ASSOCIATES (vol. 3, no. 2, November 1996) -

Table of contents

             *What Does 'Giving Our Best' Mean? (Part II)*

                            Ed Gillen
                  Office of Human Resources Management
                   New York State Education Department

[Editors' note: Ed Gillen gave the keynote address at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information
Studies annhual conference on March 25, 1996.  His address is
being published in _ASSOCIATES_ in two part.  In part one, Ed
defined "giving our best" and described his involvement in
professional associations.  His address concludes in this issue.]

Teams are another building block to a strong organization.
Teams!  Teamwork, team players, team leaders, team building! --
it seems everybody in business is talking teams.  In the February
issue of 'Training' magazine, in an article entitled 'The Devil's
dictionary of business buzz words', team is defined as 'a holy
word, believed to possess mystical powers.' Many view teams as
the cornerstones of all successful change efforts.  They can be
if done right.  Just as you, your supervisor or your
administration can't wave a magic wand over individuals and
pronounce them empowered, you can't just bring a group of
individuals together and pronounce them a team.  You have to
build a team.  Team building is a structured attempt to improve
or develop the effectiveness of a group of people who work
together.  I would like to discuss team building from two
perspectives - team building at your library and team building
within professional library associations.

Some libraries began using teams before working in teams
became fashionable.  Again, I think that had more to do with the
fiscal realities facing libraries.  As support staff duties and
responsibilities increased, inclusion of support staff became a
logical step in the selection of team members.  When support
staff were mistakeningly overlooked in the selection process,
many have taken action by speaking up and questioning why, or why

Over the years, and not surprisingly, support staff have
served with distinction on teams at their libraries.  Support
staff recognize the value in teams because they provide an avenue
where their voices and their ideas can be heard.  They are
willing to take the initiative to join and participate fully on
those teams so they can see their ideas put into practice.  They
will give their best because they can accept a team decision they
had input on.

I view support staff involvement on teams as one of those
small changes taking place at libraries that individuals can
relate to better.  By actively participating, they are breaking
the conventional norms of what was expected of support staff.  By
participating on cross functional teams with broad
representation, support staff and librarians are provided an
opportunity to know and understand each other and they are
provided a broader understanding of the various sections within a

What about team building as it relates to professional library
associations?  I view the creation of support staff sections and
roundtables within the established professional library
associations, as well as the creation of independent library
support staff associations, as a structured attempt to improve or
develop the effectiveness of a group of people who work together.
Many of these groups were formed because self empowered
individuals began to identify with others who had mutual concerns
and issues and because they realized that a team of strong
individuals are more likely to outperform individuals working
separately to overcome those concerns and issues.  When you think
of teams you usually think of small groups of individuals with a
shared purpose.  Well, when these individuals began forming they
started out small but they all believed in the purpose.

Over the years, these groups have grown and grown because they
are giving their best by addressing support staff needs and by
providing the necessary support and resources to their members
which enable them to be their best.  Although their mission
statements reflect what they're in business for - they are really
in the business of building the power and strength of individuals
- the power and strength of tomorrow's library leaders.  Not only
do these associations provide professional development
conferences, professional literature, and an opportunity to
network, they provide a safe haven where member input is sought,
heard and understood.  They are a model of how support staff want
to and should be treated.

Just by existing, these sections, roundtables, and
associations and their dues paying members are giving their best
because they are breaking the conventional norms of what was
expected of support staff in the past.  It's kind of hard to say
that support staff don't care or don't want to get involved when
they are planning and attending conferences, presenting
workshops, and serving with distinction on committees and in
elected leadership positions.  It's kind of hard to say that
support staff won't pay dues to join professional associations
when the fastest growing section or roundtable within the
American Library Association is the Support Staff Interests Round
Table.  No longer can candidates seeking elected statewide or
national library association office overlook this new

Library support staff associations are also forging new
partnerships within the library community.  In New York State,
NYSLAA's membership has grown each year in its eight short years
of existence.  With just under 500 members and a growing
treasury, NYSLAA is now seen as one additional strong voice in
support of New York libraries.  NYSLAA members have sent letters
in support of library legislation and NYSLAA has joined the other
professional library associations in New York State in
co-sponsoring statewide library initiatives.  They are now
looking at support staff in a new light - as voters, as
advocates, as lobbyists in support of libraries.

Although support staff are setting new norms by joining and
participating in library associations, I believe that the needs
of library support staff could be addressed faster if more
support staff joined their professional library associations.
I've said this before and I'll say it again -- support staffs
greatest strength, their greatest power is in their sheer
numbers.  It sounds revolutionary and it may frighten some
traditional library professionals.  I find it ironic that the
same individuals who view support staff inclusion as a threat to
their professionalism, continually point to the low number of
support staff in professional associations as proof that support
staff don't care about the profession or want to get involved.  I
also find it ironic that these same individuals commonly compare
support staff to vital or strong anatomical parts like the
backbone, or the heart, of their library yet fear support staff
will weaken the profession and professional associations.  I
would like to thank those who are in our audience today who are
members in their professional association.  I appreciate all the
work you are doing on behalf of support staff and libraries.

Most library associations would welcome with open arms support
staff participation - their dues, their conference monies, their
problem solving ideas, and their willingness to work on behalf of
the association.  John Berry's editorial that talks about
independent support staff associations organizing in the late
eighties is a milestone, not only because he coined the
'movement' or discusses that movement in a mainstream library
periodical.  It is a milestone because it was a wake up call to
the statewide professional library associations that if they
didn't do something to help address the needs of support staff,
the potential of a major new member base would be lost.

So, how do you get library support staff involved in their
professional library association?  You need to provide them with
an inspiring vision of the future you are working towards.  If
it's a vision they would like to see - they will join.  One of
the greatest challenges facing library support staff associations
is the drafting of a unified vision statement for the entire
library support staff community and the development of a
strategic plan to obtain that vision.  Once they have worked that
out they need to communicate it not only to support staff but to
the entire library community.  Only when support staff know what
their best looks like and what needs to be accomplished can they
commit their best to that future.

Vision and strategic planning were the two other topics in
'The Library Support Staff Movement' workshop.  I use to think
the challenge was the difficulty in getting the leaders of the
support staff community together to work on it.  With many of
today's leaders online, I don't see this as the challenge
anymore.  The challenge will come when that vision and plan is
boldly communicated to the library world.  It may clash with the
interests of librarians, directors, library associations, library
boards, and library schools.

Tomorrow, we will hear from Hannah Rosenthal who will address
the political climate.  We're in the midst of an election year;
there's still no federal budget in place; there's a lot of voter
anxiety over the economy and with Congress.  Another side note -
I think many of us here today know what the resigning democratic
representatives and senators are experiencing in the republican
controlled Congress.  They cite as reasons for leaving that it is
not fun being in the minority; they feel left out of the decision
making process, and; they're upset that some of their key
assignments have been taken away.

I mention politics because of resistance and I'd be remiss if
I didn't briefly mention resistance.  In Peter Block's book _The
Empowered Manager_, a book I highly recommend, the author states
that 'politics has come to mean actions that are in the service
of our own self interests' and 'in being political we walk the
tight rope between advocating our own position and yet not
increasing resistance against our actions.'

Throughout the course of the movement, library support staff
have taken actions to service their own self interests.  They
figured if no one else was going to focus on their needs or their
concerns, they might as well take care of it themselves.  And in
all honestly, they are the ones that should.  I think they've
done a pretty good job up to this point.  Yet, they've had to
walk that tight rope the entire way and I think they've done a
great job in not increasing resistance.

However, there still is resistance.  Why?  I believe and maybe
you feel this way too, resistance exists because people who are
in positions of authority fear they are losing their power.  This
fear that heightens resistance is not unique to the library
profession.  The same resistance can be found in other
professions where a strong professional support staff has
emerged.  I'm just wrapping up a conflict management class and in
that class there is a paralegal and a health care provider.  You
should hear their stories - they are eerily similar.

In another ironic twist, empowerment and working on teams has
also heightened resistance.  Empowerment principles and working
on teams is about change at the workplace.  A change many fear
because they don't know what that change will look like when
completed.  A change they distrust as they question managements
motives during tough fiscal times.  I've heard management explain
empowerment as a way to get more work done by fewer people by
reducing the number of obstacles in the way of those actually
doing the work.  That 'fewer people' line strikes fear in
supervisors - often viewed as the obstacles to empowerment - and
fear amongst staff who believe they might improve themselves out
of a job.  People become distrusting and territorial.  They don't
want to see the big picture.  They want a piece of that shrinking
resource pie at any price.  No want wants to take risks or put
forth new ideas if they fear making a mistake could cause them
their job.  That structured attempt to improve or develop the
effectiveness of a group of people who work together goes out the

Just as many Americans are sick and tired of what's happening
in Washington, I believe many support staff and librarians are
growing tired of this constant in-fighting over name calling,
control, resources and power.  Librarians and support staff are
natural allies.  Many of the issues and concerns facing library
support staff - status, salaries, value - face librarians.  It is
not surprising that unions have found success in organizing
library workers. Support staff and librarians should really
commit themselves to understanding their similarities and work
through some of their differences.  They really need to focus on
the challenges facing libraries in the next millennium.

I view library associations as one big team building exercise.
The more librarians and support staff get to know each other -
from their needs to their abilities - the more they will come to
value and respect each other; the more they will realize that
they are dependent on each other for the good of their
association and eventually for libraries.  There will be conflict
along the way but in the long run working together in this
environment will build trust and reduce fear.

I am proud to have witnessed library support staff become self
empowered and take charge in meeting most of their own self
interests.  Because they have met those needs, they've been able
to progress and help the library community meet its larger
interests.  It is this progression from self interest to
professional interests that the entire library community should
take note of.

I am optimistic that the library community will give their
best and focus on some of the remaining concerns of library
support staff because they will recognize that if the needs of
the support staff majority are not met, that progression will not
take place and the strength, the effectiveness of the library
community will be impaired.

As you leave here today I would like you to remember that
because there were and still are people who have taken action,
things have changed for the better.  As for the worst - there
will always be times when we are faced with the worst ... and I
say good!  When you face it, I invite you to choose to make
things better.  When you do you are on your way to giving your
best, for yourself, for library support staff, for your library
and library association and for libraries in general.  Thank you
and enjoy your conference.