Ep 30 Librarians, the Solutions Are In the Stories!

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Hello, Librarians! I’m so happy you’re joining me for today’s episode. Your continued listenership means so much to me.

In this very short episode, I’m going to talk about the value of story. No, not the kind of stories we usually think of in libraries, but rather the kind our team members have to tell. It’s in these personal narratives that you might discover the most magical solutions to troubling issues. 

As usual, full show notes can be found at masterfullibrarian.com/ep-30.

I discovered this gold mine in a surprising way.

One of the best parts of my new job is exit interviews.  When a staff member of one of my direct reports leaves, for any reason, they have the opportunity to do an exit interview with me. So far, I’ve had the privilege of doing two – one with a retiring staff member and one with someone who was moving on to a new opportunity.

I really love doing these interviews! Although it’s always sad to see an employee go, I just never cease to be enthralled with the stories they tell me about their lives, their work in the library, their challenges, and their successes. And when I really listen and ask powerful questions, I learn much that I can bring to bear in solving library problems.  

In fact, I learn so much about things like what has worked well, what has done damage, or where an employee might have been better supported along the way, that I realized it was a shame to wait until they were leaving to do these interviews!  So,  I’ve started doing similar interviews now, long before a team member is  even thinking about leaving.

And although it’s true that someone who’s already out the door will often be more forthcoming with feedback – both constructive and not so much –  I’ve found that when I create for an employee the time, space, and safety to share without fear of retribution – and remember team leaders, that is key, to share without fear of retribution – stories start to flow out like a waterfall.

It’s incredibly useful information for me, as a team leader.

You can do this, too.  It takes some time and a willingness to listen without judgement or even comment, but the payoff is worth it.  

It’s honestly what coaching is all about – asking meaningful, open-ended questions and then really listening to the response.

Because here is the truth.  Every single one of us has a story.  We come to our work, not as blank canvases, but as real people with an infinite variety of experiences, successes, failure, scars, and habits (not all good) . And all of those are interwoven to create the tapestry that is our unique and personal story.

I have found that when I invite an employee, a member of my team, or really anyone, to tell me their story and I sit and I listen with an open and empathetic mind and heart, they will begin to open up and share some of their authentic narrative with me. And in this way, we can connect and begin to build a relationship of trust and respect. And when I care enough to validate their experiences and their personal viewpoints and perceptions – even when I don’t agree, or when I know that their perception is not accurate – that relationship grows stronger.

And when that relationship grows stronger, I have the opportunity to develop that individual into a better team member and to help them move forward toward their own personal goals and objectives. So it’s a win-win.

And when I’m doing that – when that happens – the magic of true collaboration and teamwork starts.

From those stories, I can glean keen insights into how best to support and nurture my team members in their personal and professional growth.  I can discover where they have perhaps been discouraged or maybe demeaned in the past and how trust might have been broken. And how I might help to rebuild shattered dreams and damaged confidence.

And best of all, it gives me the golden opportunity to show that I care personally about them, about them as people, not just as cogs in the machinery of the library.

And when that happens, we’re on the road to creating strong morale and greater workplace happiness. And those, dear listeners are the greatest contributors to better services to our library users and communities – and that’s the true mission of every library.

So today, I invite you to start listening to the stories and building a better library team.

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