Sarah Houghton has a compelling post this week regarding her official foray into Library Administration, aka, becoming “The Man”, the Boss, and head person in charge of the San Rafael, California Public Library. http://librarianinblack.net/librarianinblack/ This is great news! Sarah has long been a strong voice in the library community, and I believe is leading the way for many of us Generation-Xers as we work our way up the food chain in our respective library careers.
I was in management for more than 4 years, and I learned a few lessons of my own. I was not the head honcho, but instead shared responsibility with 3 other library supervisors. Our director retired in 2009 and that position was eliminated as the City struggled to balance the budget with unprecedented cutbacks. We lost a third of our staff overall. The Art and Cultural Services director became our new boss, and her boss, the Community Services Director, was also new to the position, having spent time in Recreation, and later, Social Services. This means that we were reporting to people who did not have a background in library administration. On top of that, we went through a complete remodel and reorganization without a library director to lead us, so each day was a challenge.
A few things I learned along the way about managing people and working in a public library environment:
1. Find your talking points and know your statistics.
2. Listen to all the arguments and keep an open mind. Staff often have great ideas and viewpoints, sometimes things you had never considered. But always let common sense rule the day.
3. Keep principles of Librarianship close at heart and hand. These often lead the way when a tough decision is at hand.
4. Know your library policies inside and out, how to apply them, and how to explain them. Re-write them if they need updating to meet your current needs. Also, keep them as succinct and tight as possible.
5. Be prepared to talk to crazy people on a daily basis. Some of them might be your staff. People who want to take issue with something get referred to you. Your empathetic nature will make staff trust you with some of their personal thoughts and struggles. Your job is to determine an appropriate response, reassure/handle/follow-up and make sure that the situation doesn’t escalate to your boss. Unless it needs to, and then…
6. If the situation escalates to your boss, give her a good heads up and all action up to that point. Sometimes, you might have to explain Library policy or principle to her, if your boss isn’t a librarian.
7. Get to know your boss a little. And her boss. Their priorities are often much, much different than yours as a front-line manager. Get them to talk about the bigger picture and your library’s role in it. How is budget looking for the department, the City? What other departmental priorities does she juggle? What is important to them when it comes to your library?
8. Always treat people humanely and with empathy. Fight for your staff, for their schedules and their budget, and working conditions, and do your best to say no to bad ideas from upper management, or council. Stick up for your staff, and be willing to take a hit for them. It’s the right thing to do. They will know this, and they will support you even when things get a bit iffy.
9. Enjoy the ride while it lasts. No two days are ever the same. Try and sleep and disconnect from work. Enjoy your hobbies and your family. Take the time off that you need. Working in a public library is a full-on contact sport – with staff, with patrons, with the community. It can be exhausting and uplifting, depressing and deeply satisfying, infuriating and inspiring. It is a great privilege and some days, a heavy load to bear. Keep your sense of humor, and stay hydrated.
Not sure if or when I will ever return to management – I think I do better as a person in charge, and I enjoy the responsibility – but for now, I am enjoying my kids and all the benefits of a part-time schedule – no stress, no crazy hours or late meetings, no waking up at 2am in a cold sweat that I forgot to send an email, no employees pissed off at me – it’s been great. But is also angers me off that I was forced to make a choice on an issue that could have been easily solved by a simple solution but was not, for factors that I don't understand to this day. Was I discriminated against? I’m not sure. Was it convenient in terms of budget, for me to step down and open up a pot of money for the department? I don’t really know. Sometimes it’s best just to accept and move on. But even though I love my time with my kids and the no-stress job, something about my voluntary demotion still bugs me…maybe someday I’ll know why.