Archives For dispatches from b-school

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?

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!