On the state of professional development in librarianship

The Tough Stuff: Leadership, Change, & Performance Management for Library Managers

Library managers are rarely prepared for the more difficult aspects of their positions. This preconference involves active learning, active listening, experience-sharing and brainstorming on those challenging areas. Participants will be involved in discussions and activities to identify the characteristics of leadership and discuss tools to develop and nurture those skills and personality traits in themselves and their staff; manage change; and handle performance management issues. Appropriate for managers at all levels at all sized institutions.

Colleen S. Harris, Assistant Professor & Head of Access Services, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Lupton Library;
Jenica P. Rogers, Director of Libraries, SUNY Potsdam, New York;
Mary Carmen Chimato, Assistant Dean, University of the Pacific Library, Stockton, California

I was going to write this post as a cheerleader for our efforts, to encourage you to sign up for the above preconference, June 24 at ALA in New Orleans, but there are only 3 spots left, so … if you want to sign up, BE FAST. And since we’re at only 3 spots left, I’ll switch my focus a bit. It’s my soapbox; I’ll shout whatever I want.


I agreed to do this because I love Colleen and Mary Carmen.  The chance to work with two librarians I respect, admire, and genuinely like was something I wasn’t going to pass up. We crack each other up on a three-way phone call, and Colleen and I got complimented on our lunch conversation at CiL, so one can only hope we put on as good of a show in person when we’re being intentional and organized.

I agreed to do this because, hey, ALA Annual is in New Orleans this year, and Griffey and I plan to have an adventure.

I agreed to do this because, I can admit it, it does look pretty damn good on my CV.

I agreed to do this because I like challenging myself, and this is a new topic for me, and a new format, and my stomach gets all butterflied when I think about it. That’s good for me, and I’m having a good time with it.

More than anything, I agreed to participate in this workshop because I think it matters. I think we need more librarians with management skills in their toolkit.  We need more great professionals ready to step up and be administrators for the good of their institution and the profession.  And to support and nurture those people, we need more opportunities to learn best practices and share stories and build communities and networks.


3 out of 50.  47 people have agreed to pay $215 each to listen to Colleen, Mary Carmen and me talk. If we get a full house, that’s $10,750.

Speaking only for myself, I have put in about 4 hours on this project so far.  Between now and June 24, I will spend another 10-30 on creating and refining content for my portion of the day. I paid out of pocket for my registration and airfare (I’ve spent my allocation for professional travel this year on other conferences), and will pay my half of the hotel room on my credit card, and I will, as it’s New Orleans, be spending some money on things like tattoos and beignets and fancy meals with awesome colleagues.  In all, if we go for a conservative estimate of 20 hours of my prep time, plus 10 hours the day of, and my expenses, and working on the assumption that my consulting rate would be $100/hr, this trip is costing me $3000 in labor and $1500 in travel and expenses (not counting the pastries and tattoo).

ALA will be giving me precisely nothing for the effort or the cost. That’s the drill: You do this for the “exposure” and the “experience” and the “participation credit”.  They will also not be providing anything in the way of refreshments; we would have to find a sponsor if we wanted muffins.

We can’t find a vendor who is willing to sponsor $500 in coffee-time snacks for attendees, despite the fact that the attendees, by virtue of their self-selected participation in this learning experience, are people who want to be in positions of authority and power over, say, purchasing decisions.

We had to work hard, creatively and with dedication and involving Colleen wrangling a ton of paperwork and MC going to Midwinter in person, to get through ALA’s bureaucracy in order to even offer this workshop. Part of the red tape was in getting sponsored by the right groups so that “they can do your promotion and marketing”. Despite all of that, I’m pretty sure that we’ve done all our marketing on our own.


So what does all of that say about the state of professional speaking in librarianship? I’m not sure it says anything universal. This is just one part of the experience.  By contrast, I’ve been paid real money to talk. I’ve been paid in expenses to talk.  I’ve been paid in beer to talk. I’ve been paid in travel expenses to New Zealand to talk.  I’ve been paid in sincere gratitude to talk.  And, here, I’ve been paid with the equivalent of an absentminded pat on the head to talk.

At this point in my career, I do it because I choose to, not because I have to. I earned tenure in my faculty librarian line. I have a job in management. I’ve built a professional reputation through my words, and backed it up with actions and deliverables. i don’t need to speak at ALA, but I want to. I choose to. I want to give back. I want to be a part of building our future.  And that’s enough for me.

But it still rankles that it is so hard to find someone who wants to support these endeavors. We (and by “we” I mean Colleen, MC, and I)  “marketed” this in precisely three ways: We blogged about it and discussed it on social networks.  We talked about it to friends and colleagues. And I did an episode of T is for Training with Maurice Coleman at ACRL and we talked about this preconference.

That’s it.  And a month out, there are only 3 spots left.  The only other ALA preconference that’s more full is the walking tour of the French Quarter. The lure of the French Quarter aside, there is clearly a desire to learn more about management topics. There is a market, here. Sure, some of it is cult of personality — people we’ve met, people who read what we write, who want to interact with us in person. That’s flattering, if a little bewildering. But there has to be more to it than that. You don’t pay $215 just to smile at someone across the room, particularly not when it means listening to them talk for 8 hours about management. Performance evaluations. Leadership and change. I mean, it’s not like it’s a party. It’s serious business, and we’re going to treat it seriously. (Mostly.) And if you’re not interested in the topic, that’s a high price to pay for personality. I don’t think that’s it.  There’s a skill gap in our profession, and a real need to fill it.

And yet. No muffins. No pay. No advertising.


As you may have guessed from my comments on hours spent, I am … not ready … for this yet. But I will be! I assure you! One of my vacation projects is to whack out my first pass at my chunk of content for this workshop. I’m pretty psyched about it; there’s a lot to say about leadership in libraries, and the skills, resources, and defenses you need to succeed in a leadership role.

And I’m pretty sure that one of the things I’ll be communicating is that sometimes you have to wing it, and sometimes you have to do it because it’s right, even if no one’s validating your efforts. I’m equally sure I’ll be able to come up with a few good examples to support my thesis.


  1. In my heart, there’s at least part of ALA that’s an Awesome Foundation. It’s the place we look to when we say, hey, I have this awesome idea for librarianship. Me. Not my committee, or my officially-recognized-and-chartered division or round table or interest group, not me and my eighteen-months’-lead-time paperwork. Me. Maybe some friends. And an idea. And — hey, ALA! — we need a bit of help to make it happen.

    Outside of my heart, there’s a lot of awesome librarians making awesome things happen. Heck, there’s a hashtag! But they seem to be making it happen — maybe with each other — but also, on their own.

    In my brain, I’m looking for ideas on how to bridge that gap. Whether it can be bridged. Whether ALA has a vision of itself that allows it to be bridged. Clearly there are some amazing individuals within ALA who have that vision, yet the beast lumbers on.

    My brain’s not great at this, honestly. Who else has ideas?


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