Alchemical Thoughts

Maybe YOU can’t have it all

Posted on: April 25, 2008

I have expressed at one point or another that no one in their right mind would name me library director anywhere. Not that I would want the job. But aside from saying around some of my friends, I pretty much tune out of the conversation professionally when it comes to the issue of leadership. Overall it tends to boil to one of two things. One, the "leaders" (managers really. There is a distinction between manager and leader) who bemoan that their underlings diss them. And the underlings who diss them (often with cause) who could care less about following in their footsteps. Again, one of those polarized conversations that will likely not get very far. Anyhow, when Steven Bell put his latest in ACRLog, "Sorry, But You Can't Have It All," my reaction was, "maybe YOU can't have it all. I am doing fine, thank you much."

I happen to be one of those somewhat young librarians (young to the profession) who could care less about moving up the so-called management ladder. I happen to be pretty good at what I do, and I happen to take pride in doing it. What I want in a leader is someone who will make my job possible. I don't want to be taken out of my teaching duties; I want someone who has the vision to see the importance of information literacy programs and instruction, and then has me to go out and implement the vision. Think of me as you would think of your vanguard. You don't put your brightest general in the frontline. OK, maybe at one point in history you did, but not anymore, which is by the way a reason why so many directors get dissed. They have been so out of touch with the frontline for so long that they just have no clue how their library actually operates. When you lose that sense of what is happening in your frontlines, you deserve to be dissed. And if you are a director, and you are getting dissed, maybe it's time you figure out when was the last time you checked out your service points to see what was going on. Even King Henry dressed like a soldier and walked amongst his troops.

Yes, work and life balance is important to me as well. It may not be as important to those up in the chain of command, and that is why they probably feel a little lonely at the top. I am sorry; I am not about to sell my soul to run a library. And if to certain "leaders," it means I am just not willing to make the sacrifice, I will be the one to say it: no, I am not. Because to some of us, family is still an important concept. Besides, I already work the long late hours anyways. To be honest, there are days when I wonder how come the better half has not left me. So, if I am working the long late hours anyhow where I am at, why would I want to add to that? As Rachel Gordon's respondent, cited by Mr. Bell, says so much better than I do, "“There is no amount of money or prestige that would entice us to sacrifice our families, our home lives, and our sanity for the long hours and Sisyphean ordeal of a directorship.” And to Mr. Bell I say that having such a thought, and acting on it, does not make me any less of a librarian or a leader. I will go on to suggest that maybe some so-called leaders should learn a bit more about balancing their lives and careers instead of wanting us to follow in their not so steady footsteps. Other than the somewhat abstraction of fulfilling the vision of "what an academic library can and should be for your community," what are the rewards if any? Having to play politics? No thanks.

And if you ain't up with that, I got two words for you, which I will restrain out of politeness. We do not need "to learn how to be leaders." What we need, if anything, is to see actual directors who empower people, who actually work, who are actually there, who actually keep up with the profession, and who actually mentor those below them, in large measure because they know that those below them may very well be their successors someday. I think they call that succession planning in some circles outside of librarianship. That is probably one of the great failures of this profession, which I do not see mentioned very often: how the managers do not mentor those below them, and then they wonder why they can't find good leaders. I am not buying the line from some people who say that we just do not see how hard library directors work. I have seen hard working directors, and I have seen directors who are pretty much walking dead. You can tell when a director is pretty much on cruise control; to imply those of us in the trenches can't see is pretty much insulting our intelligence.

But hey, what do I know? I am only a librarian in the field.

P.S. This gives me an idea: post on some of the leadership principles I live by. Then again, it may not be as important to write them out as it may to work on living by them. It's not what you write: it's how you live and the example you give others. Again, but what do I know?

Update Note: (4/29/08): I noticed that Wayne Bivens-Tatum, the Academic Librarian, has a reply to Bell's post in "But What If I Don't Want It All?" It is worth a look if for no other reason than he is more polite than I would be. Then again, he may be more charitable than I may be as well.

Update Note: (5/2/08): Here is another take on the work/balance issue, this time from the blog Apophenia, where the author asks: "does work/life balance exist?"

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