Archives For Middle Management

My library is currently undertaking strategic planning. As part of the process, our consultants (Right Management) are also leading us though “employee engagement.” Employee engagement is the extent that employees are committed to their jobs and, in our case, the library as a whole. Employees who are more engaged in their work and in the organization are generally more dedicated to helping achieve the goals of the institution. To this end, our employees were invited to take a test called the Birkman.

The Birkman identifies your interests, your normal actions, your stress actions, and your needs. The stress actions are those you display when your needs are not met. The report places a different symbol in one of four colored squares on a grid to graphically display where you fall in each of these categories. There is a red square (expediter), a green square (communicator), a yellow square (administrator), and a blue square (planner). There are also implications for task-oriented vs. people-oriented and direct vs. indirect, tangible vs. intangible, and louder vs. quieter. Apparently, my normal actions and interests fall strongly in the yellow square and my stress actions and needs are in the green square, but fairly close to the blue square. No surprises there!

Grid with four quadrants: Expediter, Communicator, Administrator, and PlannerThe Birkman also suggests careers that are most suited to you based on all of these things. Apparently I’d make a heck of an administrator, but should also consider literary, scientific, and numerical occupations. Of course, I’m not career-searching, but together these descriptions validate my career choice as a librarian middle manager: administrator = management, literary = information/books, scientific = research, and numerical = analytical/metrics. Those are all descriptions of me and my work, so it seems pretty accurate.

The employees who chose to take the Birkman were promised anonymity. We are all welcome to share our results as we see fit and self-disclose our results – and many did – but some people took the test for their own personal interest and have not shared the outcome. That’s totally fine! The idea behind sharing is so that you understand each other better and form the most efficient team possible, but there is certainly no rule that says anyone has to share their report. I believe strongly in personal privacy, so I’m glad everyone got the choice to participate (or not) and to share their results (or not). We were shown a composite grid with symbols representing each employee who took the test to see how we as an organization are distributed on the chart. There were no identifying characteristics – just a dot on the chart for each person – but it was interesting to see that the librarians mostly fell in the blue square, the administrative staff fell mostly in the yellow square, and as a whole staff we were fairly evenly distributed throughout the grid. The green square was the least-represented.

I’m fine with sharing my results, so I’ll give an example of how I could use my Birkman results. When projects are doled out for our strategic plan, I will happily volunteer for administrative projects that include things like quantifying results, measuring achievement, monitoring progress, or implementing a system. Those are all interests within the yellow square of the grid. I will avoid innovating, getting people to “buy in,” and selling or promoting services. Those are green square interests. (Remember, my green square identifiers were only for stress actions and needs. My normal actions and interests are in the yellow.) Also, I will be aware that my needs do not necessarily match my actions. I may show a proclivity for administrative activities, but I also have a need to keep unnecessary rules to a minimum, not overschedule myself, and vary my tasks. Those are the green square needs. When my yellow square interests are not met, my stress behaviors are defined by the green square, so I may become unsociable, easily sidetracked, and argumentative. (Who, me?)

The Birkman is much more complicated than I can go into in a blog post, but hopefully you get the idea of what the Birkman is and how it can be used for employee engagement. As with anything like this, I will take my results with a grain of salt and use it as a general guide for consideration. It won’t change who I am or how I behave – and it isn’t meant to. However, it just might make me communicate better with my co-workers and more efficient in my approach to projects.

Coworkers in a serious discussion with text 4 ways to heal your team after a micromanager
If your predecessor was a micromanager and you are more of a collaborative type of manager, you may have some clean-up to do to get your new team on track. Here are a few tips that will help you know where to look, and how to repair the damage.

1) Review all rules

Sometimes libraries can go a little overboard with their rules. How strict do you need to be with staff and patrons? Take a look at your policies and procedures and see if they need to be loosened up. Check out job descriptions, too. Do they reflect the needs of the library and is there some flexibility built in? All of these changes will require board (and union) approvals but it will be worth it to have everyone on the same page.

Also look for meeting minutes. These may give you an idea of how much control your predecessor had over things and how much staff were allowed to contribute to decisions. One person cannot possibly have all the answers. Were a variety of voices being heard?

2) Enjoy the honeymoon period

Staff will be so excited by hearing the word “Yes” for the first time that they may build up confidence and get carried away with requests. You will be such a breath of fresh air and will probably end up confused by why their requests seem like such a big deal. Some micromanagers are change-averse and use their power to say no to just about everything.

When the ideas and requests really start flowing, you will eventually have to draw a line and park some of the requests. Staff will have to get used to the new world of ideas and how they need to be managed properly (Why should we implement this? Do we have time right now? How should it be prioritized? How do we do it properly? How will we evaluate success? Do we need to create an experimental space to pilot new ideas?)

3) Wean your staff off dependency

Your priorities will be different than your predecessor’s and they should mirror your job description. For example, working on a presentation for the local Chamber of Commerce is probably going to be a higher priority than filling the golf pencil holder. Micromanagers seem to have an incredible amount of energy to work on everything but their own job duties. Delegation will be very important here and you need to tread carefully.

Find gentle ways of breaking it to your staff and support groups that things are going to be different. For example, you may need to review with your Friends of the Library board what you can and cannot legally do for them. Chances are your predecessor was doing more than just being a representative of the library at this group’s meetings. Be firm about your duties and priorities. Tell staff and support groups all the great things you’re doing so they understand you are being a productive member of the team and then delegate the rest.

4) Build staff’s self-esteem

Now is the time to let every staff member know what they are doing right. Library Lost & Found has some great articles about praising staff. They are used to being criticized or never doing anything quite right. Let them know when you like what they are doing! It’s time for some positive reinforcement.

Being the new boss is never easy. Taking over for someone whose management style is completely different than yours – especially when their style was toxic – means you have your work cut out for you. Your style may be welcome in some ways and confusing in others. I hope this article has given you a few places to start looking to find out which changes need to be made and which expectations need to be redefined as you begin leading your new team.


photo of a dollar bill folded into a heart shape

Creative Commons LicenseThomas Hawk



Do we work in libraries for love, money, or both?

The Billfold shared a financial interview with an academic librarian today. “Dave” drops some real talk about financial incentives for librarians to move into management:

Generally speaking, the only way to get a significant raise in my field is to move into management, and most people who want to be librarians don’t want to manage anybody.

Once I decided that I was willing to be some kind of manager, the field suddenly looked really different to me.

We know librarians’ motivations for becoming managers are diverse, because we love to ask library leaders what brought them into management. For Jon Cawthorne, it was a conscious determination to become a leader. Paul Gallagher took a management role to serve his organization. Jessica Jones stepped into an interim role after her director retired. Many librarians join management because they want to see things change for the better, and a leadership position offers the platform to make things happen.

These are all motivations that inspire many library leaders, but Dave is right that there’s a financial motivation to move into management. Like many of my colleagues, I didn’t go to library school with the intention to become a boss. After graduating, however, student loan payments made an offer that included supervisory responsibilities seem very hard to turn down. I had also developed strong opinions about efficient workflows, and supervising was a chance to make change a reality.

Dave also describes a common career path for entering librarianship:

I absolutely stumbled into being a librarian. I had an hourly job in the campus library when I was an undergrad.

I discovered that my university had a library school — before that I didn’t know that you had to get a specific degree to be a librarian.

Many librarians entered the field because of part-time jobs as a page or student worker. Knowing this, experienced librarians can begin mentor people in these entry level positions. Helping entry level library workers see the possibilities of information careers is a great strategy for diversifying the profession. As Matt Church says in The Power of Shelvers, “The library shelver you hire today may one day be a youth librarian, corporate librarian or even a library director!”

Check out the full interview on the Billfold to understand Dave’s decision to become a library manager, and then let us know: how did your career path begin? What would incentivize you to consider a position with greater managerial responsibilities?

graphic of library shelves with text "a day in the library life."My mom has no idea what I do all day at work.

It’s not her fault. My job is unique to libraries. As the head of access and public services at an academic library, talking about my work gets quirked eyebrows and, “Access services – what’s that?” from  family members.

Even within the library community, jobs with the same title vary from library to library.

Even my job is different every day. My role is to coordinate circulation, interlibrary loan, reserves, and basic information help at a combined service point in the library. A day can bring anything from sticky customer service situations to long-term strategic planning.

The mystery and changeability is common to a lot of people in library leadership. I’m so curious about what’s happening today for a small town library director, a director of development for a metropolitan library, or a library user experience director. Like my mom, I want to know what everyone does all day!

So here’s the first in a new Library Lost & Found series: Day in the Library Life. I’ll tell you what I did today at my library. Want to contribute a day in your library life? Drop us a line.

8:30 a.m.

Arrive at the library and try to figure out where to temporarily store an AV cart with VHS conversion equipment, which had to come out of deep storage because of our renovation. Start drinking coffee.

9:00 a.m.

Head to the conference room to conduct a mock interview with colleagues for one of our graduate assistants, who has a real interview lined up for a professional gig. We ask just four questions and then give some feedback. She nailed it!

10:00 a.m.

Go around the corner to the library classroom for a meeting with my fellow department heads and our associate director. We talk about a hiring plan and creating departmental goals that align with the future scenario plan we developed collaboratively this summer. I take notes in our shared agenda.

11:00 a.m.

Scoot to our public service desk for my shift. We provide circulation, basic reference, and technology help at a single service point, so an hour on the desk goes by quickly. My favorite reference question this hour is about finding books with realistic pictures of birds for an art student.

12:00 p.m.

photo of librarian using a computer at a study tableI like food. Food tastes good. I eat lunch at my desk while checking emails from the morning.

12:30 p.m.

Gather the equipment for beta user testing of our newly redesigned library resources log in screen. We want to make sure it works well before rolling it out next semester, so we’re asking users to try it out and give us feedback. They’re willing to give the two minutes as long as they get good snacks out of the deal.

2:00 p.m.

Our monthly library faculty meeting has a packed agenda and goes by Robert’s Rules. We had a great opportunity to discuss: how to spend professional development funds awarded to the library.

3:30 p.m.

Address my email inbox. Total stats for the day: 33 emails received, 12 emails sent.

4:00 p.m.

Weekly one-on-one with my boss. I ask her about how to prioritize professional development opportunities for my staff, update her on next steps for a collaborative, cross-departmental reference service modeling exercise, and talk about scheduling visits to other libraries in the area.

4:30 p.m.

More emails! We’re seeing some challenges with construction blocking the entrance, so I ask my access services staff to be on the lookout for any issues.

5:00 p.m.

Head to the bus stop only to see the bus pulling away as I round the corner. I grab a table at a coffeeshop across the street and get cozy with a coconut mocha before editing the loan rules for new DVD locations, then catch the next bus home.

This wasn’t a typical day for me. I usually spend more time talking directly with my staff, since I have a one-on-one meeting scheduled almost every day. I was also a skosh more scheduled than usual: usually just 2 – 4 of my working hours are booked, rather than 6+.

This meeting packed day is indicative of a shift I noticed in moving from an entry level librarian position to a middle management position. Libraries are full of committees, which generate meetings – and the more oversight you have, the more committees you join.

Share a day in your library life!

Woman in full nursing scrubs including eye protection, face mask, and hairnet

Creative Commons LicenseJosé Eugenio Gómez Rodríguez via Wikimedia Commons

Helping your staff help other people on a shoestring budget in a time crunch – sound familiar? Hospitals and libraries have more in common than you might expect. Nurses also serve community, providing assistance to as many people as possible – and nursing managers have the same challenges and opportunities as library managers.

We’re looking to the health care industry to see what library managers can learn from nursing leadership.

Leaders Set Workplace Culture

A positive workplace makes a huge difference in whether people like working at your library. Lynne Perry Wooten and Patricia Crane studied positive work culture in health care, with a stimulating call to leaders:

. . . nursing leaders should take on the responsibility of culture gatekeeper. This requires nursing leaders to be accessible and visible to their staff. In addition to visibility, an effective culture gatekeeper exemplifies the vision and values of the organization since they are role models for the other members. In health care organizations, this suggests that nursing leaders embrace a humanistic philosophy of caring that permeates to health care providers and ultimately manifests in both patient services and employee relationships.

As in health care, librarianship has strong implicit values. We all assume our library organization values access to information and community building. As leaders, we should be making that unspoken belief an explicit value.

Change Impacts the Front Line

Library services are perpetually in a state of transformation – and as it turns out, so are health services. For nurses as well as circulation staff, change hits the front line first. This puts middle managers in the role of facilitating change while managing the people impacted by that change. Two nursing managers, Lynne Hancock and Diane Hanley describe how a change might roll out in a hospital:

Another example of staff driven change is the implementation of bar code scanning for medication safety. Nurses know the work flow, so it should be the nurses who pilot and test the system. The organizational leaders need to remove the barriers and provide the resources to get the work done.

That resonates with the library experience, where a change in library software might be lead by administration or IT, but front line staff are the everyday power users. Hancock and Hanley champion the nurses who find the ability to lead from the middle.

Coaching is Key

We already know library leadership means coaching, and it’s true of nursing leadership as well. Rose O. Sherman, who blogs on nursing leadership at Emerging RN Leader, offers coaching tips for nursing managers. These strategies work as well for library managers and include connecting with your staff as people, offering professional development, and verbalizing the impact of work:

Leaders as coaches show that they value employees. Nurses want to know that their work matters and that they are contributing to the organization’s success in a meaningful way. This has to be verbalized.

Like nurses, people work in libraries because they care about the mission. Let them know how their work contributes to the mission. Even a task removed from direct patron service (such as tattle taping books) can be connected to the mission (protecting collections for use by all).

Leadership is More than Management

In libraries, we see the difference between leadership and management. Claudia Schmalenberg and Marlene Kramer studied nurse perceptions of leadership and management behaviors for seven years.They found that management activities (such as scheduling shifts) were much less valued by nurses than leadership activities (like creating teams and resolving conflicts with doctors). Kramer and Schmalenberg observed:

With the growing complexity of the nurse manager’s role, we cannot just keep adding more role behaviors. At some point, something has to be taken away. “Managing the unit” competencies—scheduling, patient assignments, routine employee paperwork—can be delegated to others. Leadership behaviors such as walking the talk, the instilling of values, are much more difficult to give away even if it would not be a good idea to do so.

It is a management challenge to delegate activities that are undoubtedly important (like creating the reference desk schedule) – but just like nursing managers, we as library managers can choose leadership over management.

Nurses in the Library

We’re convinced: nurses and librarians share a lot of workplace culture. In fact, Pima County Library (Arizona) recognized public health as such a strong strong community need, they embedded nurses in the library. However, you don’t need to colocate health services within your library to benefit from the wisdom of nursing managers. Let’s take a page from this helping profession, and choose positive leadership.