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The accidental library manager – Instalment 12


Where to from here?

After you have spent some time in management (or reading this series…), the question then becomes:

where to from here?

While you may have ended up in management accidentally, you now have the luxury of taking a more purposeful approach to managing your own career. As you spend more time in management, though, you face new personal challenges, including:

  • Battling burnout
  • Managing stress
  • Continuing to develop professionally
  • Choosing when and whether to move up the management ladder.

Each of these challenges can interfere with your effectiveness as a manager and keep you from moving forward; tackling them on an ongoing basis lets you develop as a professional and remain open to further changes.

Now that we've spent some time talking about becoming an effective manager, let's take a look at how to manage these challenges, and your own career, effectively.

Battling burnout

People often initially resist moving into management due to their concern about following in the footsteps of their own burned-out managers. None of us goes into the profession with the intention of burning out. After some time, though (especially if elements of our working environment prove dysfunctional), we grow tired of beating our heads into brick walls and choose instead to simply let events unfold as they will. Accidental managers who commit all they have to their jobs are also subject to burnout; remember your life outside your institution and try to rein in your workaholic tendencies.

Burnout is an insidious problem; we don't generally realize its slow progress until we're at a point where we're unable to help ourselves. Avoid burnout on an ongoing basis by retaining a focus on the future:

  • What's the next step?
  • What's the next plan?
  • What's your vision for yourself and for your library?

This is best accomplished by deliberately working on multiple projects at various stages of completion: When you finish one, you have another on which to focus your attention.

Burnout prevents us from moving ourselves and our institutions forward; battle it best with a continuous focus on moving forward. Burnout also goes hand in hand with stress, so the use of good stress-management strategies can help you battle on two fronts simultaneously.

Managing stress

Let's face it: management can be stressful. Since management boils down to dealing with other people – who aren't always going to act in your or your library's best interests – you can feel stressed by events and actions that are out of your control. From the beginning of your management career, you need to find effective ways to deal with stress. These will vary from person to person, and might involve anything from walking around campus at lunchtime, to writing reports to the beat of a favourite songs mix on your iPod, to taking a yoga class. Cultivate outside interests and hobbies to help battle both stress and burnout.

Also distinguish between productive stress, which can provide the impetus you need to finish a project, and destructive stress, which is ongoing, enervating, and unproductive.

Make a conscious effort to remove or modify the elements of your work environment that create destructive stress:

  • Is your commute stressful? Maybe you can work out an arrangement to telecommute at least one day a week, with the happy side effect of being able to work on projects without interruption.
  • Is an ongoing conflict between members of your staff causing you stress? Take steps to defuse the situation before it escalates – and escalates your stress level.
  • Is overwork causing you stress? Determine what tasks you can effectively delegate; look at whether you have empowered your staff.

Constant small stressors can prevent you from focusing on what you really want to accomplish; resolving these issues, further, generally goes along with good management practices, so everyone wins.

Continuing to develop professionally

Hand in hand with avoiding professional burnout comes the ongoing need to keep up and develop ourselves as library professionals. Managers face several potential pitfalls:

  • They tend to fall into the trap of believing that professional development opportunities are for staff, not for managers.
  • They may think that professional development is for people working their way up.
  • They may believe that they already know what they need to know.
  • They may think they're too busy to take the time to focus on professional development.

Professional development is as important for managers, if not more so, than it is for library staff. Just as when battling burnout, maintaining a focus on the future lets you focus on giving yourself the knowledge and tools you need to be prepared for that future.

Work professional development into your regular routine: Set aside time each week to read the professional literature; attend one local and one national conference each year; keep apprised of new online webinars and workshops that might prove relevant.

Think back to Instalment 4 on library management 2.0 and encourage lifelong learning for all – including yourself. Learn from your staff, learn from your patrons, and learn through doing, reading, participating, and an ongoing willingness to experiment with something new.

Choosing when and whether to move up

The decision about whether to move up into higher management depends in part on how you have settled into your current management position. Start building a picture of where you see yourself in the future; play the “Where do you see yourself in five years?” game.

This isn't a job interview, so you can actually answer yourself honestly.

  • Identify what you like about being a manager, and how you can carry that throughout your career.
  • Think about whether you see yourself continuing on in your current institution or moving on to another.
  • Identify your goals for yourself and your career, and identify your priorities.
  • Do you want to make more money?
  • Are you looking for increased job satisfaction?
  • Have you determined that management isn't actually for you, and you'd like to move into a position with different types of responsibilities?

Whether or not you choose to move up the traditional management ladder, the very process of taking steps to overcome these common challenges and picturing whether you want to move up helps you move forward professionally. Laying out a career path effectively entails avoiding burnout, managing stress, continuing to develop professionally, and deciding whether moving up is right for you. Only then can you focus clearly on where you want to be.

So long, and thanks for all the reading

This column wraps up this year's 12-part series on accidental library management, but you're always welcome to continue the discussion at the LISjobs.com management forum.

Do also come back in January to read my latest contributions to the "For Librarians" section, which launch with a discussion of alternative career options for librarians and information professionals. See you then!


This series is based on Rachel Singer Gordon's book The Accidental Library Manager (Information Today, Inc., Medford, NJ, 2005; http://www.lisjobs.com/talm/).