Friday, December 16, 2011

On Being the Boss

We're in the story hour room, which is connected to our Children's Services offices by a door which was currently open. While we were doing the craft at my program, two of my staff members came in from the office, exclaimed over the kids' projects, and then went back into the office. Then the Kindergartners and I had the following conversation:

Kindergartners: Do they live in there?
Me: No, they don't live in there. They work in there.
Kindergartners: Oh, are those the offices?
Me: Yes, those are the offices.
Kindergartners: Do you work in there?
Me: Yes. I work in there and Miss T and Miss A work in there, too. We all work in the offices.
Kindergartners: *pause* Who is the boss?
Me: I am the boss.
Kindergartners: *Are they looking at me with newfound respect or am I imagining it?* Ooooh.


Managing youth services. 

It's not something I ever thought I would be doing. But it turns out that sometimes in order to have a job in a certain area or to make a living wage, you're destined for management. And, honestly, it has its ups and downs. (Mostly ups for me, since I am lucky to have a wonderful staff and very supportive administration.) 

Today I want to talk a little bit about what I do as a department head. But first, a little background. 

My title is Children's Services Manager and I'm the only MLS librarian in my department. I supervise three full-time and two part-time employees. I've been there for almost three years now. Before I started my current position, I was a Youth Services Librarian I for 2.5 years at a different library in a different state.

I think the biggest change for me when I took my current job was the increased responsibility. That sounds obvious, I know, but suddenly instead of being responsible for my own work, I was responsible for the work of a handful of people. It's up to me to decide how to run the department, which programs we're going to offer, what we're going to spend our money on. It's also up to me to cover if someone calls in sick or needs to be off. I'm salaried, which means that I can work my normal 37.5 hours or I can work 50 hours a week and I'm paid the same.

As manager, I'm responsible for keeping track of time sheets, doing staff evaluations, attending managers' meetings, and reporting to the director and/or Library Board about our department. I'm also responsible for dealing with problem patrons and mediating any problems among my staff. And I'm the one who can decide to bend the rules.

The hardest part for me is figuring out how to balance the work I love to do (children's services, outreach, collection development) with the work I have to do (the management stuff). And I've learned a few things about that since I started:

- It's impossible to do everything I want to do all at once. Relax. There is plenty of time. If I don't get this super awesome program started this year, I can always try it next year. Good ideas'll keep.

- It is necessary to delegate. Yes, that means that sometimes I don't get to go to every school I love to do our afterschool programs. Yes, that means that some days I have to let other people interact with patrons while I work on staff evaluations in my freezing cold office. But I have realized that if I don't delegate, I'm going to burn out and fast.

- Everybody has a different way of doing things, and it's okay if not every single thing is done the way I would do it. As long as the work gets done and we're serving our patrons, I can let go of the details. Also: I do not always know best! I learn as much from my staff as they learn from me.

For me, the first year of management was the hardest and it's gotten much easier since then. Since I was coming in to a new library, learning a new community, I didn't want to change everything right away. I wanted to go through a year the way things would typically be before I decided what needed to change. That meant doing a Summer Reading Club I didn't plan myself, that meant doing storyhour the way it had always been done. But once I had done that, I felt like I had the knowledge to know what we should keep and what we should change.

And of course, it's essential to get staff input along the way. I'm lucky to have an energetic, passionate staff and my employees are generally up for whatever I ask of them. I want them to feel ownership of their department, so I let them be in charge of their programs (offering help when needed, of course). My job is not to do their work, but to give them the tools to do their work.

Perhaps the best advice I can give to anyone taking the leap to management is to never speak in anger. Always, always, always think before you react to a situation. If you can't react rationally at that moment, walk away and take some time before you say things you might regret. Always try to see all sides of an issue. Always get everyone's story before dealing with interpersonal problems (including patron complaints). And always treat everyone fairly. Your staff know if you're treating some of them differently and they will talk to each other about it and it will undermine morale.

Think about the managers you've had. And strive to emulate the good ones. And learn how not to manage from the bad ones. And you will be fine.

Other library managers out there? What would your advice for new managers be?