Thursday, September 21, 2017

So you don't want to be a manager...

Conductor
Conductor, Manager, Leader
At the start of a new academic year, new MSLIS students begin to explore more about the profession, while also stating what attracts and repels them about librarianship.  One job which repels some students is being a manager.  This is not new. Every year there are students who state firmly that they do not want to manage other people or oversee budgets. I think this view of working in a library is shortsighted and self-limiting. Why?
  • Every librarian manages projects, processes, or events.  That includes digitization programs, summer reading programs, advocacy events, renovation projects, and more.  Some of those projects, processes and events may be small, and they still require someone to be in charge.  That person could be a seasoned librarian or someone who is a new professional.
  • Many library positions have management related responsibilities in their job descriptions, even lower level positions.
  • In smaller public libraries, a new librarian may be hired as the library director.  This tosses that person immediately into the position of being in charge and having to draw upon management-related training gained in graduate school or management-related experience gained in non-LIS positions.
  • If a librarian wants to have a positive impact on the community the person serves, that librarian will need to be involved in decision-making, planning, and implementation.  That person will need to take on responsibilities...and...yes...manage a project, a process or an event.
  • To earn more as a library and information professional, a person needs to take on more responsibility.  More responsibility means taking on managerial tasks.
Let's explore that last bullet point a bit more using the following scenario:
Three LIS graduates all begin similar library jobs at the same time. Two of the LIS graduates shun any work that seems related to "management."  The third person looks for opportunities to manage projects.

One year after their graduation, the graduate who has gained some management experience is promoted, receiving additional responsibilities and a pay increase to go with it.  The other two remain in their same original positions and only receive modest  cost of living pay increases.

Another year goes by.  One of the two LIS graduates, who had not wanted to do anything that seemed like "management," had decided to take on managing small projects.  That person receives more responsibilities and a pay increase to go with it.  This leaves one LIS graduate who is still shunning anything related to management.

A few more years go by. The one LIS graduate who received additional responsibilities after being in the profession for one year is now managing a branch library and being compensated appropriately.  That person has taken on very interesting projects at the branch, which has required being able to create project plans and project budgets. These projects have allowed the person to interact with a number of other librarians and has bolstered the person's reputation.

The LIS graduate who began taking on management responsibilities after a year in the profession has continued to take on more responsibilities.  This person has become known as an effective team leader, who leads without others feeling led.  This person is now looking to move to a different library, which would open up additional opportunities.

The third LIS graduate stayed true to the intent of not taking on any work that involving managing anything. This person did not manage any projects, programs, or events.  This person never handled a budget and was never in charge of any people.  This person never opened or closed the library, because that required managerial skills (and making decisions).  The person never served on any committees, because that could require being in charge at some point.  This person has received modest cost of living raises, but had not received any significant pay raises because the person had not taken on any responsibilities.  This person has watched the other two LIS graduates move into new positions, while this person stayed in the same position.

Do you want to be that last librarian? Why?  Why not?

{Thanks to Susan Mitchell, executive director for the Onondaga County Public Library. for prompting this scenario.}

If you are interested in being a manager or a leader, great! We need you!  If you are not interested in managing or leading, please take a moment and think about what that will mean for your career.

2 comments:

Alex Grigg said...

I could be wrong, but I suspect that most students are worried more about managing people than projects. That can be almost as limiting, but does give you a little more room for growth. Honestly, unless you're willing to be a library page for the rest of your career, which you won't even need the degree for, I don't think you'll find any library jobs that don't require some level of project management.

On a side note, I do think that the management skills that are often taught in library schools are hard to internalize until you have to apply them. So it may be worth going back to some management textbooks once you get your feet wet to see what you may have forgotten.

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

Alex, thanks for the comment. I think you may be correct on the difference between managing people and managing projects. However, often when you manage a project, you are also managing/leading/supervising people, even if they do not report to you.

I like your idea of circling back to textbooks, etc., after you have become a manager, in order to see what you have forgotten. I would also advocate for attending management or leadership related conference sessions and workshops, which might focus on specific skills needed for that library situation. No college/graduate class can cover every scenario.