The Hell of the Coordinator Experience and Why It’s Good for You, Librarians

Coordinator jobs in libraries can be some of the toughest jobs, no doubt. I’ve heard some feedback lately from some Director peers that they find these Coordinator positions, with a lot of variety in responsibilities, often hard to fill or get less applicants. But we need them. Instruction coordinators are everywhere (especially in academic libraries). I’ve also seen a lot of assessment coordinators, outreach coordinators, programming coordinators, collection development coordinators and so on. You often have great responsibilities and none of the power. Sometimes you have a budget, but it’s more likely that’s an afterthought. You usually have no direct reports so you’re not even getting supervisory experience. So, why is this good for you?

Because, in my opinion and experience, you will develop skills like in no other position that not everyone in libraries possesses.

  1. Political savvy: In all of the groups of librarians that I’ve done some sort of analysis of their strengths or frames of influence with, this one almost always comes in at the lowest among our peers. But, when you have no power and you need to get things done, you learn to approach people and projects with a little more savvy than the average librarian. You learn to look for clues to discover how people will react. As your political skills develop, you begin to be able to build your plans around things you’ve learned instead of jumping in and then realizing that you’ve overstepped or screwed up. You understand what WIIFM means and see the bigger picture more easily.
  2. Triaging and Prioritizing: Now, I definitely think that all librarians are good at this to an extent, but when you get to Coordinate things? You get to really juggle priorities and figure out what is an emergency and what really can become a long term project. What needs to be done absolutely before the end of the semester or needs to be completed next week? You get this down.
  3. Advocacy: Going back to the fact that if you’ve been named say, Instruction Coordinator, you probably also have no budget to bring in workshop guests or hold luncheons for your team (which you can’t require people to attend), you get good at advocating for what you need financially and otherwise. Also, you get good at telling the story about what it is that you’re trying to build.
  4. Buy-in: A good coordinator can bring people together and help them see that certain projects or work are for the good of the whole even if it’s not something you have to do.
  5. Work across department lines: Coordinators often are called just that because they have to work with a variety of people across the library and, well, coordinate things. This is a characteristic that will help you in any library because, let’s face it, we all could learn to collaborate a little better across our departments.

That being said, they are usually really busy jobs and can bring you a lot of work. You will need to work on setting limits and saying no. You will be tired. But you will learn a lot.

So, if you’re wary of that job that wants you to have your hand in twelve difference things? Try not to be. It will be a lot of work, but you will gain a bunch of experience that you might not have if you had chosen a safer, more traditional, less frenzied path.

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