February 17, 2018

Achieving Library Menschness | Not Dead Yet

I was on the Information Desk in Widener today and my friend and colleague, Joshua Parker, stopped by for a moment. It so happens I’ve been looking into MOOCs lately, with special interest in edX and Coursera, and when I saw Josh it occurred to me that he should be teaching a MOOC on supervision and management. Why? Because Josh is that rara avis, an effective library manager who is hugely well-liked and well-respected.

When I suggested that he teach such a MOOC, Josh laughed and replied that he could sum up his secrets to supervision on a tiny scrap of paper (such as we keep at the Information Desk for researchers to write call numbers out) and he proceeded to do so.

Here’s what he wrote:

  1. Be a mensch (Josh credits his father in Minnesota with teaching him this)
    • a. Care… at least a little
    • b. Don’t lie (you may not always be able to convey the entire truth, but do not lie)
    • c. Don’t be a coward (you don’t have to be stalwartly brave—just don’t be a coward)

[he credits one of his former bosses with these three bits of wisdom; I know the boss, and it makes perfect sense, because he, too, is well-liked and well-respected].

There are three things you need to know about Josh in addition to his secrets for library supervision:

  1. Admittedly, he has an edge on common decency since he comes from Minnesota
  2. You’ll notice he credits others for his secrets for success—a revealing trait of the successful manager
  3. He cares about the work a lot. A whole lot.

I’ve worked in libraries for 36 years, and have seen good, bad, and indifferent supervisors and managers. If everyone in a supervisory role could incorporate the characteristics and behaviors from that little piece of paper, it would be a vastly improved library world. And I simply can’t improve on Josh’s secrets—can you?

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.

The Latest Trends in Library Design
Hosted in partnership with Salt Lake County Library and The City Library—at SLCo’s Viridian Center—the newest installment of our library building and design event will let you dig deep with architects, librarians, and vendors to explore building, renovating, and retrofitting spaces to better engage your community.
Facts Matter: Information Literacy for the Real World
Libraries and news organizations are joining forces in a variety of ways to promote news literacy, create innovative community programming, and help patrons/students identify misinformation. This online course will teach you how to partner with local news organizations to promote news literacy through a range of programs—including a citizen journalism hub at your library.


  1. Speaking as a Minnesotan… thanks for being a mensch and saying such nice things about us!

    • Dear Fabulous Barbara Fister (that’s just how I think of you),

      Thank you for your note! You and Joshua are superb ambassadors to the world from your state; perhaps I should be trying to get both of you to offer MOOCs on being Minnesotan…? I, for one, am all for Minnesotan Menschness to spread as far and wide as possible.

      From a native New Yorker, having sojourned in California and Massachusetts,

  2. This is what I’ve learned through the years about supervising:
    1. Hire good people.
    2. Train them well.
    3. Leave them alone to do their jobs.
    4. Say “thank you” often.

    • Dear Anita,
      thanks for writing — I’ve heard the first three items from other good library managers, but never before seen the fourth — and very important — one you include here. So thanks again for adding to the discussion, and thanks for (obviously) being a library mensch.
      Best wishes,

  3. 3 rules for employees:
    1. Come to work on time with your head screwed on straight
    2. Leave your personal issues on the other side of the doorstep
    3. Give 8 hours work for 8 hours pay

    • Hi Pat,
      I’d love to hear more about the philosophy you’ve expressed here; I’d especially like to know: are you a library manager / supervisor or employee?
      Thanks for writing,

  4. Thanks for giving me a new word to learn. I’ve never before come across “mensch” so I learned my something new for today! :D

    • Hi Meg,
      I have to give credit to Rita Lakin (http://www.ritalakin.com/); although I have known some Yiddish all my life, she has increased my vocabulary considerably with her Gladdy Gold mysteries — she includes a Yiddish glossary in the front of most of them. The books are kind of a combination of the Golden Girls meet Stephanie Plum (with lots of nosh included). So the kudos goes to Rita!
      Thanks for writing,

  5. How about – treat everyone the same, regardless of where they are on the food chain?