Magazine article American Libraries

Managing Your Support Staff: An Insider's View

Magazine article American Libraries

Managing Your Support Staff: An Insider's View

Article excerpt

Why would a perfectly happy library paraprofessional with 10 years of increasingly responsible experience want to become a "real" librarian when most people think anyone who works in a library is already a librarian anyway? When I entered a community college a decade ago to acquire certification as a Library Media Technical Assistant--whatever that is--I was told that I was being trained to assist librarians in their technical tasks so they could be free to be administrators. They would be the planners, policymakers, and decisionmakers while I would execute their administrative musings. Imagine my surprise to learn that out in the "real world" librarians were actually performing the technical and clerical tasks from which I was supposed to free them.

Well, I've done my best to "save" my librarian supervisors from themselves, and somewhere along the way I've decided to join them and propelled myself (slowly) into library school. As an aspiring professional librarian, I want to learn how to be an effective manager and make efficient use of my technical support staff so I can be free for administrative duties.

But when librarians are still doing nonprofessional tasks, how can a library technician making the transition to professional librarian let go of the technical tasks and move forward into managerial duties? And how can professionals free themselves from jobs they shouldn't be doing? The answer is to build an efficient team by developing an effective managerial style and philosophy so that everyone's role in the organization is properly understood and utilized.

For some of us in library school who are concurrently working in a library: first, our classes expose us to a vast amount of literature on our professional responsibilities as librarians, how successful libraries are managed, the challenges of the information age, the history of libraries, how to acquire, organize, and retrieve information, and so forth. Then we begin to look critically (even hypercritically) at the environment in which we work, and we discover that our managers have a lot to learn about librarianship and running a library.

Those of us who are tactful find ways to share our new knowledge with our supportive supervisors. Those with less tact may begin to openly criticize their management or complain to their co-workers. A supportive and effective supervisor tries to channel our new energy and enthusiasm for the library profession into constructive effort on behalf of the library; an exasperated supervisor gets fired of hearing about what we've been learning and fails to appreciate our new insights. I know of one aspiring librarian who was told by her supervisor to "Cut the library school crap."

The voice of experience

Support staff employees who are motivated to attend library school and those who are content to stay where they are both need special handling by their managers. I would like to suggest some principles on how to manage your support staff, from one who has been there.

One of my classes in library school began with a brainstorming session on the qualities of good managers. Our list could be summarized into the following qualities we felt managers should have: competent and thorough knowledge of their position and its responsibilities; decisiveness; authority to reward or discipline; a supportive attitude toward their employees; approachability; willingness to share success with everyone; ambition; consistency; ability to delegate; ability to motivate; good communication skills; and being in tune with the organization's environment. Any manager would want to have these skills, and there is nothing mysterious about the meaning of any of them; so why are they so scarce? Three of these traits are the keys to mastering the rest: ability to motivate, utilization of authority to reward or discipline, and ability to delegate.

Means of motivation

First, motivation. …

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