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May 03, 2007



Hi, T. Scott, I'm a lurker on your blog, but felt compelled to comment here. First of all, I'd love to find out more about what you're doing w/ the med school curriculum. We're at the threshhold ourselves, and I'm trying to emphasize that we're more than EBM in my discussions w/ curriculum leaders. Maybe I could talk to one of your staff at MLA?

I'm less concerned w/ the notion of "paying your dues" and resistance to change than I am w/ the slowness of our libraries to change traditional hierarchies.

I see so many library "mgmt" positions asking for 5-7 years of experience w/ increasing responsibility--and a narrow definition of what responsibility means. I think there are a lot of X and Y-ers, particularly in libraries, who aren't particularly attracted to traditional mgmt. What we're interested in is flexibility--not only in work-life balance, but in our day-to-day jobs. I want to have the flexibility to work for a while on projects that will help my users, and not have to ask permission of my supervisor (or balance the demands of supervising other professionals) to do it.

I'm at an academic library w/ a large staff, and until recently we were in very traditional units (tech services, instruction, reference, etc). But on top of that we're liaisons. So if you were an effective liaison, that meant you got pulled away from "unit" responsibilities, which, depending on your supervisor, was not always approved of. This created tensions for a number of people.

We've recently moved to a less hierarchical and more flexible, team-based structure, which is great--except that now only a few people are actual supervisors. What we have is a bunch of solo librarians/liaisons working under one roof. The organization is much more flexible and responsive to change--but it may be harder for people to move on & up to other organizations w/ traditional hierarchies.

The focus of ALA, MLA, and other orgs, is currently on "recruitment and retention of managers." But I really think that as long as libraries stick to these traditional notions of leadership & mgmt, it's going to be a hard sell to those who are looking for that flexible organization.

This is long & rambling, but I hope I've been somewhat clear. Thanks for the forum!

T Scott

Nate -- thanks for the comment. I'll send the contact info for the person you should look up at MLA to find out more about what we're doing with the curriculum.

You're right about the need for changing the management structure within our organizations -- and it becomes more difficult the larger the organization.

I think I disagree somewhat with your comment about the focus of MLA in this area -- there is certainly an emphasis on recruitment, but it's designed to get bright people into the profession, not necessarily to turn them into managers. And the Leadership & Management Section has always (since its formation in 2000) been concerned with developing leadership skills throughout the organization -- I think they've done a good job of doing some of the rethinking that you're talking about.

I think we're all struggling with finding better ways to recognize and reward leadership outside of the traditional management structures. But as I say in the post, there will be relatively few institutions on the leading edge of that.


"...One day you find yourself a department head with several eager young librarians reporting to you, with lots of exciting ideas...will it look very different from that perspective?"

You bet it looks different. "New ideas" look like budget expense, and staff expense, and they all have to be weighed against the 10K other things that someone with actual responsibility has to think about. Holy cow, it's dizzying!

I read through much of the "ladder" thread on a variety of blogs with interest. I would like to say that my goal as a manager is to let everyone do everything they want to as long as it is a) within our own power or b) clearly tied to departmental goals.

However, I still have to say NO a LOT, and not only to my "young" staff. Any staff member who thinks their idea is the best, the only, the it's-got-to-be-done-now-or-else-you're-blocking-change has got some learning to do.

Maybe that's the meaning of "paying dues."


I turn 50 this year. I remember being 25, new in my field (medical publishing) and thinking that I had all the answers and that the corporate culture only got in my way. Twenty-five years later, I still think that the corporate culture gets in my way (sometimes). But reading through your blog and the attached comments I don’t see the issues addressed here as a conflict between ‘innovators’ and ‘laggards.’ I just see the problems inherent in any complex human organization. One person’s brilliant new idea is another’s horrific folly.

Yes, I have no doubt in an age of rapid change that many library management procedures are outdated, perhaps even counterproductive. But that does not mean that all change is good and that all established procedures are bad. Scott, I have heard you talk about this being the greatest age for libraries since the invention of the printing press, and indeed it is. I have also heard you talk about how it took decades for libraries to develop a new management paradigm after the invention of movable type. We are in a moment in history where technological development has suddenly changed the rules. In such an environment it is highly likely that old management structures no longer apply. However, that does not mean that all new ideas are good. I would submit that we are still decades away from creating a management structure that fits the electronic age. Yes we must change, but I remind all the readers here that it is inevitable that many changes along the way will lead to a dead end, many mistakes will be made. In an age of great flux, it becomes very difficult to know the full consequences of one’s actions and decisions. Unfortunately, we are judged (and promoted) on current successes and not on long term (twenty years from now) successes. Many innovators can be right in the long-term and abject failures in the present. I am reminded of the wisdom of Zhou Enlai when he was asked his opinion on the outcome of the French Revolution, he said, ‘it’s too early to tell.’

I have always considered myself an innovator. In every organization in which I have worked I have always pushed the envelope. But have pity on those who are a bit more circumspect. For like Zhou those people might rightly believe that it is too early to tell whether or not your brilliant idea is the greatest thing since the French Revolution or perhaps just another Edsel. The one great insight I have learned in my career, as an innovative person I always make sure that I surround myself, and listen to, people who are more circumspect then I am. I might have lots of great ideas but I have no doubt that I have also had many dud ideas these past twenty-five years. Complex organizations performing complex activities need both types of employee to survive. I find that when I work with people of a different perspective my ‘brilliant idea’ is usually moulded and recast out of all recognition – but in the end (if we do it right) the result is much better then if I was left to my own devices.

Katy G.

Thanks for the first point #2. Whenever I read about the risk-taking millennials, I want to say, "Of course they are impatient with slow-to-change organizations. They're young!" One of the wisest managers I ever had taught me that it's often easier to change an organization quietly, from within, which goes against the grain of most impatient twenty-year olds, no matter what their generation -- Boomer, X, Y, etc.

It brings to mind a quote from Aldous Huxley, which goes something like, "A young conservative is an aberration of nature." Or was it abomination?

Sarah Louise

I am totally fine (most of the time) with paying my dues. I'm the second to most junior and half time in two departments (kids and tech serv) and I have GREAT mentors. My pay might not be as great as some others in our county, but I think job satisfaction trumps that any day. Great post.

(and by junior, I mean there are two of us that graduated from library school in the past 5 years. The rest have been librarians for 10-15-30 years)


Thank you for this post. I haven't been to your blog before and got here via some circuitous route or other, but I love what you are saying here. I'm not a librarian, and I don't even play one on TV, although I am entering grad school in the fall to get an MLS. (I plan to work as a school library media specialist.) No, I'm a 20 year veteran public school teacher, and what you said really resonates. "Paying your dues" has such a sanctimonious sound to it. On the other and there is a lot to be said -- at least in the personal satisfaction department -- for the mellowing that comes with experience, the figuring out how to sustain ones creative energy and passion for the long haul. When I was a youngster out to change the world, I was fond of reading the books by people like Pat Conroy, who hit a community like a whirlwind, turned a school on its ear, and got fired for his efforts. "Wow, is that romantic!" I thought. Now I harbor a certain disdain for the people who teach for a year and then write a (bestselling) book about what wonderful teachers they were but they had to leave because of the stagnant administration. So I guess each person must strike their own balance, and figure out how to "be the change" they want to see.

LibraryNation (Kathleen)

Thank you so much for this post (I just discovered A Wandering Eyre, and shortly therafter, you).

I'm one of those new librarians (MSIS Spring 08) chomping at the bit to see some changes to my local public library. I wanted to start working at the main branch right away as soon as I saw that they had internships opening. But a fellow student begged me not to apply because the main branch is notorious for crushing the hopes and dreams of promising public librarians. So I didn't take the job. I saw it as a challenge, but I instinctively knew that I couldn't change that much bureaucracy all on my own, and that I'd be better off at a branch or one of the many university libraries. I was disappointed (I've never failed to get management to accept one of my ideas), but I somehow knew it was the right decision. After reading your post, I'm doubly sure. I want to keep my spark going for a long time to come, not burn out in a tangle of oppressive management and red tape.

I'm printing your post (to a PDF of course) to save forever. I feel like I had a moment to sit down with a mentor who could help me understand how the world works (and give me a bit of a history lesson to boot!). This is one of my favorite discoveries about networked librarians - I can have mentors and heroes all around the country that I can look up to and gain strength from.

Thank you again for writing this.

T Scott

Kathleen -- thanks for that, I really appreciate it. We never stop needing mentors -- one of the things I enjoy about growing older is finding new colleagues much younger than me that I can keep learning from.

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