I’m always amused by what sticks with me after a conference.  After two days at the IDS Conference and a half-day meeting with other SUNY library directors, here’s what’s on my brain: Doors.

Specifically, librarians and doors.  I was chatting with a library friend at the IDS conference, and she revealed that she has no door on her office — not in a way that provides privacy.  And she supervises several staff members.  I was floored (to use a bad pun of an architectural analogy).  How can we expect librarians to function effectively and efficiently in management positions without the tools of the trade?  I’ve always believed that an environment that allows privacy, respect, and confidentiality is just as much a management tool as basic skills in project management, budgeting, writing performance plans, and communicating effectively are.  How can you do the other work without the door?  (Walls are good, too.)  I have taken it as given that if you supervise staff, you have a door (and walls), and as such am building some construction costs into my budget for 2010-2011 to accommodate the staffing changes that arose from our reorganization — we have need of walls and a door in our Collection Management unit.

But I know lots of librarians who work in cube farms, and do so successfully and with a minimum of strife with Irritating Cube Neighbors.  I also know I’ve been lucky in my own jobs to have adequate and effective offices that suited my role in the organization, and that I’ve worked for organizations that have reinforced my own sense that this is The Right Way To Do It.  So I’m curious:  How ubiquitous is my situation, compared to my friend’s?

Do you have an office with walls and a door?
Do you supervise staff?
Do you think one way works better than the other?

I don’t expect any scientific results… but if you’re willing to share, I’d love to know more about the examples being lived, and how that works for you.


  1. Being pseudonymous (email address is accurate, Jenica) to avoid potential trouble:

    I moved from a mini-cube-farm to an office. There are a lot of cube farms sprinkled through the library, as well as a lot of offices.

    One thing I notice is that in such a mixed-space environment, having an office (or not) is a major status symbol. Space also becomes a bone of contention, a locus of resentment and even conflict.

    As for cube farms, when you cross a cube farm with a hierarchy, what you get is the high-status people calling all the environmental shots for everybody else. Bright fluorescent lights give me headaches at times, but I had no choice but to put up with them because that was the environment my supervisor (in the same space) preferred, and I was once ordered not to turn them down. Likewise, the rest of us in the space were presumed to be always interruptible. The supervisor was not.

    One individual in our space created some privacy for himself by the way he had his desk turned, with its back to the rest of the room and a wall behind. The others in the space (minus me) felt this to be suspiciously uncommunal. My belief is that the individual just has a higher need for a controlled space in order to concentrate than the rest of us, and I don’t understand why we couldn’t respect that.

    I am very glad to be out of cube-farm fishbowls and into an office. That said, I am conscious of the status differential, and it bothers me. I am not better than the people in cubes. I don’t completely understand why I am suddenly among the elect. I don’t understand why there has to BE an elect.


  2. I wasn’t even thinking about the status part of it, but you’re right — in some places, that’s a huge part of the equation. Corner offices and whatnot are still alive, for sure.


  3. I am not a big fan of using doors. Even if I am working on something that needs concentration, I don’t mind being interrupted. I had a staff member compliment me on that. She didn’t know I was working on the budget, annual report, narrative, and two grants because my door was open. Others always closed the door, but that’s just how I work. The only time I close my door is if I am making a personal call. I would agree on the office and the door being a status symbol. “I am important enough to close you out.” Little things like doors can become big things. Staff’s perception of the boss is easily manipulated by innocuous things.


  4. I agree, Jeff. HAVING a door doesn’t mean you have to close it. But if I’m having a meeting with a staff member where we’re discussing their workload or concerns about a project (from either of us) or planning their projects for the coming year, etc… I think a closed door is appropriate. That’s about confidentiality and respect, in my eyes, and I think it should apply to anyone who manages other employees. But if I’m just sitting and working, my door’s open, almost always.


  5. Yes I agree. You need the door when you having those conversations that require privacy. That can be the feared, “You wanted to see me?” “Yes please come in, oh, and shut the door” (uh oh!)


  6. It doesn’t have to be, though. Sometimes it’s “I trust you and you trust me, and we can talk together honestly without worrying that either of us will use whatever we say against the other with third parties.”

    Or, much more simply, “You are important, and I will therefore give you my undivided time and attention.”


  7. where I am currently, I technically HAVE doors now – but they can’t ever be closed aside from if there was a need for a meeting (and while I supervise students – the director normally does any meetings so it doesn’t need to happen)

    The problem I’ve run into is being the hallway. This is why none of the three doors in my office can stay closed at any time – its the main pathway to the printer, the back offices, and the reserve books. This I haven’t cared for so much – I’d still totally be having my door open all the time and wanting people to go ahead and approach me when they need something, but at times when working on a bill or a report or something, the constant stream of folks coming through who don’t need to see me does get old. (Though it is better than the old office where I was also the hallway, but was always facing away from at least one of the pathways no matter how I set up my desk – at least in this case, all three doors are on a similar side of the room and I can have my computer set where I’m facing that way so people don’t startle me)

    Then again though – I hate it in the summer when the library is very dead (academic library) so when I get to my new job soon with a traditional office with only one door, I may not know what to do with my people person self…


  8. Public library person here (if that matters).

    Old job (senior management, directly supervising 23 people): I had an office with doors (come to think of it… one of only two in the building) but I was never in it unless I was doing performance reviews or meeting with staff for other reasons.

    New job (IT, supervising no one): Cube when I’m not telecommuting. I will note that my cube is very hidden and the library accommodates a medical condition by taking out the bulbs in the fluorescent lights above my cube (co-workers call it the bat cave).

    In both jobs, all offices had doors that the staff member could shut at their discretion. Policy at both places was that only people supervising staff got offices. Both cube and office work fine for me (though I wouldn’t understand having an office if I wasn’t supervising).


  9. At my library, almost all of us are in cubicles, including the director.

    There is definitely a status issue, and I appreciate the fact that the near ubiquity of the cubicles acts as an equalizer.

    However, many of my colleagues can have some trouble concentrating. With all of the student chatter and conversations in other cubicles it can be rather difficult to get work done.

    We have a small meeting room that is heavily used for the types of meetings where you need a closed door, but this does require some prior planning, and can make the “can I talk with you for a minute” types of meetings a lot trickier to do.


  10. Ceilings, you left out ceilings….we’re doing a renovation this summer and the circulation supervisor is finally getting an office that has a top, so she can have private conversations with her staff, students and patrons. She considers it one of the big benefits of this project.


  11. Currently in a cube situation in the office, not a supervisor myself. The direct supervisors get a slightly larger cubicle in the same general area as their section. Their supervisor gets an office.

    The status issue is there, but not really in your face. For me it’s more a matter of privacy and concentration, as previously mentioned by several. There are times when I have a hard time concentrating on my work because of the phone conversation my neighbor(s) are having. And it is almost impossible to have truly private conversation, even with your supervisor, without going to a conference room. This is very limiting.

    I would infinitely prefer offices.


  12. I think you can tell something about the library by the work situation for its librarians. I know of a private, highly-ranked, Research 1 university with an ARL library where the librarians work in cubes. I don’t think the director things they deserve more. Moral there is pretty low.


  13. I’m on the Administration Team at my library – I oversee two departments and have several direct reports. I work in a cube. We have a couple of different sizes of cubicles, and I have a larger one (as do other supervisors).

    Most of our Admin Team members have offices, but the problem is that the Admin Team grew and the building didn’t, so we don’t have enough offices to go around. Currently there are two Admin team members without offices, and one empty office. Rather than making it a point of contention, we decided to share the office – we each use it when we need to make private calls, meet with staff, work on performance evaluations, etc. When neither of us is using it, it’s available to other staff for meetings with vendors and so on. It’s not ideal, but it works out okay. We’re going to be expanding our building a bit in the next year or so, and I’m hoping to work in some additional office space.

    There doesn’t seem to be a huge issue with status here. The people with offices or larger cubicles have more responsibility and heavier work loads, and that seems to be generally accepted. I never sensed any animosity about it, even before I got promoted.


  14. I work in a cubicle located next to the primary traffic area of my end of the room (bathroom, conference table, sink/counter) and I survive mainly because I have a good pair of headphones. Recently I’ve been considering putting up a sign when I need unbroken concentration time.

    Oh, and I do supervise one person. He’s in the cube next to mine. For private things, we’ll either email each other or schedule a meeting in the conference room that has real walls and a door that closes.


  15. I’m in a cube/office–I share a space that has a door with 4 people. I appreciate open door policies and doors for when one needs to shut them and have conversations that don’t need to heard by random coworker/patron walking by.

    My biggest issue is the orientation of my half cube–I sit with my back to the door. I feel like I’m in a fishbowl because I can’t see anyone coming up behind me, or patrons sitting at the table just outside the office door, etc. And I wear headphones a lot which means people may come up behind me and start talking (or tap my shoulder and scare the living daylights out of me) and I have no idea they are there or I don’t realize I’m the one being addressed. It’s incredibly uncomfortable.

    I don’t supervise, as yet.


  16. My office is the library. My library is small – only one room large. In many respects I’m a solo librarian within a larger institution & supervise ~4 student workers.

    My main concern is noise, so when I need to make conference calls with other colleagues or vendors or nearly anyone else to talk on the phone, I do my best to find an office with a computer & phone to do that. It usually ends up to be in the faculty cube-land, so it’s not much quieter, but at least students aren’t being annoyed by my loudness.


  17. So far you’re all convincing me that we are an extremely adaptable profession, but that having an office has undeniable benefits, if the organizational culture can manage the status issues rolled up in our perceptions of Who Has An Office.


  18. I’m in a public library, and I supervise a very small number of people (plus some others remotely). I have an office with a door that I rarely close. It also has one wall that’s a window that faces into the library. This is helpful in that it allows me to see more of what’s going on but unnerving in that I often feel I’m in a fishbowl.

    I think a lot about the status issues of offices and doors and particularly about the barriers around them. To get the school administration in my building, for instance, you have to pass through a raft of secretaries. To get to me, you just poke your head in the door while standing in the library. Or yell, “Hey, Laura!” I like being accessible, but I sometimes wonder if that accessibility impedes my authority.


  19. I have an office, with a door. I never close it, though. We’re doing construction in my building right now, but my usual office doesn’t really have walls – it has windows. On all sides. There isn’t exactly much privacy with that. Though I am told that there will be blinds on all the windows when we are done!


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