ASSOCIATES (2005, July, v. 12, no. 1) -

Rainbow's End

Chapter 8


Tinker Massey

Let me see…it had been about two years since those terrible shots ringing through the hallways. The old Director was back with us every day in a motorized wheelchair, paralyzed from the injury to his spine. He had been reassigned as the Germanic Bibliographer and Collection Management person, per his request. The state purchased him a van with all of the disability gear, lifts, etc. that allowed him to be able to get to Library East fourth floor and his office. I guess technology and equipment are easier to purchase than counseling for the over two hundred staff affected by the trauma. It was agony seeing him come and go each day, knowing that somehow the system, more than humans, were to blame for this vision. The temporary administrative personnel were not changing anything and not handling situations any better than the old regime. We needed to be seeking help. One day soon after these thoughts, we noticed a person being shown all the departments. They were actually beginning to interview for a new Director. Interesting to note, the interviewee was a woman. Perhaps the administration felt there would be backlash to the hiring of another male?

I was in the center of the room looking up something in the manual when a well dressed lady came through the door followed by one of the administrators. She was introduced to the department area, but not the people. Her first remark was that this was much too crowded to be a good work area and that would have to change. I looked around and into her blue eyes that were dancing all over the room. I commented that she should have seen it before. This was palatial compared to a few years ago. She replied that we would have to work on this some more to give us the room we really needed to get our important jobs done. Everyone sat up straight in their chairs and gave strict attention to this woman. Who was she? We chatted some more and her last remarks were very funny. That’s what I like, a woman with a sense of humor. She would need it if she were to be hired. I liked her instantly. Oddly enough, she was hired and began the arduous task of interviewing all of the librarians on the staff, somewhere around 60 people. I watched and waited silently, until she announced she had finished and would think about all the things she had heard. I went to her office and asked if we could have a time to talk. She asked why and I told her that since she had heard from the librarians, she needed to hear from the staff, and I was as close to a spokesman as she was going to get. She agreed and set up a half hour for us to chat. I was very nervous, but I had thought about a lot of things and had sat down and devised a system that could help her make the transition.

Our chat turned into a serious discussion of events of two years ago and how the staff had developed and survived the previous administration. I was the only one willing to discuss David and the shooting and how it could have been avoided. She proffered the information on her vision for the library and staff, turning them to team orientation from the uni-directed type. I was impressed with her focus, her expertise and her enthusiasm for the many tasks ahead. I warned her of the “good-ole boy” system and the cultural problems that might impede the process, but vowed to help. I offered some preliminary ideas funneling the hatred and anger into a committee that would sort through the problems, alert the proper manager to needed changes and help facilitate those changes with improved communication. She asked me to draw it up on paper and bring it to her. I showed her the preliminary sketch I had written and she said to elaborate on the workings, how the members would be chosen and how it would operate. It would be a liaison committee between her and the staff. I was excited. As we walked to the door, she warned me that I would not get everything I asked for, but she would listen and evaluate. I told her that I had already gotten everything I had asked for because she had listened, understood and would evaluate. The rest would be compromise and that would work for the entire staff.

The next morning, I was on her back in her office with the Committee design and directives. She found that it was sound and asked the Personnel Director to work with me in establishing the voting process and clearing the way for the first meeting. We were on the move, finally, working toward a positive goal. Over the next months, we voted, met and brought ideas as well as gripes to the Director’s office. Many of the first ideas and problems were solved or implemented and the feedback to the staff was immediate. Staff who had been reluctant to participate in the changes before, now became more open to the ideas and willing to help. We finally had people working together on teams. People who had been yelling at one another were working toward common goals and talking to each other. The Director saw to it that the supervisors were sequestered for a week at a retreat and taught the principles of supervision and the new goals and visions of the library. New administrators were added to take care of the enlarged needs of the staff in various areas and a Library Council was established to have a monthly sharing period for ideas, changes, problems and visions. One of my last efforts in that direction, administratively, was to get a seat for the paraprofessionals on that Council. It was the glue that solidified our connections in the process.

Now that the administrative stuff had been done, I went to work discussing with other staff how we could improve morale and show our pride in this endeavor and our prestigious library. We had come up out of the ashes and were not only returning to good form, but surpassing our expectations and finding new ways to achieve. There was still much to do! About ten of us decided that a paraprofessional conference would be a good way to show off and announce to the Florida library community how important support staff are to the functioning of all libraries. Since there were people working on the Florida Library Association (FLA) already, we chose to do our bit through our own library, but keeping our FLA liaison. There were not enough monies to send us all to conferences, but we could build one here. We chose a theme, developed visions and goals, and worked out a preliminary program. Once done, I ran the idea by Dallis, the Director. She was excited and said she was sure we could do it well. She pledged xeroxing and facilities, but said we had to use our own time. Our planning was done at brown bag lunches, xeroxing after hours, and putting the materials together in big lunch parties. Dallis was so impressed with the enthusiasm of the group, that she allowed us contracted personal development time to complete the project. That idea remained in the system from that day onward to allow support staff specific amounts of time per year to pursue growth and development through library activities and organizations. Our evaluations changed to a more collegial style and we became more satisfied with the results and achievements we all made. We had about 150 people that year, from thirteen different states, attending our first conference. We had energy to burn and we lit the afterburners. The mood was so contagious, that the librarians joined us in helping to teach our guests the true meaning of Southern hospitality. Everyone in the system joined in and Dallis was the first to congratulate us. She said we finally found a way to let everyone show off. She laughed over this a long time, but she was thrilled. We also coordinated speeches from some of the visiting speakers to be done on campus before the conference for those who could not get to the site. Our newly formed Library Development Group, which allowed membership from all ranks, brought in other speakers from time to time and supported a new idea of cross training on a contractual basis. Each department pitched for people to come work for them, as in advertising and debating campaigns. We asked questions and some were very interested. The people who jumped on this opportunity found that the split position jobs were very interesting, some even choosing to change their work areas to the new location after their initiation. The library obtained better workers with backgrounds that would allow them to help in other areas and we all watched as people became very passionate about their work. One more step accomplished.

Would we ever be able to raise salaries? Upgrade jobs? The best was yet to come!

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