Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What a Difference a Year Makes: My First Year as a Library Director


My one year anniversary as a library director has now come and gone (this past weekend), so of course I'm feeling reflective. This first thing I want to say is so clich├ęd I'm almost embarrassed to mention it, but it doesn't feel like a year. In any given moment I can feel like I've been here barely two weeks and then in the next moment it feels like I've been here twenty years. I've made progress, but honestly, I don't think I have a good handle on the experiences I've had since I first started this job.

I do know I'll never be done learning how to do this job, whatever I might have thought coming into the position. However, I've come to realize that I do know what I'm doing a lot of the time. Nevertheless, taking stock of the last year feels like taking stock of a roller coaster while still on the ride. But I'm going to try, anyway. The long-ish list below isn't in any kind of order, but it represents some of the biggest lessons and experiences - both good and bad - that I had over the last year.

  1. I had to fire someone. The situation was clear cut and I had given the individual more chances to fix the situation than anyone who I asked for advice would have given. I did the right things at every step, including consulting Human Resources and my boss. I documented everything and always spoke with this person in private when the issue came up. Doing it right didn't matter, in some ways. When it finally came time to tell this person s/he no longer had a job, it was hard.
  2. I put my foot in my mouth. I know we all have a propensity for saying the wrong thing on occasion. Only thing is, when you're the boss - even at a small library like mine - what you say carries a lot more weight, both positively and negatively. When this happened, I put my big girl pants on and apologized to the other person involved, and the experience taught me to be a lot more circumspect in the way I say things at work. (Yes, I'm admitting to making a mistake. Hard to do this, but since the point of my blog is to start de-mystifying the profession, I've got to show the bad bits on occasion).
  3. I started with the intention to change as little as possible for the first 3-6 months, and I'm sooooooo glad I managed to stick to that for the most part. There were some issues that needed to be addressed immediately, but those were clear-cut and impacted the safety and security of the library building, staff, and patrons. Other than safety issues, I needed that time to get to know the community I'm serving (something I'm still doing, for what it's worth).
  4. Despite taking that time to observe, I felt overwhelmed so many times during my first year that I lost count.  I know now that this is par for the course for new managers, especially new library directors, but that knowledge wouldn't have helped me much the midst of the bad moments. I worked 60+ hour weeks during my first six months, and still felt like I wasn't making any progress. I wanted to prove that they hired the right person, to prove their trust in me. I'm still trying to let go of interviewing for the job I already have (phrasing I got from my College Library Directors' Mentor Program mentor), and I've cut back to 45-50 hour weeks. The work will never be completely done, and maintaining a work-life balance helps me be more productive during the hours I am at work. I manage the stress better now, but it's not gone.
  5. Another thing that helps with my stress is the group of allies I've gained. The work of making connections came early and often, but it's also continuing and never ending - especially when it comes to faculty and other mid-level administrators like me. I've bought coffee for quite a few people, taken others out to lunch, and sent gigs of emails with important links and helpful information. It's working, too. The therapy dog event I ran was done in concert with an ally's department. I'm about to submit a grant that I'm co-writing with a professor. Another professor put some money for the library in a grant he submitted recently. I got to steal ideas wholesale from our academic resource center, using their methods to professionalize our student workers. My ally in the admissions department is going to help me get some data. And so on.
  6. The biggest thing I can tell you from my first year of being a library director is something I actually already knew: you will not survive any job without your friends/mentors (peer mentors, friends from different kinds of libraries, etc.). I have a group of people who believe in me, who hold my hand and assure me that I am sane, who make me laugh, and who inspire me. Sometimes the relationships are more sustained, other times they consist of a tweet or a blog comment. Every bit helps.


  1. Congrats on a year as the one In Charge. And #6 -- yes, yes, YES. Yes.

  2. As an LIS student following your blog (as I believe you intend!), it is nice to see your honesty. And it's a bit funny, too, because I think the way you feel about your new position as director is pretty much how I feel facing the idea of becoming a "real librarian" in a shorter amount of time than I think I realize. Thanks for writing!