Gwnewch y pethau bychain

Bizzaro Library (And you thought YOUR job was bad…)

I have a friend who works as a librarian for a small private Northeast college. And she’s utterly miserable, because her boss is insane.

I don’t mean to say that she’s insane in the way that everyone’s boss is insane. I mean to say that she’s clinically paranoid, irrational, inconsistent, and expects her charges to be both superhuman and mind-readers. Consider the following:

  • Boss expects to be told about every single thing that happens, preferably in real time. That means that if a student asks to use a stapler, make a photocopy, or have a tissue, she expects an email reporting this fact. Apparently, nothing is so trivial that she doesn’t want an alert about it.
  • She is convinced that students who come in to ask questions are actually being sent by higher ups to report back on the quality of service, and as a result wants to know what each of them asks, and what they were told, and carefully scrutinizes what information was sent out..
  • She doesn’t want work-study students to do *anything* other than sit and do their homework and “be a face” at the desk. They aren’t supposed to actually help anyone, re-shelve anything, or interact with patrons. They are occasionally trusted to count the number of patrons in the building once an hour. but one gets the feeling she begrudges them even this.
  • She forbids the librarians from referring students to resources outside the library. Any resource or information that comes from beyond the walls of the institution is suspect, and finding out you’ve done so will invite a severe reprimand. They *certainly* aren’t allowed to use the Internet as a tool for finding information.
  • The librarians are forbidden to participate in professional mailing lists, and have been told that if they find themselves in a place with other librarians, they aren’t to talk to them, because she doesn’t want other libraries finding out about their “secrets”. (Hey, lady, I have news for you. You don’t have trade secrets — you’re a *library*. And even if you did, you’d help people research what they are. You know why? Because you’re a freakin’ *library*.)
  • On being told by friend that she didn’t know how to perform a particular task, Boss replies, “You’re a reference librarian. You should know how to do that.” (I suggested that “Well, I know how it would be done in a real library, but how would you like it done here in Bizzaroland?” would probably be impolitic, satisfying though it might be.)
  • Boss frequently issues reprimands to friend in front of co-workers, which makes her feel even worse about things.
  • Boss doesn’t want the librarians to talk to each other any more than absolutely necessary. She was incensed when one of friend’s coworkers sent her a report that friend had requested, containing information that friend needed for the task she’d been assigned to do.
  • Now that friend has been ‘exiled to Siberia’ (read: the other campus), Boss is wanting *hourly* status emails about what’s going on.
  • My friend was promoted, shortly after being hired, when the person in the vacant position quit without warning. My friend protested that she didn’t really have the experience for the job, and was promised she’d be mentored at every step of the way and allowed to grow into it. Subsequent to being promoted, she had a huge amount of stuff dumped on her that she didn’t know how to handle (mostly related to instructional classes that needed to be planned, organized and taught.), was told to “just deal with it”, and then yelled at when the results didn’t match her expectations.
  • After valiantly trying to cope with this stress for weeks, friend finally went to her boss and said “i can’t do this. It’s too much.” Since then, she’s been treated like an incompetent toddler, despite the fact that she was never given the support and direction that was promised her.
  • Last week, friend was asked over to the main campus to attend an instruction tutorial session, with Boss and two co-workers. Upon arriving, Boss told her that *she* was teaching the class, a task she had not being given any opportunity to prepare for. Boss seemed quite irked that my friend wasn’t capable of teaching a class she’d never taught before on a moments notice without preparation.

This is by no means a complete list. I spend a great deal of time alternating between gobsmacked disbelief at this crazy woman and frustration that my friend, who is quite dear to me, is stressed nearly to the breaking point over this incredibly irrational work environment. When she took the job a few months ago, she was so excited about it. She’s good at what she does, and was looking forward to the position. Now, she’s trapped in a miserable job with a crazy boss, no openings in her area to try and apply to, and financially unable to just walk away. (Though the latter option is looking better and better to her, it’s also generally not a good idea to just up and quit a professional position. This isn’t retail.)

I’m sharing all this with you because….well, because it’s just amazing to me, and I had to share it with someone. Though I’m sure my friend will appreciate any sympathy or encouragement you have to offer.

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36 Comments

  1. That’s … appalling. I’m so sorry to hear it.

    There are things I would do in $FRIEND’s position — such as cluster all who-asked-for-what email updates in batches, hourly or less often. And if $BOSS isn’t right there to look over her shoulder, do the job *right*, to $FRIEND’s own professional standards, and to hell with $BOSS’s insane rules.

    I would also be writing this up -- as in, documenting verbatim the insane instructions -- and when I had a sufficient accumulation of such, going to $BOSS’s supervisor and asking for their help in dealing with the problem(s). Someone **in a position to do something about this** needs to be notified, and if your friend is on the hot seat, then gathering evidence, and submitting it when there’s enough, is about the only rational thing she can do.

    Just my two electrons’ worth.

    • I was pointed here by a mutual friend.

      The boss is batshit insane, and this needs to be documented to higher-ups so that the batshit insane boss can be removed from office, so to speak.

      I am sending huge good-energies towards your friend. This is a ridiculous work situation, and it’s bordering on the legal definition of a hostile workplace.

  2. I probably shouldn’t give other people career advice considering where I am in my own, but it seems to me that she should do her job professionally even against the express orders of the crazy boss (actually helping people, conferring with other librarians), and document what she does and how crazy boss responds. Then she needs to take it to crazy boss’ boss. If doing her job right gets her fired, she needs to through whatever sort of grievance procedure applies to at least document that there’s a dispute rather than “fired for insubordination”.

    I spent the last two years in a job that was terrible for me because of being financially unable to just walk away. And now that I have been let go, I’m messed up enough that it’s going to be a lot harder to find something I can live with.

  3. Wow. Just Wow.

    I thought I had had some pretty irrational bosses in my time, but this beats me hands down. Does the boss have a boss? Can an anonymous note be sent? Something like this:

    “PleASe HeLLP, TeH BoSS iz INsaNE! aM CrrtnLEE hIDInG iN CrD CATAlOgUE. SenD HELLP!”

    • Unfortunately, that’s difficult due to a vacuum immediately over the boss’s head. Until such time as new top levels are hired, it’s hard to get over her head. :/

      The note did make me *giggle*, though. ๐Ÿ™‚ On a chat channel we all hang out on, we started offering suggestions for things to include in her hourly report, such as:

      11:35 An alien spaceship from the planet Arcturus landed and their leader told me that we are all one consciousness, the most powerful force in the world is love, and that there is no such thing as death. Offered to show me the secret to this wisdom. Told him that it wasn’t approved library information, and thus could not be made available to students. They left.”

      11:59:36 Student asked for Tom Sawyer. Told him 3rd floor. Not sure if he checked it out or not.

      11:59:56 Checked records. Student did not check out Tom Sawyer

      12:00:45 Went to check Tom Sawyer to see if there was any fault with it and to ask student why he didn’t want to check it out

      12:05:10 Got in heated argument with student. Now have bruise on left eye where Tom Sawyer was thrown at me.

      12:05:37 Found undergraduate masturbating to porn in the second floor computer station. Offered tissue.

      Etc, etc….

      • Frankly, the open boss’s supervisory position has a boss, and that position has a boss, and so forth and so on right up the tree. I’ve been there (although I quit under much less awful circumstances than what she’s dealing with), and yeah, it’s scary to have to go over your boss’s head. But it’s not worth her health and sanity. Nothing is worth her health and sanity.

  4. As an employee of a library in another small northeast college (well, maybe not so small), I have to say that that kind of management is professional insanity.

    If she’s in the Boston area, this might be of some help.

  5. Oh, my heart goes out to her. I have so been there, and I was only 21. ๐Ÿ™

    (My gosh, a quick online check of staff where I first worked at 20+ years ago shows at least 5 of the people I knew are *still there*! No, wait, make that 6 — looks like someone else got married! Talk about survivors… ooh, the stories some of them could tell. Like the time the library head got into a shouting match with the head of reference — at the reference desk — and threw a book at her…)

    Sadly, libraries, esp those who are little fiefdoms in fief-heavy academia, do attract their fair share of dysfunctional managers… who often hire similarly or differently dysfunctional submanagers…

    I agree w/cflute: document, document, document.

    And I know it’s hard and counter-intuitive and exhausting to do, but I would recommend that she step up the job hunt in the field, even if she has to move locations temporarily -- because as draining as this kind of thing is, it is far worse when you feel like there’s simply no way out. (Also I’d suspect this kind of boss is quite likely to fire people at random. Esp if she is challenged via a supervisor or HR person. ๐Ÿ™ )

    If she is asked why she is leaving her last position so soon, she can simply use the standard lines like “it just wasn’t a good fit for me” or “the new position wasn’t really what I hoped for -- I found I wasn’t as interested in instructional classes as I thought and I want to return to more of a reference librarian focus”. Then quickly turn it back to what is attracting her about the position being advertised.

    I don’t have too many contacts in the library world anymore since I’ve moved into less traditional applications of my training, but I wish her good luck.

    • “the new position wasn’t really what I hoped for -- I found I wasn’t as interested in instructional classes as I thought and I want to return to more of a reference librarian focus”.

      Indeed, all she ever wanted to do was be a reference librarian. The promotion came from a sudden vacancy and wasn’t part of what she was originally hired for. (Also worth noting that that she’s the fourth person to fill that position in the last 12 months.)

      • It sounds like there’s a really good reason the position becomes vacant so often. Who would choose to keep a job with a boss like that if anything more reasonable could be found?

        Your friend has my good wishes for some resolution to this. It sounds like enough to cause stress-related illnesses.

  6. Direct her to the LJ community library_mofo. She needs it -- badly. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Absolutely document everything and send it upwards. If there’s a power vacuum in the library, send it to the provost.

  8. Ditto ditto on the “document EVERYTHING” advice for sending it up to the provost or the college president. If this woman is that crazy, someone besides your friend has to eventually notice.

    I only pray she doesn’t work at McDaniel/WMC college where I got my degree.

  9. There can’t be a power vacuum all the way up -- otherwise this nut would be President of the University. Who is the boss’s current boss? What about the HR department? ’cause yeah, this is absolutely bugf*ck insane.

  10. Oh, your poor friend; she has my sympathies. Also, I’m glad you believe her.

  11. Adding to my previous comment: The boss obviously wants her to play the victim. She should, as several people have said, document everything. After she’s got a good running start and making sure there’s a copy safely at home, she should tell the boss that she is documenting everything, and exactly whom she is going to take the information to. And she should follow through and do it unless the boss immediately improves.

    Treating insanity as if it were sanity plays into the hands of a lunatic.

  12. Everyone else has said what I would’ve said along the lines of OMGWTF INSANELIBRARIAN! and ‘report it on up the chain.’

    In the meantime, this here?

    Boss expects to be told about every single thing that happens, preferably in real time. That means that if a student asks to use a stapler, make a photocopy, or have a tissue, she expects an email reporting this fact. Apparently, nothing is so trivial that she doesn’t want an alert about it.

    Sounds like it’s just begging for the use of Twitter. And I’m not even entirely joking there — as I understand it she can get notifications sent to her every time they post so she can keep up with events in realtime, and they can update via SMS so they don’t even have to be at the computer to update. (And for the part of me that is joking, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you whether it’s a joke about the Mad Librarian or Twitter users. ;))

  13. What they all said:*

    1. keep your sanity
    2. document
    3. go over batshit’s head
    4. tap into the professional community

    At least 1-3 are in priority order. Some documentation will help the appeal to รผberboss, but she can probably draw some up retroactively (“On 9/16 she said X Y and Z, on 9/17 she said…”), maybe by looking back over her sent emails, LJ, posts, etc.

    * With one exception. Giving continual updates is giving in to the batshit boss. Batshit doesn’t understand sarcasm. I vote the other way: batch the updates. Possibly with “time spent” on each item, including e.g. “preparing hourly report: 15 min.”

  14. Er….why isn’t she escalating this to her boss’ superior? These are definitely points they should know about. There may be political reasons for retaining Boss, but her superiors just may not know what’s going on.

    • I’m wary of putting enough information here that someone might actually figure out specifics. It’s a pretty screwed up situation, all the way around.

  15. Ooookay. THAT is /NUTS/. Is there any way to go above the boss’ head. There must be someone who can fire the boss. (Or have her committed to a mental institution, whichever.) I mean, there have to be regents or the president of the college. Helpfully, if they’ve been having to send all these emails, I’m betting most of this is documented. (Not all, but most.)

  16. From someone who just changed jobs because of a not-so-swell manager: do what is necessary to LEAVE. Then try documenting, going over the bosses head etc knowing that you can walk at any time. That was all that kept me sane for the last month at the old job.

    Finances are fixable, sanity is harder. It can involve some hard decisions that one does not want to make but you gotta make choices.

  17. Your friend definitely has my sympathies.

    I should note that if everything is documented, your friend could make a case (at least in my state) with Unemployment and conceivably get paid to look for work.

    If she *really* wants to make a splash, and if going over the boss’ head is not an option, and if her coworkers have similar grievance, she could get together with her coworkers (with a witness!) to confront the boss. If his entire department quit because of his attitude he could find himself fired.

  18. Ditto what everyone else said about documenting the situation.

    There’s a quote that comes to mind, and I wish I knew who said it: “University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.” (I just Googled; it was Henry Kissinger.)

    I wish your friend strength during this troubled time.

  19. That is totally loony. Sheesh.

    Document document document… but you know that already (and presumably so does your friend).

  20. I’ve worked for a couple of bosses with similar (not identical) mental health issues.

    The one thing that worked for me (on the second one, after I learned from the first) is that saying, “Oh yes, that sounds like a great idea” a lot, humoring them and perhaps even taking them out to lunch every so often and talking about trivial things (food, weather, hobbies) works wonders. All fantasies of violence in the workplace and jokes about same with colleagues are counterproductive.

    Applying for the vacant boss’s job is another strategy. No one wants to be her boss, so chances of getting that job are fairly good. This might open up some options.

  21. Has the friend been saving copies of the hourly update emails? Because there’s the base for her documentation.

    She shouldn’t just raise this with Boss’ boss. She should also raise it with the campus’ mental health officer/counselling service. Because if Boss is clinically insane or mentally unwell, and she’s in charge at any time of any students, the college could be legally liable, and so could your friend if she doesn’t make all reasonable attempts to bring the situation to the college authorities’ attention.

  22. This is awful. I hope that a fabulous new job comes along for your friend. Or perhaps better yet, a fabulous new boss at this one.

    I assume that it’s out of the question to go to someone with supervisory authority over both of them, and request a reorganization that will make her no longer responsible to this boss. It sounds, at the least, like a thing with lots of risk of backfiring, which is bad if your friend is hopelessly trapped in the current position. On the other hand, if it becomes *too* tempting to just up and quit, speaking first with someone in authority might at least be an approach more in keeping with standards of professionalism, and thus might permit a smoother departure thereafter.

  23. Forwarded to , who is the wisest person I know, the most important person in my life, and a professional librarian.

  24. And I thought that the librarian I worked for was crazy. That one pales in comparison. I hope that your friend can find another position asap. Would it help to report to higher-ups about this person?

  25. Good GAWD! She should be calling the psych ward because BOSS is a danger to herself and others. How horrid. I know someone with pull in a transcription firm in the Boston area…. if she needs something to get her by. I also have freelance writing assignments to dole out for less money than they should be paid, but it’s something….

    When something like that is effing with someone’s livelihood, professional rep, resume, health bennies… It’s no joke and can feel like your head is being bounced around a concrete box with no way out. Been there. Bounced that.

    My very deep sympathies to your homie.

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