I See Libraries as Assemblages

| November 26, 2015

My first position in a library was at Berklee College of Music, my alma mater. I entered a space I knew very well. But instead of being a student, I was now a Library Assistant and the Circulation Supervisor.

I quickly saw many things that I thought should be done differently. There were several obvious problems like books not being promptly or properly re-shelved, student workers missing their shifts, and overall workflow issues at the circulation desk. I also noticed a low morale among the student workers. I had lots of ideas about what I would like to do differently and how I wanted to structure the work of the circulation desk differently, but I see libraries as assemblages. By that I mean, I see libraries as complex machines with gears and cogs that must fit carefully together in order to work properly. Each gear and cog plays an important role in the overall success of the library.

As a newcomer to this assemblage, I decided that rather than quickly asking the library to change based on my perspective (which would likely throw a wrench into the operation, causing more harm than good), I would spend time getting to know every piece and part of the assemblage I was joining. I spent a solid three months watching, learning, and listening. I heard from each student worker about what they thought was working and how they thought the library could be improved. I listened to patrons as they experienced both successes and failures in their attempts to use the library. I observed how every piece of the assemblage fit together and worked or impeded the success of the whole.

And then I made a plan. I used the information I had gathered studying the assemblage that was my new home. My plan centered on the ideas that the student workers offered and that patrons communicated informally. I acknowledged people for their ideas and work. I thanked them for it. They felt valued, capable, and useful in our assemblage. They also felt like I was someone worth trusting and working with.

I also included my ideas in the plan. Some of those ideas were hard for some of the student workers to embrace. Some of them were very easy. But in the end, we worked together as a team and our collaboration transformed the organization and circulation of materials in the library for the better. I was proud of our work and so were the students I worked with to accomplish this.

This perspective, of seeing libraries as assemblages, informs all of my work. I believe that each gear and cog matters. From patrons to student workers, to serials and technical services, to reference and circulation – each component of the library is important and should work meaningfully together to offer responsive supports to the community they serve. Therefore, I approach all of my work in libraries from a perspective that those doing the job (acting in the role of a gear or a cog in the assemblage) have important perspectives that matter for the overall health of the assemblage. From this perspective I have had many successful management experiences. I am often asked questions about how I do certain things as others would like to replicate my success. For the next several blog entries, I am going to focus on some of the work I have done, from this perspective of valuing my co-workers, my student workers and our patrons, to create and sustain successful library assemblages.