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Mr. Mustache, another librarian blog

I am a reference librarian with experience in both the public and state government fields. I am doing this on a whim, sort of like the mustache I grew when I was 19 and still have in my 50's.

Location: New Jersey, United States

I am a state worker and a librarian.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Library Directors

Although they have been slow in coming, I'm starting to get some comments. Yes, I know most of you have lives. This blog tries to be a different. I won't unnecessarily bore you with new trendy software or hot meetings to attend. I plan on writing about the things librarians need to know and maybe don't need to know. Today we are going to discuss Library Directors.

There are many types of Library Directors. There are first name directors; there are Mr. and Mrs. Directors. There are hands on Directors and there are hands off Directors.

All of these Directors possess unique problems and situations. A hands on Director may not like the cataloguing records that are being produced in Technical Services. A hands off director may not know that there are cataloguing records being produced in Technical Services.
Someone who comes up the ranks may still retain his old alliances and friendships from the old days and this may cause resentment among some of the staff. A first name Director may tell an employee about the fight he had with a department head, the employee's boss. A hands off Director may not realize that a department head is allowing volunteers to input cataloguing records. A hands on Director may want to rearrange the display cases where the tax forms are kept, annoying the Head of Reference in the process.

It is permissible for a Library Director to take lunch with his department heads. However if he/she has lunch with the Head of Technical Services one week he must have lunch with the Head of Adult Services the next week. He should not divulge his feelings about other staff members unless he knows that staff member very well, and even then he does it at his own peril.

One of the problems that staff have with Library Directors is that Directors do things on their own time with their own priorities. A grant proposal is prepared in April, ready for the Director to review. The information is given to the Director and the Director puts it on the back burner. Two weeks before the grant is due in July, the Director suddenly calls down and wants to discuss the grant. The staff member must quickly review the grant, update any vendor prices, and be ready to work in a rushed environment to get the grant in on time. Since the Director is away the next week and the employee is going to a meeting on Friday, the staff member must stay late with the Director on Thursday night to finish work on the grant.

Here are a few general rules for working with Library Directors:

Never reveal something in passing that may suddenly tweak a director's interest unnecessarily. A casual remark that the patrons are using up a lot of paper with Internet printing can turn into a series of prolonged meetings and policy changes.

Always copy everything that you give to a Director. Don't assume a Director has a piece of paperwork no matter how many times you have put it in his/her in box.

Things that happen on the Reference desk can get back to a Director. Always put requests from political figures in town as well as Board members on the highest priority. Putting the mayor's wife on hold can get back to a Library Director.

Don't assume that a Director has read a memo or is aware of a procedure. Be wary about revealing rules that don't make a lot of sense at first glance but make life easier for the staff. Just because a previous Director allowed something doesn't mean the present Director would allow it, providing that he/she knew about it.

Remember that public relations and dealing with the Library Board are a Director's first priority. Department heads and senior staff members should take care of internal issues before they get to a Director's ear, if at all possible.

Get to know your Director's personal habits. Custodians learn which stairway a Director uses so that he cleans that one daily, if not the other ones. A staff member may allow her son into a staff office in the afternoon. She learns to put the child in a room that is out of the normal line of sight of the Director. A Children's Librarian learns which programs the Director's niece will be attending, so she knows to give that program a special polish.

Do not be complacent about a Director's habits, however. Be aware of situations that may bring a Director in at an unusual time or into an office that the Director does not normally see. An administrative assistant may be accustomed to getting to work at 9:10 in the sound belief that the Director will come in at 9:20. A breakfast get together for a retiring staff member brings in the Director at 8:50. The Director suddenly is furious to find out that the staffer she assumed was coming in at 9 all these years actually has been coming into work ten minutes later.

Sometimes a Director may change a procedure or configuration that works but looks bad to something that looks better to the casual observer but causes problems in the implementation. This is a common problem in the military and perhaps, an acquaintance with standard military operating procedure can be of help. The General issues an order. The order does not work. The enlisted men try to make it look like they are obeying the order when in reality they are not.

Likewise in a library, it is usually possible to alter a bad decision for the better without a Director noticing. This should be done slowly and cautiously. Many big picture Directors do not notice minor changes in their directives. Directors like knowing they have instituted change for the better. However, sometimes it is only an superficial change. Like the Inca's wearing traditional totems underneath their Christian crosses, the clerk in TSD continues to maintain paper shelf list cards after being told to discard them, but takes off the labels of the drawers.


Blogger Greatwoods Librarian said...

Have you seen John Berry's piece in the June 1, 2006 issue of Library Journal?http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6337334.html
Been there, done that, got the tee shirt. You never saw the situation from our side of the tracks, caught between the Board, the town and the crazy patrons. You received appreciation from the town's good patrons, which is more than we could say. Still an interesting experience, especially seeing a better relationship between the town, the Board, the library director and staff as I do now.

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