An attitude problem

“All that politicking and making nice with people sounds horrible.”
“I didn’t become a librarian to spend all day working on spreadsheets.”
“Oh, I never want to be management.”
“I could never do your job.”
“I never want a job like yours.”
“Don’t forget where you came from.”
“Are you sure you want that job?”
“Do you even like the work you do?”

We have an attitude problem as a profession.  Read those comments I typed above.  I’ve heard each and every one of them in the past six weeks.  I’ll also grant that I’ve gotten a lot of congratulations — lots of “you rock!” and “I’m so happy for you” and “congratulations, I know you’ve worked hard for this” — but almost all of them were from people who care about me personally or have worked with me on an individual level.  The above have almost all come from people in our profession who look at “management” and wrinkle their noses.

So let me offer my answers.

“All that politicking and making nice with people sounds horrible.” Actually, it sounds like what needs to be done in order to make sure that you have the support you need to do your work.  Every time I smile and shake hands with an administrator, help out with a problem in another office, or provide information that someone outside the libraries needs, I add a piece of goodwill to the relationship.  And someday you’ll need me to leverage that goodwill to ensure that a project inside the library succeeds.  So it’s not horrible.  It’s necessary.  Also, being nice and helpful?  Has its own rewards related to being the kind of person I want to be.

“I didn’t become a librarian to spend all day working on spreadsheets.” You know what?  I did. I love data.  I love information.  I love manipulating it and studying it and making it tell me what I need to know.  Excel and I are buddies.  And if someone didn’t spend all day swimming in Excel, you wouldn’t have good, accurate, and fair information analysis available in your library.  Don’t knock it.  I like it, and you need me to like it, and the fact that I like it doesn’t make me somehow less of a librarian than you are.

“Oh, I never want to be management.” Well, I do.  And I am.  And you’re lucky someone is and does, because this ship doesn’t sail itself.  Need someone to make a decision when two colleagues can’t agree?  That’s management.  Need someone to allocate funding fairly?  That’s management.  Need someone to advocate for the library?  Management.  Need someone to make hiring decisions?  Management.  Someone has to do it.

“I could never do your job.” In most cases, yeah, you could, you just don’t want to.

“I never want a job like yours.” Okay, that sounds more true.  But do you have to say it in that tone?  Because as I mentioned, I wanted this job, so talking about it like it’s made up of vinegar and mold is really, y’know, offensive.

“Don’t forget where you came from.” *headdesk*  Do you think my personality is that malleable that I’ll somehow put on the Great Mantle Of (Not Paid As Well As You Think I Am) Leadership and suddenly forget that I was once a librarian?  Or that I somehow no longer have a boss, or report to anyone, or care about the impact of my actions on anyone but myself?  Who does that?  And why do you think I’m one of those people?

“Are you sure you want that job?” …yes?  I spent a lot of time and effort on the job application, I worked hard to present myself well in the phone and (two-day) in-person interview, I negotiated my salary, and after all of that, I wouldn’t have signed the contract if I didn’t.  Really.  I knew what I was getting into, and I thought long and hard about it.  I want to succeed, and I wasn’t going to take the job if I didn’t think I could do it — and certainly not if I didn’t want to do it.

“Do you even like the work you do?” Again, and again, and again, YES.

I like knowing that every action in my day is in support of the work of the libraries.  I like knowing that my decisions matter.  I like knowing that I’m helping people.  I like knowing that my time is useful and spent on valuable tasks.  I like organizing.  I like planning.  I like developing strategies and watching them play out.  I like making friends and cultivating relationships.  I like thinking about complex problems.  I like interacting with people with wildly different skill sets and interests.

I get to do all those things as Director of Libraries.  So, yes.  I like my job.  I’m glad I have it.

And I’m truly sorry that so many people have had bad managers, mean bosses, and foolhardy leadership, but really: We have to get over it. We have a bad, bad attitude, as a profession, about management, and we need managers.  Your boss will retire — and who will step into that role?  You’d better hope it’s not one of the people who’s spent their career belittling managers.  And if it’s one of the people who’s been consistently denigrated for wanting to be in a management role, I’ll bet my funky Fluevog heels that you’ll be relieved when you realize they’re a better person than you’ve given them credit for.

21 thoughts on “An attitude problem

  1. Steven Harris

    The fact that we’ve all had bad managers in the past should mean that we do something about: become a GOOD manager yourself! I’m betting that’s what you do. Congrats to you AND to your library and university. They done good.

  2. Mary Carmen

    As a manager who has heard every one of those comments myself, I say, “WORD!” Great post. The profession needs more capable, caring managers and the only way we will get them is to stop perpetuating the “management is evil/horrible/not what i wanted to do/something I can’t do” thinking.

  3. GeekChic

    Very nice post. I used to be in senior management but left for my own reasons. However, I enjoyed the work that I did.

    I still (!) get some of the same comments you do just because I was a manager at some point. The one response that I make that usually stops them is: “I’m sure that you’re not much fun to manage with that attitude.”

  4. Dorothea

    Hm. I’ll personally cop to “I could never do your job” and “I would never want a job like yours,” because they’re the simple truth. I would be an utter disaster in a management position. I have nothing but respect and admiration for people who aren’t.

    I’ll also cop to having a pretty craptastic attitude at times, though.

  5. Michael Steeleworthy

    I get bothered by the “I’m not here to manage” sort of argument. We’re not here to save the world, but to one degree or another, we have all decided to enter this profession because we feel a certain care to maintain, promote, and preserve libraries and the public good.

    Of course, many of us (myself included) are motivated by a paycheque that can put food on our tables and pay our rent or our mortgages. But at the same time, an unwillingness to consider the management of a library and of a library’s resources as a prime duty of the librarian is a little shortsighted, I think.

    That all sounds more pointed that I would like to be. In the end, I’d rather promote the merits of library management, as opposed to creating conflicts between those who do and those who don’t consider management as a librarian’s role. (And besides, if we don’t manage our libraries, then we are leaving the door open for some one without our knowledge and experience to do it for us.)

    (Thanks for posting…)

  6. Catherine

    @Dorothea: Yes, but I’d bet the farm you’d both a) choose your words more carefully and b) modulate your tone of voice so as not to convey disdain for the work Jenica has pledged to do. (Which I think is what you were aiming at above.) There’s a world of difference between “I would never want a job like yours” and “I’m just not cut out for management (but I’m really glad a terrific person like you is taking such an important responsibility at your/our library).”

    I was once told by my library school advisor, “but you could be a library director one day!” to which I replied with what I hope was a politely noncommittal response. And then I went home and laughed and laughed. That was seven years ago. Now? I’m certain I don’t want to be in management for at least another 5 years, probably more like 10. But 15 years from now? Yeah, I could maybe see myself as a department head or possibly higher.

    And it’s thanks to folks like Jenica and others I respect who’ve taken on leadership roles, and have shown that you *can* do this work, and do it well, and moreover it’s *vital* that somebody do it well.

  7. Jenica

    Hrm. Thanks, all, you’ve made me feel a bit less alone, today. And, Dorothea, what Catherine said. I trust that you’d take an entirely different tone than the one I’m hearing…

  8. Pingback: Attitudes to management « OxfordStaffDev

  9. bjms1002

    “I love data. I love information. I love manipulating it and studying it and making it tell me what I need to know. Excel and I are buddies.”

    Having endured some flack for my own love of data (graphs especially) and for believing that (used properly) it can help us do our jobs better, it was great to read this.

  10. Bobbi

    Well said! I’m amazed at the number of people who feel its ok to make these sort of comments. I wonder if they realize how insulting they are.

  11. Ryan Deschamps

    Bingo!

    The really sad part of this is that there is going to be a dirth of managers in the future. But someone is going to have to make the decisions!

    I also think a lot of people really really sell themselves short. Some people would be excellent managers, but choose not to be. Then a bad manager gets in and, well, my only response is “you didn’t apply – so you have to live with that decision.”

  12. amy

    i remember during library school when a bunch of my colleagues asked why we were taking a management class (the quality of which i will not get into now). “if i wanted to be a manager, i would have gone to business school.”
    and the general feeling was that wanting to be a manager made you one of “those” librarians – bad ones who only cared about money and power, not quality of information and service.

    thanks muchly for this post!

  13. chrissy

    These posts are so good to read. I just became head of my library department – it’s my first ever management position. Thanks for putting into words the reasons for the excitement I feel!

  14. Mark K.

    I’m a library director myself, and I agree with 99% of what you write here. The 1%?

    Need someone to make a decision when two colleagues can’t agree? That’s management.

    Depends on what the followup is. Two colleagues who can’t come to an agreement are not doing their jobs. Sometimes timeliness requires executive decisions, but normally, I would phrase it as “Need someone to facilitate the discussion when two colleagues are having trouble agreeing? That’s management.” Even if the facilitation happens after the decision, and so is about reconciling to the decision instead of making it, it’s still important. Sometimes I think that’s the most important part of my job.

  15. Jenica

    Mark, I mostly agree. Sometimes two colleagues can’t come to an agreement because they’re philosophically in opposition to each other, and there’s no clear sense of which philosophy matters most to the institution. (and if I’ve learned anything in my decade in libraries, it’s that librarians are invested in their philosophical beliefs about the profession!) And sometimes it’s management’s job — the leader’s job — to declare which philosophy needs to take precedence in this instance.

    What I do absolutely agree with you on is the importance of facilitation. It’s crucial to have someone who can facilitate through conflict, and do it in a way that’s both impartial and trusted.

  16. Jeff Scott

    Great post, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know you, but I could tell from your posts that you will do well in management. You understand the importance of collaboration and how to deal the egos of others. Important aspects, particular in an academic environment. Congratulations and good luck.

  17. Chris Tonjes

    Welcome to wonderful world of managing diverse (union/non union, motivated/unmotivated, insular/forward thinking) teams! Nice post, and true, but don’t feel like you have to defend or explain yourself or your role too much. (SUNY potsdam alumni here)

  18. Pingback: Meeting your users where they are – thanks Jenica | Librarians Matter

  19. Melinda

    Hey…

    don’t let anyone make you feel bad about your job. As long as you enjoy your work, it doesn’t matter what anyone says.

    I have the utmost respect for librarians and their ilk. I hope to obtain a degree in library science someday. It sounds like you really enjoy your work and other people are simply being snarky about it.

    I’ve never been a manager of anything but I know that it can be a difficult job at times. Some people have a certain image of those in management positions that isn’t always fair.

    Like Chris said, you don’t have to defend or explain yourself to anyone. Some people are insecure. They see that you enjoy your work, you’re making connections with others, and you have a good attitude about it all. So they try to kill your joy by making comments that undermine your dedication to your work.

    Ignore the haters! Keep doing what you love. Be happy. 🙂

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