Last December, I was promoted to library director at my hometown library.
I started as a page before being promoted to librarian assistant, and then worked as the reference librarian and technology manager. When our former director retired, I served in the interim for a few months before being promoted. Working at many different levels of the organization gave me a unique understanding of the internal challenges the library faced. When I accepted the job offer nearly 5 months ago, I had my work cut out for me.
Our relatively small library is located in Michigan’s rural Upper Peninsula. As the library director, I’m responsible for supervising all 17 full- and part-time employees. It’s a system I’ve inherited, and one that I recognized as problematic long before my recent promotion.
The majority of employees work in circulation. They divide their time between shelving, shelf reading, and working at the front desk. While these employees have always shared duties, they’ve never had an active and engaging supervisor. Circulation staff who work better in a more structured environment felt lost, often looking for tasks to do here-and-there without any real guidance. Other staff gathered around the circulation desk when there was no need for it. Patron complaints about the noisiness of library staff were not uncommon.
As the interim director, I started a daily assignments schedule for all circulation staff, which detailed what they work on at every hour of their shift. I introduced the idea at a staff meeting, encouraging employees to give me feedback before we started the schedule in two weeks. Mostly the staff was quiet, other than a few adamant supporters. We gave it a shot.
The first week of using the assignments schedule brought some heated opposition to the new arrangement. One employee came to me in near tears, sharing that she’s never worked a job where she was told what to do every hour of the day – it was demeaning and an attack on her work ethic.
I was shocked, but I reminded myself that some staff members have worked here for as many as a dozen years with no managerial presence. I restated why the schedule was an important tool for delegating necessary library work that was otherwise going undone. I let her know that while I was open to alternative methods, having some level of accountability was very important.
A short time later – a month or so – most staff had adjusted to the schedule. I allowed for enough flexibility that staff didn’t feel micromanaged, and some staff shared with me that they felt more productive at work, and in-turn, their days went by faster (score!). The employees that took issue with the schedule early on laughed it off when I followed up with them at the two month mark. They learned to work with it, and understood that if circumstances or priorities change throughout the day, so could the schedule.
When I started working as the director in December, I had more leeway to implement changes, and I knew that I had more work to do. While the daily assignments schedule was effective, it seemed unfair to the employees that I should be there only immediate supervisor. How could I give proper evaluations when I no longer work with them regularly at the circulation desk? I drafted a position description for a circulation supervisor, and worked with our library’s cooperative director to refine it.
The difficult work is just getting started. In the very near future I’ll promote one of the librarian assistants to circulation supervisor, and other circulation staff will start working with a motivating human presence for the first time. My hope is that the restructuring of our library into a more defined chain-of-command will better delegate work among staff, while at the same time make clear who staff can turn to in any given situation.
What sort of necessary restructuring is happening at your library? How are you and your staff dealing with it?