August 29, 2014

Library Managers and Administrators, Part 1: Who Would Be a Middle Manager? | Not Dead Yet

Cheryl LaGuardia Library Managers and Administrators, Part 1: Who Would Be a Middle Manager? | Not Dead YetYears ago when I worked in the University of California (UC) library system I had the opportunity to participate in MSAP, UC’s Management Skills Assessment Program. It was a superb residential program in which participants took part in a wide variety of exercises targeted at identifying and developing hands-on managerial skills. The key element in the program (for me, at least), was that the folks running the workshops and exercises were current UC managers. They worked with and assessed participants, giving excellent, knowledgeable, and insightful feedback throughout. From them I learned a tremendous amount about being a manager, both the good and the bad. Those assessing our group were top-notch managers who could talk the talk AND walk the walk, AND they could teach and mentor—I really can’t say enough positive things about that program. I was extremely lucky to be part of it, as I learned from subsequent jobs where managerial training was meted out very selectively, according to mysterious, secret criteria.

I’ve been a library middle manager on and off throughout my pretty lengthy career, in access services, instruction, electronic services, and reference, and along the way I’ve collected a number of what I’ll call “impressions” about the role. Those impressions are:

  1. Being a middle manager is demanding: you are in the middle, which means you need to manage down (to your reports), up (to your boss), and around (to your fellow middle managers). That takes a lot of different skills, about which more later.
  2. If you’re very lucky, somewhere along the way you’ll get some management training. That’s not really the norm in libraries, though—more often, managers either rise through the ranks of frontline staff or get hired on to a managerial position having been a frontline librarian elsewhere. They may have picked up some management skills on the job or been through some supervisory training.
  3. If you’re not so lucky, you will have to learn everything on the job, by the seat of your pants. You may learn good skills or you may learn not-so-good skills, depending upon the environment of your department or library.
  4. The ideal management situation is one in which you have responsibilities accompanied by the authority, and resources, to carry them out.
  5. However, it can be the case that, as a library middle manager, you will have a great deal of responsibility, but very limited authority and/or resources. This can be frustrating. Or it can make your life a living hell.
  6. Good managers can be born, or made, but I believe they need to have at least some of the following characteristics:
    1. Be good listeners
    2. Have good communication skills
    3. Be fair-minded (and slow to judge)
    4. Be well-organized (or know enough to hire an effective amanuensis to keep them well-organized)
    5. Be empathetic
    6. Tend to be honest (but not brutally so)
    7. Tend to give people the benefit of the doubt
    8. Have a healthy life/work balance
    9. Be able to set goals and adjust them in response to reality
    10. Secure enough to hire others just as talented as they are, or more so
    11. Willing to change their minds as needed
    12. Willing to stick to their guns as needed
    13. Be an effective advocate
    14. Revel in the successes of their team/department/library, both the collective and individuals
    15. Know enough about the work of your reports to be able to recognize good—as opposed to bad or indifferent—work
    16. Be able to learn from mistakes and move on
    17. Patience
    18. Stamina
    19. A good sense of humor
    20. Bad managers, too, can be born, or made, but I believe that if they lack many of the above characteristics, they, and their staff, are going to have a tough time of it. If I had to pick one trait that is the worst for any manager, it would be ruthless ambition. Please don’t misunderstand me; I find ambition accompanied by hard work and substance to be highly desirable in anyone, manager, administrator, or frontline librarian. But ruthless ambition, that which disregards everything but advancement for the individual and the devil take everything else, will bring down a unit, department, or library very quickly, destroying morale and the work environment.

That’s enough for now about middle managers, for whom, as you can see, I have a lot of respect and admiration. So much so that I’m including this little podcast (it’s under three minutes) that I think summarizes the Library Manager experience nicely.

The Library Manager Song

Read eReviews, where Cheryl LaGuardia and Bonnie Swoger look under the hood of the latest library databases and often offer free database trials.

Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980s, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early '90s (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at claguard@fas.harvard.edu, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.

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Comments

  1. Alexandra Tatti says:

    Dear Cheryl,

    Thank you for this very insightful piece about library middle managers. In the best of times, middle managers need to balance managing up, down, and around, as you aptly describe. During bad economic times, however, they often also have to do this balancing act with frontline responsibilities added on. I see this at my workplace where we have lost many through an early retirement incentive program and their vacated positions have been frozen indefinitely. With staff already stretched, it is the middle manager who has to take on more work.

    I listened to the Library Manager song and loved it! Would you be willing to post the lyrics? I think we should plan a flash mob of middle managers at ALA singing this song!

    Alexandra
    P.S. I can’t wait for Part 2! I hope there will be another chorus…

    Alexandra

    • Dear Alexandra,

      Thanks for writing! The situation you describe at your workplace sounds very much like ours and those of many friends — staff are being stretched more than ever in my experience, and the extra load middle managers are carrying, which includes trying to keep up morale, is just that much harder.

      I’m appending the lyrics to the Library Manager Song below. I’m all for the flash mob at ALA if you think we can get enough voices. I’m working on Part 2 of Library Managers and Administrators right now — don’t know if it will be possible to get another chorus together, but will see (BTW, that was a group of Harvard Library middle managers singing there).

      Thanks again, and hope you keep reading and writing,
      Cheryl

      I’m a Library Manager and I’m Okay

      I’m a library manager and I’m okay
      I’m sleepless nights and I work all day

      (chorus)
      We’re library managers and we’re okay
      We’re sleepless nights and we work all day

      I set up goals, lunch at my desk
      Take meetings constantly,
      On Fridays it seems likely
      There’ll be no weekend for me

      (chorus)
      We set up goals, lunch at our desks
      Take meetings constantly,
      On Fridays it seems likely
      There’ll be no weekend for we

      I’m a library manager and I’m okay
      I’m sleepless nights and I work all day

      (chorus)
      We’re library managers and we’re okay
      We’re sleepless nights and we work all day

      I serve at the desk or I approve folks’ hours,
      Buy books and try to lead
      I find it so ironic I seldom get to read

      We serve at the desk or we approve folks’ hours,
      Buy books and try to lead
      We find it so ironic we seldom get to read

      I’m a library manager and I’m okay
      I’m sleepless nights and I work all day

      (chorus)
      We’re library managers and we’re okay
      We’re sleepless nights and we work all day

      I meet with staff, I meet deadlines
      I implement policy
      I like to work with others
      And they like to work with me

      (chorus)
      We meet with staff, we meet deadlines
      We implement policy
      We like to work with others
      And they like to work with we

      I’m a library manager and I’m okay
      I’m sleepless nights and I work all day

      (chorus)
      We’re library managers and we’re okay
      We’re sleepless nights and we work all day

      I’m a library manager with good karma
      And I work really hard
      I wish I could retire
      Just like my dear mama

      (chorus)
      We’re library managers with good karma
      And we work really hard
      We wish we could retire
      Just like our dear mamas / papas (your choice)

      We’re library managers and we’re okay
      We’re sleepless nights and we work all day
      We’re library managers and we’re okay
      We’re sleepless nights and we work all day

  2. in my opinion a good system would be middle parts of between library manager and administration. i did study your blog and find that be an effective advocate is a strong point of this blog

  3. Meg Anthony says:

    I would add that middle managers are most successful when they are given some level of autonomy. The same goes for any staff member, really. There is nothing that sucks the spirit dry like being micro-managed. At any level.

    • Here, here, Meg! I agree with you wholeheartedly. I am in a very good situation in re: this now, but over my career I’ve been in situations where someone micro-managed the entire library, and staff morale sank like a stone. So I really appreciate managers who set expectations and leave it to us to do our jobs.
      Thanks for writing! and hope you keep reading,
      Cheryl