Library Management Skills Institute – The Learning Organization

Just the phrase ‘Management Skills’ makes me feel a bit flustered. I remember clearly being a Faculty of Arts freshman at McGill and learning that right next door to the library was a school of management. A School of Management! There was a school where people chose to go to learn how to manage other people. To my roommate and I this seemed like the most arrogant, preposterous, and unnecessary discipline that had ever existed. We felt a mixture of contempt and embarrassment for all enrolled. How could they profess to want such a thing??


I’m six and a half years out of library school now, which I’m pretty sure makes me mid-career, and suddenly the idea of studying how to manage seems like a pretty excellent idea. Yes, eighteen year olds deciding they want to go to school to be managers is still kind of an embarrassing idea…but years of working in complex systems, juggling complicated relationships, and trying to negotiate all sorts of different partnerships has left me very convinced that everyone could use some help with this.*


photo of a printed journal article with notes and highlights scattered throughout the page.

Pre-course reading: Peter M. Senge. “The Leader’s New Work: Building Learning Organizations.” In Sloan Management Review 32(1), 1990

Anyone who’s had a conversation with me in the last three months knows that I’ve become a bit obsessed with the intertwined hot topics of mindfulness and intentionality. I think a lot of this comes from the panic I feel at the speed with which my tiny newborn son has turned into a robust, chunky, mobile human.  Was I standing on the sidelines as that time whizzed by? I know I was there for literally all of it, but now it’s gone, and I’m honestly frightened by the feeling of ephemerality I have around his literal whole life. And, of course, once I start thinking about his life I start thinking about my own: am I doing what I want to be doing? Am I building a life I will look back on proudly? Am I contributing to the kind of world I want to live in?

Intentionality in the workplace is hard, y’all. The deluge of email and metaphorical small fires and side conversations and meetings to plan meetings can quickly engulf whole days and weeks, and when you do manage to pull yourself up out of it, it’s 3 PM and you’re tired, right? And there’s some great ranting going on on Twitter against someone you always suspected was up to no good.  If I don’t have a plan, I can get lost. And now I have a kid to rush home to, I’m especially uninterested in staying late because of my own procrastination. A lot of things have coalesced for me recently around the idea of intentionality, of deciding purposefully how I want to live and work. Among the many bits and pieces that have helped are Cal Newport’s Deep Work, the Self Journal, a Mindfulness Without Borders course and, most recently, the Library Management Skills Institute.

I was fortunate enough to take LMSI1 last January, and to participate in LMSI2 two weeks ago, sponsored by OCUL and hosted by the University of Toronto. For those who haven’t heard of the course, each half of the institute is a three-day workshop facilitated by DeEtta Jones, of DeEtta Jones & Associates. In both cases when I took it, the course was co-facilitated by Trevor Dawes, vice provost at the University of Delaware, who brought a really useful boots-on-the-ground perspective to the scenarios and teachings. LMSI1 is focused on looking inward as a manager, while LMSI2 draws on the idea of the Learning Organization as a model for organizational success. The framework of the institute is a movement through each of these Peter Senge’s five disciplines (from The Fifth Discipline, which was references heavily, but which I have not read).

DeEtta and Trevor offered so much wisdom that was actionable. When discussing developing a Shared Vision, she emphasized: “It’s not just ‘what do we want to become?’ but ‘what are the behaviours and practices that will move us to where we want to be?’” This discussion was followed by a personal exercise where we laid out explicitly what those behaviours might look like in our own work environment. I came away with not just a list of big ideas, but a list of small things I could implement in meetings, phone calls, or just general office work.

DeEtta and Trevor also had us work through a series of personal and group exercises around our goals and aspirations, as well as current personal or organizational struggles. Again, these questions were broken down in such a way as to be exceptionally useful. I started a number of exercises thinking, “oh, this is a really hard problem and I don’t think I’ll be able to come to any breakthrough on a sheet of paper,” but I often did!

I frantically scribbled down a number of turns of phrase that DeEtta offered up. The phrase “be explicit” came up over and over again, and I really appreciated how much wording she put on the table. Some of my favourites include:

  • Be explicit about the values that are driving your position: “Here are some of the things that are guiding me right now. Here are the values behind my views.”
  • Give your group some working norms: “Let’s talk about how we want to work together.”
  • Be generous, because equity often lives in the process.
  • Don’t wait to give feedback: “Reinforce behaviours and articulate why they are helpful and valuable.” There was a lot of discussion about encouraging feedback from everyone, often, and on creating easy channels for people to do this, both formally and informally. “Feedback” didn’t mean “the following things are wrong,” and positive feedback was strongly emphasized as an essential component of healthy organizational culture.

But the biggest take-away for me was simply: “Discuss your values.”

DeEtta and Trevor emphasized how important it was for people to explore their values, and to think about how those might look, behaviourally, in the workplace. And the first step in encouraging this in a team is to make your own values explicit, and to make sure your own behaviour reflects those values. It sounds like something that would happen naturally (if I believe X, I’ll act like this…), but my own reflections made it clear to me that I had a lot of work to do in this area, and it was the same for every colleague I spoke to who attended the three days.

I came away recognizing that the most important things to me in an organization were trust and mutual respect, a shared sense of responsibility, and clarity of purpose to the fullest extent possible.

It was a most excellent three days, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity. As a challenge to myself, I’m going to blog the way I put these values into action over the next few months. And if I fail, I’m going to write about that too.

* To be clear, I use ‘manager’ loosely, and the Institute is not limited to people in a supervisory role.

Ever onward

The general tone of 2016 wrap-up-posts is pretty clear: this was a dumpster fire of a year, and no one will be sorry to see the end of it. Celebrities dying certainly stir up conversation, but I think it’s safe to say that 2016 will show up in the history books because of the Pulse nightclub shooting (among many, many other shootings), because of the fall of Aleppo, and because the most powerful country in the world chose to elect a xenophobic cheeto as its next president, instead of a competent woman.

So: yeah. A lot was pretty shitty in 2016, and I’m having trouble reconciling the deep horror and sadness I feel about the world with the absolute rapture I’ve felt this year as I became a parent. Y’all: motherhood is for me. I knew I’d enjoy it, but I didn’t imagine how deeply satisfied I would be with every single little aspect of it. I have been fulfilled, contented, and delighted by the life I’ve been living. This has been the best year of my life.


I mean, lookit this sweet face!!

But events close to home and far afield have both left me with this: a longing for peace unlike anything I have ever experienced before.  It’s far away and insurmountable and so, so vague, but I want it for myself and for my son and for the whole dang world, which has been in so much pain.

So I’ll be figuring that out, nbd.

There are many more tangible things I want to accomplish in 2017, but with the major changes coming our way next week (back to work!), I’m pretty sure “surviving and adapting and adjusting” should be my main aim.

Still, I do love, on the brink of a new year, to imagine what that might look like. What would make me feel proud of our adjustment? How would I like us to be this year? January 1st isn’t some magical day that will change me, but it’s a welcome chance to think about the ways I’d like to focus my energies.

I’ve come up with the following:

putting family time first. I’m going to spend significantly less time with my family than I did in 2016. Ouch. It hurts to even write that, but it is absolutely going to be true. And this means it’s going to be really important to focus on the way that little things can mean a lot. I already fight the urge to hurry things up, to find little efficiencies, in so many of our daily rituals, and this is something I’ve got to work on calming. Eating breakfast, folding laundry, or taking a bath can be fun things when you slow them down and do them together. The walk to daycare is an opportunity, if we take the time for it. And in the evening, drinking a beer and sharing our days with my husband is exactly how I should spend my time. This all sounds obvious, but if I don’t keep it at the front of my consciousness, I fear I’ll forget.

working deeply, on the clock, and shutting off completely at the end of the day. I love my job, and I want to come in in the morning and be engaged and focused. And then I want to walk away from it. Hahahaha, right? I’ve been doing a lot of reading on this subject while on leave, and I’m ready to try out a few different things in the name of making this happen.

having time for myself. I didn’t do much running in 2016, and I’m not embarrassed or sad about it (I was doing other shit!), but I’m ready for 2017 to be different. Time to run and time to read are the two things I’d like most for myself. (LONG-FORM READING, JACQUELINE. NOT INTERNET READING.) See you on the trails!

Those three paragraphs are the dream, which I’m sure sounds naive to the seasoned working mums. But: I want to try! It’s not that I think I’m going to find a perfect balance, only that I want to be conscious of working towards it. And I’ve got the whole dang year (and, well, the year after that, and many more after that) to find ways and means of making it happen.

So: farewell 2016, the year my son was born, the year I became a mother. You were just wonderful and I wish I could stay in you, but 2017 is hurtling towards us with no regard for such wishes. How lucky to be here to face it.

Hello, world.



The first year

Just like that, I’ve been a married person for a year. And I never even shared any wedding photos on here! Indulge me, or look away. I can’t help it. It was such a fun day, and it really set the tone for an even, peaceful year. We didn’t have a theme per se, but our love of Toronto,  of cycling and transit, of music and books, fed into many of the decision we made for the day. Thanks to Frances Beatty for capturing the magic!




Two adults. One female, dressed in a white dress and holding a bouquet of flowers. The other, male, has his arm around her and is wearing a suit.





































I can’t pretend to have any special wisdom after a year, but I really, really like being married. I like the stability and certainty of it. I like that energy I might once have put into the terrifying “what is our future?” question has been reassigned to making our future as solid as it can be.

Working in 2015

There’s nothing I love more than a fresh new year. And today the fresh new year takes me back to a fresh new office, which I cleaned with vigour on the Friday before Christmas break. I’ve sure enjoyed lounging around the house, but it will be okay to go back as well, for a number of reasons.

The roles and responsibilities at MPOW are about to shift in some fairly significant ways, and I am really excited to take on some new responsibilities (there are also some new responsibilities I’m less excited about, but I’ll leave those for another time or, more likely, off the agenda altogether). I’m looking forward to new challenges, but I’m also thinking carefully about how to make sure I don’t wind up perpetually running on the “small-scale stuff that needs to be done right now” wheel. I’ve experienced pretty significant workload shifts (in type and amount) before, and that was the first trap I fell into. Unsure of priorities? Answer some emails! Not clear on the end-goal of the document you’re trying to put together? Prep for a meeting!

Have you read Cal Newport’s blog? I am a bit of a productivity junkie and yup, reading about productivity is a thing I love to do, along with making task lists, and organizing folders and scheduled in preparation for some big project. As many, many people have observed: this is frequently just a form of procrastination. Productivity has its own subreddit, and one could spend a lot of time reading about other people having trouble getting things done.

But I find Newport’s blog really good because his big picture thoughts on being a productive and creative person are always accompanied by examples from his own work life, and concrete plans for readers to work through. In particular, his blog post on ‘deep work’ really hit home (the title will either make you flustered, relieved, or annoyed, but if you haven’t read it, do take a look at Knowledge Workers are Bad at Working). I have a job where it’s very easy to fall into what he calls “Shallow Work.” Some shallow work falls under my actual job description, but it’s also very easy to just putter along doing shallow work while leaving larger projects to the side:

“This work is attractive because it’s easy, which makes use feel productive, and it’s rich in personal interaction, which we enjoy.”

And then it’s 5:30 and you haven’t done any of the ‘deep work.’ You know: strategizing, research, writing

“…cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve.”

…the stuff you feel you love to do, but that you just couldn’t seem to get around to that day…

You can read Newport’s thoughts on how to actually get down to deep work in the link above. I found the framework pretty compelling.

Anyway, as I head back to my sparkling new desk, I’m making a commitment to doing stuff that is hard this year. But I promise to still respond to your email.

P.S. This ACRL blog post, Lost Time is Never Found by Lindsay O’Neill, was what spurred my latest round of productivity reading. It is excellent, and emphasizes the importance of scheduling deep work in academic librarianship, especially when you’re in a new, emerging, or oft-changing position where it’s up to you to define a lot of your workload and outcomes.  More scheduling in 2015!


Some quick thoughts on Daniel Caron’s departure

So, Daniel Caron has left Library and Archives Canada, and not many people are sorry to see him go.

I’m certainly not, but I do have some feelings other than glee.

I really, really hope this wasn’t about the $5000 of public money he spent on Spanish lessons.

Shout out to all the librarians getting professional development money. I do. That means some combination of student tuition and government money pays for hotels and meals as well as conference registration fees. There’s no sweet private sector kick-backs, save the occasional drink ticket via ProQuest (but then you still have to stand in that bar line!) , but as my partner who works in the proper-public sector and never gets funding for any PD stuff reminds me, I am dang lucky. LAC collects materials in a lot of languages. It don’t think it’s absurd for someone who speaks English and French to seek out Spanish next. And I’m not entirely convinced it’s awful for us to pay for it.

But more importantly: if he’s stepped down over $5000 in mis-spent education money then we have lost this battle. It means he will never step down because:

  • he put into place a Code of Conduct that was somewhere between Big Brother and Monty Python in its outrageousness
  • he consistently said there weren’t enough skilled people to work at LAC, while getting rid of said people
  • under his watch, LAC closed interlibrary loan services despite having one of the most unique collections in the country
  • LAC seems to have abandoned its goal of becoming a Trusted Digital Repository
  • he trumpets a digitization strategy that sounded like it was from 1999
  • have you heard that equally compelling social media strategy?
  • etc.

So: I’m not sure why he stepped down, but given the way the Experimental Lakes Project, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada, and National Research Council have all be eliminated/renamed/broken lately, I’m skeptical that Caron was fired for having ‘the wrong vision.’

James Moore has publicly stood behind LAC’s ‘modernization.’ More importantly he’s a Tory cabinet minister. Who will be chosen to run LAC next? Surely someone who can fall right into line.

I’m not convinced LAC needs a librarian at the top. You’d never know it from the way we talk (and talk and talk and talk) about our importance at conferences, but there are people other than librarians who understand the values of librarianship, and some of them are also good at managing large organizations (there are librarians who are good at this too, of course).

What we need is an advocate, and I have very little hope that we’ll get one.

Hot Docs 2011

Hey – you know that Hot Docs is one of the best things to happen to this city every year, right? Here are my urbanist/public space suggestions at Spacing, but there are a ton of other ones I’m excited about. Hey, you should come see one of the following this week with me! Or you should go and see some of them separately. Or you should peruse the website at your leisure and go to everything (even if it’s gone rush, there are almost always seats available).

Family Portrait in Black and White
Bobby Fischer Against the World 
Vodka Factory 
Cinema Komunisto
The Advocate of Fagdom
Highway Gospel
Carol Channing: Larger Than Life
St-Henri, the 26th of August (I’ll post my review of this tomorrow)
The Interrupters  (ditto)