An AssHead's Thoughts on Library Management

I've been thinking quite a bit about the "attitude problem" toward management that Jenica Rogers-Urbanek addressed in her July 2 post. (Ahem. Side note. If you are a librarian and/or in library management, you should add her to your feed.) Anyway, having joined the troop of those in "management" just six months ago, Jenica's post prompted some self-examination.

I'll readily admit that while I appreciate those in library management, I never actually expected to *be* one. I had planned to putter blissfully through a reference and instruction professorship into tenure. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and still miss that work. Being the AssHead of Access & Delivery at an ARL is very, very different. The parts of librarianship I prided myself on being very good at (teaching and reference) don't apply as much to the work I do now, which is mostly fielding organizational change, facilitating/adjusting/quality-controlling the work of my staff, planning service improvement and new service provision, coordinating with various library departments due to workfow connection or crossover, and the all pervasive "other."

So, why am I here in Access and in "management"? The short answers: it was a chance too good to pass up; I wanted to test my mettle in management; the folks I consider my mentors thought it would be a good match for my skillset; the salary is nice. There are a lot of short answers. But it takes a lot to move me from my comfort zone once I'm well and truly happy and feeling like I'm making a larger contribution to the educational enterprise. After long thought, the reason I decided to take this job and try my hand in management is that I have a big mouth and a lot of opinions. I have a tendency to bitch about things if I think there is a better way. And the most direct route to make things happen the way I think they should, or to at least influence the direction and culture of an organization, is to be in on the back end of planning things. I'm in management because I try to be a put-up-or-shut-up kind of person. This is to test myself to see if I'm actually good enough when put into action to make the kind of change I want to see happen, or at least facilitate the possibility for that change. If I find I am not cut out for it, at least I can say I tried my hand at it. If I find that other folks think I'm useful in my position, that I help them get done what needs doing, that I *feel* useful and that I'm contributing to making my library a more effective, efficient, and employee-friendly organization, I'll stay. If, a few years down the road, I find that my skills are not well-suited to this, I'll take the skills that *are* handy and find a better position fit.

Which is to say, I *don't* know that I'll be a success at this. (Which is hard to take, as I usually shoot for what I absolutely know I'm good at.) I know I've got a whole lot to learn, and am lucky to have a number of good friends and people I admire in management positions in libraries across the country and here at NCSU. I'm lucky in that my staff, my department head, my associate director and everyone else I deal with at work are putting up with my learning curve with grace. I am learning unfamiliar skills, including diplomacy and patience (not characteristics I am generally known for exercising on a regular basis), and maneuvering within a climate of great change.

Before, I considered myself a librarian because I did what I considered librarian-like things. I worked a desk. I liaised with faculty and students about how the library could meet their needs. I taught classes, did research, worked on committees and various library projects and presented at conferences, and when people asked what I did for a living, I told them "I'm a librarian," and was happy to do so. I considered myself an integral part of the educational mission of the university. It's been a whirlwind six months, and I find that the major shift in job duties put me off-kilter for a bit, and what I viewed as "librarianship" has changed greatly as a result. I still do all of those things, but I do them less as meetings take up more of my time, as I coordinate and oversee and delegate.

The past few months when people asked me what I did, I still told them I was a librarian, but I said it with much less conviction. More like, "a librarian. Sort of. Kind of. Not really, but I work in a library, and occasionally I do librarylike things, but mostly I'm a manager. I think." While I consider management to be essential to the efficient and effective provision of library services, being slightly removed from those services and more involved in the design of processes and internal coordination has led me to believe that I am still a librarian, simply in a different capacity. Management is not any different than librarianship - it is a matter of scale. Mary Chimato (my bosslady who blogs over at CircandServe) is a department head, but she's still a librarian. She's not a circ librarian, or a reserves librarian, or an ILL/DocDelivery librarian...but she's also not a not-librarian. Instead, I see her as an Uberlibrarian, combining all of those, overseeing all of those, and ensuring that those positions and their workflows fit holistically into the library's vision and strategy of service.

Getting back to Jenica's post, and the comments she's gotten regarding how folks could never do/want a job in management: are you sure? Are you certain you don't want to earn your chops and see if you're a good manager? Do you really think that the managers everyone has right now are doing a better job than you might? Because if not, if you think there's a better way and that you can make it happen, you might just want to try the manager shoes on. No one says you have to stay forever, but...what if you like it? What if you're good at it? You'll never know until you try. For myself, whichever way this ends up shaking out, I will never regret that I am making the attempt.


Rachel said…
Thank you for this post. I am newly in a position to be both doing a lot of project management and also supervising a team of people. It's all very new and so a little uncomfortable, but I think it will be good experience and a chance to see - like you mention - if I might be good at management-type work.
Anonymous said…
Took me time to read the whole article, the article is great but the comments bring more brainstorm ideas, thanks.

- Johnson

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