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image of window with title "want a better library job? develop your people skills"When I started business school last semester, I wanted to learn skills I didn’t find in library school. Think financial management, or strategic planning – the nitty gritty of business.

While I wanted those hard skills, I worried that I would be surrounded by business jerks who care only about numbers.

To my surprise, the first required class in the business program was all about people skills. I learned more about interpersonal communication in one b-school class than I did in two years in a library science program.

We went introspective with lots of personality typing for self-awareness, from the old standby Myers-Briggs to fancy color charts from Emergenetics. We spent hours talking about how different personality types interact and how we can learn from each other. We learned how to tell stories that spark people to support our vision.

The instructor, Susan Heinzeroth, explained why we were spending so much time on these soft skills. She drew a graph on the board to illustrate. Here’s a sketch from my class notes:

hand-drawn graph showing that as career level progresses, technical skills decrease and interpersonal skills increase

We all start out in libraries by developing niche technical skills, like cataloging or database searching. As our careers develop, those technical skills become less important, and the need for interpersonal skills skyrockets.

Libraries are all about people – connecting people with information and helping them transform their lives through learning.

Leadership is all about people, too. Leaders need to align a diverse group of people around common goals.

To do that, they need massive amounts of interpersonal skills.

Interpersonal skills go beyond the customer service skills you use to help patrons at the circulation desk. These deeper skills shape your long-term relationships with colleagues in your library.

If you want to advance your career, expand your professional development from just technical skills. Consider whether you have room for growth in any of these interpersonal skills:

  • Deep listening
  • Verbal communication
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Asking questions
  • Negotiation
  • Apologizing
  • Persuasion
  • Assertion
  • Networking
  • Storytelling
  • Emotional intelligence

To be a great leader, you need to consistently rock these skills with a wide variety of people. If you’re like me, you feel comfortable in a handful of these skills, and that you’ve achieved mastery in maybe one or two.

The good news is that interpersonal skills can be learned and developed, just like technical skills.

You don’t have to go to business school to work on your interpersonal skills. There are great low-cost resources to kickstart new ideas. Check out Crucial Conversations, or this great list from The Muse of 11 Cheap Online Classes You Can Take to Improve Your Interpersonal Skills.

Once you start thinking a little differently about how you interact with others, you can start putting new skills into practice with people around you.

Think about your library colleagues. Is there someone you avoid because you just don’t get along?

Real talk: as you move into leadership positions, you no longer have the option of avoiding people. You need enough interpersonal oomph to have a good relationship with everyone in your organization (and outside, too).

Maybe that strained relationship is an area for interpersonal growth. Could you ask your colleague more appreciative questions? Could you find more empathy for your colleague? Could you genuinely apologize for your part in creating a rift?

Technical skills are, of course, still important. If you go back to that graph, you’ll notice middle managers a mix of technical expertise and interpersonal skills. As a middle manager, I feel that pinch. I need to know how to re-write loan rules in Sierra . . . and explain to people why we need to do that, and persuade them to help make the changes.

If you want to advance in your library career, you’ll need these interpersonal skills to have stellar relationships with your colleagues. Developing your interpersonal skills makes you a better leader in your current position. It also makes you a better candidate for advancement within your library, or for taking on a leadership role at another library.

How would you rate your current interpersonal abilities? What’s helped you grow your skills?

circulation diagram with title

Even if you’re not actively job hunting, reading job ads is a great way to prepare for the next step in your career.

Job postings convey a whole lot of information: what you’d do on the job, the experience and knowledge the hiring manager wants in a candidate, and (ideally) a sense of the organization and working environment. You can also get a great feel for current trends in librarianship.

This Library Lost & Found series dissects job ads for library leadership positions. We analyze library job postings from the perspective of building your career. We’re also interested in how to write a great job description that will attract the best candidates.

Today I’m analyzing a job posting I found on ALA Joblist for a Library Director for Miles Community College in Miles City, Montana.

Title

Library Director is a refreshingly straightforward title. When I see “library” at a college, I can guess that they’ll have a substantial onsite book collection. When colleges have a “learning commons” or “information resource center” rather than a library, I wonder how much they depend on ILL for print materials.

Reporting Structure

The Library Director reports to the Vice President of Academic Affairs for Miles Community College. That’s a fairly high level for the library to sit; the Library Director is just two steps down from the college president!

This also reflects the small scale of the college, which reports enrollment of 390 students full-time equivalency (FTE) for Fall 2016.

The supervision exercised by the Library Director is defined as “Library Aides, Work Study Students.” As a candidate, I would be very curious about how many library aides there are, what level of employee they are, and how much the overall function of the library depends on work study students.

Job Duties

The first verb – indeed, the first word – in the responsibilities section is “lead”! This whole bullet point is worth quoting:

Lead the Library in responding to information management problems with technology-based solutions. (Internet, web pages, video technologies and other evolving futuristic technologies).

Way to go, MCC! This tells me that they want a library director who will help the library transform to meet the evolving information needs of current and future students.

There’s a fair amount of budgeting mentioned in the job responsibilities, including “effectively, ethically, and innovatively” managing the budget. The library director will need to get creative with the budget, but ethically creative!

As I scan down the job functions bullet points, I see responsibilities that range from broad (strategic planning, external partnerships) to narrow (cataloging and weeding). That reflects the relatively small scale of this library and organization – the person in this position would need to pitch in on the front lines regularly while also maintaining a long term vision.

Qualifications

This position requires an ALA-accredited Masters in library or information science. The posting also lists quite a lot of competencies. I like when organizations emphasize competencies (or knowledge, as the San Mateo Senior Librarian job posting phrased it) over prior experience. Competencies can be demonstrated in wider variety of ways than past job experience – through class work or volunteer experience, for instance.

I also deeply appreciate how the position spells out what they mean by each competency. For instance:

Delegation – Delegates work assignments; Matches the responsibility to the person; Sets expectations and monitors delegated activities.

A librarian interviewing for this position would want to prepare stories about times they had thoughtfully delegated tasks to a team and the successful results of those assignments as part of the whole project.

The competencies include a great range of leadership skills, from management to communication to strategic planning.

Salary

This job posting does not specify a salary range, which is disappointing. I’m a big fan of salary transparency, especially because salaries for the same job title can vary wildly across organizations. To be fair, Employers often want to reserve that information for optimal bargaining power after recruiting the best possible pool of candidates.

The national average salary for people with the title Library Director is $77,822, according to Glassdoor. Of course, that average includes people in high cost of living locations who have been in that position for a long time, and the person filling this position might be newly jumping to the director level.

My guess for this salary is based on the relatively small size of the library and the eminently affordable cost of living in Miles City (Craigslist shows a sweet 2 bedroom apartment with a garage for just $800!). I would guess that the salary would fall in the $40K range.

Overall

This Library Director job opportunity at Miles Community College would be a great fit for someone who is broadly familiar with all functions of a library and knows how to lead effectively in a tight-knit organization.

I love how well the job posting conveys the day to day responsibilities for this library director – and the potential challenges. The college administration seems to have a clear vision of how they want the library to evolve with the times, while being realistic about resource constraints in a small college. This would be great leadership position for a librarian with experience at a small academic library or a rural public library.


We have no connection with Miles Community College and no insider scoop on this job posting – but we’ll cross our fingers for you if you apply!

hand presenting a lit sparkler with title "Library Lost & Found: Choosing Leadership"

Last month, I visited the Rural Libraries Conference in Alberta, Canada to speak about choosing library leadership. The conference is held every year in Grande Prairie, Alberta, which is the biggest city from Edmonton to Alaska, and the attendees are amazing librarians and library trustees from public and school libraries across northwest Alberta.

The focus of the conference this year was leadership, especially the kind of leadership that you can engage in from any position.

Leadership without hierarchy is particularly important for smaller libraries. A library staff of three may not have much of an official hierarchy – but you better believe each of those library employees can be a leader for positive changes.

At the conference, I shared the story of when I chose library leadership, along with five ways that anyone can choose library leadership in any position. This is a condensed version of the keynote address I shared.


True confession: I did not originally choose library leadership.

My library was rearranging services and my position was going to be eliminated. Because libraries are made up of benevolent, human oriented people, instead of laying me off, they looked for another position within the library for me. The only catch: it was a position supervising other people.

I said “Yes” to that position because I liked getting a paycheck, but I was nervous about supervising for the first time. I found very quickly that I would need to learn a lot in order to be a good supervisor. That was when I made the conscious choice to become a leader.

I believe leadership is a choice you make. You choose to go to work every day and create the best experience possible for everyone who walks in the library doors. You choose to go out in your community and advocate for your library. You choose to help people around you change their lives for the better, through the library and beyond.

I want to share few ways about how you can choose leadership and be a transformative power for good. Each of these is a practice that you can embrace from any position in the library – whether you just started yesterday, or you’ve been a trustee for a decade.

Say Yes!

The very first thing you can do to embrace library leadership is so simple: you can say yes.

This means saying yes to a request for help, or saying yes to an idea for a project, or saying, “Yes!!! Way to go team!” It means answering a call for volunteers with a yes. It means saying yes, I am a library leader.

Saying yes has a greater impact than simply agreeing to help out your colleague. Saying yes creates a culture of positivity in your workplace.

I’m a big believer in the power of positivity. I think that the language that we use with each other in our libraries can have an even greater impact than the actual actions that we take.

This practice sounds simple, but simple things can be the hardest. Is there something at your library that you’re saying “No” to lately? Is there any element of it that you can comfortably change to a yes?

Connect to Your Community

The second way to practice leadership is to connect deeply with your community. Of course, libraries are all about community. I’m especially talking about ways to talk about library resources outside the doors of the library.

This isn’t about a marketing campaign or getting on social media – although those are great.  This is about being a personal ambassador for the library just by participating in the community.

Heather Lowe from the Dallas Public Library has a great way of thinking about her role in the community. She says, “Being a public librarian, you are a librarian 24 hours a day. When you go to the coffeeshop, you’re still the face of the library.”

That’s such a great way to think about being a library ambassador in your regular life as a citizen in your community. Just by mentioning what you do in your library, whether you’re a trustee or a library employee, you’re reminding the people you encounter that the library exists and is a vibrant part of your community.

You can connect to your community by joining clubs, volunteering, or simply attending community events – just keep representing the library while you do it.

Is there a community organization that you could join? Is there a way you could build relationships with more people in your town?

Start Something New

Once you’ve connected with your community, you might hear about unmet needs that your library can help with. That’s when you start something new.

I don’t mean that you have to reinvent the library, or radically change things (but if you do, awesome!). This might mean making new improvements to existing programs and services,

Leadership is all about change. If our libraries were completely static and unchanging, we wouldn’t need leaders to help guide us.

Is there a project or idea that’s been in the back of your mind? What could you do to get it going soon?

Be a Mentor

The next library leadership practice that you can embrace is being a mentor. Many of us don’t feel quite ready to be a mentor. Personally, whenever I hear mentoring program, I think, “Great! How can I sign up to be a mentee?”

The truth is, everyone is ready to be a mentor to someone else.

Mentoring is really about encouragement and storytelling. You don’t need to be an expert to be a mentor. All you have to do is give moral support, and share stories about your own successes and failures.

If you’ve had a mentor, you know how important it can be to your career development – not to mention your self confidence.

You can make a huge impact by mentoring one group in particular: library pages. Lots of librarians got their start as a page or shelver. How many of those people do you think envisioned a lifelong career in libraries when they first started their jobs? How many do you think got support and encouragement from a more experienced employee?

Libraries are most effective when their employees reflect the diversity of their communities. You can help make the profession more diverse by hiring and mentoring library employees from diverse backgrounds.

You can start being a mentor by giving support and encouragement to other people especially people newer or more junior than you. If you’re on a board, you can take new board members under your wing. If you’re a long-time staff person, you can give advice to people figuring out what they want to do with their careers. It all starts with being supportive, encouraging, and willing to share.

Is there someone at your library who needs a little encouragement or direction? Can you talk with pages about their careers?

Share What You Do

Mentorship starts with sharing, but library leadership also means sharing more widely.

Libraries of all types are facing transformational possibilities – new ways of delivering collections, changing information needs, and of course – striving to doing more to serve communities while facing the reality of a budget.

Sharing what you do with the wider community of libraries engages you in leadership in the profession.

I want to encourage each of you to find a way to share your own story with a wider audience. Just as with mentoring, you don’t have to be an expert or have all the answers. You just need to be willing to share. Someone else might be going through the same issues. Your story might be about your own personal journey in libraries, or about something cool going on with your library.

Sharing what you do is like mentorship on a wider scale. Your efforts can spark ideas in libraries across the world.

There are many ways you can share what you’re doing. You can write journal articles or blog posts. You can put together posters or speak at conferences. Or, you can connect and share with a wider library community on social media. 

What awesome things are happening in your corner of the library world? What venue could you find to share them in?


These are five practices that anyone can use to choose library leadership, and making that choice is good for your community, for your library, and for you.

We know that our day to day efforts in libraries make our communities a better place. By taking on a leadership role, you can amplify that good in your community. Leadership can lead to new and better services for the people you serve.

Our communities need more voices coming from places like the library – voices that will advocate for service people in need, voices that will talk about investing back in the community, and voices that have a unique view on what’s going on in people’s lives.

Leadership is good for your library.

Your advocacy can bring in more funding for your library. Your efforts as a leader – including mentoring and sharing – will result in good things for your colleagues.

By demonstrating the possibilities for enacting positive changes, your leadership will have a ripple effect through your library.

Most of all, lead for you.

Leadership opens up career possibilities. For me, embracing lead to more and greater career changes than I ever thought possible. This was in both subtle and direct ways – for instance, during the interview for my most recent job one of the interview questions was, “What’s your approach to leadership?” But the subtle ways included connections I made with people, or projects that I saw through to the finish line.

Finally, leadership feels good. Embracing leadership gives you a sense of self-determination, of influencing your own destiny. Once you choose leadership, you can choose your own direction.

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!

LLFbreaktheice

The library world has mixed feelings about icebreakers. Some of us will avoid them at all costs and show up late to meetings if the agenda starts off with an icebreaker. Some of us love goofy icebreaker activities like a group paper scissors rock competition.

Given these very strong and totally opposed opinions, how can you use icebreakers wisely in library meetings?

I confess: ice breakers are starting to make more sense to me. When volunteering for a service committee, icebreakers can help people from different libraries get to know each other. For staff days, where all the participants theoretically know each other, icebreakers can engage those who are reluctant to join in wholeheartedly.

On my library team, icebreakers help us get started on our monthly departmental meeting.

When people first step into the conference room, their minds are on the patron they just helped at the desk, or on the report they have to run afterward. An icebreaker can re-focus everyone’s attention on the other people in the conference room.

Icebreakers have to be used with caution, however, because of those opposing viewpoints on them. I stick with a very simple icebreaker that the dean of my last library used at managers’ meetings.

The icebreaker I use is a connection question. It’s a very simple question that each person answers briefly. It might be about work, or not about work at all.

I share the connection question in the meeting agenda so that everyone has a chance to think about it.

A few connection questions I’ve used include:

  • What book have you enjoyed lately?
  • What’s your hobby outside of work?
  • What work skill are you particularly proud to have?
  • What date on your calendar are you looking forward to?
  • What professional development activity has helped most in your career?
  • What’s your favorite restaurant near the library?

These questions aren’t too personal, but they do encourage people to share a a little bit about themselves.

When I started this library manager job a year ago, several people across my team said that they wanted to get to know their colleagues better. The connection question helps individuals connect about their interests and goals.

Through this icebreaker, I’ve learned surprising things about the people I work with in libraries. I learned that one person is an accomplished musician, that another is a huge science fiction fan, and that most people pack their lunches and therefore don’t have strong opinions on restaurants near campus.

The connection questions get everyone in the mode of speaking up in the meeting. They swing us into a group conversation, and sometimes spark good conversations afterward.

Of course, some people will loathe icebreakers no matter what. The connection question has the virtue of being short enough that icebreaker haters get done with it quickly. The quick time also helps keep meetings short and effective – which we all agree is good.