Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

A Great Start to Staff Day!

I think the administration of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library have a thing or two to learn about staff motivation, unless they want to motivate the staff to loathe the administration and quit en masse.

I’m not sure what else one could make of a survey handed out to employees at the beginning of the library’s staff development day. Via LIS News, here’s a link that reproduces the survey, on official letterhead and everything. Here’s the survey:

If your position were to be potentially targeted for (imminent) layoff, how would you like to be notified:

1. Would you want to know ahead of time? (circle one) Yes  No

2. How would you prefer to be notified? (circle one)

a. E-mail
b. Letter
c. Telephone call
d. Group meeting

I’m trying to imagine myself in the place of the person who wrote this survey, but it isn’t easy. I certainly don’t think I could have written a sentence like the first one. There are so many qualifications to the sentence – the italicized conditional if, the subjunctive were, the weaselly potentially – that the sentence almost implies that such a layoff would never really happen, when, according to this news article, layoffs are inevitable.

I would have written, “If at some point maybe we were possibly thinking about potentially discussing laying off some people, how do you think those hypothetical people would like to find out about it? We’re just curious. Really. Don’t give it another thought after taking this survey.”

That keeps the sinister we-don’t-really-give-a-fig-about-you undertone, and it keeps the same meaning while making the potential, possibly, hypothetical layoffs seem even more far-fetched.

The “circle one” Yes and No are so cute and reminiscent of grade school Valentine’s Day cards. “Will you be my Valentine and/or my rightsized employee? Circle Yes or No.” But they don’t give the library staff the full range of choices they deserve. How about a few other options?

  • Maybe.
  • It depends. Can I come to work armed? I’m hoping the phrase “go library” catches on after Monday.
  • Yes, as far in advance as possible so that I can start stealing office supplies and goofing off as much as possible.
  • No, it doesn’t matter, because from now on I’m going to be stealing all the supplies and time I can from you heartless snakes.
  • Don’t bother. I’m going on the market after lunch.
  • I would prefer not to.

This is so  much more circuitous than the blunter but truer, “If we’re going to fire you, should we give you some notice, or just fire you?” It’s good to ask, because we wouldn’t want to assume that a staff member would desire the common courtesy of advanced notice of anything bad in the works.

The first question deals with wants, but the second one is about preferences. I’m not sure there’s much of a difference here, but I thought I’d point it out. The notification preferences are a bit limited, especially for any Twopointopians in the crowd, so I suggest they add a few more:

e. The library blog
f. Twitter
g. Friendfeed
h. Carrier pidgeon
i. A note passed to me in a meeting
j. Angels whispering in my ears while harps play in the background
k. A colorful bookmark that I can treasure forever
l. A totebag with my name on it!
m. A certified check for $1,000,000 with “You’re fired!” in the memo section
n.  An individual face to face meeting with my cowardly snake of a supervisor
o. None of the above

Alas, it seems the library administration didn’t want to offer as much choice as some might have liked.

It was staff development day, so I hope they had some useful development exercises for the staff. Resume and cover letter writing, interviewing skills, dressing for success, that sort of thing. It would have been the perfect complement to the survey, just as the survey was a perfect beginning to another perfect day. 



  1. Crueltyiskindness says:

    How about:

    p. By a special agency contracted to help the management fire me while a reporter from the NY Times writes an article about the whole experience so I can relive it again and again…

  2. Robolibrarian says:

    More notification preferences:

    Tied to a brick thrown through my windsheild

    Candlelight dinner


    Singing telegram

    Prize Patrol

    Nicely wrapped around a box of fine chocolates, preferably caramels and nuts, please.

  3. Crueltyiskindness says:

    Ooh, got the newspaper wrong. It was the Washington Post, not the NY Times. Was worth reading the article again, though – kind of like watching trains collide in slow motion.

  4. Group Meeting??? Who the heck would want to be notified in front of their peers that they are “potentially” getting the boot. The whole thing is horrible, but that just takes the cake.

    Now that we’re all motivated to get other jobs, lets work on staff development…

  5. Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian says:

    Ooh! Ooh! Can I be fired by George Clooney, like in the movie Up in the Air? He’s so dreamy…

  6. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    Breaking news on the local television channel? That way it can receive that perky “on a lighter note” delivery. And possibly, helicopter coverage as the employee leaves the building with his/her box of personal belongings.

  7. Good to see the over payed admins at B&ECPL really care about librarian jobs:

  8. september 23 says:

    Whenever I’ve asked for notification, or even thanks, by large check mailed to my address, I’ve been ignored. So being fired is just like being at work, really, in terms of response…

  9. When BECPL had mass layoffs in 2005, they did tell everyone by herding them into one room at the same time and dropping the axe.

    Also, admin has added job searching tips to the staff webpage. This was touted during staff development day as a good thing.

    Stay classy BECPL!

  10. ughlibrarian says:

    try working here. it’s awful. i’m almost ready to be laid off so i don’t have to deal with an administration like this.

  11. TeenLibrarian says:

    Let me tell ya, telephone call sucks. Trust me.

  12. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    Having been there, all I can say is “Put on your big girl panties or grow some testicles and be HONEST.” It’s not pleasant to lay people off but doing it in a weasely fashion is not nice. Karma, what goes around comes around, Golden Rule, you reap what you sow – keep all those things in mind.

  13. Notthatlibrarian says:

    How about getting a letter in the mail?? Not even certified or express delivery. Regular old post – so I’ll get whenever… I would have appreciated a personal call or a meeting. Layoffs just suck all around. ;-(

  14. Al K Mist says:

    I experienced something that is on this level of ineptitude.

    At the beginning of the summer Brooklyn Public Library (the library system mentioned in the Washington Post Article) gave over 300 layoff notices by phone. After much advocacy and a retirement offering to some employees, the system announced they would not need to layoff any employees. Less than two weeks later everyone in the system received an email informing us that not enough people accepted the retirement package and therefore layoffs may still occur. So, we wait.

  15. NotMyRealName says:

    I want George Clooney to deliver the bad news a la “Up in Air”. At least I would have something good to look at while I am getting the bad news.
    AL love your blog!

  16. After reading this I fear that my own “leaders” also work Buffalo and Erie County. I mean, really: do they teach this sort of buffoonery at Library Director school or something? We have the same sort of idiocy in my system (central Virginia). Every day gets stranger and stranger. Forty paraprofessionals were laid off in July and those remaining work 10-12 hour days. And the director believes that service to the public will remain “seamless” Everyone is under a gag order. A staff day has been set for the next month. Some people are bringing marshmallows so we can roast them after we all spontaneously burst into flame after hearing yet another lecture about “quality”. U.S. Public Libraries deserve to die if this is what passes for leadership.

  17. ladyatthedesk says:

    The administration later tried to apologize for the perceived insensitivity of the handout saying that in the 2005 some staff had complained about the way they were notified about layoffs. The message is clear. The layoffs will happen and the administration and board for whatever reasons (political?) are supporting it. They should really stop trying to pretend they care.

  18. I used to work at BECPL before I got my degree. It’s a fabulous library as far as collections go–you wouldn’t believe the stuff you can get to, given that it’s a financially strapped rust belt city–but yeah, staff treatment sucks, and has for a long time.

    Oh, Buffalo. I love you–I really do, with the true love of a native daughter–but you’re one crazy SOB of a bureaucracy. You know that. And it’s obviously NOT WORKING FOR YOU. The city is bleeding money and population. You want one of the nutty “Really, we’re going to save the city!” ideas to work, might I suggest curing the crazy first? No one wants to invest in an unstable town where people think it’s all right to say, “So how would you like to be fired?” People in Buffalo are generally very helpful and friendly. I’m sure that, if you asked, someone would be kind enough to explain this to you.

  19. disappointedlibrarian says:

    I currently work for the BECPL as a librarian and this form asking “how you would like to be notified of your termination” is the least of it – it’s actually an example of the administrators trying to be nice.

    I can honestly say that the current BECPL administrators and their minions, particularly in the public services area, are the worst I have ever dealt with. If you express an opinion that is outside of decided (often poorly thought out) policy, expect to be brow beaten, falsely accused or some other less direct form of punishment. These actions will, if possible, be executed in a manner that handily circumvents the union or any other formal disciplinary procedure and it is likely that it will effect your job security.

    Lessons learned from my years at BECPL: 1. Do not express an opinion other than what vague and barely articulated tidbits you may be able to discern from the administrators 2. The smarter and more innovative you are (unless you know how to keep it to yourself) the more of a threat you are, and the less likely you are to succeed here.

    Doesn’t the library board and administration know that good internal relations are good public relations? I can only hope that I am part of the upcoming cuts; unemployment (benefits) would beat this place any day. And the worst of it is that none of this is good for the many folks who benefit from the libraries and who deserve, and could so easily have, so much better. We are continuing to allow the bar to be set lower and lower here, which I fear has made us one of the national forerunners in the downward spiral.

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