Administrative and Management Skills

Staying Out of Trouble

Whenever I look at something going bad, I ask:  Are there systems in place?  Are they up to date?  Are they implemented?  It all leads up to making decisions on high consequence, low probability events, or what many call high risk – low frequency.

Think of your library.  Each library consists of a distinct set of offices, branches, departments, or at a minimum, colleagues each with set of things for which they are responsible.  Let’s just call them the things we do; each of us.  Your job is complex.  There may be hundreds or thousands of things you do that need to happen correctly so that your library, office, branch, or department can function; consistently delivering upon its mission.  Those things all have one singular goal; doing it right.

In youth work, if you are going to recommend titles, you do it right.  If you are presenting a story time, you do it right.  If you are evaluating a book for a diversity audit, you do it right.  When we do things right and throw in a little common sense we create a welcoming environment for all.  When we throw in some documentation of say our spending or procedures we create accountability.  When we throw in dignity and respect we create customer service.  Doing things right is the key.

The good news is that most of what you do ends up going right, in spite of the complex nature of your job.  There is a reason for this.  Every task, or thing you do, can be placed in one of four boxes.  What’s called a risk – frequency analysis.  Some of what you do are high risk because the consequences of their failure will severely affect your environment, accountability, or customer service.  Some of what you do are low risk; if what you do goes bad the consequences are low.  Some of what you do you do a lot; high frequency.  Some you do seldom; low frequency.

Most of what gets you in trouble are low frequency, high risk events; the consequences are severe yet you may never have personally faced the situation before.  Rarely, do you get in trouble facing high frequency events; stuff you do all the time.  Why?  Because of a wonderful tool that your brain utilizes.  When faced with a situation, your brain automatically goes through a catalog of previous experiences, finds one or more that closely matches the situation at hand, and triggers actions to handle that situation.  Generally, if the situation faced happens frequently to you or your staff, the remedy gets the job done right.

When faced with a low frequency, high risk event not only are the consequences high, but your brain does not have an extensive, if any, catalog of how to handle it.  These are the events that have the highest probability of causing you grief.  When these go badly, it’s not that you or your colleagues are bad people.  No they are good people, but without tools to handle it.

So now think about your library.  What are your high risk, low frequency events?  Here are some of mine, in no particular order of severity:  The 1st Amendment Audit, The Book Challenge for (fill in the blank), The Large Fight Amongst Middle Schoolers/High Schoolers, The Non-Custodial Abduction, The Rupture of a Water Line, The Small Child with a Medical Emergency.  You get the picture.

Now let’s compound the problem.  There are two types of high risk-low frequency events: those which give you time to think it through, and those which don’t.   If you have that discretionary time, improving your lot can be as simple as remembering to slow down.  It’s the latter, those without discretionary time, that are absolutely the worst to face.  If you even think you may get yourself involved in this sort of situation, it must be identified, and you have to seriously train for it, talk it through with colleagues, and establish that mental catalog for it. 

  • Today’s blog post was written by Mike Rogalla, Childrens Services Manager at the Champaign Public Library in Champaign, Illinois, on behalf of the ALSC Managing Children’s Services Committee. He can be reached at 


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