Author Archives: aladdin

End the Authoritarianism

Published / by aladdin / Leave a Comment

One of the issues that plagued the Library in recent times is the harassment of whistleblowers. Staffers who “outed” problems with the library’s administration were threatened, suffered internal harassment and faced dismissal.

Let’s be clear: disclosing malfeasance and confronting inefficiency are good things to do, and the only people who should suffer penalties are the malfeasants and those defending the inefficiencies for the sake of their egos or to spare themselves work.

The Iron Law must be – and I want to see the Library’s charter amended if need be to make it manifestly apparent: any harassment of “whistleblowing” is grounds for immediate dismissal of the persons doing the harassment.

We live in a society that pretends to us (when we are young) that all people are equal; yet in adult life everyone lives in various pyramids of power. That there are superiors and subordinates may be a necessary fact of executive (administrative, operational) life but I tend to hew to the original concept: everyone is an EQUAL in every other way. This means that anyone and everyone must have their opinions respected and heard at every level without regard for “rank”.

In brief chats with various library staffers, they have told me that they are not allowed to object to policy, are not allowed to discuss objections to policy with the public, and that management is not generally interested in bottom-up information flow. This amounts to a “gag order” which contravenes not just the principle of free speech, but the principle of enlightened management. Staffers have the right to be heard from about things which affect them, and in particular, no one person is so much cleverer than the rest that they cannot be corrected or challenged, especially by people with direct experience to the contrary of what they are told to do and how they are told to do it.

Any rules which interfere in such a free flow of information are invalid and should be rescinded. If I am the Director and I give a “marching order” and a department head sees a pitfall in my approach, not only are they entitled to object – in full view of the staff – but if I am a Director worth my position I should demand that they do, I should welcome the feedback. Very few things in the Library are so time-critical that the Director could say “just do as I say, for there is no time to discuss the issue.” Any person with power who discourages feedback is a weak leader and should not be a leader. Moreover, the “not invented by me” defense is a defense of ego, not rationality, pragmatism, or efficiency. Anyone who wants anything done in some particular way should be able to defend why they want things done in that way. or there is no reason to comply with that person, and “because I’m the boss” and “because I said so” are things we should expect never to have to hear any longer in a community of workers such as the library is. If I am the Director (at any level) and I say “do X and do it in way W”, I should also be willing and able to explain why X needs to be done and why X needs to be done in way W. I should also give hearing to people who object to way W (“I suggest a way that may be better than W”) and even task X (“I suggest an alternative that makes X unnecessary.”) No-one is omniscient. It is only fair to argue points.

Free Speech. Any staffer should be free to express their personal opinion about how they feel and what they think about what goes on in the Library to anyone. The only requirement is to identify whatever opinion as the speaker’s own and not representing the policy of the Library. It does not matter if what the staffer says embarrasses the Library or someone who works at the Library at any level so long as the opinion is not false or slanderous. If a staffer tells patron Ms. Jones that in their opinion, the library’s handing of some issue is lacking, then after all, either the staffer is poorly informed (and should be corrected), or the staffer is correct, and it is fine for Ms. Jones to take issue with the library over the handling of the issue based on the staffer’s say-so; besides which, internal mechanisms described above should already have put the library on notice that a dissent to the handling of the issue was registered, initially internally. I WANT the Library’s dirty laundry to be aired publicly so the matter can be discussed openly and whatever resolution can be attained will be attained. And I would want any sitting Director of the Library to agree with me: Open Discussion. Let the Sun Shine In. I Welcome Dissent. I Welcome Debate. I will sit as Philosopher King under the Magna Carta that I am Not Divine; the most I can say is that the Buck Stops With Me.

We need to exit the “punishment culture”. Along with the openness must come forgiveness. It is rare to know things in a Mathematical way, executives have to make guesses, and guesses are often wrong. The bottom line is motivation: were you acting in the best interest of the Library to the limit of the information you had on hand when making your decision? Did you insure to poll for feedback from everyone with useful information to contribute to the making of that decision? When a failure could not be foreseen, there is no warrant to punish the decisionmakers for having made an incorrect decision, but only for having arrived at a position at variance with the facts then known. it may well be that a decision is fraught with consequences should it be the wrong decision, but with everyone weighing in and the Director using their best judgement going in, the decision may yet fail. These things happen. We cannot expect people to fall on their swords based on the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. You pick yourselves up, having learned better, and try to avoid similar outcomes in the future. We can ask no more, that is life as it happens.

Free Speech for the Staffers, and free information flow both up and down the “chains of command.” Any rules to the contrary, any reprisals, are invalid.

To Sort or Not To Sort the DVDs, is the question

Published / by aladdin / Leave a Comment

As the public is well aware, the DVDs on the 1st floor are only grouped by first letter of the title and are not sorted. This is certainly a nuisance, especially seeing several copies of the same title scattered throughout a specific section, asking the obvious question “can’t this be better sorted?”

In fairness, a library staffer told me that the public disarrays the sorting very rapidly, making keeping the DVD section sorted a thankless, time-consuming (time-wasting?) task.

Let’s examine the “public puts it out of order quickly” issue. When I remove a DVD from a stack to read the cover to see if I’m interested in the title, I do something to keep my place, the place the DVD came from, to be able to put it back where it came from (even though as things now stand, it doesn’t matter as long as I put M-something back in the M section.) Enough people are in a hurry or otherwise have sloppy habits so that at best they put the DVD back near where it belongs (if that.) We don’t want the slovens to do that. What would be better is to have an “I give up” pile, so the public does not refile a DVD in the wrong order.

Here is an instance where the public should be told to mind its behavior, and I endorse that the library can be firm with the public in this regard: put up signs in this area saying Please put it back exactly where it came from, or put it in the ‘refile’ bin. The subtext is If you can’t refile it correctly then don’t pretend to try. “Refile bins” should be put at the end of each shelf for this purpose. Once an hour a library staffer can refile all the DVDs, which should not take too long; and in the meantime not having found title M-something in order in the M section, the patron only has one other place to look, the M-refile bin.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t:

As someone hostile to having my time wasted having to search a section end-to-end to see if a title is or is not in the section, there is the nasty guerilla tactic of putting a hold on a title, which makes a library staffer have to find it for me. That is unfriendly, but what else can I do at wit’s end close to closing time? The problem arises when many other people figure this out and do it as well. Now the time savings of not having to refile DVDs exactly is sucked away by staffers having to find titles (just as the public does) in a linear exhaustive search since the sections are unsorted.

As an IT professional (kissing cousins of librarians) I can tell you that sortedness is next to Godliness. Imagine that it is not 150 M-something DVDs in random order, but the phone book, and someone asks you to find the telephone number of John Smith who lives on Shattuck Avenue (as opposed to John Smith who lives on Hearst.) You immediately see this is a nearly futile task to perform (in any reasonable time.) Because you have to look through the entire phone book until you find the correct John Smith; and what if the person asking the question made a mistake, and the Smith they want actually lives on Allston Way, and not Shattuck? You have to read every entry in the phone book to know that the John Smith being sought is not listed. Back to reality: perhaps there are only 150 M-something DVDs, but I (as just one patron) face the “exhaustive search” problem to determine that a given DVD is not present. Multiply me by as many patrons who are trying to find things and see how much human time is being wasted because the DVD sections are not sorted.

Back to what the staffer said, then: the public’s bad habit of putting these sections out of order ends up costing everyone a lot of time and headache. From the IT problem-solving perspective (or Operations Research, or Economics, if you like), we have to determine what is “cheapest”: having the library staff put the DVDs back in order, or leaving things as they are and forcing everyone to do “bucket searches” for every DVD they want to find. Intuition suggests that the sorting is mandatory and that what must be done, then, is to eliminate the disarray. Thus my suggestion above: if you pull a DVD to look at it, either put it back where it belonged, or if there is any doubt where it goes, then don’t even try to refile it: put it in the “refile” bin and leave the refiling to the staffers. The public must try to eliminate “scutwork” on the part of the staffers to compensate for public laziness, inattention and sheer error.

Operations Research – what I suspect has not been done is for the library to assess how quickly the DVD section is in fact put out of order by the public given the public’s current habits. This would be nice to know within close bounds, so that the expense of reordering sections can be determined. Starting with the M-section completely ordered as of Monday morning, how soon is the M-section no longer reasonably ordered? By noon? By end of day Monday? By the end of the week? How quickly a given section is disarrayed tells us how often the expense of resorting must be undertaken. Every hour on the hour is obviously infeasible for the staffers. So if we say that having the sections totally sorted is paramount, then the means must be found to stop the public from screwing things up so royally so quickly. My suggestion above is one suggestion. Other people might think of other ways to finesse this issue.

And finally, if despite the suggestion above, the public insists on refiling things and puts the sections out of order regardless, then we see that we have to leave things unsorted because the public refuses to behave itself properly, and if that is the case – then so be it, and I and others are condemned to linear exhaustive searches by the unremitting slobs amongst us. Argh.

The Main Elevator
does not tell you what floor you’re on

Published / by aladdin / Leave a Comment

Inside the main (West) elevator, the LED display of the current floor is blank. Apparently the LED controller has failed. The problem has been outstanding since at least mid-December 2016 despite having been reported to the library by at least three patrons about a dozen times in all.

This causes problems because if a passenger enters on the 5th floor and presses the button for the 1st floor, if the elevator door opens, the assumption is that the 1st floor has been reached, even if what actually happened was the elevator stopped at the 2nd floor for a new passenger, and I have, and have observed other people, exit the elevator thinking we’ve reached our destination, only to find ourselves on the wrong floor.

(Resolved sometime in June, 2017.)

Suggestion Box versus Circular Bin

Published / by aladdin / Leave a Comment

I have told the library staff that I understand their “suggestion box” to be no more than a “circular bin”, i.e. trash can. Why? Because it seems clear that either nobody reads the feedback, or nobody does anything about the feedback items. I have filed the same suggestion repeatedly and there is no indication that I am being heard, no feedback ever.

How to fix this issue (and all other issues)?

A. Every suggestion or complaint gets a serial number.
B. Every suggestion or complaint filed is posted online for the public to see.
C. The library addresses every single item with a response posted, again, online.

=> If the item is a suggestion then the library must say
* yea (and estimated when)
* nay (and why not)
* added to our wishlist (estimated when)
* added as an item of note in our next major review (with note number)

=> if the item is a complaint then the library must say
* we agree that there is an issue here, or we do not agree that there is an issue here (and why not, in detail, and this response authored by whom.)
* if the library agrees, then it posts either
(A) will be solved by [estimated date]
(B) requires X resources or X approval in order to be resolved, and once X is provided, the [estimated additional time to completion]
Note that this requires that the library initiate the process to obtain X resources or X approval at this time.
* if the library does not agree, then the library will make clear what next steps the plaintiff can take to get the issue re-addressed or the decision overturned.

Not all members of the public can get everything they want, and different problems have different priorities and different costs to be resolved. For various issues, it will be the Library Director who will issue the final “we will not address this complaint” notice to which there is no appeal (within the library system per se.)

Whoever rejects a complaint must explain why, and must justify the reasons given; if not justified at the time of refusal, then the public has the right to demand debate with the author of the refusal, and that includes even a final refusal by the Library Director. If the reasons given for the refusal are in fact adequate, then the public is obliged to acknowledge this; but has no obligation to respect a mere “because I said so” note issued by an official who cannot or will not debate the correctness of their decision.

As action items are resolved they are updated online to show so.
=> Items missing estimated deadlines have to be explained.
=> Items that are not being resolved must be justified as to why they’re not being resolved.
=> The inability to resolve issues highlights problems in system administration that must be escalated, and any systemic cause must be eliminated.

So for example:

Ticket 20161215-00: patron notes that main elevator floor readout (so passengers know what floor they are on) is not working.

As things stand, actually this is 5 tickets by patron #1 and at least one ticket by patron #2. None of these tickets has been acknowledged as received, nor is there any evidence that the library has scheduled a repair, and the problem remains outstanding (since at least mid-December 2016!) {N.B.: the elevator issue was finally resolved some time in June 2017, half a year after it was first reported, and it appears that nobody who filed the observation was ever contacted to indicate that the issue had been resolved.}

Who left it outstanding (who is ignoring the problem) cannot be determined and nobody has to answer for the fact that the problem is not getting fixed.