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Library shockers…er surprises? September 25, 2006

Posted by L Wolfe in Job Stuff, Student Stuff.

For those who have been working in a library for while, there may not be anything that seems surprising. But to me, there have been a lot of revelations about libraryland. I am in a public venue, but my practicum is in a research library. They are very different, but with similarities. However, not the ones I had suspected.

On Ryan Deschamps’ The Other Librarian, this post applies more to preconceived notions about the profession such as”

* “I like Things to Be Organized, therefore I will be a Successful Librarian”YEAH BUT #1: you have to get used to the idea that you will be dealing with other people’s messes all the time. If you can’t live with a mess, you better learn to fast. A library that is always perfectly organized is one that no one uses and that is a bad thing.

YEAH BUT #2: managing and organizing information is always 3 parts organizing people to the one part organizing stuff. If you do not want to think about people when you organize stuff, you probably have to re-think your choice of becoming a librarian.

Personally, I do like to organize, but had no visions of sorting things in catalog heaven. And I can simultaneously be the most and least organized person you know. Ryan also refers to John Gant’s letter from the Yahoo group Librarian Wannabes. Read the letter here: library-job-seekers.pdf
Both the blog post and the letter are an excellent read, possibly good advice with the same frankness that Joel Berger of the C. Berger Group demonstrated at the SLA Career Workshop last week.



1. DrumPhil - September 27, 2006

These “Yeah Buts” sound like they apply mostly to management, and might not apply to, for instance, someone who strictly wants to become a cataloger. However, in “The Accidental Library Manager”, Rachel Singer Gordon says that anyone getting an MLS degree should expect their career to end up in management–at least as a departmental manager or supervisor, if not more. So Deschamps’ comments are worth hearing for all of us.

2. sj - September 27, 2006

Both Deschamps and Gant offer great practical advice. Although, I wonder who really has the luxury of spending 8 hours a day on the job hunt (as Gant suggests). Most of us will be working a full-time job (or 2 part-time paraprofessional positions) as we attempt to transition into the professional realm. Gant’s point is well taken, though. We cannot expect great professional positions to come to us–we’ve got to pursue them, on our own.

Based on everything I’ve heard, it is very likely that most of us will end up in management at some point in our careers. I think, as DrumPhil suggests, the few who may escape are those who are only interested in one specialized aspect of librarianship.

3. heyheypaula - September 29, 2006

I work in a special library as a solo librarian. For the first year that I worked here, I was amazed at how much these people NEED a librarian. The word “disorganization” is like the understatment of the year. But, these are good points made above…my life here is a compromise between what I would ultimately want to do, and what is realistic to implement here. So, having a filing system that is just “all the files might be on Joe’s desk in no particular order” is unacceptable; but micromanaging the filing also won’t work with this crowd, so I had to develop a hybrid system where people check things out. For one of our clients, we had been just handing them files on a CD, organized in no particular way. I created a nifty Java-based GUI, so the client could find what they need in a way that feels familiar: a page that opens in a browser with links. The point here being that every day is a compromise, but at the same time, it’s helpful to present new ideas in a professional manner, and execute them well. I’ve worked not just to find a job, but to make myself more valuable, with increased pay and a more varied work day. This added to my job security, made my job more interesting, with the added bonus of my employer thinking I can pull miracles out of my butt to make the office a better place. What could be better than that?

4. Ryan Deschamps - October 1, 2006


I guess I’m saying that libraries are going to be looking for “someone who strictly wants to become a cataloger” less and less and “someone who can catalogue, and has management potential” more and more.

There are a number of basic reasons for this. 1) More and more responsibilities re: cataloguing are being outsourced, devolved to paraprofessional positions, automated and so on. 2) There is a phrase somewhere about “hire ‘up’ and you will have an organization full of giants. In short, library managers want the people they hire to be smarter than they are to increase the organizations knowledge. 3) Baby boomers are retiring and taking their management experience with them — and this is happening very, very fast. 4) Library 2.0 and its ilk are implying “flatter” organizational structures. In one sense, this means more egalitarian decision making. In another sense, this means libraries will be asking for complex problem solving from all levels of the organization. “Strict cataloguing” does encounter its occasional tangle with complex problem solving as does “strict reference,” but not that often, and not in ways that include high levels of ambiguity and risk.

Studies are clear on this. Management/leadership potential is the single most important quality to libraries today. I say double that for public libraries. In a pinch, Libraries can train for reference or cataloguing. It’s much harder to train for political savvy, people skills, cross-cultural communication, adaptiveness and so-on.

5. lcwk86 - October 2, 2006

I think leadership can be personal as well as an interpersonal quality. It begins with a good work ethic, commitment to the profession/institution, and integrity as well as caring to help others find their strengths and reach their own potential. It is MUCH harder to train for the qualities that make a manager/leader. Yet these “back wheel” skills are almost more important (or at least AS important) than the “front wheel” skils. I don’t know about other schools, but I did not think our program provided much in the way of management preparation with one class. And I see a serious lack of skills in the workplace as well–librarians who may not want to manage, but are forced to be in that position to progress. Providing training helps, but with no coaching, mentoring, or accountability, it is left up to the person to be a good manager/leader or not.

6. DrumPhil - October 2, 2006

Ryan, I agree with you, and was only pointing out that R.S.Gordon wants us all to pay attention, and not pigeon-hole ourselves into just cataloging or reference, as you put it. We’re on the same page.

Lcwk, You are right about SISLT’s program. I want to take some of the other leadership classes from the class list, such as “Leadership in Libraries”, but these classes have not made it onto the schedule in recent semesters. (SISLT, are you listening?) Some mentoring can be received during practicum, though. And leadership examples come through in the Special Libraries class.

7. Ryan Deschamps - October 2, 2006

The way I coped with the lack of management knowledge in Library School was to do a combined MPA/MLIS. If possible, I think it is a good idea to take/audit Management courses to go along with a library school program. Courses that helped me included (in no particular order):

1. Organizational Culture
2. Economics (Macro and Micro)
3. Accounting, if only to understand “relevant costing” — the idea that a previous [bad] purchase ought not be accounted for in future management decisions. That is, if you bought a crappy book truck, you ought not say “well, we wasted all this money on a crappy booktruck, ergo we ought not buy new ones to improve our performance.”
4. Strategic Planning
5. Ethics
6. Policy Analysis

The key lessons weren’t the content, but the process in which we learned to use the content. For instance, Policy Analysis features the infamous “Problem solving and decision making Process” which is outlined nicely here:


I have this chart on the bulletin board in front of me to remind me to be systematic with my decisions.

The bigger issue — and I hate to harp but this is soooo important — is that even a specialty-minded librarian ought to think about management skills. Oh yeah — and DrumPhil, I’m not harping on you particularly anymore. 🙂

Here’s my analogy. Imagine that you are at a grocery store and aisles 1 through 8 are all lined up to the back of the store. All of the sudden someone opens up aisles number 9 & 10. Ought you not take your cart over there while the opportunity is still ripe?

Heck, it’s not as if management skills are useful in non-work life too!

8. heyheypaula - October 27, 2006

I definitely agree that management skills can help the accidental managers and non-managers alike. As a solo librarian, I definitely need to exhibit management skills…just not as a Library Manager. Though, I’ve been in management in the past and I definitely don’t want to wind up with that title again, but still the skills are transferable to almost every other job I’ve had.

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