In Defense of Directors: It’s Lonely at the Top

A couple of weeks ago I was teaching in a week-long, immersive workshop and found myself, as I often am, defending library directors. Now, this post is not in defense of the raging lunatics (which I’ve worked for) or the absent library director (been there, done that), but it is in defense of the ones who seem a little preoccupied, not really in tune with every detail of your job, or the ones who keep you on your toes because they are always changing things (guilty). I feel like I don’t really know enough about being a library director to defend all of them, but here’s my take on being on the “other” side of this job now.

Running a library is a lonely business. No one on my campus really gets what a library director does or can even commiserate about most of my issues. We employ a large department and it is made up of a weird caste system of positions (faculty, administrators, full-time and part-time staff, and students). I have to deal with faculty AND staff issues and never the two shall meet. I do have more than one advanced degree, but I am not “real” faculty. I have made a few good friends so far on campus, but they are basically in charge of themselves and maybe one other person. They are great collaborators and have shown me the ropes and helped me work through some university issues, but when it comes to talking budgets, collections, personnel, or other library fun stuff, they can only help out at the big picture level. So, in short, your boss is probably a little isolated when it comes to library stuff.

You’re right. We don’t know every single job in the library and what it does day-to-day. I know I have people who do acquisitions, cataloging, reference (sort of), teaching, collections, circulation, reserves, technology, etc., but I don’t think I need to understand what it is that you are doing every minute. I need to understand what your goals are, what you need to do your job well, and how you want to contribute to push the library forward. That. If you are with a group of librarians discussing an issue and you say, “but my Director just doesn’t get XYZ,” then my response to you is EXPLAIN IT TO THEM. Ask them for 15 minutes. Provide bullet points. Give them the real cost of something. Tell them why it’s important. Done.

We have a lot of stuff going on in our heads. OK, this maybe just me, but I don’t think it is. I could be totally thinking about how to put together a five year plan and then get distracted by the day-to-day, e-mail, budget crisis, lights out over the circ desk, and lose my train of thought. Your director needs to have an idea of what is going on all over the building, while also still moving ahead (hopefully), so sometimes we may seem distracted. That’s probably not always the case, but it is true that sometimes, we are indeed distracted. Please accept our apologies.

We expect a lot from our shining stars and we give a lot back, too. What I tried to impress upon several people at the workshop last week was that if your Director is sending you to stuff like an expensive week long workshop, or conferences, or whatever they can? They think it’s because you’re bringing something back and you are one of the shining stars. We don’t always ask you how everything went or what you’d like to do on a daily basis, but that’s partially because we think you, like us, are running with it and will let us know when you need something. That is key because I, and most of my colleagues, will do whatever we can so that our people can be successful (short of forcing them to learn new things. I’ve tried. It fails.)

Communication is a two-way street. This is really important.  I’ve learned that I can’t always assume that the supervisors are communicating things downward. If you don’t tell your boss that you need things to be successful or that you’re not getting the information? We assume everything is perfectly fine.

Just because we don’t want to know your whole life story does not mean we don’t like you. I get this a lot from people who don’t know me well. I can appear to be really aloof. Usually, I am just thinking. But I definitely compartmentalize my life, a lot. This is something I should maybe work on, but I like to keep life and work separate because I have my own workplace baggage. Anyway, just because I don’t bake muffins and sit around in the coffee klatch in the morning, doesn’t mean I don’t like those people. It means that I am here to do a job and I am trying to do it well but that doesn’t mean I don’t like you. It also means I don’t want to interrupt your good time and conversations. Your boss may seem the same way. Us extroverts are notorious for compartmentalizing and if we have to accept Introverts the way they are (of course we do), then you can deal with our issues, too. For me, if anyone wants me to like them? Just come to work, do your job, contribute to the overall mission, and try and have some fun along the way.

We pick our battles. One of the biggest criticisms I hear from librarians about directors is that they feel their directors aren’t advocating for XYZ enough. Well, the truth is, we have to align our library’s priorities to the institution’s priorities and sometimes those don’t include your specific pet projects. But, I promise, if you keep us informed on an issue and are sure to keep us up to speed on how it will positively affect our community or our students, we will have that information right there when I see an opportunity.

There. I hope this helps you see your Director’s or Dean’s perspective a little bit too. If you’ve got bigger problems with your boss than the ones I’ve mentioned here, I’m sorry. We’ve all been there. May it get better.



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