Jenica has a very thoughtful post about management, and the general attitude of library professionals towards management and managers. The attitude is skepticism, fear, mistrust, anger, and general frustration and she makes some excellent points about the comments that have been made to her since taking on a directorship for one of the SUNY schools.
The comment that best struck me was the “don’t forget where you came from.” Her answer is somewhat indignant and rightly so. And while I don’t expect her to overnight turn into someone completely incapable of remember how to answer a reference question, it pointed out something that I have witnessed with managers and educators within the library profession. When moving into management or education, it seems to become beneath many to actually perform the everyday tasks called upon by the majority of your staff or students.
I have had the unfortunate experience of watching a reference librarian I respected advance to the directorship of a library. The power went to her head and I’ve watched her not only find the work of the library beneath her, including the work that falls into her job responsibilities, but also run off the good people who worked for her. It’s become a toxic environment where the focus seems to have become building her legacy, as it certainly doesn’t seem to be patrons, materials, staff or anything else. I’ve met managers who were firmly of the belief they should only ever work bank hours and certainly never on a public service desk (not because they were needed elsewhere–but because it was beneath them, keep that in mind). But then, I worked for a system that adamantly argued that I as a professional wasn’t to shelve but conversely the pages who only shelved weren’t allowed to do a “shelf check” for an item for someone from another location. If that isn’t convoluted and setting people up with a “beneath me” mindset, I’m not sure what is…
And then there’s the story that hit a week ago from Tulsa–where the Library CEO has had her position restructured so that she has no day-to-day responsibilities in the building and gets to work from home two days a week–with the same pay. They say it’s having an effect on employee morale. Without day to day responsibilities in the building, or even having a presence in the space, it’s rather unclear how the CEO is planning on staying aware of what is going on and what the needs of her staff are.
But for the ones that scare me to pieces, there are managers I have to point out my admiration for.
At present, I have the pleasure of working both with Madame Storyteller and Madame Director–neither of whom despite their lofty titles and extended experience–find shelving and checking out books beneath them. Granted, shelving isn’t the everyday task of these two women, who have a lot of other things on their plate, but Madame Director takes a shift on the circulation desk nearly every week. It’s one of the best places to catch her when I need something signed, because for those two hours, I can guarantee she’ll be pretty much in one spot. But it also shows to our aides and the other managers that she values that work just as highly as any other professional work, and it’s noticed and appreciated.
And there is a branch manager at CPL that I would have stayed for, had they let me work for her. She has the management of a west side branch and works, works with and for her staff, and is pretty awesome. As a result, people really want to work at her branch.
We do need a shift in our view of management, on that I agree with Jenica. But we need to find a way to highlight the managers who are doing it right, doing it well, and training other good leaders–as opposed to those who are most concerned with getting things out of it only for themselves, such as those banking hours and relief from the ref desk. Myself, though management wasn’t my initial goal on entering the field, I see it as somewhere I’d like to go. I’ve managed people before and it’s one of the few promotional paths available to me. I just have to remember what the Incredibly Patient Mother taught me about management long ago: one leads by example and a good manager won’t ask you to do something he or she won’t do*.
*with the caveat of course for things one physically can’t do or don’t have the appropriate training to do