When You Forget How to Librarian

Eva —  October 6, 2015 — 3 Comments

bustedtees.574aa52d-f1dc-40ed-a51f-0d8980a0This year marks my seventeenth year as a librarian, but a couple of weekends ago, after a patron flagged me down five minutes before closing asking for help, I realized that I probably shouldn’t call myself that anymore.

I was walking around the library assisting with closing when the patron waved at me from a computer. I blinked slowly when she finished telling me her need and realized it would take me longer than five minutes to figure it out. So I smiled and said, “I’m not sure. Let me get someone who will know and I’ll be right back.” I found one of our interns, who of course helped her with plenty of time remaining before the computers shutdown.

The patron left satisfied, which is fantastic, but I realized that I’ve been managing for so long that while I am still technically a librarian (noun), I’ve forgotten how to librarian (verb). As a director, I’m too far removed from direct librarian-ing to lay claim to knowing how to librarian anymore.

I don’t regularly staff a desk or put on programs or conduct outreach or select materials. I certainly don’t catalog or process library items. I occasionally assist at Checkout, and I have been known to cover a desk in an emergency or for a meeting, but those instances are few and far between and typically end with me saying, “I didn’t mess up too much, I think!” when the “real” librarian or circulation assistant comes back.

I don’t have a degree in management, yet that’s what I “really” do: Manage the work of the library. Does that count for anything in the ongoing debate about what it means to be a librarian? Never.

Photo of a star-shaped helium balloon floating over London cityscape

cc by-sa Lars Plougmann via flickr


You know that recognizing staff achievement can boost morale across your library (and Kevin just shared his method for remembering to give kudos). The positive effect of recognition is multiplied when it goes beyond an internal appreciation.

The library profession offers a variety of awards to recognize achievement, with various organizations choosing to highlight different facets of librarianship. We took a look at how different library associations around the world award library leadership. Here’s a small sample of library leadership awards from different national library organizations:



The Library Association of Chile recently split their Outstanding Librarian Award into three categories: teaching, research, and management. The 2015 award was given to Isabel Maturana Salas, a champion of information standards.


The Nigerian Library Association confers the E.B. Bankole Librarian of the Year Award for innovative individuals with a focus on contributing to the profession. The distinction is paired with a cash prize.


The Library Association of Singapore recognizes those “who demonstrate outstanding leadership and commitment to the library profession” with a Professional Service Award. Cool bonus: the award includes a piece of artwork. The 2013 recipient of the Professional Service Award was Idris bin Rashid Khan Surattee, recognized for thought leadership and special library management.

United Kingdom

We love a peer mentoring angle on leadership: the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals encourages growing leadership in others by giving a Mentor of the Year Award. The 2014 Mentor of the Year, Samuel Wiggins, said, “Mentoring can help to develop all individuals and, crucially, helps to start ideas and stir enthusiasm for the profession, for the mentee’s job, and for their own personal development.”

United States

Library Journal recognizes emerging leaders in an annual roundup of Movers and Shakers. The large group of individuals included each year are regognized in categories such as change agents, advocates, and community builders. A few of our own Library Lost & Found contributors (including Monica Harris and Leah White) have been Movers and Shakers. Heads up: 2016 nominations are due November 6).


Do you know an outstanding librarian? Spread the word about their great work. Find a regional, national, or international award that fits their great achievements. Many specializations within librarianship have leadership awards as well, from multicultural services to digital innovation.

Even if your nominees don’t win, knowing that you nominated them can be a huge morale boost.

Of course, every time a librarian gets an award, many others working hard and contributing to the profession don’t. Librarianship is a wide field of individuals doing a fascinating variety of work, and it’s impossible to award everyone who deserves recognition.

Awards are not the only way to recognize great work, and accolades are incredibly meaningful when they come from your own library leadership. In addition to looking at external awards, seek ways to heap praise on your employees internally. Librarians don’t need a gold star to feel good about their contributions, but it sure helps to know that colleagues appreciate hard work.

Let us know what you think about library awards in the comments!

Use this to get through the week.

Recognition Reminder

Kevin King —  September 25, 2015 — 1 Comment

04iconMy biggest weakness as a manager is giving recognition. As someone whose greatest strength is innovation and future thinking, I am horrible at celebrating the most recent achievements of my teammates. This is why when I read articles that highlight what employees complain most about their leaders, it does not shock me that recognition is mentioned most often. Recently I have turned to creating a digital reminder (app of choice is Wunderlist) to help me remember to recognize every day. Not only does it encourage me to take a few minutes every day to thank people for contributing to the team, it forces me explore what each staff member is doing for the library. I am often learning about new projects, innovations and great customer service deeds because I am taking the time to seek out people to recognize.

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post titled, “The Top Complaints from Employees About Their Leaders,” author Lou Solomon lists some great ways to recognize your team members. It is a amazing resource to use in addition to being intentional about recognizing on a daily basis.

Welcome to Ask Library Lost & Found, where we answer your library leadership questions. Send us your questions about library management, career paths, professional development, innovation – or anything in library land! As true librarians, if we don’t have an answer we’ll find someone who does.

A reader asked: Is an assignment schedule a positive change, or an attack on librarian work ethics?

I’m looking for help on a management situation at my library. I work in a small district library in a rural area. 

Two weeks ago, our director retired and I was named the interim director until the board can find a qualified candidate. I don’t have my MLIS, so I can’t be considered for the long run. The library I’ve temporarily inherited has a great staff of 18 full or time workers, but our former director(s) didn’t do much managing or leading.

Nearly all of the library staff are considered Librarian 2 (L2), which means they do everything from working the circulation desk to shelving, weeding, and processing new materials. Very few tasks are set aside for specific staff members. This staff, some of which have been here over 10 years, have been largely unsupervised, and have never really had a ‘boss’ telling them what to work on. There is no team of acting supervisors.

As a result, many staff members flock to the circulation desk rather than shelving, shifting, or other tasks they would normally do. That results in what can be a noisy work environment, and is not very effective in maintaining our library stacks. There was a time when we had library pages, but now that all staff are L2s, there’s no totem pole system. So, as I said: everyone is trying to do the same work.

In addition, the library board has asked me to curb this issue of what appears to them as over staffing. What I did is draft a Daily Assignments schedule, which details where all L2s will be working every hour of their shift, rotating throughout the day. My intention here was that (1) the library would no longer appear over staffed by board members and patrons alike, as there is now never more than two or three staff scheduled at our circulation terminals at one time; (2) no staff hours get cut and no one even needs to change their work schedule; (3) staff who have special tasks such as mending or buffing now have scheduled time to do these jobs and will not be pulled away to assist patrons; (4) it leaves our library in better shape now that there are many hours a day where staff are scheduled to be shelf reading, cleaning, or weeding.

So, my issue? Maybe you’ve already flagged this as a terrible idea and see where I’m going with it: many staff members have shared with me that it is very demeaning for them to be suddenly told what to do. They feel like it’s an attack on their work ethic, that there performance was so bad I needed to intervene and set them straight. I feel terrible – as this was never my intention. I just thought it would make things run smoother and keep the library in good shape.

Still, some staff like the change, as they feel there is more structure to their day and they benefit from the added organization.

What would you do? Do I need to drop it all together? Or am I on the right track, and the staff just need to catch on?


-New Leader

It sounds like you were trying to address dual issues with the assignment schedule: ineffective work distribution and perceived overstaffing. Setting a schedule is not a bad way to address these problems, and I don’t think you need to completely drop it.

Some tasks fall by the wayside unless they are intentionally divvied out. In my library, at least, shelf reading will absolutely not get done unless it is specifically assigned. Schedules are also essential for circulation and reference desk coverage. It is also 100% normal to need a sense of how your employees spend their time, especially as a new manager.

Change is always hard with some individuals. I’m wondering how the change was rolled out. Did you distribute the assignment with tasks already distributed, giving the impression that it is set in stone?

I would have tried to get employee buy-in before making the change. I would do this by sharing the problem (work not getting done, too many people at the circulation desk), and talking about possible solutions while gathering feedback. Even if they didn’t care for the ultimate solution, they would feel involved in the decision process and have an understanding of the challenge you’re facing.

At this point, I would suggest sharing (if you haven’t already) your reasons behind making the assignment board. They are solid reasons of real concern to the function of the library. Once you acknowledge their concerns with the schedule, you could also ask if they have suggestions for alternatives that ensure the work is getting done.

Since your employees had an emotional reaction to the schedule, perhaps you can explore ways to give back a measure of control. Could they set their own schedules week to week? You could see what was happening (and make sure the less popular tasks were getting done) but the librarians would be able to choose which hours of the day they spend on which tasks.

Once you’ve explained your reasons and explored alternatives, then heard protests and answered them, it’s fair to ask everyone to abide by the change without grumbling.

It sounds like you’re committed to good leadership at your library! We’re wishing you the best. Keep us posted on how it goes.