Agents of Chaos

Kevin King —  September 30, 2016 — Leave a comment

img_0078Dr. Michael Stephens (, @mstephens7) is an agent of chaos. I have heard him speak numerous times and his consistent message is that as librarians, and leaders, we need to allow as much chaos as we can stand. Successful libraries open themselves up to chaos to inspire curiosity, creativity and discovery. This in turn will make libraries more relevant to the communities they serve.

How open to chaos are you? Do you freak when your perfectly laid plans fall apart? Does your anxiety in these situations affect your ability to lead? Being able to embrace the situation when things fall apart is a sign of a good leader.

Invite some chaos in your life. Your response to chaos is up to you, but more often than not it will lead a more vibrant and exciting library.


Kevin King —  September 26, 2016 — 1 Comment

Being happy is better than being king. – Nigerian proverb

Sinek’s Circle of Safety

Kevin King —  September 22, 2016 — Leave a comment

I have been thinking a lot lately about the “Circle of Safety” as described by Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t.

I am a huge fan of this book and Sinek’s idea that strong organizations have a strong, but also porous circle of safety. The circles are strong in a way that members in the circle support the teammates on each side of them. If a threat is coming directly at them, they are confident that each flank is covered by someone they trust. In this scenario, an individual can give the threat their full attention. Successful circles of safety are porous because the leaders in this circle know to only let in individuals that will not cause havoc. The circle’s leader is tasked to make sure they keep it strong, porous and welcoming to all who are committed to the library’s mission.

It’s time to check your library’s circle. What can you do to strengthen it and at the same time keep it porous enough to let the right people in?

Email Fails. Talk.

Kevin King —  September 20, 2016 — 2 Comments

stop-sign-e1337976595845-2Good organizations communicate. Healthy organizations communicate face to face more than email. When you want to dispense important information to your staff, making the time to deliver the news on a personal level is much more effective than electronically. The possibility of your team missing information is much greater when your only source of communication is email. Leaders who commit their time to make sure important information is discussed with the team show that they are devoted not only to the institution but also to the individual.

Finally, email is NEVER the medium to use when delivering information that could be bad, uncomfortable or disciplinary. You owe it to your team to set up the time when you can be available to not only discuss the issue, but be there to answer questions and be empathetic.

Healthy organizations promote personal, trust-filled communication on all levels. Just remember – Email fails. Talk.

Megan wearing a suit.

Blazers mean business.

The best thing about library school, in my opinion, is that people attracted to library careers generally share a certain socialist bent. Librarians like to cooperate for the good of the community and give things away for free.

Now I’m going to business school.

I was deeply worried that any MBA program would be filled with what I thought of as Business People: people who would rather sell things than give them away, and people who are cutthroat rather than cooperative.

Still, I’d been thinking about going to B-school for a while. A second graduate degree can be a huge asset for academic library jobs, and I wanted something practical.

An MBA is certainly practical. It opens the doors to a much wider set of jobs than an MLIS – but I’m not going to business school because I want to leave libraries.

I’m starting business school because I was starting to feel a distinct lack of leadership skills that I would need to move my career to the next level, or even to be the best possible leader in my current role.

Even though I’m not job hunting, I’ve continued my habit of reading job ads to get a sense of what skills and abilities I’ll need to grow before I’m ready to move to a role with broader scope. I started to notice some themes in library leadership job postings – change management, program development, and budgeting and finance.

As we heard in Douglas Crane’s conversations with public library directors, library administration involves a surprising amount of finance management. That’s not a skill taught in library school (at least – not mine), and I’m really feeling the lack of financial literacy as I move into positions with greater levels of responsibility.

To be perfectly honest, budget spreadsheets terrify me. I have to steady my nerves before looking at hourly employee payroll projections, or before turning in a budget request for a new program.

This is something I need to get over. In a time of flat or shrinking budgets, librarians have to learn how to use money responsibly. That means (horrors) diving deep into financial management.

The skills that attracted me to business programs went far beyond financial management. A lot of the leadership sources we turn to for inspiration are from business schools, like our perennial favorite, the Harvard Business Review.

It seemed like B-school would give me a set of skills that would really help when leading a library – personnel management, strategic planning, and, yes, the dreaded financial administration.

The university I work for offers a tuition waiver as an employee benefit, so I can take MBA classes for the cost of textbooks. That cushy free tuition is key to this venture, since I’m still paying off student loans from library school (and I’m just kidding about buying those textbooks – I’m getting them through interlibrary loan, of course).

Even with that free tuition, I resisted for a while. Would business school just be immersing myself in an environment I hated? Would I be surrounding myself with a bunch of business jerks? Perhaps a degree in public administration would be more my speed, I thought.

As it happens, the university’s B-school is right across the street from my bus stop. I eyed the classes suspiciously while waiting at the bus stop. There were a lot of people wearing collared shirts and suits – a far cry from the librarian style I fondly think of as “creative casual.”

Despite the more formal wardrobe, they didn’t look like jerks. They looked like nice people laughing and learning and getting along together. I took a tentative look at the MBA programs and found to my surprise that the school offered a specialization in managing for sustainability.

That sounded fantastic. I realized that the skills I wanted were about helping libraries be more sustainable – economically sustainable, yes, but also socially sustainable and environmentally sustainable.

I signed up for an MBA orientation session, still harboring some doubts that this was the right place for me. Would the business school employees put the hard sell on me? They’re Business People, after all, I thought.

I am glad to report that I was dead wrong. Every single person I talked to at the orientation was welcoming, kind, and informative – just like the best kind of reference librarian. I talked to the director of the sustainability program for just a few minutes, and he mentioned a person on campus who could talk to me about sustainability in the context of higher education . . . and then he followed up the very next day with an email offering to introduce us.

I was convinced. So I’m taking a deep breath and starting an MBA program. I’m genuinely excited about what this new knowledge can do for my library. I mean, just look at some of these class titles in my program:

  • Accounting & Finance for Sustainability
  • Business and the Natural Environment
  • Sustainable Management Research
  • Global Climate Change
  • Information Systems Strategy

Oh gosh, Information Systems Strategy. I learned a lot about information theory in library school, but I certainly never devised a strategy.

I’m taking Leading Individuals and Teams right now. The course addresses burning questions I have at work in the library. How do you get people to cooperate on complex projects? How do you bring diverse personalities together in pursuit of a common goal?

As each of my classmates gave a short introduction in the first class session, I was relieved to hear that I wasn’t the only one new to capital B business school. Sure, there were a few business majors planning to specialize in finance or accounting – but there were also several nonprofit professionals, several veterans and civil servants, a few teachers, and even a musician. When I said that I was a librarian, I got a lot of grins and nods.

We’re now in the third week of the semester and things are going swimmingly. People are cooperative, not competitive. Our group project for the class is to do a significant project for a nonprofit organization. There are no Business People – just people who want to be better leaders.

So this librarian is going to business school. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll keep you posted!