Adventures of a Super(visor) Librarian

When I write about my work as a Youth Services Librarian, it’s usually about a recent teen program I had, or an awesome book display we created. What I do not typically talk about it is something that takes up a huge chunk of my time and energy: being a supervisor and assistant library director.

I’ve never thought of myself as the manager-type, even though I have been a supervisor for almost 10 years now. I became the Head of Youth Services/Assistant Director at my current library in my mid-twenties. At my previous library, we had a smaller staff and a much smaller library. I was the only one in my “department.” When I changed jobs, I suddenly had my own office – Yay! – 4 employees under me, and a title that made me semi-in charge of an entire library staff and building.

I didn’t really understand what being a supervisor or manager meant. All I knew was that I suddenly had people asking me what I wanted them to do and I had no idea what to tell them! (Of course, this was after I had to explain that I was their boss and not the high school volunteer there to help shelve books ….)  I was used to doing everything myself and I felt bad telling people to do things. I had a hard time delegating tasks and explaining what I wanted from my staff. I was completely overwhelmed dealing with a new job and new (older-than-me) co-workers with different personalities, different skill levels, different points of view….different everything, really. And I didn’t have the first clue as to how to deal with it.

I’m not gonna lie – there was some crying in the bathroom.

Over the years I have been through some interesting things as a manager. I’ve been in meetings with union lawyers. I’ve hidden in my office. I’ve had to reprimand. I’ve taken some mental health days. Once I even pretended to be sick in a trash can to avoid a tough conversation. (Not even joking.) I’ve dealt with staff going through all kinds of things: divorces, deaths, illness, injuries, family problems, etc.. And I’ve learned it’s really, REALLY hard to separate relationships at work and figure out when to be a manager and when to be a friend.

Since I could go on and on about my adventures in management, I should probably stop here and just list some things that I have found helpful or that I think would be helpful if I ever get around to doing them!

Set aside time to be a manager. This is something I don’t do enough. Being a manager is a separate job in itself. You have to make time to sit down and plan staff schedules, delegate tasks, keep staff up to date on what programs are coming up or what books to display, etc. Once I grandly stated that I was starting a monthly staff newsletter…..which lasted exactly one month. #managerfail.

Communication is the most important thing about management – and it’s NOT easy. When I first started, I thought, “who am I to tell people what to do, or not do, or, even worse, to re-do something if I don’t like it?” But I have learned that by not telling my staff exactly what I need and expect from them, I am doing them a disservice. Not telling an employee what you expect from them is setting them up to fail. There are so many problems that can be avoided with good communication.

Tough conversations are part of the job. I will do almost anything to avoid confrontation. (See trash can avoidance technique above.) If I know I have a tough conversation coming up that I can’t get out of, I try to write out the important points I need to get across beforehand.  Of course, it’s one thing to write it and another to sit face-to-face and say what you need to say. I can’t say I’ve ever done this perfectly, but I’ve had hard conversations and I spoke honestly, and most of the time it turns out OK. And while I would much rather leave a note for someone and run away, speaking to someone face-to-face is a much better option. Read this helpful article from LEVO: How To Be Comfortable with Confrontation

Saying “thank you.” Sometimes this makes all the difference.

Organization makes things easier, but that’s if you are actually organized. I used to  think that in some other life, I was an organized person. I’m beginning to think that I made this up. An unorganized manager makes everyone else unorganized. I know this from experience! It’s something I’m always trying to improve. I’m still trying to figure out which day planner to use. Hopefully I’ll figure it out before 2018.

Coffee. LOTS of coffee.

Be the example for your staff to follow. I care a lot about what I do and I want my staff to feel the same. My behavior and actions dictate how my staff behaves and acts, and sometimes I forget this. Since I’m not even remotely close to being a perfect human being, being a perfect manager is not actually possible, but I can try. I find it very challenging to do this job and also put the same time and effort into everything I do for my actual job in children’s and teen services. It’s a balancing act for sure, but it’s worth it.

Here’s a book that I’ve found to be very helpful (and realistic.) It’s Okay To Be The Boss: The Step-By Step Guide to Becoming the Manager Your Employees Need by Bruce Tulgan. This book has helped me to understand some management basics and helped me to realize that it really is OK to be in charge. The author lays out some great strategies to deal with management issues and ways to prevent future problems.

Another great blog I was just introduced to: Ask a Manager

If you supervise staff at work, what are some things you’ve found helpful?

I’m not an expert, but I’ve been around the block – questions are welcome!


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