Three weeks ago I started a new job as a Librarian II at a branch of a big city library system in Texas. Since my branch’s manager position is currently vacant, I quickly found out that I’m in charge when our interim manager from another branch isn’t around, which is pretty much all the time. These are some things I have learned about managing in that time.
- Being “in charge” means being the point of contact. Most of the people who have been referred to me were outside contractors that were installing security cameras, electrical outlets, fixing the copier, doing the landscaping, and delivering paychecks. Now you might not think signing the forms and taking note of what was done requires any special managerial skills, and you would be right. But someone has to be the person who knows what is going on and when, and it makes sense for that to be the person in charge (in case executive decisions have to be made), even if most of the time anyone could sign that paperwork.
- People treat you differently. Even though I’m younger than any of the staff members at my branch except for a few of the shelvers (who are still in school), I’ve been treated with respect by those twice my age. At previous jobs where my position did not have a lot of authority, I was often treated like a child or assumed to be inexperienced because of my age. Here, even though I haven’t proven myself yet, the staff has been told that I’m in charge, and unless I do something to lose their respect, they’ll treat me as if I have authority over them. I have to remind myself of this frequently. For example, one of the reference staff was a few minutes late the other day and at the time I didn’t even notice. Later we were talking about scheduling and when the shift starts and she apologized for being late. My first instinct was to laugh it off and say, what do I care? I’m not the boss. Then I remembered, oh yeah, I kind of am. Overall, I’m pretty laid-back about that kind of thing, so it was a good reminder to remember to notice things like when the staff arrives, since that’s part of my job, at least temporarily.
- You’re expected to know what’s going on in your branch. Even if you were off that day, or you were at lunch when something happened and no one has had a chance to tell you what went on. Basically, even if it’s humanly impossible for you to have known about the patron who complained the building was cold this morning, as the person in charge you’re going to be expected to know. This means that it’s important to stay on top of what’s going on, and check in with the staff regularly. A simple “What’s happening?” or “Anything I should know about?” seems to work well, and I’ve gotten in the habit of asking “How’d yesterday go?” after my days off.
- Be careful who you trust. I’ve found it’s important to be careful whose word I take for how things work at the library. Since I’m new, I have to rely on the staff to tell me some things, and it doesn’t help that half the staff is new as well. The last thing you want is to tell a patron something, and find out later that what you said was wrong, or that the person who told you was indulging in wishful thinking when they informed you of the policy. This is crucial because A) you don’t want to give people misinformation, and B) it makes the library staff look really incompetent when they don’t know the library’s rules. I try to save my questions for people I know have been there a long time or for the managers at other branches who’ve offered to help.
- And last but not least… managing a branch involves way more than I realized. If you’re like me, you’ve often wondered what your manager could possibly be doing sitting at their desk all day. I have a much better understanding now. There are a million things going on at any one time that have to be handled, such as: patron complaints, work orders for maintenance, abandoned RVs in the parking lot, staff scheduling (all manager stuff), reference work, computer help, programming, and supervising (what my actual position entails). I don’t have an office or a desk, just the public reference desk, so my experience is a little atypical. I have to take whatever’s thrown at me while constantly being interrupted to help people. I love helping people, but it makes it difficult to remember and accomplish all the tiny little things that a manager would normally handle. So, cut your managers a break once in a while! They’re most likely handling a lot of small stuff behind the scenes that you would never know about unless you had to handle it yourself.
Today's guest author has asked to remain anonymous. She has this to say about herself: "You can just call me an anonymous public librarian. I've worked in libraries for over 7 years, had my degree for 2, and I love books, technology and helping people. And cute shoes. That pretty much sums me up."