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.
I hear you talking. I have been a working children’s libraian/manager for over 30 years. Up and moved to my current job after 22 years at a fabulous library just two years ago, doing the kinds of innovative, inventive stuff that parallels your work in an academic setting. Was glad to be many years in what amounted to my “laboratory”, creating amazing services, partnerships and collections for the community. It was GREAT to see things from start to finish. But it has been equally great to launch out into new unchartered territory for this old dog and bring a different level of management skills to the table. I hope this is where I stay to do good till I retire in 5-7 years…I have the patience now to know the seeds I plant with my team will yield beautiful and bountiful harvests years down the road.
Meredith, I find myself thinking about this same issue often, and it’s great to read your thoughts on it. I feel like ambition is sometimes looked down upon in our profession, which is unfortunate, and I have also noticed how those who advance in academic librarianship tend to move more frequently than I would want to. I’ve helped myself cope with this issue by tackling new initiatives and always showing a willingness to expand my skill set in my job, and by reminding myself that I am technically still in the early stage of my career (I’ve been a librarian for 9 years).
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by infopeep and דניאל ליפסון, Meredith. Meredith said: New post: Management, upward mobility and sticking http://bit.ly/9EUQ0u […]
Brilliant. I love to see professionals explore this theme, especially with honesty and candor. It’s important to see our strengths and where we might apply them in our work environment.
My experience has been that one can cater the director position to be who we are as individuals; to be honest about our style and personality. I wouldn’t want to work for a disingenuous person, and I try to reflect that in my director role. When we are ready, the position will appear. For some this occurs quickly, others enjoy lingering in their profession by offering valuable service to their community in non-director positions. This is good and needed.
I’m in my second Library Director position. In between the two, I worked as a classroom-based professor/reference librarian, and as a systems librarian. Those two roles were just what I needed between the two directors roles. I can honestly say that I’m a much better director this second time round; I needed more experience.
Though you are reflecting on moving from frontline librarian to director, I’m reading this with reflections of moving in other directions. As a Library Director, I periodically think about what it might be like to work as an non-library academic dean or vice-president. Could I ever leave librarianship?
I’m not ready now, but it’s fun to consider. When I’m ready, the position will appear.
[…] loved the brilliant blog post by Meredith Farkas over at Information Wants To Be Free. She explores the theme of management, […]
I found myself profoundly impatient with many of the views expressed in that “In the Library with the Lead Pipe” post. I was in senior management in public libraries for almost 10 years before taking a step back when my health demanded it. The library field is quite striking to me in the repulsion so many seem to have for management, supervision or ambition – perhaps a legacy of its being a profession populated mostly by women…
I do feel that those who would be managers should be willing to move around – if only to expose themselves to different populations, different ideas and different ways of doing things. Stagnation is deadly no matter the field. Of course, that is easy for me to say as I don’t have children.
That management can be seen as something positive is a great point. I agree that the role of a manager should be seen as a facilitator and enabler, but I suppose the fact that the majority of librarians see management negatively indicates that this hasn’t been the case for a while.
In addition, a library manager’s work involves much more paperwork and politics, which inevitably leaves little (if zero) time for any lay librarian’s work (whether it be cataloging, reference, or web/scripting). While someone has to do the paperwork and play politics for a library and its staff, I can immediately see why that would not appeal to some people (particularly when there is already enough bureaucracy even for non-managers). How do you balance manager work with librarian work?
That having been said, I think it is also true that those who are interested in moving to management may well find it hard to grow inside where they are at many libraries. Often organizations pigeonhole their own employees and do not offer opportunities for moving up internally even when they are brilliant. This is seen in other professions too. Interestingly, managers with a right mindset may well be the ones who can really improve this pigeonhole issue by supporting their staff’s promotion and continuous professional growth. Retaining good employees is just as important as recruiting them, but curiously organizations seem to pay very little attention to the former.
Thank you for your inspiring words. I’m just beginning in a full-time instruction position so I’ve very much enjoyed your blog. I have never thought of management but my director sounds similar to yours, I love the idea of director as advocate. Currently I’m just trying to meet the instruction needs on campus, but next I hope to begin work on integrating information literacy into the various programs.
It is harder with a family to consider, but hopefully viable new opportunities will present themselves when you are ready for them.
Thanks for the responses, everyone!
@Roman – I often think that people feel like you can’t be both ambitious and care about your work and patrons. I think that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s my ambition that keeps me constantly coming up with better ways to serve our patrons. Ambition doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re only out for yourself, but I feel like some people make it out to be that way.
@GeekChic – I think that people can “keep fresh” without moving around by dedicating themselves to professional development. If you constantly expose yourself to people outside your library and new ideas from libraries and other sectors (education, tech, non-profits, etc.), you can avoid stagnating. No matter how passionate I am about my career, my primary responsibility is to my son and making sure he grows up in the best environment possible, so that means that I will have to make sacrifices along the way for his sake.
@Bohyun – I think you’re right that the higher one moves up in libraries, the less time they have for the work they started out doing in the profession. However, often in smaller libraries, even the people at the top still have opportunities to take part in the activities they used to do. For example, my Director provides instruction, research consultations and collection development in the sciences. And I think that’s a great thing because it keeps her connected to what’s happening “on the ground.” While I know it’s rarely practical for a UL at a large university library to still take on a reference shift periodically (since it’s also work to keep ones knowledge and skills up in all of the areas one has to provide reference assistance), I personally wouldn’t ever want to be that disconnected from the day-to-day work of libraries. I hope to find the sort of happy medium my Director has (which probably means I’ll never be the head of a major research library, but I can live with that).
Great post. I’ve been struggling with the same issues, but I have the fortune to work at a very large university where I can explore opportunities for advancement, or different professional experiences, without having to move to a different city. That said, I’m in a competitive market (my university has a library school) and in a narrow field of librarianship, so it’s hard to get noticed by higher-ups and campus librarians. So I’ve just been working hard to get noticed, trying to make connections across campus, and doing my best to take on more responsibility, so that when a good opportunity presents itself, I’ll feel ready to go for it.
I was lucky enough just recently to get a full-time librarian position at the public library where I have worked for two years in a part-time position, so I’ve had the experience of upward mobility within the same library. I too see the dilemma of moving between jobs every few years, something I have no interest in doing.
My perspective is that upward mobility doesn’t necessarily have to involve moving up the “corporate ladder” – it can be about forming a legacy or improving your library through your current position. For instance, I see myself having incorporated many new and useful things over the course of the next few years in my department, and although my job title will not have changed, I will not be the same employee that I started out as: I will have more experience and have done more for the department. That is upward mobility as well, in a sense.
You are definitely not alone in these thoughts. It’s difficult to be caught between “accomplishing the awesome stuff I’m already working on” and “taking on new challenges”. That goes double if pay becomes an issue–I think we will see more and more mobility due to lack of pay raises in situ.
I made a lateral move from being a department head in a SUNY 4 year to being a director at a Community College. The Director position at a CCC was so much more fun. Getting change off the ground at bigger places was like steering the Queen Mary. In a smaller place new ideas can be introduced in a few weeks and services adapted to really provide service to students without near the hoopla at large libraries. I never regretted leaving the larger library for the smaller one.
I’ve moved around a bunch, and after nearly a decade, I have a great job in terms of salary and bennies. Things also worked out very well for my spouse, too. Here’s my problem: The work environment is horrific. No one gets along. I am constantly interrupted by the latest drama of the week. It is truly exhausting. I miss my lower paying job at a smaller college where colleagues did a better job of working together. I miss the smaller community. I do what I can to stay sane. I’ve been writing more. Much to the chagrin of my toxic colleagues, I collaborate a lot with my boss who is a gem and is a fine mentor. Where am I going with this? I am not saying you should stay put, but be very, very careful when looking for a promotion elsewhere. Your environment sounds great! I’ve been doing this far to long and I have to say that what you have is rare. I am not saying you do this, but a lot of people tend to underestimate the quality of the work environment and are seduced by advancement. A professional promotion could turn into an emotional demotion. I don’t know. Maybe I am crazy, but you seem to be on the leadership trajectory if you stay or go.
Remember that not everyone can be a director – nor should everyone be a director. You’ll need people to lead, right? And, Meredith, in a way you are already directing: you are directing our (your students) minds! I know, not the directing you meant.
As I’ve worked my way through library school, bouncing into work each day eager and full of ideas & enthusiasm, my branch manager has said to me several times “You are going to make a great manager someday.” To which I say “No thank you!” I’ve been-there-done-that with hiring, firing, managing, and fundraising. It was tough work that I enjoyed while I did it but that I’m more than happy to now leave to others.
Should I even be saying this publicly as I begin a job search again? Am I burning a bridge? I hope not. I hope that employers recognize I can be a very good employee and manage small projects while not being “the big boss.”
I also am a firm believer in “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If you are happy where you are right now, stay! It sounds like you have a melding of tasks that has made you content. Yes, think about the future but don’t let it consume you. Living in today is far more important.
You’re not alone in these thoughts, Meredith. I agree with everything you wrote and much of what has been written in the comments. I think it is a good point to remember, as was stated earlier, that management does not always mean managing people. However, I think in librarianship there is a lack of folks who want to be in the role of manager managing people and the profession needs them badly.
Honestly, it’s not all advocacy and vision and strategic planning all the time. It is also performance evaluations, politics and dealing with personnel issues. All of which are not fun and can be quite exhausting. I think that is where some of the aversion stems from. Not everyone is comfortable with conflict or having to confront people and have those important and vital, yet difficult conversations.
But, we as a profession really need folks who want and are willing to do that. And personally, I have always found that the difficult work does pay off and the good does outweigh the bad and helping people develop professionally and moving the library forward is extremely rewarding.
Meredith – another great post about something we don’t talk enough about. I was disappointed with the Lead Pipe’s conscious aversion to discussion moving into management in their post.
I had planned to be a reference & instruction librarian forever, because I loved the work. On the other hand, I enjoy being a manager and being one of the people who helps get people the resources they need to improve themselves, improve library services, and enjoy their work.
As someone whose 2 jobs prior to this one lasted 18 months each, I’ve been warned about the stigma of “job-hopping” – I’ve been lucky it hasnt been held against me, but I’ll admit I didn’t worry about it overmuch. One position I left due to a great opportunity I couldn’t turn down, one I left because it became very obvious that it was a poor fit and I did not want to spend more time than necessary in a place I felt was helping me in name but not in spirit (very similar to what dudorkus mentions).
I believe it’s up to each of us to decide when to move on, and reasons differ. There is a fine middle ground between cementing yourself in and being a perennial jobhopper.
In the larger conversation, while “moving up the ladder” may not be the only type of upward mobility, I do consider it a serious problem that so many librarians are disdainful of that sort of mobility path, and it’s starting to show in our job searches for high level library positions that have narrow pools. Many complain about the oversaturated librarian market, but if every librarian decides they’re fine where they are, who will be our leaders? Not everyone can lead from the back or middle of the pack – we need directors, too.
I was one of the contributors to the post on In the Library with the Lead Pipe. It’s gratifying to see that it helped to get people talking about this topic.
For me, in clarifying my own career objectives, it’s important to separate the ideas of ambition, management, and upward mobility. I think I’m very ambitious, in that I want to be involved in truly sweeping projects. One of the things that often goes along with showing people you can handle sweeping projects is having a willingness to take on management roles; in addition, an outcome of doing well in sweeping projects is being offered more opportunities to manage people or projects. Sometimes those offers include opportunities for upward mobility (promotions, job offers, etc.)
I don’t generally think in terms of jobs I want, groups I want to lead, or salary. Almost all of my wishing is about things I want to do and people I want to work with. Then I do everything I can to make those wishes real. It’s worked shockingly well for me so far — primarily through dumb luck and good timing, but there’s been a pretty fair amount of hard work as well.
You’re very fortunate to have such mentors in management. And it’s great that you would like to take your advocacy skills to a management position. We need many more like you to do so! At least in my 25-year public library (non-management) career, only a couple of library managers have been true advocates of or enablers for front-line librarians. Meanwhile, if you love what you do where you do it, you deserve to stay put for a while and make the most of it – especially while raising a young child. You’re still young enough to take your time in moving toward management.
rcn in san francisco bay area
I would love to move into management and although I have changed jobs every few years (not always by choice) it hasn’t helped me a bit. In fact, in interviews I am frequently asked about my short stints in different jobs. Moving up in public libraries is very difficult because frequently promotions are dependent on seniority, so you essential have to stay in your job for years hoping that someone will retire. It is very frustrating!
[…] Almost a decade ago, I also saw how negatively many in our profession viewed ambition; as if upward mobility and good librarianship could not co-exist. Having now experienced administrators who were more focused on getting feathers in their own cap so they could move up to the next better thing than on doing what’s best for their employees or students, I better understand where those critics were coming from. But I also have seen managers and administrators who care deeply about their work and become leaders so they can do more good and support others in doing good. And it feels like the view that career ambition is toxic is tied to a sense of vocational awe where our work is so important and “good” that we should subsume our own needs and desires to the cause. Screw that. […]