My First Year as Director: Things I Have Learned

I officially became the Director of my library in September of 2016, but I shadowed the old director until November.  So to me I kind of count November as to when I really became the Director. The time has gone by quickly. I have learned a lot of things.  I thought I would share them, just as I shared about what I learned as President of MLA.

So here are a few things I learned:

You Need Friends:
No matter if you are new to an institution or have been there for 20 years (as I have) there will be certain departments in your institution that will befuddle you and they will always befuddle you.  At some institutions, you have a better chance discovering the meaning of the four messages on the Kryptos sculpture than knowing how parking is assigned and getting a good lot/garage/spot can be akin to winning the lottery.  While at other institutions, sending a license agreement off for review to the legal department may often feel like you sent it to the Bermuda Triangle.  Every institution has its own version of Catch 22 policies and departments and you need to find friends in those departments, preferably several.  Those people will save you.  They may not be able to fix the problem themselves, but they can often get you out of no man’s land and connect you with somebody who can fix things. (Unless it is parking…nobody can ever fix parking.)

Thank yous:
This sounds like a no brainer. However, a simple thank you note or email, depending on the situation, is not only the nice and right thing to do, but it will help you win more friends.  (Remember the paragraph above about friends)  Based off my observations the art of sending a thank you is disappearing.  Perhaps we are busier than we were in the past and don’t think about it.  Maybe some of us didn’t have their mom standing over us when we were 7 yrs old writing thank you notes from our birthday party.  Some say technology is to blame.  Whatever…just send a quick thank you via email if somebody helped you out.  If they really went above and beyond, send a thank you card.

Transitioning from co-worker to boss:
This can be sticky if you are a new boss to a new institution and even stickier if you are the new boss in an institution you’ve been in for a long time.  There are lots of books on this topic. I get weekly emails from the site From Bud to Boss, while it is primarily set in the business world there are some helpful things.  I recommend working on this transition either by reading some of these books or talking to another library director you know well.  You are going to have times where you are going to have to have a difficult conversation with an employee.  I have found the book Crucial Conversations helpful and practicing the conversation with either HR or a trusted library director can be beneficial.  While it is fine to get your stuff together and practice, do not put off the conversation longer than you need to.

Going from an employee focused on your own job, to a manager or director who is focused on your own job plus everyone’s jobs means your time gets squeezed.  There are certain things that you used to do that you just don’t have time for and should be delegated to somebody else.  These things could be ordinary tasks like ordering supplies or doing the desk schedule. They could also be specialized.  For example, you may no longer be the best person to do a systematic review.

In the past, I had ideas that I would be super awesome at doing systematic reviews, I would learn how to do research, I would manage the library’s systems (web design, link resolvers, etc.) and my spare time I would devote to finding the latest and greatest resources. Ha. I don’t have time for any of that now.  Now is the time to find people who are interested in those things and encourage them and provide support for them to take on those roles for the library.

Find a mentor:
Find a library mentor (another director or manager) and find an institutional mentor.  Both are equally important.  The library mentor will help you with the library things that normals just don’t understand.  An institutional mentor will help deal with the quirks within your institution.  You don’t feel alone when you have a good mentor.  Chances are they have been in the same situation.

Make time for you:
There is always going to be something that needs your attention.  I encourage disconnecting when possible.  But it isn’t possible all of the time. For example, I have to do payroll on Christmas Eve (they switched it earlier so we didn’t have to do it on Christmas day).  Find your balance with technology in order to find your balance with your work and home.  Some people will absolutely never answer emails when they are at home.  I do.  I find if I am able to answer them on a regular basis then they don’t pile up and I don’t have to spend more time at work catching up and answering them.  If I’m not spending time at work catching up on my email then I am able to spend time at work doing the other things that need to get done.  The important thing is find what works for you to maintain a healthy work and home life balance.

I learned a lot more but these are some of the biggies that apply to everyone.  Here is to a new year, may 2018 bring us happiness, joy, and good challenges.


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