as we are thinking about changes we’d like to make in the next 3-5 years.

What pandemic-related challenges are you still facing in your library work?

(Maura) Librarians and staff are required to work at least 70% in person this semester, which has made scheduling somewhat complex, especially for service desk shifts. We’re managing it, though it took a few weeks to settle into our new routines. It’s not clear what the requirement for on-campus work will be for fall, but we’re keeping an eye on that. It’s also been somewhat challenging this year to reach students who started at the college last year and to raise their awareness of library services and resources. While that group did have information literacy instruction in their English Composition I course, as all students do, since those courses were fully online last year they didn’t have the opportunity to come to the physical library. We’re continuing to do outreach to all students and hopefully have reached at least some of that cohort with in-person instruction in their Comp 2 class this year. 

(Emily) The library staff where I work are all facing burnout and morale-related challenges, caused by negotiating telework and on-desk scheduling, feeling unrecognized by campus administration, and a protracted expectation to “keep the trains running” over the last 2 years. In light of this, our library director has instructed us to treat this summer as a period of recovery, urging us to take vacation time and avoid piling on extra projects like a usual summer. I’m hoping that this recovery period, combined with a reconsideration of some of our processes, will be enough to improve our overall morale.

(Angie) Hybrid schedules have turned out to be really challenging, both for those onsite who rely on others’ consistent onsite availability and for those who feel their work could continue to be done entirely remote. Selfish example: it has been much more difficult to grab coffee with my work bestie on a whim! The freedom we have been given to set the type of hybrid schedule is certainly nice, but it has proven practically at odds with rebuilding the kind of serendipitous connection for which it was intended. The variety of schedules means fewer people in the office at the same time for serendipity, or even intentional connection, to take place. The supportive technology onsite for hybrid meeting rooms is necessary but still kind of awkward – I think we prefer seeing each other in individual Zoom boxes rather than a combination of seeing individual’s boxes with another box of people distantly meeting in another room. I’m observing (guilty of) remote attendance at meetings happening from an individual desk in the same room! And maybe that’s OK. Maybe that is what we learned is necessary to preserve from remote work after all. I do worry that people’s pandemic-related burnout has been exacerbated, rather than eased (yet) by a logistical “return to normal.” The motions may be mostly normal, but people’s lived experiences have not returned to normal, and this makes it very difficult to authentically connect at large –  as a team, as an organization. Wherever our library has created those very intentional opportunities to connect, even in a hybrid way – award ceremonies, holiday parties, all staff meetings – this has seemed to help the most. It’s curious, right? That intentionality should be the necessary ingredient for serendipity.  

What positive changes have you seen this year in the ways your library supports the mission of the institution?

(Alex) We don’t hesitate to make changes that we think will benefit our users. I wouldn’t say we were “afraid” to make change before, but I think we’ve grown accustomed to pivoting (ugh that word) at the drop of a hat, so saying things like “let’s change this policy, it isn’t fitting students’ use of our resources” or “should our hours be this way, or can we adjust them to work better for us?” has become easier.

(Maura) We’ve also seen what Alex highlights — my colleagues and I are definitely more amenable to making changes in library services to align them more closely with what students and other library patrons seem to need, even if it’s different from what we’ve done before, or a change in the middle of the semester. We’ve adjusted printing limits to better accommodate students who are coming to campus less often, and shifted our study room policy to allow single-student use for taking online classes. We’ll be thinking about how students and faculty use the library now as we head into our strategic planning process, too, and will hopefully hold some focus groups in the Fall to help us learn more.

(Angie) At both our Library and University levels, there has been intentional effort by the administration to address salaries and diverse hiring in meaningful ways. We have had three different tiers of staff already getting across the board increases based on market studies. In my experience it is the hiring process that provides the most intentional and practical avenue for scaling awareness and development of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Given that we are doing so much hiring, and that those serving on search committees are experiencing that process, these are both positive changes to increasing DEIB awareness and (hopefully!) growth into other areas.

We’d love to hear how things are going in your library, please drop us a line in the comments.