Magazine article American Libraries

Will's World: A Skill Set to Beat All Skill Sets

Magazine article American Libraries

Will's World: A Skill Set to Beat All Skill Sets

Article excerpt

Several years ago, for reasons that come under the subject heading "reality is stranger than fiction," I decided to apply for the position of city manager in the community where I had been a librarian for two decades. There were four other finalists. They came from finance and city management. If this competition had been a horse race, I would have been designated as the "long shot." I was confident that I would get the job, however, because I knew what only a librarian knows: Managing a library is the best preparation for managing just about anything.

First, library managers are resourceful. We have to learn to make do with less. Second, librarians understand diversity. It's hard to think of a profession with a more varied clientele. Third, library managers are innovative. What profession has been more transformed by the computer than librarianship? We were into "e-government" before anyone else.

Fourth, top-level management is all about guiding corporate boards and government commissions to make informed policy decisions. Who knows more about information than librarians? Fifth, all good managers are good motivators. Library managers understand employee motivation better than most because library employees are comparatively underpaid. How do you get underpaid workers to keep a positive mental attitude? You appeal to their idealistic sense of service to others. Library managers know how to do this because we do it every day.


I ended up getting the job, and a few short weeks later I realized that the most important quality I had derived from library work was not my resourcefulness, my respect for diversity, my research skills, my sense of innovation, or my ability to motivate. It became clear that the most valuable aspect of working in the public library was the opportunity it gave me to hone my sense of the absurd.

Absurd arguments

For instance, at the reference desk my favorite pastime had been compiling a list of stupid patron questions ("Do you have an audio recording of live dinosaur sounds?"). I had also enjoyed listening to creative excuses for delinquent borrowing ("I only borrow one book a year, and therefore I should be allowed to keep that one book for an extended checkout period"). I had also relished the time a monkey got loose in the nonfiction stacks and the morning that Virgil the janitor turned the main reading room into a suds party when he attempted to shampoo the carpets. …

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