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Monday, August 10, 2009

Tackling Some Library Management Fallacies

Let's debunk some common misperceptions about library management. These are relatively simple ones that I think I'm qualified to tackle given my recent 8 months as a midlevel manager and my years as a librarian and a parapro before this position. Here's hoping some lessons I've learned will help out some other folks.

Fallacy 1. You will be able to run all of the committees that impact your work.

It's just not feasible. There's so much overlap in library work, there's no way you'll be able to prepare for all contingencies, nor are you qualified to do so. In my own instance, my department works quite closely with Metadata & Cataloging, Collection Management, Acquisitions, Research & Information Services...okay, let's not kid ourselves. Access works quite closely with everyone since we're usually the spot the patron hits first. But *all* library departments impact the patron. And no, I'm not interested in staging a coup so I can run the whole library. It's nice to have a department rep on committees that impact you, but sometimes that's not feasible. At times you'll just have to trust that others on those committees that will impact you will let you know the info you need. If you find that's not happening, mention it to your manager or department head. It can't be fixed if no one knows what's wrong. But the solution isn't you running everything, unless you're the director. (And even then, you're managing resources at a completely different level.)

Take a deep breath. Let go of the control freak inside for a little bit. If you were on all the committees that impacted your work, you'd have no time to do your actual job for all the meetings you'd be in. This requires trust in others and accepting that yes, occasionally mistakes and miscommunications will happen. But like my bosslady says: we are not in an emergency room. No one is going to die if we screw up a bit in an academic library.* Take the experience, learn from it, move on. You are a *manager*.

This doesn't mean to get to run the whole show, it means that you manage your relationships, you manage change, you manage your staff and you manage fallout from mistakes. Shit happens. The library will still open tomorrow, so its best to deal with it.

(*Note: medical librarians *can* kill people, so do be careful!)

Fallacy 2. Librarians come before staff.

Nope. Not in the sense of prioritization, and not in the sense of information flow. Staff are generally the folks getting the work done, and while they may be directed by librarians, they are by no means less capable, less skilled, or less hardworking. In fact, in most cases if there was a library rapture that took only the MLS-holders to that Great Library in the Sky, most libraries would continue to function just fine. And in the interconnected environment described above, nothing is cleanly top-down in a library. Info goes from patrons to staff to librarians, librarians to staff to patrons, and every combination you can think of. (Toss in university administration and faculty and various other stakeholders and you can see why there's no definitive prescribed pipeline format for info sharing.)

Creating an artificial workaround so that staff info has to be piped through another librarian (or anyone else) before it gets to you is harmful in a number of ways, not the least of which is in service. The longer info about changes or dissatisfaction takes to reach you, the longer it takes you to address it, and this is BAD SERVICE to your community.

I think this fallacy is a direct relation of Fallacy 3.

Fallacy 3. Librarians are librarians and professionals, parapros are parapros and staff, and not only never the twain shall meet, but the MLS means I'm more important.

I would love to know where this one came from. I've worked in academic libraries my entire career (since I was 18 if you count my workstudy in college), and this view seems pervasive, especially at larger libraries. I can say from experience that my staff and non-MLS supervisors are some of the hardest working folks I know (and I can also attest I've known quite a few librarians who seem to get by just fine hiding in their cubicles beneath the fireproof tenure cloak). A few points on this: increasingly, parapros are doing the work previously done by librarians. How many of you work at libraries where staff and even students work the reference desk? I thought so. And if all your staff walked out, would you be able to run your library? I didn't think so. And, what gets my goat most of all, if that most of the librarians I know **started** as parapros! I know *I* did, and I think it gave me a great advantage - I knew exactly what I was getting into, and I had a form grasp of how library underpinnings worked before I became a "professional" librarian.

Yes, our work might be slightly different, but it's no more or less important. At this point in the economic downturn, unimportant jobs have been cut or consolidated and none of us are useless. Unless, that is, we're not doing our actual jobs. The MLS qualifies you for certain positions requiring the degree, it does not make you more important or a better person. Get over yourself. You want me to be impressed? Shuck your buns at work. Implement new services. Help your staff deal with change productively. Create a great working environment. Clean up the problem spots and messes in your department. Do not waggle your professional status at me and expect me to be impressed. All you'll manage to do by insisting on this divide between your self and staff is piss off a large contingent of the useful library workforce. Staff/parapros/whatever you want to call folks who work in libraries *do not have cooties*. The lack of an MLS is not catching, if that's what you're worried about.

In fact, what *are* you worried about? That folks will stage a coup and take over your work? Well, if you can't demonstrate why you are better equipped to handle it than they are, then the MLS doesn't seem to hold it's weight or deserve the importance you place on it, does it? I know, ouch. I'm sorry, that's harsh. But it's true.

Fallacy 4. People should be able to read my mind and know what I need and when I'm unhappy with things.

Ernk.

This one gets my panties in a bunch. Unless they've been teaching mindreading in school with NCLB, you cannot expect people to know when you're displeased with something unless you speak up about it. Don't mope about and expect us to guess. (It's like having a relationship with a teenager!) If it's a topic that tends to get you upset, I recommend making some notes or an outline of what you want to discuss to help keep you from getting sidetracked. Find the person who can actually make the change you need (bitching to colleagues doesn't do anything but poison the work environment if it's someone else who has to make things happen). A good rule of thumb: if you're not doing anything about fixing it, you can't complain about it. If you complain about it, you should have a workable solution in mind to bring to the table. And this rolls into #5:

Fallacy 5. Everyone hates their job. Some just suck less than others, so I'll deal with it.

Nay, nay, nay! Yes, there are craptastic jobs. (Personally, I don't think librarianship is one of them.) Mostly, though, there are craptastic environments. Again, I say: fix it. Create the space/attitude/culture you want to work in. No, it doesn't always work. If it doesn't work and things are still miserable: you. Need. To. Leave. Do not reward that workplace with your labor if it is so awful. Yes, job hunting is a pain. But so is vomiting every day before work. And if you are going to spend 40-plus (and usually plus) hours in your work environment every week - a large chunk of your life - it had better be someplace that doesn't make you want to commit seppuku. I say again: leave toxic environments after making good-faith efforts to change them. Life is too short. There are other libraries. And if you're miserable, the people around you at work and at home are likely picking up on your misery vibes.


Oh, I'm sure there are more. So let's make this just the initial post, and see what you all have to say...

5 comments:

Jeff Scott said...

Great Post! I especially liked the rapture part. It's also good advice to NOT get too involved in some committees. A manager's presence can stifle innovation as they won't feel they can speak freely and will defer to you on decisions, subjects, or ideas.

Colleen said...

Thanks, Jeff! I'd agree with that too - another reason folks should allow staff some headroom - a better way to encourage creativity.

rbecca said...

Well-said. I find it interesting to read your thoughts on the subject...while the dynamics of a public library are sometimes different (though in some ways very similar), most of your points are definitely transferable to basically any work environment.

Indeed, most of us work with *other people* no matter what the vocation. As well, I happen to think librarianship is a pretty awesome job, and if there are those in the field who disagree, then please move aside and find what makes you happy -- there are qualified, happy people who want your job.

Love your #4 but again, the unfortunate truth is that passive-aggressiveness is an equal opportunity affliction -- no specific degree or position required.

-rebecca hall huddleston

Tielmaam said...

Go Colleen! i enjoyed this very much -- i didn't THINK i had cooties :-)

anne

Anonymous said...

Remarkably! Thanks!