Thursday, May 19, 2016

How to be a Good (Library) Boss, by Baharak Yousefi

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I am in the business of encouraging librarians to apply for library management jobs. When I come across smart, awesome, politically progressive librarians (which happens with delightful frequency), I try to convince them to consider management. This is not because I think management is the only path forward for these wonderful humans, but because I want more smart, awesome, and politically progressive folks at those tables. I want them there because libraries need to be changing in big, fundamental ways, and right now, as things stand, that’s where the power to push for those changes resides. Often, the librarian (aka my target) will ask me what I think it takes to be a good library manager and my answer, without fail, is “be a decent human being.” Now, as true as that may be, I appreciate that it is not very specific. What follows is an attempt to expand the list, in no particular order: 
  1. Be a decent human being (still #1).
  2. Be the kind of boss that tells employees about their rights and then helps them claim and exercise those rights.
  3. Be absolutely committed to transparency. Do not assume that you know what others need/don’t need to know (of course, be mindful of all the legal and ethical stuff).
  4. Have a vision. Care very, very passionately about something and make sure everyone knows what that is.
  5. Make absolutely sure that people who work for you have the resources to do their work. If resources are scarce, then change their work. Do less with less and more with more.
  6. Humanity before productivity. This means sometimes you have to stop working and be human beings with doubts and emotions and everything.
  7. Practice justice and inclusion and empower others to do the same. If need be, demand that others do the same.
  8. Acknowledge the labour of others (this includes their emotional labour, their generosity, and their kindness).
  9. Sometimes you have to ask your employees to do things that are frankly bullshit. That’s ok. Acknowledge that you’re asking them to do bullshit work, thank them for doing the bullshit work, and try your best to decrease the level of bullshit over time.
  10. If you ask people for their feedback, be genuinely open to hearing it. It’s fine, and sometimes necessary, to choose a different path but be prepared to explain your decision. If you don’t have the time or inclination to engage with folks on this level, then do not waste their time.
  11. Ask people about their hopes and dreams. They may not want to do the work they are doing for you forever. Do what you can to get them to the next place.
  12. Give clear instructions, have clear expectations, make room for self-determination and agency, and expect the best from people.
  13. Take every opportunity possible to interrogate the very systems and structures that gave you the aforementioned seat at the table.
  14. And this last one is included with credit to one of the best library bosses I know: “forgive yourself your failures, and measure success not by what you have won or lost, but by the integrity, honesty and humanity of your fight.”

Good luck! You’ll be great. <3



Baharak Yousefi is Head of Library Communications at Simon Fraser University and a Director on the Board of the BC Libraries Cooperative. She received a Master of Arts in Women's Studies in 2003 and a Master of Library and Information Studies in 2007. She lives on the unceded traditional lands of the Musqueam, Skwxwu7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh people in Vancouver, BC. She tweets at @BaharakY.

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