Category Archives: Policy

This is the “debate forum” where it is hoped the public and library administrators will duke it out as to how things at the library are run and why. The vastly malfeasant “toss good books out to make room for a teen space nobody will use” program would have gotten its knocks here (and been refuted before it was undertaken.)

BPL’s website programming should be done in-house.

Published / by aladdin / Leave a Comment

If management/programming of BPL’s IT, website and public interfaces is not done in-house, that must be corrected.

Outsourcing the work has the overhead of oversight, which is a task poorly performed. The programmer should be on staff in the library so that the loop of requests / programming changes / testing is kept short. If there is not enough work for the programmer to justify it as a full-time position, then make it a part-time position, or give that person other work to do.

What does “Closing Time” mean?

Published / by aladdin / Leave a Comment

The “Open Hours” are the hours of operation, but the Library Staff treat it as the “drop dead time to walk out the door and go home.” Anyone patronizing any commercial or other service establishment knows that “open” means “open” and if I have 30 seconds of business to do and you close at 6:00:00 PM, I can walk in at 5:59:00 PM and do my business.

Not BPL. They shut down the elevators at 10 minutes to closing — to hell with the elderly and handicapped, I guess. They shut off the checkout stations on the 5th floor – I think even if you are in the middle of checking things out – and you are forced to check out on the 1st floor.

So I give the library two choices:

EITHER

you honor the closing time as all retail stores do – and people can enter as late as 5:59:30 versus a closing time of 6:00:00 – and still be fully served. In this case, tough darts, the staff has to stay a little longer (so compensate them accordingly.)

OR

if you want to behave as you do now, then be honest and knock 15 minutes off the currently stated closing times. You are closing at 5:50 if you turn the elevators off at 5:50 and there is no two ways about that. Also, the checkout machines are all on or all off, period.

I have no problem with either solution, but I do have a problem with the “cake and eat it too” approach of pretending to close at 6:00 if they’re spending the last 10-15 minutes of that time telling you they can’t do anything for you because they’re closing. And shutting off the elevator is hostile. I know it is to discourage people from going upstairs near closing time, but closing time is closing time and this “social engineering” of the public’s behavior is not very clever (or polite) at all. If you’re shutting the elevator off to halt the public you can only do that when the public is already gone, so you cannot do that until 6 PM (and if someone needs to sue BPL under the disability act to make this point, then the statute they’ll sue under should be cited to BPL before that suit is filed so they will act before they get sued.)

A final word: the elevator must never be shut down so as to force patrons to use the stairs to reach the 1st floor. For anyone on the 5th floor with business still to do (since you turned off the checkout machines on the 5th floor), this is just grossly, gratuitously rude.

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.

Accountability:
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.