Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Managing Difference

I recently had someone ask me about the difference between managing employees with the MLIS/MLS and those without. The thing is, I couldn't quite get my head wrapped around the words to express my thoughts properly. At first I talked about respecting the distinct contributions that the master's degree holding employee can make because of being immersed in the culture during their degree. But really, that idea of "distinct contribution" based on background and prior experience is something that's true of everyone in the library.

My inability to put that into words got me thinking that maybe I should write about it here, that maybe I'm not the only one who might need to think about the differences between managing these two groups.

After a lot of thinking, I've finally come up with the perfect way to express it: I know there are differences between the MLIS-holding and the non-MLIS-holding, but really you need to treat all of your employees the same general way. The best way to describe my approach to management is also the name of a book from which I learned the basics of this approach: Strengths Based Leadership. The idea here is that you figure out what the strengths of your staff are, such as strategic thinking or communication, and have people work to their strengths. The same idea extends to MLIS versus non-MLIS versus whoever else might be working in a library.

My staff is relatively small. I have one MLIS-holding employee (and one unfilled librarian position), a group of non-MLIS staff, and a group of student workers. We've had graduate assistants in the past, but not at the moment. Each and every person who works for the library is crucial to our success. I won't devalue what one person does just because they don't have the master's degree. It's an old theme on this blog, but I'm writing about it again because it's so important to me. Sure, there are different roles for us all to play: I wouldn't expect a student worker to lead an instruction session for a senior biology capstone research project. Similarly, while there have been times that the degree holders have shelved books in a pinch, I want to make sure to best use the degree holders' time on the job. Let me put it this way: I'm not going to put the MLIS holders in charge of making sure the printers are always full of paper, but I expect them to be willing to refill it in a pinch. (Just like I'm willing to do check the paper or clean up after a flood or whatever.)

Everybody who works in the library has a distinct set of experiences and qualifications, and everybody should be respected for what they do.

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