Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Somehow, I Manage

I've written about my experiences with library management before, but a lot has happened since then. I am far, far, far, far from being a perfect manager, but I feel like I am finally starting to get to where I want to be, manager-wise. We've had some staffing changes in my department over the last year, including a retirement and hiring an MLS children's librarian (the only MLS in our department besides myself). It's changed how I look at things, and so today I offer some tips from what I've learned.

First, a little background: I'm the Children's Manager at a one-library system in Southern Indiana (i.e. no branches). When at full staff, I supervise three full-time and two part-time employees (we have not actually been at full staff since last spring, but hopefully we will be soon!). We recently hired an MLS children's librarian who is full time, and at present one of my part-timers holds an MLS, as well (though she is not currently in an MLS position here and her experience is in law libraries). The other full-timers are paraprofessionals.

CC: terren in Virginia
Celebrate the achievements of your staff and challenge them to achieve more. When you're a manager, the job's not all about YOU developing an awesome new program. It's about what your department develops, how your department as a whole serves patrons and meets goals. This has definitely been a transition for me. I've had to change from thinking about what programs I have done to make myself look good, to add to my own portfolio, to talk up in potential future job interviews to allowing my staff to take ownership of their own programs. To guide, but not take over. To help brainstorm but not dictate ideas.

You know what will happen when you do this? Your staff (if they are awesome like my staff) will take stuff off your plate. They will have their own ideas, they will do it their way. And you'll find yourself with free time to develop NEW ideas. You will also realize that it is not the end of the world to turn a program over to someone else, even if it is a program you really like.

It's important to develop your staff. They need it. If you have new librarians, they're trying to build their resumes and portfolios, too. It might be for future jobs or it might be for committee work or leadership roles in library associations or other groups. So let them plan, let them execute, let them take responsibility.

CC: Phil_Parker
Train, train, train. In Indiana, we're required to earn Library Education Units to keep our certification, but that's not the only reason you should send your staff to training. Find out what your options are for sending your staff to workshops or meetings or bringing in trainers. Think about what areas you want to concentrate on over the next few years, what programs you hope your department will offer. Do you have new staff who need to take an Every Child Ready to Read workshop? Would your department benefit from someone taking an online class about STEAM programming? Make it happen. Ask your staff to share the information they learned with the rest of your department. Don't take all the professional development budget for yourself, even if your employees don't ask to attend conferences or workshops, or even if you are presenting at conferences. (Yes, I have been guilty of this!)

Deal with problems as soon as possible. Ignoring it will NOT make it better, but will only make it harder when you do finally have to deal with it. If you're noticing it, your staff is noticing it, too, and it's probably bringing down morale and productivity. It's sometimes unpleasant to deal with problems, especially if they concern people you like. Believe me, it's not going to be any more fun to deal with six months from now and it's not going to get better on its own.

Going along with that: document, document, document! It can be hard to see a pattern of bad behavior over a period of weeks or months unless you're keeping track.

Document the good stuff, too. We do yearly evaluations and it is always so helpful to be able to turn to my files and have examples at hand of good things my employees have done. This may also show you employees' strengths and weaknesses, which is helpful for when you consider moving duties around or taking on new projects. If you get compliments from patrons about your staff members, send 'em up to your boss. Not only is it a great practice to brag on your employees, but it reflects well on your department, too.

Go to your boss or a mentor for help. I am lucky to have a very supportive administration, including the new director we got a year and a half ago and a super human resources manager. You also might have a mentor or colleagues at your library (other department heads) or in your library community (another great reason to be active in state and national library associations!) you can turn to. I know not everyone is as lucky as I am, but if you find yourself with those resources, USE THEM. No librarian is an island and you don't have to deal with problems on your own.

CC: tanakawho
Plan, plan, plan. Last spring and summer we were dealing with some staffing issues and I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants when it came to planning the Summer Reading Club. I sat down in May or so and planned the next 12 months, including programs and programming breaks, deadlines for Summer Reading Club tasks and program calenders, and agenda items for monthly meetings. It's hard to get us all together for meetings, but it's important to me to stay on track.

I started with the kick-off date for the 2013 Summer Reading Club and thought about how fan in advance I'd like each task to be completed so that I could make our deadlines. For example, we visit the schools to talk up SRC and distribute calendars in May, so our program calendar needs to be completed, proofread, and run off by mid-April. That means all our program assignments, dates, and blurbs need to be finished by the beginning of April, etc. Once I had deadlines for program calendars and SRC tasks, I went through month by month to outline agenda items for the monthly meetings. Of course, we add any additional agenda items we need to when it comes time for the meeting.

And yes, I wrote down in my plans when it's time to write out plans for the next year. ;)

Those are some of the things I've learned over the past year of managing my children's department. I am still (always) polishing my skills and striving to communicate clearly and often. I know there is lots of room for improvement. What other library management tips do you have to share?