Managing as best I can

This was originally published on my blog on Open Salon ( in August of 2010.  Nothing much has changed since then.

I got into librarianship because I wanted to help connect people with the information they needed.  As a student assistant at my undergrad university library (back in the old days of SilverPlatter CDs and the initial migration from paper card catalogs), I learned a powerful addiction to that moment when I, the information goddess, showed some student to just exactly the right bit of information needed to make his point in his term paper.  Every single interaction was positive.  I was an information hero! Copier jammed?  I could fix it.  Don’t understand APA format?  Let me show you the handout we have breaking down the most frequently used citations.  Don’t get how the Science Citation Abstracts work?  I can explain those to you.  Need to find an obscure book on the impact of the influx of Finnish immigrants to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the early 20th century?  Let me put you in contact with the professor over in Sociology that just wrote one of those.  I had the answers!

Of course, now that I am a degreed librarian actually practicing in the field, my job has a lot more to do with managing.  I manage budgets.  I manage reports to corporate.  I manage usage statistics and try to think of creative ways to drive them up, so I can hit my target numbers and avoid a write-up. I manage our Information Literacy initiative, and make up assignments for classes to use that will address our goals.  And I manage staff.  As it turns out, most interactions are not positive.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am happy to have a job, and I am happy to have a staff.  When I first started here, it was just me, and covering 70 hours of open time alone each week is not fun.  I supervise a couple of student workers, and they are wonderful, bright women who always do what needs to be done, and with a smile.    But, my dean, to whom I report, and my library assistant, who reports to me, do not get along.   Nearly every day when I come in to work, I am cornered by one or the other of them before I even get to my desk to be regaled with tales of what the other has done now, and how I need to fix it.  The dean thinks I need to make my assistant toe the line and remember her place better; the assistant thinks I need to make the dean back off and quit being a bully.  Both of them are right.  Neither of them wants to pursue any official means of making anything different happen, of course, because official complaints draw the school’s director into the fray, and we do all we can to keep her steely gaze averted from our department.  When Sauron works upstairs, you don’t draw his eye.  I agree with that policy, having been involved in more than one situation where she went after a problem with an axe, rather than a flyswatter, but it robs me of all means of making the dysfunctional situation better.  I can’t be part of the solution, which my dad always told me meant I was probably part of the problem.

So, I listen to their complaints, and nod a lot, and coo, “I’ll talk to her, and see if we can’t figure this out.”  But secretly I’ll believe that there is no point.  The assistant will still have a smart mouth no matter how many times I remind her to tone it down.  The dean will still be overly sensitive to any imagined challenges to her authority no matter how often I affirm that what she says does indeed go.  Both women will continue to produce well enough in their jobs that they aren’t going away any time soon.  And I continue to wish that my job involved connecting students with the information they need still, and that my getting a library degree hadn’t coincided with the deprofessionalization of the profession.  If I’d known that the stuff I loved would increasingly be done by paraprofessionals in many types of libraries, and my degree would overqualify me for anything but management, I might have made different schooling choices.


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