Watch the video recording of this Office Hours session, or keep reading for a full transcript. For those interested in reading the conversation that took place among participants and the resources shared, the chat transcript is also available below.

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Audio Transcript

Office Hours: The Power of No


  • Karen Lauritsen (Publishing Director, Open Education Network)
  • Apurva Ashok (Director of Open Education, The Rebus Foundation)
  • Amanda Larson (Affordable Learning Instructional Consultant, Ohio State University)
  • Johanna Meetz (Publishing & Repository Services Librarian, Ohio State University)
  • Elizabeth Speer (Electronic Resources & Acquisitions Librarian, University of North Texas Health Science Center)
  • Karen Bjork (Head of Digital Initiatives, Cataloging, & eAccess, Portland State University Library)

Apurva: Welcome everybody to another Office Hours. I am Apurva Ashok, I’m the director of open education at the Rebus Foundation. And I’m very excited to welcome you all to our 50th Office Hours session that we have conducted with our wonderful co-organizers, the Open Education Network. We thought it would be a really great milestone to hit this session by talking about sometimes slowing down and saying no to all of the wonderful ideas and opportunities that might cross our plates.

So that we can say yes to ones that’ll take us even further. As always, I just want to remind folks that these sessions are recorded and shared on YouTube. They’re also going to be captioned as well, and for anyone who needs live transcription, you can use the subtitles that are available via Zoom. We also save the conversation that is in the chat, so if you’re sharing something there, know that you’ll be able to reference it later.

And if you share something accidentally and want this anonymized you can have that struck from the record. And you can just reach us at the email address I’m popping in the chat right now. So if there’s ever anything you say that you don’t want saved forever and licensed openly, just get in touch at

Before I pass it over to Karen, I want to respectfully acknowledge that I am joining you all today from the traditional territories of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the First Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples. I thank them very much for the privilege to live, work and play here. And for allowing all of us to meet and learn together on this territory.

And I know that there are many ways that my own practices and that of Rebus can continue to support decolonization and reconciliation work in Canada, and that’s something I’m always going to be mindful about. If you all know where you are joining from and what traditional territories you might be privileged to be on please let me know in the chat. And I think with that I will turn it over to Karen to tell you a little bit about her and the OEN.

Karen: Thank you very much, Apurva. And here’s to another 50 sessions of Office Hours. It is great to partner with you and Monica and the Rebus Community on these monthly sessions. I’m Karen Lauritsen, I’m publishing director with the Open Education Network. I am based in San Louis Obispo, California, which is the traditional land of the northern Chumash.

And we are based at the University of Minnesota, where we are basically a hub for people like you, a community of professionals who are working to make higher education more equitable through open education. As Apurva mentioned, we are talking about the power of no today. And reflecting perhaps on the year and one of the toughest parts of being a professional and particularly an OER advocate, and that is saying no.

It can be really hard to turn someone down, or to acknowledge maybe that we don’t have the capacity we want to do all of the very exciting things for our students and faculty. So today, we are joined by four guests, who will help offer support and ideas for strategies to say no. And those are Amanda Larson, who is Affordable Learning Instructional Consultant at Ohio State University.
Johanna Meetz, who is Publishing and Repository Services Librarian at Ohio State University. Elizabeth Speer, who is Electronic Resources and Acquisitions Librarian at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. And Karen Bjork, Head of Digital Initiatives, Cataloging, and eAccess at Portland State University Library. So to get us started today, I will turn things over to Johanna.

Johanna: Hi, thanks for being here with us today. I wanted to start us off by talking about how I became more comfortable with saying no. It took me some time to get comfortable with saying no when it’s appropriate, because it wasn’t really something that was part of any culture that I’ve worked in or in a workplace. But with time, I have found that being able to say no really allows me to ensure that my work and the work of others in my department is sustainable and scalable both now and into the future.

And it also empowers me to actively curate my work and the overall direction the department is headed. Gaining trust and getting buy in from supervisors and administration to be able to say no to new projects that may come your way can be difficult, especially if you work in a climate that defines success as growth. In this scenario, I recommend trying to redefine success to include metrics other than just growth.

No matter what the work of a department is, it cannot grow indefinitely without adding additional workers. And unless we are lucky enough to have the funding to do this, to add additional people, there is a ceiling on what is possible with all of our work. And it’s really important to acknowledge and take that into account when we’re thinking about what success means to ourselves as well as what it means to our supervisors and administrators.

And if growth is part of your definition of success, I just suggest adding other additional ways to assess things. You can think about success in terms of sustainability, the ability to do the work that you’re doing with your current resources over time, with scalability or with just generally the ability to add more work that will have the most impact. And I also think it’s important to define success in terms of how satisfied and fulfilled people are in their jobs.

So from a practical perspective, if people feel that they have some control over the work, the projects that they’re taking on, or how their actual work is completed, they tend to be more invested. And that general job satisfaction and investment can help decrease turnover, which certainly has an unquestionably negative impact on any of the work that we’re doing.

But just from a human centered perspective, I feel it’s one of my most important jobs as a supervisor to ensure as much as I am able the happiness and fulfilment of those that I supervise. So speaking of staff members, I think it’s important to take that those we work with are supervised into account in this process. So in my experience, the trepidation about saying no that they may feel can be different than that of supervisors or administrators.

There may be anxiety about change in general, there may be anxiety about being successful according to these new definitions of success. And there may even be concerns that if too much change is made to services, they may lose their jobs. And Covid has heightened these anxieties in particular, since so many people have lost their jobs. So overall, I think it’s important to just involve any staff that you work with or that you supervise in the creation of these new definitions of success.

And the new goals and practices also. Remember also that saying no is a skill, it takes practice to be comfortable with it. And having frank discussions where people can share their concerns can help them become more comfortable with incorporating saying no into their work or help them come to terms with the department as a whole making a decision to say no to something. And with that, I will hand it over to Amanda.

Amanda: Awesome, thank you. So in thinking about how to make this differ from the presentation that we gave during the Open Education Network Summit, I’m still going to touch on some of the things that I talked about then because I think that they’re important. But I’m also going to share some new information, too so you’re getting bonus added. So thinking about being an individual who is in a position and for open education that can look like a lot of different things.

You could be you in a team of people, it can be you by yourself, so everyone’s individual, it could not be your whole job even. It could be a temporary job, like for example I’m in a temporary position. I have a five-year contract at Ohio State. And what that means for somebody who’s in a precarious position is that you get four good years of work out of me before I have to start thinking about where does my next job come from?

I have to start being on the market, and that also being temporary makes it harder to say no to things sometimes, because you feel like you have to overperform. And so something I didn’t talk about last time was not letting vocational awe also influence our yeses. I’m going to put a link in the chat to the article about vocational awe and librarianship. If you haven’t read it, I suggest it’s a must read for anybody who’s in a library position.

I think it’s also beneficial for folks who are in instructional design positions, in any position where the work you’re doing, the good of the work that you’re doing should outweigh any way you want to set a boundary. It’s a really helpful thing to read. So thinking about being an individual in a precarious position, for me saying no is a strategic thing. I have five years to do the best work that I can do in the hopes that they might renew my contract.

But that means I can’t say yes to everything, because I won’t be able to do all of those things well. And I want the things that I’m going to do to be really polished and be the best example for the university that it can be, to make as much movement as possible. So one of the things to think about is when you say yes to things you’re creating a time debt, which means when you say no you still have options to do other things.

You haven’t committed to something that’s going to take up your time and eat it up and be a responsibility that you have to commit to, that takes not only your time but your energy and your resources. It will pull you away from other things. So that’s one thing to think about is when you say yes, you’re creating a time debt. Do you have the space to create that time debt? So I think about it as staying strategically on track.

And when I say that I mean does it meet the strategic goals of my position? And if you haven’t had a conversation about what the strategic goals of your position are with your supervisor, that’s a great place to start, like a lot of my work ties to the strategic outcomes for the library, their strategic initiatives. And then, if we go up the chain to the strategic plan of the university as a whole.

So I have to think about do I have the capacity to take on something new within the scope of the duties that I already have? And if it aligns with those strategic priorities but would be too much on my plate if I say yes to it, what could I take off of my plate or pay less attention to, so it’s balancing out responsibilities? So for example, I said yes to an opportunity that is outside of my work duties, it is a paid opportunity for another university.

So I had to check and see like would that be a conflict of interest? And if it was, how did I have to document it? I’m developing some course modules for another university around open education and I had to look at not only what was on my plate with work to make sure I could still accomplish everything in my main primary job. But also, what else is happening in my life?

So one of the things that I had planned to do this semester was apply to grad school. And I had to say that no, I can’t do that right now. I have this very short-term contract to create some course modules, I need to get that down. I’m not exceptionally thrilled with the way that the university is handling Covid with students, so that weighed into that balancing thing. But thinking about I said yes to this opportunity, so now I don’t have space to spend the time to recruit people to write me letters of recommendation or to fill out an application.

Or to think about where is the money going to come from to apply for that? So I had to balance those two things out. And also, we’ve all just been through a pandemic, are still going through a pandemic, do I have the mental capacity to actually be in school and do a job in the side and do my real job all the time? And so I had to, and it was really hard to accept that I wasn’t going to say yes to grad school this time around.

But I think it’s really important to think about that strategically what you say yes and no to. Another example that I would share is I used to be on a faculty tenure track position that was super secure, and I had to look at the pros and cons of that. And was it serving me strategically? Was I getting the benefits I needed to grow my expertise? Was my expertise being listened to in the position I was in?

And balance that against being gaslit about things that were happening in the library and across different units in the university, working with somebody who was really difficult. And so staying in your position can also be one of those really hard yes or nos. So thinking about much broader, like there’s also that awe of being on the tenure track. And I can’t possibly leave because I have to stay on the grind to get tenure.

That’s another thing that’s really tricky for a librarian also, faculty members to think through. But not making a choice and just staying is actually making a choice. You’re choosing to stay and commit to those things, so thinking about that, too. And then, the other thing I would say is when you do say no, it’s really helpful to manage the expectations around your no. So making sure that you refer people to other folks.

So saying, “You know, I’m really at capacity now. But there’s a subject liaison in your area who is also interested and well versed in affordability and can also help you curate resources for your course. Let me make this referral.” And then, do a really warm hand off for those folks. Talking to your manager about this is a really great opportunity, and I had this conversation around doing outside work outside of the university, like this is a really great opportunity for me to grow my portfolio.

And it is aligned with my work, I will make resources that I can use in my day-to-day job, so in that way it does benefit the work that I’m doing. But also thinking about other opportunities that come across your plate and having that conversation with your manager or your supervisor and saying, “If I say yes to this, what can I take off my plate? Is this opportunity actually aligned with my work? And this is a really good idea, but can we talk about how we need to finish up this project first before we do this next project?”

I use that a lot when I’m working with my folks on my affordable learning working group thinking through the projects we’re going to take on. So we’ve been working on a draft resource and they’ve been kicking up new ideas. I’m like, “That’s really great y’all, but we still need to finish our draft statement so that we can that polished. And then we’ll identify a new project.” So it’s really about setting and managing expectations around saying no. And I’m going to hand it over to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Thanks. I’m going to apologize right now if you guys hear construction. The library is under a constant state of construction, so I’ve just gotten used to it, and hopefully it won’t bother us too badly. In my current role I have to say no to a lot of things that actually have to do with inclusion of items in the collection, even if those items are open. But I’ve found that some of the tools that I used in order to do that actually help me say no in other ways across campus in projects and things that people want me to take on.

And so, I have what I call my toolbox. My toolbox is broken up into three sections, and those three sections are policies and procedures, templates that I use and then personal knowledge. And so, within our library when I came on board our collection development policy, like many people’s I think, had not been updated in like 20 years. So one of the first things that I had to realize was that I needed to get all of my ducks in a row when it came to the policies and procedures that I was going to need to follow and to utilize in my position.

Because knowing what those are and how those affect you helps you to be able to say no to things. And for us, I have a lot of policies and procedures that I have to take into account. There’s like nine of them. And that includes things like the institutional and library strategic plan, we have a five-year and a one-year strategic plan. I have to always keep those in mind because if I’m being asked to say yes to something that doesn’t align with that, it’s really not feasible for me to say yes.

That probably needs to be a no because it doesn’t promote what it is that the university is trying to accomplish. We also have things like the collection development policy, emergency plans, our mission statements. We are a values-based institution, so those values have to come into play on what we say yes and no to across campus. And any time that we are representing the university outside, they ask us to take that into account when we make those decisions.

We also use OKRs, objectives and key results, both across campus and individuals and as a department. So all of those things – and there’s the construction noise sorry – all those things kind of have to align for me to be able to say yes or no based on what those policies and everything say. And when it comes to saying no to things like free resources within the catalog, I am in charge of all electronic resources on this campus.

So ultimately, the decision of whether or not to include something is up to me, but I have to have ways that I can say no that are valid and that I can back up. And so, using all of those policies and procedures along with templates that I have created so that my language is standardized when I say no, it helps that everyone gets the same message. That means it’s not me personally saying no to you.

It is backed up with policy and fact as to why we can’t include this thing. I get a lot of people looking at me, going, “But it’s free, just put it in the catalog.” No. My selections for the catalog are intentional, they do follow guidelines, they have to do things like support our curriculum and have a purpose so that we don’t have a bloated catalog that no one can find anything in.

Saying no is important across all aspects of your job, not just when it comes to your time, but you need to be respectful of the other people that you work with and their time. Because me saying yes to including something for example an open education textbook which does not support our curriculum, it doesn’t just affect me. It affects my assistant, it affects my cataloging department that has to create that brand new record and manage that record within our system.

It affects our education and research librarians, who then have to filter through unnecessary items within our catalog that don’t support anything. So for me, saying no is actually a way to better serve the people that are our students, faculty, and staff. It is a way to better support my co-workers, it is a way to better support the mission of the university. You can’t say yes to everything.

For example, I’m in a medical university and I had a faculty member two weeks ago want me to add an open English textbook into my catalog. We don’t offer an English class, there is not a single English class on my entire campus, but a friend of theirs wrote it and they were super proud of it. And they wanted me to put it in our catalog, somewhere people could find it.

And while that is a generous and wonderful thought, they got the same no statement that every other faculty member that has asked me to buy something really expensive that didn’t fit our curriculum got. Didn’t matter that it was a free resource, it did not fit our goals, it did not fit our policies, it did not fit our procedures. And I use templates to create a standardized no, started with a Word document, where I just typed up responses to things and kept it in my portion of the shared drive.

Nobody else even knew it existed. Also when I say no, I say no via email. Just because one, you’re not staring someone in the face, it’s much harder to say no when you’re looking at someone and they are looking very disappointed in you. I’m a people pleaser, I like to say yes and so if you’re staring at me looking at me with those sad puppy eyes and really making me feel bad about saying no, it’s much harder.

So I do always say no via email, and I say no in the same way each time if at all possible so that it’s like I said standardized language is really, really important in communicating. And then, I also have a record of why I said no when someone loops back around, because they forget that I provided them an answer. And they want to know why I’m not doing this thing and I am one of those crazy people if you look in my deleted items folder there’s like 400,000 things in there.

Because I never actually delete anything, because eventually someone is going to wrap back around and want to know why three years ago I told them no on this thing that they forgot about and now they’ve remembered. So no is going to happen. I think one of the best things you can do for yourself as a professional is have your reasons for no prepared so that you can pull from those resources and you’re not having to create your response over and over and over.

Know what it is that you have the power to say no to on your own, without having to take that to anybody else. In my position anything having to do with the collection I don’t have to get approval to say no. I am the collection and therefore these are my policies, these are my procedures and I get to set those, which does make it easier for me to say no. I know that, I know that’s a level of power that not everyone has.

But I also have worked with my administration to make sure that everyone is clear on where that barrier is and what’s within my power to control and say no to without there being repercussions that may cause issues across the library. So I think those conversations and having all of your toolbox together if you will is really important as a professional to be able to manage expectations, not just for yourself but that the university has for you. And on that note, I’m going to pass it to Karen.

Karen: Thank you. So I believe that the best way to build a publishing program is to set goals and develop a specific action plan that will guide your efforts. So sometimes this does require saying no to projects in order to stay focused on that plan. And this can be scary, but as my fellow panelists have very well articulated, don’t let that fear guide you. So before I get into discussing that plan, I just wanted to briefly emphasize what my fellow panelists have already said.

That saying no is really a strategic decision. So in 2020, I came across a Tweet that included a decision tree that really captures what I need to remind my own self of. And I really hope that this resonates with you all as well. So the top of the tree says decisions to take on new project. And then, below that is do you have enough time to do this? And then, directly below that it has yes, but then it says no, you don’t.

And then over to the right of is there enough time, there’s a no and then it says don’t take it. So essentially this decision tree reminds me that even if you have the time and or the funding to take on or support another publishing project, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. As Johanna said, and as Amanda has spoken about, publishing is a partnership and creating a sustainable publishing program whether it be an OER creation or journal publishing requires a lot of planning and patience.

And as we all know and have all experienced, projects generally take more work than we initially think they will. And what may be a small project that you can quickly get done in two weeks, ends up being a large summer month-long project that you now have to pull your students into because it was just going to be easy and simple. And I’m not at all talking about an experience that I just had this summer, as I am shaking my head.

So like many of my panelists, when I launched my publishing program, I was really eager to take on new projects and grow. I really wanted Portland State to be known for open textbook publishing and I really wanted to be able to save our students money. But I quickly learned that I really needed to slow down saying yes, and I really needed to start having in depth conversations with potential authors and editors.

So for an example, I’m going to briefly talk about our journal publishing program. And so before our publishing program agrees to host a journal, my team has several conversations with future editors about what it means to publish and how much work it takes. We do this to gather an understanding of the editor’s publishing knowledge and to start forming relationships.

A focus of the conversation is to try to talk the editors out of publishing and having us mutually agree to saying no to that project. And so this may sound harsh, but we really do need to focus on the amount of time and effort and work that it does take to edit a journal. And the amount of work that it does take on top of everything else that the editors are doing. Editing a journal at least within our university is unpaid work.

So a lot of our editors are either students or they’re faculty members, and we really need to make sure that they’re clear that they’re taking on this work above and beyond everything else that they’re doing. So my library provides the platform to publish. But all of the work and effort to get the journal up and running and new issues and volumes published all fall on the shoulders of the editors.

And we really work to ensure that the editors have a well thought out policy and procedure and a really clear succession plan. This leads to a really small but sustainable publishing program. So about the plan and how I’ve been able to more effectively and strategically say no. So Kate McCready and Emma Molls from the University of Minnesota published an article in 2018 which I will throw in the chat here for you all.

Let me just grab the link. The article is called developing a business plan for a library publishing program. So let me just throw this in here. And if you have not read it, highly recommend it because it totally changed my perspective on saying no. The article stresses that library publishers must develop a clear service model and business plan.

And according to Kate and Emma the anatomy of a library publishing business plan includes the principles of the program scope of service, staff requirements, and other aspects included in the production policies, financial structures, and measures of success. So this business plan is what I have structured my publishing program around. And it really has helped with goal setting, it provides a template to evaluate projects that we’ll be taking on.

It assists us with creating a templated response to why we are saying no to something, and it is seen as our guiding post. I do recommend as Elizabeth talked about sharing your plan with your dean or director, to really make sure that everyone is on the same page, in order to provide that backup in case there is pushback. You can then go to your dean or director and say, “We are basing this decision off of our business plan.”

And the dean and director can be like, “Yes, I do remember that. That is exactly why that is correct.” And it really helps with the flow of the conversation. So one thing to really keep in mind that is very important I think we all learned this in 2020, that life changes, situations change. And so, your plan is that living, breathing document and you really do need to adjust your goals to the situation that you’re currently in.

So for me, I schedule a time one to two times a year to re-examine our business plan and during this examination, I look at what our goals are. And I also look at what we have on our external as well as our internal facing materials. Do they match up? Are what we’re saying on our library website is what we’re actually doing internally? I run an assessment, an environmental scan to learn what’s valued by our publishing partners.

So I reach out and have conversations with our editors, talk about how things are going, how they’re feeling if there’s anything we need to change within our services. Anything we need to shift because that’s really going to guide us as we start intake on new projects. And I clearly write what we will not support, so I outline the division of responsibilities and I look at what the expectations of the editors are and what the expectations of the authors are.

So I am sure you all are just clamoring to see what our plan looks like. And thankfully, I have a link to share for you all. So I will put this in now. So here is our plan, it is open for everyone to look at. And if you are looking at it right now, you will see that the last time I updated it was May of 2021. And I really just go through and I talk about where the background of our publishing program, how we’ve grown and changed.

I’ve also taken a look at let’s see here. I’ve also taken a look at our principles and our philosophy. And then, our services, the eligibility and scope and then again, here is our division of our responsibilities. So this publishing plan, a lot of it is focused on our journal publishing, but we also utilize it for our open textbook publishing and creation. And then, we actually have a whole services and we go into our proposal and our review process and what our expectations are.

So I’m going to wrap it up there and open it up to questions, because I see a lot of you had some really great questions as my fellow panelists were speaking.

Karen: Thank you so much, Karen, Elizabeth, Amanda and Johanna. Such great guidance, both practical, pragmatic, and I think emotional in terms of let’s think about where we are in a society, the emphasis on productivity, continued growth which is unsustainable. We’re seeing that in so many areas of our lives. And one of the questions that we have is related to hands on things that we can use to continue to guide us.

Helpful worksheets and guides that can help me and my staff to think through all of these points. So a few of you mentioned I use this decision tree and thank you so much for finding that decision tree, Kim, and posting it in the chat. If there are other resources that you can share with attendees, I think those would be much appreciated. And I think of course one of the greatest resources is one another and being able to turn to one another and talk through the fear of saying no, which a few of you talked about.

It can be scary. And as I was listening to the four of you, I wondered how did you find each other and know that you all wanted to talk on this topic? Community is so helpful, how did that come about?

Karen: I guess I could start it, so Johanna and I have been talking about putting together a presentation for saying no for how many years now? Four?

Johanna: Yeah, something like that.

Karen: And we kept getting rejected, we would put in presentation proposals, but we kept at it, because we thought this is really important and something people need to think about. So we presented at the library publishing forum. And I believe that that’s where Amanda actually heard about our presentation, isn’t that correct, Amanda?

Amanda: Actually a step before that, I heard about it before it happened because Johanna and I are work colleagues and have lunch together and we were chatting about it. And at the same time I was also on the OEN summit planning committee and was in charge of making community member events happen. And I’m like, “Wouldn’t this be such a cool idea if we brought together people who could talk about different ways of saying no to meet the different perspectives?”

And Elizabeth was also on the summit planning committee, and she was like, “That sounds like a great idea. I say no to things all the time.” I was like, “So do I.” And so I pulled us all together into a meeting and then we started planning for that first presentation together as the four of us.

Karen: And it’s just snowballed from there.

Karen: Thank you. And as Apurva said in the chat, the remaining 20 minutes is definitely the time for conversation, so feel free to unmute and ask your questions.

Apurva: And I might just build on Kim’s question from earlier and ask you, Johanna, because you talked about team dynamics and being mindful of that. How do you actually go about guiding conversations with your staff when you are trying to redefine maybe those more traditional conceptual notions of success if some of us in the room here are going to go back and chat to our teams? Do you have any tips for us?

Johanna: Sure, I am still in the process of working through an assessment that we started our publishing program in particular. So it has some formal elements but is largely more informal and essentially it has been rolled into that a little bit for me. So what we’ve done is talked with a selection of our journal editors. We talked with our internal partners in our IT department, other liaison librarians, folks like that.

And then, we also have spoken with essentially we just talked to all our stakeholders, colleagues inside and outside the libraries. And at the same time, now the person that I directly supervise, and I have had a series of really in-depth conversations about each essentially that we work on. Each journal we publish through the pain points, what is some scope creep we’ve seen the time as editors were all over.

What have we taken on that wasn’t originally our goal to take on? Things like that to bring to light where we could standardize services across what we’re doing, but also look closely at those pain points. And as part of that, we had the blessing of the sponsor of our assessment to not wait until the very end to start making changes. So the person I supervise is somebody who’s – like what is the negatives can happen here?

Will journals leave? Will we see it have a negative impact on our program? This person’s concerned about that deeply. And so I was kind of like, “Well, let’s start small.” And we had an editor turn over in one of our journals and we’ve been doing a bunch of checking on their image quality to do with hoping to have their journal indexed in PubMed, working toward that.

So we decided to hand that off to the editors, as something they would take care of. And so told them when we gave them instructional materials and we answered questions as they’ve been through it the first time. But he came to me and was like, “They just did it. They’re doing it.” And I was like, “Yeah.” Essentially nothing bad happened, there wasn’t a consequence like he had feared and in the end that saved us a lot of time and effort to have that workflow.

They’re also in a better position to do that work, because they can be in touch with the authors sooner in the process. So we’re not right at the point of publication and saying, “You have to remake every chart in your article, surprise.” So I think it was about wading in and also starting small and seeing positive change come from this and seeing very limited pushback or negative consequences.

And we’ve done this in a couple of other instances too that are small. So I think it’s just building up especially if that’s not something that’s been part of work culture if you’re trying to create that culture. Start small, get input, be in touch, know how people are feeling, that matters too, not just what they’re saying, and walk them through it slowly.

Apurva: Thank you so much.

Johanna: Can I add one more thing? And that is I also think it is worth preparing for a worst-case scenario and recognizing like talking about that. What are we afraid of here? What’s the worst thing that could happen? What would happen if that happened? What would we do? And that’s helpful, too.

Apurva: Karen, I saw you unmute, so it looked like you wanted to add something.

Karen: Yes, I did. I just wanted to reinforce what Johanna was saying in the fact that starting small and really looking at those smaller changes can make a really big difference in advancing to taking things off your plate and saying no to doing services. One of the things we’ve also found particularly with publishing is that we are constantly training our editors and particularly because editors are leaving or transitioning.

So we also use that as an opportunity to re-evaluate our services as well as to say what should we be doing or not be doing and changing it that way. The other thing I wanted to quickly add as well is I also ask my staff is there anything I can take off of your plate? Is there anything that you’re currently doing that maybe we could look at redistributing it to somebody else?

Or maybe it should just come off of your plate permanently. And particularly now, when I feel like my staff are very stressed out, there’s a lot going on, having that conversation and really allowing people to focus on what is it that maybe I can’t do anymore I think is also a really healthy conversation to have and helps a lot with morale as we look to shifting and changing services. And I see that Amanda had her hand up, so I will pass it to her.

Amanda: I have insight as a person who is supervised. And my supervisor has biweekly check in meetings with us, and prior to that meeting she has us fill out a form. And on that form she asks us these questions like what work have you completed since your meeting? Just so we’re all on the same page about what work is getting done. What barriers or challenges did you encounter in completing this work?

And then, you get to make a list of do you have work that’s consistently ongoing. And then, she asks us what work we’ll be starting, if we’re going to start up something new. And then, what barriers or challenges do we anticipate moving forward? So constantly thinking about what sort of barriers and challenges are we facing as individuals she’s supervising and how can she help eliminate those.

And being very, very transparent about it and the last question is what support do you need from me, colleagues in your department, colleagues in the library or colleagues across the university? And how can I help you make those connections? So also thinking about how to connect folks together, and thinking about what other expertise do you need that you don’t have? And how can I help you get access to that expertise to do your job?

Was the one thing that I wanted to add, but Karen also sparked something else for me with thinking about getting things taken off of your plate. So for example, one of the things that was really difficult for me at Penn State was running a really successful, in my opinion, grant program and at the end I had 37 publishing projects on my plate. At the same time, I was also being expected to do one-shot librarian instruction, which just takes up all the time in the world.

And so, I consistently, consistently advocated to get instruction taken off of my plate, because it doesn’t strategically align with my work. It’s just something everyone in the department does it. But it doesn’t strategically align with my work. I don’t have a student-facing position. I don’t interact with students, students benefit from the byproduct of the work that I am doing by being able to have access to better materials and to have cost savings.

But my user group is faculty, and my instruction should be doing instruction with faculty. And so I advocated for a really long time and did eventually get that taken off of my plate. So thinking strategically about what fits into the category of what you’re doing and what doesn’t, because to me doing just general library instruction just seems so nonsensical for a position that isn’t student-facing at all.

And it was really hard for me to switch mindsets, to go between this is instruction for students and it’s very, very different to this is how I want to teach open pedagogy to faculty.

Elizabeth: And I’m just going to throw a couple of things out there, too. Karen mentioned when someone leaves, they use that as an opportunity to re-evaluate. That’s something that we’ve done here at my university. We, the library in the last three years has literally re-evaluated every single system that we use. And we evaluated it not based on the end user’s experience, but we evaluated it as a staff user experience.

So that we could look at things that we had to do all the time, that were taking a lot of time. So for my people it was managing electronic resources and how many different systems we were using to do that. And the answer was four, we were using four systems that were expensive, so it was wasting my money, it was wasting my time, it was wasting my staff’s time.

And so we shifted to an all-in-one system, to where everything is managed in the same place. Cataloging happens in the same place, electronic resource management, ordering, all of it happens in a centralized location. This saved us hours, literally over a single workday’s worth of work every single week. So these tasks weren’t things that were going to go away.
These were not tasks that we could say no to.

But we found a way to make them better, to where the staff was happier with the work that they were able to accomplish in less time. And it did free us up for those other projects that were coming at us from other departments and from the administration that we were not going to be allowed to say no to, that were now the library’s domain and we had to accomplish these things.

So we knew there were things coming we couldn’t say no to, so we had to find things that we could change. And we were doing a lot of things that no one could tell me why we did them the way we did. No one could tell me why having triplicate copies of something was important. No one could tell me any of this because it was just the way things were always done.

And so, I think that evaluation and understanding the goals and how your processes fit in with those goals allow you to look at something and go, “No, this is not working for us anymore.” Because it’s not always about your time, it’s sometimes about how your time is spent on tasks that have to happen. And so, you need to be able to really evaluate those sorts of things too so that you’re not having to say no I can’t do this, no I can’t do this, no I can’t do this.

Because these things that are remedial take up so much time in our world that there’s no time for anything that will allow us to grow. So we’ve had three years’ worth of evaluation and the only system we have that is the same now is our records management system, and that’s being evaluated right now, so it may change this summer.

Literally we have changed our repository, we have changed our cataloging module, we have changed everything that has to do with technical services so that we can then take on tasks that are being given to us. So I just think that evaluation is such an important and overlooked part of all of this process.

Karen: Thank you, Elizabeth. I think taking on so much that you can get to a point where you have less is a long-term strategy. Abbey has a question in the chat that I’ll read out here, unless Abbey, you wanted to go ahead and unmute. I saw your hand was up there for a while, too?

Abbey: You’re good, you can do it.

Karen: Okay, something I was talking about earlier today was the sort of high of saying yes, how do you temper your excitement and remind yourself internally to say no to things when you’re very organically pulled toward a yes or even towards self-pitching yourself into more work?

Amanda: I would say stop and take a minute to reflect. Don’t answer yes in the moment. So if you can start practicing to not say yes to things while you’re in the room with somebody and instead say something like, “You know, this sounds like a really great idea. I need to check the workload that I have on my plate, I will get back to you this afternoon with an answer via email.”

So that gives you time to disengage from that highly dopamine situation, where you’re getting all the serotonin and the dopamine, so that you feel really high and excited. And give yourself time to reflect and see if it actually works into your schedule.

Elizabeth: Yeah, I throw my supervisor under the bus with those. I totally, I do, I’m going to be really honest. I go, “You know, that sounds really interesting, I do need to check with my supervisor and make sure that’s going to align with what it is that we’re currently focusing on. If you’ll give me some time to speak with my administration, I would be happy to get back with you later.”

And that way, if it’s something that I actually am super excited about and I really want to do it and it does align with our goals, I then can use that opportunity when I do speak to my supervisor, because I’m not just saying I’m going to do it. I actually schedule a meeting and I go talk to them and I go, “Look, this has come up. I think this would be great for this reason, this reason, this reason.

But with all of the other tasks on my plate right now, there’s just no way that I can do that. What can we do to make this happen? Is there someone else that could take on this piece, which really doesn’t have anything to do with my job, but that I took on because there wasn’t anyone else at the time to do it? Could we transition that to someone that it’s more suited for so that I can do this super exciting really wonderful thing?”

And I know I’m going to tell you right now, I work for some of the best people I have ever met in my life. I am blessed when it comes to that. My administration, both of my ADs and our director, who is also a vice provost, so that gives us a lot more clout on campus, they are incredible people whose entire focus is ensuring their staff grows and is happy about how they are growing.

It is really, really easy for me to say, “I’ve been asked to do this, I don’t want to do this, please don’t make me do this.” And they will have my back on it. But in the exact opposite, when I go, “I really think we should do this, this is amazing, let’s do this.” They have my back there, too. So I think you need to build that kind of relationship with the people that you do answer to that help you make those decisions and can help control how much access other people have to you.

And make sure that you’re all on the same page there. I try to do it with the people that answer to me. They’ll come to me and go, “Hey, I want to go to this conference.” And I’m like, “Okay, great. I would love to send you to this conference for a week, tell me why you want to go. Let’s talk about what else you have going on that week that maybe we can…” But at the same time, I want them to be happy, I want them to learn, I want them to grow.

So it’s all about open conversations and finding that balance and the people that you can pull in that can support you in either decision, where you get that yes or you have to say no whether you want to or not.

Karen: Sorry, Karen, do you want to add to that?

Karen: I was just going to say one of the things we also have is a form. So if somebody says I have this really great publishing idea or I want to publish this open textbook, I say, “That’s awesome, here’s our form, fill this out.” And then that allows us to see how well thought out their plan is, how well thought out their open textbook publishing is. And then, I’m not the one saying yes or no, the form and the information provided is what is guiding us.

Karen: Thank you and I think Abbey’s question also relates to something we were talking about earlier which is it can be easier in a mediated way through email or through a form, but it can be hard I think to really interrupt that reflexive response when you’re in person. I feel that it’s like we spend so much of our job wanting to engage with people and build community and somebody comes and says, “Hey, I have this idea.”

The yes is out of my mouth before I realized I was going to say it sometimes. And so, just trying to even just getting the word maybe in there, I think, would be an improvement. Maybe. And then, buying some time. So Kim has to step away a few minutes early, but I think we might have a second or two to just look at her comment in the chat, which I think was related to something Karen was saying.

And Kim mentioned the struggle with removing barriers for staff and that the way she sometimes does that is by taking on the work herself and looking for strategies in these situations to do that better. In the last couple of minutes we have here do any of our guests have thoughts on that?

Karen: I think what Johanna talked about in doing the assessment is really what’s key because sometimes taking stuff off of somebody’s plate is really about discontinuing a service. And sometimes discontinuing a service is okay if you have the metrics to really support the reason for it. So it’s not just about because this is something I also struggle with as well, it’s not just about saying what can I take off your plate and then having me do it.

It’s more about what can I take off your plate and why should we be taking this off your plate? And sometimes it may need to get distributed to somebody, but other times it just might be discontinued.

Karen: And with that, we are just about at the hour. So thank you to Karen, Amanda, Elizabeth, and Johanna for joining us for this great conversation. Not just strategic but also validating. And thank you to Apurva and Monica and the Rebus Community for 50 great sessions. We will not be having Office Hours in December, but we look forward to regrouping and seeing all of you again in 2022. Anything anyone would like to add before we adjourn?

Apurva: Hope you all have a lovely restful break, whatever, however long that is for you over the holidays. Take care everybody and thank you to all of our speakers, but also all of our participants and attendees today for what has been a wonderful discussion. Take care everyone.


Chat Transcript

00:16:15 Kim Hoffman (she, her): THANK YOU for offering this session!
00:17:23 Apurva Ashok:
00:18:30 Apurva Ashok: Let’s get to 100!
00:18:47 Amanda Larson: The Ohio State University occupies is the ancestral and contemporary territory of the Shawnee, Potawatomi, Delaware, Miami, Peoria, Seneca, Wyandotte, Ojibwe and Cherokee peoples.
00:18:48 Jonathan Poritz (he/him): joining from the traditional territory of the Ute peoples.
00:18:53 Monica Brown (she/her/hers): I want to respectfully acknowledge the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, on whose land I currently occupy today. I’m tuning in from Redmond, Oregon. Central Oregon is the unceded territory of the Tenino, Wyam, Dock-Spus, Tygh, and Paiutes peoples. I thank them for allowing me to live and work on this land.
00:19:18 Kim Hoffman (she, her): Seneca and Haudenosaunee
00:19:32 D’Arcy Hutchings (she/her): I am joining from the ancestral and current lands of the Dena’ina people (settler/colonizer name being Anchorage, Alaska).
00:20:11 Abbey Elder: Coming in from Iowa State University in Ames, the traditional home of the Meskwaki, Baxoje, and Ioway peoples, many of whom are still here today, though certainly not as many as should be, thanks in no part to our own university!
00:20:22 Abbey Elder: *in large part
00:23:58 Apurva Ashok: Do folks on the call today have similar conceptions of success? Is it defined in the same way by your institutions/employers?
00:24:27 Apurva Ashok: And thanks, Johanna – you’ve raised such great points!
00:25:25 Amanda Larson:
00:25:42 Monica Brown (she/her/hers): Thanks for sharing this, Amanda 🙌
00:25:55 Cathy Germano: Thank you.
00:25:56 Cara Stone (she/her): Fobazi Ettarh is
00:28:53 Abbey Elder: Amanda, you are an absolute rock star and I appreciate you sharing these experiences and examples with us
00:30:13 Kim Hoffman (she, her): Are there helpful worksheets/guides that can help me and my staff to think through all these points? This conversation is happening at a perfect time.
00:31:01 Amy Hofer (she/her): @Kim I like that question. I’m managing ppl in fixed-term positions and I want to think about supporting them in saying no as well.
00:31:46 Apurva Ashok: Good question, Kim! I’ve lined it up for our discussion soon. Please feel free to keep the questions coming.
00:32:40 Abbey Elder: Oh yes! “Before we can look at the second edition, you need to finish the first edition” is a sadly common conversation but welcome to have excited members of the community
00:32:40 Apurva Ashok: So far so good, Elizabeth! No construction noise.
00:35:50 Monica Brown (she/her/hers): That’s such a smart strategy, Elizabeth!
00:38:17 Amanda Larson: It’s good to have it in writing too.
00:38:46 Abbey Elder: Especially when the reasoning is written out! That way, if you question “why did I say no?” later you can remind yourself
00:38:47 Veronica Howard: YAAASS! Get it in writing!
00:38:56 Michael Shiflet: I’ve definitely noticed that the more formal/generic the messaging, the less pushback we receive.
00:39:40 Abbey Elder: (The same reason we document why we have to cancel journals/database subscriptions, honestly)
00:42:09 Apurva Ashok: I need a copy of this decision tree for myself, and to share more widely!
00:42:26 Cathy Germano: Good advice here! Decision tree, planning and patience!
00:43:09 Kim Hoffman (she, her):
00:43:43 Apurva Ashok: Thank you, Kim! 😄
00:45:28 Karen Bjork (she/her):
00:47:12 Amanda Larson: iterate often!
00:48:22 Karen Bjork (she/her):
00:48:40 Veronica Howard: I love when a shared resource has a big reveal. 😆
00:50:05 Apurva Ashok: 👏🏽 thank you!! Now is the time for questions and broader conversation, so please feel free to unmute or post your question in the chat.
00:52:27 Abbey Elder: Something I was talking about earlier today was the sort of “high” of saying yes. How do you temper your excitement and remind yourself, internally, to say no to things when you’re very organically pulled toward a “yes” or even toward self-pitching yourself into more work?
00:53:21 Cara Stone (she/her): +1 Abbey!
00:59:55 Cathy Germano: Amanda I love those questions. Could you share them in written form? I want to make sure I got them all. We are trying to do something like this in my unit.
01:00:45 Apurva Ashok: We’ll have them in the transcript, Cathy – which will be linked to from the YouTube recording:
01:01:15 Cathy Germano: Awesome
01:01:30 Apurva Ashok: @Abbey, feel free to jump in next if you wanted, and ask your question too!
01:01:54 Abbey Elder: I just wanted to jump back to my earlier question in the chat
01:02:04 Apurva Ashok: It’s up next!
01:02:10 Abbey Elder: 👍
01:02:20 Amy Hofer (she/her): @Amanda I really like the idea of of managers as removers of barriers for ppl that report to us to really leverage their time and talents.
01:02:38 Amanda Larson: I really appreciate that style of management
01:03:03 Amanda Larson: it also reiterates to me that my expertise is a valuable resource
01:03:15 Amanda Larson: that is being used strategically
01:03:17 Kim Hoffman (she, her): I often struggle with “removing barriers” for my staff as taking on that work for myself. I need strategies to work these situations out in better ways.
01:04:17 Amanda Larson: I definitely wouldn’t encourage you to add it to your plate! Maybe evaluate whether it makes sense for that work to be happening right now? Or if it could be more broadly distributed.
01:04:19 Apurva Ashok: @Kim, that’s a struggle for sure. Taking something off someone’s plate does not always require it be added to yours. As our panelists have said, sometimes we might need to ‘wait’ on that a bit.
01:05:48 Monica Brown (she/her/hers): That’s been a huge strategy for me to temper my excitement a bit: avoid agreeing in the moment!
01:07:11 Amanda Larson: that’s a great strategy for pitching work you DO want to do and getting on your supervisor’s radar
01:07:17 Amy Hofer (she/her): @Elizabeth – that really resonates with me! Sometimes even just writing out the thing for my supervisor or HR or whoever to review makes me realize that it’s a hard no.
01:10:01 Kim Hoffman (she, her): I need to step out a few minutes early. This has been really great. Thank you all!
01:10:05 Abbey Elder: Or worse, the words “and how about this, too!”
01:11:11 Karen Lauritsen: Totally! It’s the “yes and…” – good in improv, not always IRL
01:11:30 Abbey Elder: You all have been wonderful, thank you for your time here. I know it was an extra “yes,” so really appreciate it 🙌
01:11:41 Amy Hofer (she/her): Thank you, what a great topic!
01:11:43 Monica Brown (she/her/hers): This has been such a rich conversation! Thank you everyone!
01:11:44 Jonathan Poritz (he/him): thanks!
01:11:45 hristovar: Thank you!
01:11:48 Gabby Hernandez: Thank you all this was wonderful!
01:11:50 Apurva Ashok: Thank you all – speakers and attendees! And the OEN!!
01:11:54 Amy Hofer (she/her): Wow, congrats on 50!!!
01:12:13 Cathy Germano: Thank you. Grateful to all.
01:12:17 Amy Hofer (she/her): Apurva and Karen I just had a topic idea!
01:12:19 Veronica Howard: Thank you!
01:12:22 Cara Stone (she/her): Thanks, all!