Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Accumulating Management Experience: What I Did

During an email exchange with a recent MLIS grad, I was asked, "I was wondering how you started to accumulate management experience?" That question gave me pause because, other than an ill-fated job as the assistant manager of a Roy Rogers back in my early twenties, I never really had any management experience before my current position. And since this is part of the topic of a panel I'm on that I'm hoping will run at ALA Annual, I thought I would write about it.

The answer to this seeming contradiction - how do you get management experience before you're hired as a manager - is that, while I never had library management experience, I had had lots of experience with leadership. Further, I know lots of others in library administration who would say the same. Here are some things I did that I brought up when asked about my management background:
  • Volunteered to serve on unpopular campus committees. Copyright, anyone? Stepping up to the plate in this way is a leadership skill in itself. (I ended up taking over as chair of this committee when the chair left for another institution. Nobody else wanted to do it, so I seized a resume building opportunity.)
  • Chaired ad hoc groups. Standing committees typically have election requirements, and if you're a new kid and therefore an unknown, you probably won't get elected. Ad hoc and other temporary groups that are formed to fulfill a specific need, on the other hand, won't have as many restrictions.
  • Worked with a state-librarian group and helped form a brand new committee. Being a "founding member of" sounds nice, doesn't it? Very leader-y.
  • Coordinated programs and activities. I was the coordinator of the instruction program, and in some ways I think coordinating is harder than managing (same goes for chairing committees). I also founded a cultural literacy talk series and coordinated that. I brought gaming to the library where I used to work, and I coordinated that. I would get a wild hair, get an idea, check in with my director, and run with it. Again - this is leadership in action.
  • Taught a freshmen writing class. This isn't an opportunity that most will have, but when it was presented, I eagerly and happily grabbed it. Nothing in my life taught me management skills better than teaching 20 freshmen how to read, write, and speak like college students. I've fired people, and I've failed people. Trust me: failing someone was harder.

You may not get to be "management" in your first, second, or even third job in libraries, but everyone can be a leader - no matter what role they play in the hierarchy of a library. Leaders see an opportunity, come up with a solution, and execute it.


Other experienced librarians, please add what you did to get experience in the comments.

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