By Meredith Farkas | October 19, 2010
I was really excited when I saw the title of In the Library With the Lead Pipe’s post “Rising through the Ranks: On Upward Mobility in Librarianship” from last month. They always provide a comprehensive and thoughtful treatment of the issues they choose to write about. And this is an issue I think about quite a bit. When I finally had time to read it almost two weeks later, I was disappointed to find that a number of the contributors had “a strong aversion to management.” One stated “I don’t feel that I know much about upward mobility, nor that I really want to. The term just conjures up images in my mind of pants suits and power lunches, both of which I have some aversion to!” I have a difficult time understanding this point of view, because I very much want to move up in the profession and I very much like being a manager. And while I’m generally a pretty casual dresser, I actually love wearing suits.
I see management in a different way, perhaps, than do people who hate the very idea of being a manager. I see being a manager as being an advocate. I love being an advocate. I love fighting for things. As a social worker, I advocated for my clients to get the services they needed from their public schools. As a distance learning librarian, I advocated for the distance students to receive the same services and consideration any other student at the University. As Head of Instruction, I advocate for information literacy to be integrated into the curriculum. As Social Sciences Liaison, I advocate for faculty and students to get the resources they need to do their academic work. And, as a manager, I advocate for my employee to get the experiences that will help her develop professionally and be successful in her work. Management isn’t about delegating, being the heavy, and telling people what to do (though those things are sometimes necessary as part of being a manager). It’s about providing vision, advocating for, and enabling your employees to do the things they need to do to be successful. And I think that’s fun.
I surprised even myself when I realized this year that I would actually like to be a library director in the future. I have found my own library director to be an inspiration in this area. I love how she is such a strong advocate for the library in her dealings with faculty, administrators and potential donors. She’s truly a diplomat, carrying the library’s flag to meetings on-campus and off. She’s also an inspirational leader for her staff — strong and self-assured. I strive to be like that; to handle troubling situations with her grace and resourcefulness. Sure, I don’t love the idea of schmoozing donors, but I didn’t love the idea of schmoozing faculty about information literacy either and found that, most of the time, it’s actually fun to build those relationships with faculty. It’s nice to get to know people who are focused on different areas of the academic endeavor and to get out of the “library bubble.” I’ve found in my career that forcing myself to do the things I’m most uncomfortable with (which included instruction and presenting 5 years ago) leads to the greatest personal and professional growth.
The thing I struggle with at this point in my career is how do I get from where I am to where I want to be? It’s not like I want to be a library Director tomorrow, when you know where you want to go in life, it’s natural to start thinking about what it might take to get there. If I want to be a Director one day, probably staying at the same small university library for 20 years is not going to get me there. At the same time, I don’t want to be the sort of person who moves to a new library every few years in order to climb the career ladder. I have a husband and a child and, while my husband is supportive of my career, his and Reed’s happiness is far more important to me than my career. And then there’s the fact that I happen to love my work here. I feel a strong sense of mission and purpose at Norwich. I’ve built strong relationships with the faculty here over the years and am now at a point where I am really creating important and lasting change. I believe in what I’m doing to integrate information literacy into the curriculum here and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far. Ths Fall, the VPAA even invited me to Chair a new information literacy committee, made up of faculty representatives from each of the Schools. This is what I’ve been working for!
I’m sure I can and will find that same passion at another academic library in the future, but I’m sure I’ll also feel the same pull at my next job to stay and see my mission through. In a job like mine where your goal (integrating information literacy into the curricula of all academic programs) is so large, you’re constantly just approaching and chipping away at the issue in different ways. You build and build and build upon success. It takes time to build the sort of relationships you need to have to build any forward momentum. People in this sort of position who leave their job after only a couple of years will probably never see the fruits of their labors.
So I wonder, am I the only person who struggles with this? Am I the only person who is ambitious careerwise, but doesn’t want to move from job to job to job every couple of years? I can’t imagine, and yet I hear so little about it. This subject should not be taboo. I’ve been influenced strongly on this as well by my Director. She told me from day one that she hopes we don’t stay here forever; that staying at the same library forever can limit one’s vision. She encourages us to explore other options when we’re ready and feels like she’s done her job when we move on to bigger and better things. I appreciate that I can be completely open with her about my ambitions when so many other people have to keep these things secret from their boss. She’s been an amazing mentor.
If you’re struggling with this issue yourself, leave a comment (it can be anonymous)! It would just be nice to know that I’m not the only one feeling these two opposite, but equally compelling impulses.