Archives For Professional Development

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?

Personal Resolutions? BORING.

Kevin King —  January 3, 2017 — 1 Comment

blank list of resolutions on blackboardIt is the first day back to work of the new year! Time to craft a list of resolutions I will forget about before ALA Midwinter. Although I feel that the intent of thinking about how you are going to be a better person is admirable, I want to challenge LL&F readers to think differently about resolutions this month. Instead of listing personal resolutions, write down a few ways in which you are going to help your peers, direct reports and friends become better leaders in 2017.

Please reply top this post with one way in which you are going to help those in the library world become better leaders in 2017. Maybe we can send the list to 1600 Pennslyvania Ave?

Where is Everyone?

Kevin King —  December 29, 2016 — 1 Comment

f56c4079680abe2c7a4042f9ed9f86b6I just returned from being off from work for the Christmas Holiday to discover that many of my colleagues are still off. Luckily before the break I tried to catch up on emails and smaller, but important tasks. Now that I have returned, I am finding that many of the things I want to work on are going to have to wait until certain individuals return. What should I do now?

In a Harvard Business Review article, writer Dorie Clark lists three strategies to keep you busy while you wait for your co-workers to return.

  1. Embrace “deep work.” – Don’t spend this uninterrupted time just catching up on emails! Use it to develop some long-range goals or craft some new innovations. When there are not too many people at work the emails slow to a manageable number that can be pushed aside.
  2. Clean up minor tasks. – This could be as simple as cleaning off your desk (a perfect task to help you embrace the new year) or finalizing evaluations or reports. I always find that this time is perfect for cleaning out my files.
  3. Build your network. – Step away from your desk, find someone else who is back from the holidays, and go to lunch! This is the perfect opportunity to establish some meaningful connections with others in different departments.

Being one of the few people at work can be lonely, but it is also a great time to re-establish your roots at work. Clark sums it up best by writing that the “…reward for holding down the fort is uninterrupted time to embrace meaningful work, clear out the cobwebs that have been hindering your productivity, and extra time to connect with colleagues and build a robust network.”

Photo of neatly arranged bookshelves

By Maarten van den Heuvel via Unsplash

The 2017 class of American Library Association (ALA) Emerging Leaders was recently announced, which got me thinking about my experience as a 2014 Emerging Leader.

Emerging Leaders is a six month professional development program that pulls together aspiring library leaders from diverse positions across the United States. After an in-person meeting at the ALA Midwinter meeting, the participants work on collaborative group projects, with a final opportunity to connect and present at the ALA Annual Conference.

Before I applied I did a bit of research about the program and even talked to several people who had participated. Overall the response participants gave was positive, but there were a few people who thought it didn’t live up to their expectations. So if you find yourself wondering whether you should apply next year here is a bit of advice from an emerged leader:

Yes, apply.

Participating in this program has been one of the highlights of my career.  No, it wasn’t perfect – but I met amazing people, learned from top leaders, and got to work on an awesome team project that ALA then used to create the first virtual ALCTS 101.

Career Booster

I was one of many MLIS grads for whom it took a few years to get my first professional level job after graduating. Being an ALA Emerging Leader wasn’t the sole factor in landing my first professional job, but it helped. Participating in the program demonstrated that I was committed to the profession and was ready to be a leader in the field and in my workplace.


You will meet amazing people and make great connections. I met people who really inspired me and demonstrated the passion librarians have for the field. I even felt a little star struck at times.


I was sponsored by the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS), which helped to pay for my conference attendance. I wouldn’t have been able to attend otherwise. While my work was supportive I was still in that “para-professional” level and didn’t get employer funding for ALA Annual or Midwinter.

ALA Involvement

If you find it challenging to navigate and get involved in ALA, Emerging Leaders is your in. I still get overwhelmed by the vastness of the organization, but I’m on four ALA committees/groups and feel more connected every year.


Ok, don’t apply if you hate group work or collaborating online. A main part of the program is a group project. I personally love group work – yay collaboration! My MLIS program was 100% online and I became a whiz at collaborating online so this part of the program was a breeze for me. While I want to encourage others to apply, do take a hard look at whether you can handle and enjoy a lot of group work.

Life Happens

I ended up having a high risk pregnancy, being on full bed rest, and in and out of the hospital every other week during half of my Emerging Leaders program. A testament to the program was how supportive and understanding my group and ALA was. When I should have been with my group presenting at ALA Annual I instead was in the hospital. My group set it up so I could present virtually if I was able to, but since I couldn’t they had a picture of me there instead. ALA Emerging Leaders and the people who run the program are truly amazing.

I’m excited to follow this new class of Emerging Leaders and hope you will too.

While this class is just getting kicked off, you can apply for the next round over summer 2017. Mark your calendar to look for the call for applications!

If you have more questions about applying or the program feel free to contact me at

P.S. I have a happy healthy two year old daughter now who is causing a lot less stress for her mom than she did in 2014.  🙂

unwanted-christmas-presents-ebay-sell-gumtreeI am usually the designated Scrooge on a library staff. I don’t want to do extra work or pay for extras just for holiday giggles. You can read my post on this here. But to continue the holiday hell theme, I would like to talk about gifts between staff and bosses. For bosses, this is tricky. Maybe you do appreciate your staff and want to do something for them. Your heart is in the right place, but this has the potential to become a big problem. Please, do yourself a favor and read my absolute favorite author and spiritual inspiration on all things managerial: Alison Green’s Ask a Manager . Read it even if you are NOT a manager. It’s good advice for anyone. Every year, she has a discussion on all sorts of holiday related issues, including gifts!

The general rule is that gifts flow downward, as in from boss to staff. Staff should never gift up the chain of command. Even without meaning to, you can invariably cause another employee to feel pressured to give. Both in and out of libraries, this has happened to me and so many of my colleagues that I think our office culture really needs to make this clear even to the extent of creating a policy. Library people are particularly vulnerable to this practice as it can prey on our service-oriented mindset.

My most egregious example is of a boss that suggested that I make a donation to the library for the holiday season as a personal gesture. First thought: I have a personal gesture for you right here! Second thought: Is this optional? I mean really optional. Many (perhaps even “most”) employees will view this as a professional request and not optional. Even if the boss says “volunteers only,” employees will naturally feel that it really isn’t voluntary – or if it is, you will hold it against me later if I do not volunteer. My daughter refers to this office dynamic as being “volun-told.”

It isn’t just holiday time that we need to be concerned about how we solicit participation or money. I have been in places that want everyone to kick in for flowers or a gift from the staff. Again, the pressure to participate needs to be held in check. If the organization wants to do something like send flowers for a funeral or a baby shower, then the organization should be paying for it. Bosses can provide information for employees if they want to participate individually. I had a co-worker long ago tell me that she felt pressure to pony up for a retirement gift, and she had been employed by the organization for less than a week. She didn’t even know the retiree in question.

As a working person since the 1970s, I am here to tell you that I have personally bought more popcorn, candy, t-shirts, hats, candles, crafts, Girl Scout cookies (ok, that one I don’t mind as much), and assorted other overpriced detritus from various organizations to show support. In reality, I do support these efforts,but I do it off the clock or through my own volunteer work. What I don’t appreciate is the boss walking up to each employee with an order form for ugly candles so his kid can win a band trip. Even if you don’t think that is a problem in your office, just assume it is and clarify to everyone.

So before you think I am a giant party pooper, I have also had the pleasure of working in offices where a boss would absolutely die before asking for a donation for anything. I have seen offices that any giving is voluntary: A piggy bank in the break room, a sign-up sheet for cookies. No discussions. No pressure. Participate or don’t. Gifts are an etiquette minefield and are intended to be positive for both the giver and receiver. Let’s just make sure that happens by eliminating any possible perceived pressures.