Survivor for Bureaucrats

The 2012 Local Government Rural Management challenge was held at Renmark in South Australia. I was part of a team of six people representing our organisation. Seven teams competed – six from South Australia and one from Victoria. Our team consisted of: Mr. Les Al Dance, Miss Ima Hugga, Ms Heaven Lea, Mr Doug A Trench, Mr Al Grandé, Ms Ginger Plum and the Team Coach Dr Tor Mentor.

We travelled the 800km in a mini bus and got to know our team mates a little better as most of us had not worked together before. We appeared to be a fairly reserved and quite bunch. We had been briefed and prepared for the challenge. So we had a logo, a flag, a motto, a vision and values, team rules, banners, and team t-shirts; as well as a heap of stationery, documents, laptops, printer, lollies and music.

We were all nervous on the day but keen to set up our designated room. We moved beds, put up posters, set up the banners, made our work areas, set up the laptops and printer, and prepared the customer service area complete with fresh flowers, sign-in book, picture of The Mayor, and welcome sign.

Then the whirlwind hit. After a briefing with all the teams, we started work on the four tasks that were delivered, with two more undefined tasks expected to arrive at any time. We brainstormed as a group, wrote up the task schedule on the whiteboard, divided the tasks accordingly, and got our heads down.

Three reports, one briefing paper, a meeting, a flowchart, and two customer service actions with file notes later and it was lunch time. PHEW! I felt dehydrated, headachey, stressed and overwhelmed. After lunch it was straight back into it with three more tasks to complete. Another report, a media release, and a presentation and we were done. Our presentation was a group effort and we kicked off the seven presentations to finish the day. FRED formed the basis of our Staff Code of Conduct Training Overview.

The scenarios and tasks formed an interesting and descriptive narrative for the District Council of Galeforz, so much so that I felt as if I knew the place and the people. Rather than dry tasks, the tasks proved to be interesting, challenging, relevant and realistic. Two women acted some parts during the day in order to provide some “real life” action. This added a further dimension to the scenarios and was well executed.

Our team performed like a Bathurst Pit Crew. There were no conflicts or power struggles. Just a team of equals working together: collaborating, supporting, sharing, suggesting, and swapping. It was a thing of beauty. Our Coach worried that we ignored the morning tea of cakes and drinks. And by lunch time we were dehydrated, tired and a bit worse for wear. The afternoon session was shorter and less intense. The seven group presentations formed a perfect way to complete the day. I was quick to volunteer our team to present first just to get it over with. FRED formed the basis of our presentation.

Back at the motel our Coach de-briefed us and provided words of encouragement and pride. We were glad she was glad.

Dinner and presentations were enjoyed at the Renmark Club on the banks of the Murray River. The winners – six young gorgeous women from the Yorke Peninsula were the stand out performers on the day. We won an award for the Best Dressed Room and so our badging and arranging efforts were recognised.

The long bumpy return trip in the mini bus was a quiet journey with the team feeling totally spent and mentally exhausted. It was an excellent experience that condensed a year’s worth of training and team building into a single day. If you get the opportunity – dive in.

Signing off: Ginger Plum, Group Manager Human Resources.

How does your library grow?

In keeping with the National Year of Reading, I continue to write about the monthly themes, and for September it is “grow”. My focus is on public libraries.

Many people assume that public libraries keep all of their books, and when not being borrowed, they sit on the shelf or are kept in storage somewhere. However this is a myth. In reality public libraries have very limited space and books don’t often remain in any one spot for very long at all. It is a dynamic process of purchasing, processing, sorting, shifting, distributing, displaying, shelving, re-shelving, retrieving, loaning, issuing, returning, re-shelving, repairing, evaluating, sorting, boxing, and at the end of its use – selling in a book sale or sent on to some other need. There is often not a mysterious “stack” of old books preserved for prosperity, unless the library is the National or State Library.

Public libraries attempt to manage this dynamic process with a Collection Management Plan that addresses the demographic of their users to try to predict demand. This plan offers guidelines to manage donations, weeding, purchasing, and when used in conjunction with a clever Marketing Plan, should maximise the collections full extent.

Often people generously offer their pre-loved books thinking the public library will cherish them as much as they have, whilst in reality they are often boxes of dog-eared, smoke-saturated, food-stained paperbacks that only add workload and obstacles to an already jam-packed library work space and work load. The local public library does not have the capacity to “grow” to this extent. There are exceptions of course, and sometimes the books donated are real treasures.

Direct request from customers for popular books and other resources proves to be a useful way to grow the collection while responding to local demand. But it can’t be the only driver because often there are fantastic things that exist that people aren’t aware of, or know that they want – yet. This is where the librarians craft comes into play and they can shape the collection with their expertise, worldly knowledge and creativity.

The Long Tail is a concept coined by Chris Anderson in 2005 and when applied to the library collection is easy to understand. If a library were to buy copies of the latest popular release in quantities to supply the demand and responded each time to every best seller, the shelves would soon be lined with multiple copies of last year’s bestsellers and little else, and look like a short stumpy tail. It would be like a drinks refrigerator filled with one brand of beer, or just beer. Which might be fine for beer drinkers, but not so for those who prefer champagne or tea or green smoothies. The Long Tail theory shows that by offering an array of many different titles on a diversity of subjects that often the quirky niche subjects get a space on the shelf that will be justified when it is inevitably matched with the diverse and quirky interest of a customer. And to paraphrase Tim Flannery, “The continued existence of the species depends on diversity.” When you apply this to humans then our existence depends on a diversity of attitudes, interests and knowledge that can only be gained by offering a wide range of topics for investigation. A browse along the shelves of the non-fiction section  will show books about beekeeping, how to work a room, bushcraft, Hagar, heavy metal music, the cats pyjamas, work abroad, survival, ideas, Shakespeare (of course), Henry Lawson, travel, art, architecture, computer help, languages, pregnancy, health issues, etc, etc.

The serendipity of browsing library shelves is a well-known and enjoyable pastime and many have commented on this human behaviour. Bryan Loar of Brave New World says that by using the online catalogue and reserving items ahead of time then “self-directed discovery has been lost”. Professor Todd P. Olson of Berkeley in California values the experience of browsing the library’s shelves so much that he has launched a fundraising campaign towards the “continuation of library collections to ensure that the joy of discovery will continue for generations into the future”. Steve Penn talks about how “you walk around the shelves and suddenly find something that you weren’t looking for but seems just right for you.”  Maria Popova of Brain Pickings worries “that we are leaving little room for abstract knowledge and for the kind of curiosity that invites just enough serendipity to allow for the discovery of ideas we didn’t know we were interested in until we are, ideas that we may later transform into new combinations with applications both practical and metaphysical.” And I could go on…

So eBooks and other electronic resources seem to offer a solution to the problem of relieving limited physical spaces in libraries, but restrict the valuable and enjoyable experience of browsing for the serendipitous find. Again I try to imagine the library space where much is only available as an electronic file or online. An electronic collection can grow beyond imagination, storing and preserving every book forever! Of course the preservation of electronic files is another complex issue altogether. But as Seth Godin tells us “Librarians who are arguing and lobbying for clever ebook lending solutions are completely missing the point. They are defending library as warehouse as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario.”

Well Seth Godin doesn’t have to convince me that libraries are not just warehouses for books, but if our buildings are not growing with new physical materials, and our collections are “hidden” in the “connected” cyber-world, then who and what is in the building? And how can the average Joe Blow discover, develop and grow with that serendipitous ah-ha moment of stumbling across that book that will change his life? I think it was Og Mandino who told the story about how he was destitute, homeless and was on his way to buy a gun to kill himself when he stumbled into a public library and this “saved” him and turned his life around. That weird unkempt, smelly, apparently homeless person who visits your public library every day might just stumble across his/her saving grace.

In the past I have thought that perhaps the library could display images or video on large screens of these hidden resources. Libraries do this now and have been for some time. And although it might create visual interest, it is just another screen in a world where screens proliferate. And the images would be limited and could not portray the full extent of the collection. And these have tended to be rather static displays even with the inclusion of video segments. Library catalogues could be (and perhaps are being) developed whereby the screen is used to display current catalogue items in a way that is more dynamic and interactive, uses multi-media, and has the ability to display at random or by selection, when not in use by a customer.  Perhaps the items displayed could be recommendations that respond to the person who passes by based on their past loans. I am sure the current technologies in Library Management Systems and RFID could already do this, however then we get into the murky waters of intrusion and privacy.

Hours in a day

Or 1440 minutes in every day. How do you use them? On task or wasted away?

In recent times I have attended quite a few leadership and time management seminars. Sessions facilitated by Proteus, Skill Path, VALA, and the Women in Local Government Network in the region where I live and work. 

The overriding message I hear is that in order to lead and manage well in the workplace you need to be focused and have lots of energy and in order to do that you must be fit and healthy.

Therefore diet and exercise are paramount. So how does a busy manager have time for exercise? They make time! There are no excuses. If you need to get up at 5:00am to fit it in then that is what you need to do. In the words of one trainer, “Suck it up Princess!

It is said that it takes 21 days in order to create a habit. So for me to get up at 5:00am to exercise (and not being a “morning person”) will take 3 weeks of actually doing it before it becomes second nature.

So now this is my day:

  • 5:00am                 Meditate
  • 5:30am                 Yoga
  • 6:30am                 Healthy breakfast
  • 7:00am                 Leave for work and while driving learn French from Radio Lingua’s Coffee Break French via podcast
  • 8:00am                 Start work – plan day and week using daily planners and Outlook Calendar. On tasks – no coffee
  • 12:00                     Walk or run for 30 minutes if possible and/or motivated
  • 12:30                     Healthy lunch
  • 1:00pm                 Work on tasks
  • 5:00pm                 Leave for home and listen to podcasts while driving
  • 6:00pm                 Healthy dinner
  • 6:30pm                 TV
  • 7:30pm                 Reading and writing – sometimes work related
  • 9:00pm                 Bed

On weekends I cycle on Sunday mornings and usually go for a long walk or a run on Saturdays. On Tuesday evenings I attend a meditation group. I regularly travel in the region for work as well as flying to Melbourne every few months.

The meditation practice has certainly helped me to get my life in perspective and to easily attend to the things I really need to do.