Distributing scraps of paper with archaic means of communication does not leave a mark. Leaders approach first impressions with a willingness to learn and an eagerness to assist. Showing a true interest in a person’s job will indicate that you are not only a leader, but also a potential ally. How do you make a first impression?
A while back I was talking with some librarians about the recent problems at the Urbana Free Library, concerning the weeding of a major portion of the collection. I was surprised that no one in my group had heard about this as it dominated my newsfeed, Twitter and Facebook. A few of these librarians responded that they “didn’t pay much attention to that kind of stuff.” I was a bit surprised. How does one perform effectively in the information profession without paying attention to information?
People often talk about professional development as if that was limited to attending the occasional library conference or glancing at Library Journal. I am here to tell you, that won’t cut it in library world. An information professional pays serious attention to library current events, best practices, and technology. Of course this sounds daunting. When I say “pay attention,” I don’t mean you have to be an expert, but you have to be aware of the issues, events and landscape of modern library practice.
Reading professional literature should be a daily job function. I am using the term “professional literature” broadly. I don’t mean just the latest issue of Library Journal, but also librarian blogs, technology information, pop culture and even general news. Think how many times you have had to help people find tax forms, file for unemployment or troubleshoot some technology. Our job is helping people navigate the vast world of information. (I hope all of you are bracing for the Affordable Care Act questions coming our way!)
Library news is also a big deal. Even if you are not expert on matters of millages and operations, you better be aware of how your library is funded and any of the big issues at stake in your community. Pay particular attention to how some libraries are handling “problems”. You don’t want to be a news story because you handled summer reading badly.
Staying plugged in to your network of professional librarian friends is also career smart. A good network of librarians has a LOT of information. Pooling knowledge, experience and ideas can help you avoid starting from square one and avoiding mistakes. Stay on top of the profession! Insist it be a regular part of your day. Your librarian network can also help you in finding expert information. If you are having a problem, I doubt you are the only one.
Bottom line, pay attention to your profession and your community. Your future success depends on it.
It’s lonely at the top. Scoff if you wish, dear readers, but there is a singular loneliness to being a leader. I learned fast enough that the brainstorming, spitballing, and venting with coworkers that I was used to as a frontline librarian, and to a lesser extent as a middle manager, almost completely evaporated when I became The Library Director. Suddenly, my every off-the-cuff comment in the staff lounge was interpreted as policy, every casual conversation by the staff mailboxes as doctrine. Add to that the many pitfalls of being social with subordinates—I can’t invite someone I like to lunch without an undercurrent of “Why did the director ask me to lunch?!? Will everyone think she’s playing favorites with me? Am I allowed to say No?”—and it is no wonder that leaders are lonely.
But, we are leaders; we cope. We mourn the loss and then we pick up and carry on. For me, that meant curtailing some of my more personal conversations with staff, learning to qualify my statements so that it’s clear when I’m thinking out loud (this is not always successful—people hear what they want to hear), and doing a better job of referring employee questions to the appropriate manager to avoid having it look like I’m taking over other people’s jobs. I sought out other library directors, particularly those who were recently hired and could commiserate with me. I reached out to leaders in my community who may not have any idea what goes on at the library, but do face similar leadership challenges. I have occasional meetings, lunches, and coffees with nonprofit community leaders, directors of the other Township departments, and directors of other area public libraries. I am lucky, too, to have a solid network of friends outside of my library whom I can call on for perspective, venting, support, and drinks. The key to all of these relationships is discretion and confidentiality.
When I’m out networking and encounter a new leader, I ask, “How are you coping with the singular loneliness of having your job?” It’s a good icebreaker that gets us past the small talk. It almost always brings a look of relief that someone else knows what it’s like, and that one doesn’t have to be the loneliest number.
Image: Flickr Creative Commons
When I think of Spring, I don’t think of chirping birds or sunshine, flowers in bloom or baby bunnies. I think of the Michigan Library Association Spring Institute.
The MLA Spring Institute is an annual multi-day conference for librarians in children’s and teen services and it is pure awesome.
In 2004, I had started working as a youth librarian. I was brand new at my job and I was very excited about all the creative ways libraries were serving teens. I also had no idea how I was going to do those creative things. So, I sought the wisdom of other librarians and they pointed me in the direction of the MLA Spring Institute Committee.
This group of 20 people consisted of workers in children’s and teen services from across the State, from all sizes and classes of libraries, brought together to work on this one event. Two co-chairs facilitated the meetings, coordinated all of the activities. The first few meetings, I thought they were very fancy. I thought everyone I met there was magical.
It turns out that things were not so much fancy and magical. It took a whole lot of work and energy, as well as a crazy level of attention to detail to pull everything together. In the five years I worked with this group, I learned more about project management, leadership, vision, and organizational change than I can possibly convey. Here, however, are a sample of lessons learned from committee work:
1. Start Small.
My dear friend Cory likes to say that her entire contribution to her first year on the committee was that she brought tissue paper for wrapping the door prizes. The next year she brought E.L. Konigsburg. Two years later she chaired the event. Whenever we walk into a project, a group, an organization, it is nearly impossible to understand the big picture. Sometimes a small contribution is enough to start and sometimes a small change has a tidal wave of effects.
2. Every piece of the puzzle matters.
Planning even a small event can be a huge undertaking. Coordinating a half dozen keynote speakers and their transportation, balancing the breakout sessions, managing the budget, figuring out the logistics of meals, technology, decorations, publicity, registration, state continuing education filings, working with vendors, soliciting sponsorships, selecting awards. If any job doesn’t get done, then the conference suffers for it. The people doing the work matter: their perspectives, their worries, and their investment. If any person is neglected in the team, then the committee suffers for it.
3. Mentorship has a natural progression.
Each year on the committee, about half of the members would stick around and half would leave. Some people had been around for ten years, others might serve for one or two. This led to a natural shift in roles. It also led to those who held a role one year helping someone move into that role the next year. Some mentoring relationships were quick, others lasted all year, but everyone learned from each other and the students went on to become the teachers. We all spent at least part of our time encouraging growth in the profession just by interacting with each other.
4. Cooperation develops specialization
I am not sure that I really knew what I was good at before I started doing committee work. Good teams help you find what you love and make you better at it. When I worked with Mary Davis as co-chair in 2007, we quickly fell into our respective roles. Her planning and organization skills were essential. My communication and technological skills were helpful. We overlapped on plenty of things, but in any given situation, we could tell which one of us would feel more comfortable handling it.
5. Nothing exists in a vacuum.
Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in a vision of how we want things to be. Brilliant ideas have been generated. Everyone on the planning team is on board. And then it doesn’t happen. Associations have their own goals. Associations change their goals. Attendees have their own goals. The administrations of libraries have their own goals. There are time constraints, financial constraints, standards and best practices that need to be met. Sometimes new opportunities are thrown into the mix just when it seems like everything is planned out. Listening and adaptability become key to making sure that things come to fruition.
6. Resources are limited.
Dream big, but the amount of money available is always going to limit what you can do. Some things just have to take precedence over others. Identify which priorities are essential, and budget enough money to do them well. Identify which are priorities can be done cheaply, and get those too. A budget is a list of priorities with price tags attached. You also face restraints like time and space. Budget those too. Always leave a little slack in your resource planning, because of #7.
7. Things will go wrong. Roll with it.
The Internet will go down. Attendees will not be on the registration list. Speakers cancel. A State Legislator may show up unexpectedly and want time to speak to the crowd, somehow managing to say something to offend everyone in it. It is not worth getting upset over. A sense of humor is essential and hey, sometimes you end up getting Eric Rohmann and Candace Fleming as last minute replacements. (Good job Michelle!) I can’t tell you how applicable this is to my daily work.
8. You can’t make everyone happy
The temperature will always be too cold or too hot. Someone will feel disappointed that their program submission wasn’t accepted. Someone will always hate the food. Some things will be over some people’s heads. Some things will seem to be done to death. Some people will hate one person’s style while others will love it. Keep your eyes on the prize and move forward.
9. Working to create a comfortable, welcoming environment can cause the most magical accidents.
This not only applies to the leaders of a committee doing this for members, but members of the committee doing this for attendees and guests. An impromptu sing-along concert with Dan Zanes in the basement of a hotel? Priceless. I still find that the more comfortable my co- workers are the more creative and interesting work they get done.
10. Forging connections helps everybody.
I value the time I have spent with every single person I have worked with on committees. It has helped me learn and grow. I know that I have helped others to learn and grow. Even today, I miss these monthly planning meetings. We would always begin with sharing our victories and challenges with each other. I know that if I called those people I worked with nine years ago and asked for help, they would help me. They know that I would do the same for them. And sometimes if your first fancy co-chair (*cough* Kevin *cough*) asks you to write for a blog you agree to do it, no questions asked.