ABSTRACT: The author is a manager in an academic library and has experiences working with complex library management environment in several academic libraries in the United States. His library’s-eye view of library management allows for a discussion of the nature of that landscape, perspectives on hiring, training and continuing education of staff, operational efficiency, understanding and supporting staff, getting support from the supervisor, recognizing, promoting, and evaluating staff, making changes, and finally creating and developing library cultures and a harmonious environment. The advantages and limitations of people-centered management in libraries and a comparison of library management styles in America and China are also discussed. The human touch of library management is emphasized in this article.
The key point of difference between personnel and human resources management is to manage humans as resources instead of managing persons as humans. As general resources, they need to be found, used, protected, maintained, marketed, and evaluated. The human resources management approach is similar. Probably the most important point in a "staff first" philosophy is that "those in leadership positions … should manage in ways consistent with building high-performance work environments." Therefore, the nature of people-centered library management is, via human touch, to make staff the main resources of the library and use these resources to provide day-to-day services as well as to carry out the strategic plan. Managers should manage human resources effectively, which includes mobilizing their enthusiasm to the highest level and making them bring initiative to their work. The ideal result is accomplished through people-centered management to create and develop a harmonious environment in libraries.
1. Hiring librarians and staff
The hiring process includes writing position descriptions, advertising the vacancy, reviewing the applications, screening and narrowing the list, scheduling and conducting interviews, contacting references, and making the offer. In filling position vacancies, it is important that library managers establish procedures to ensure fairness, maintain communication, and project an image of the information place as a desirable location to work. It is also a good time to review and revise job descriptions and responsibilities. Library managers should use this opportunity to select a good librarian or staff member to work with and strengthen the staff team. If a wrong person has ever been selected, this can cause endless headaches, and may, over time, ruin or diminish the existing team.
In the past six years, I was in charge of five search committees and hired five librarians or staff in Technical Services. The first criterion is always the quality of the candidate, who should meet the job requirements and preferred qualifications such as education, work experience, and specified skills. I would also consider how well new hire will get along with other staff in the department and myself as well as their potential of growth, new ideas and skills they bring to the team, and so on, all of which should benefit the library in the end. After new and successful hires, which include librarians, department managers, and staff, the entire staff team is improved. I can see even old staff changing their work attitude and style after a new staff member joins the team.
2. Training and Continuing Education
After a new staff member is hired, a schedule of training should be set, regardless if he or she is a professional librarian, a department manager, or a staff member. In the first few weeks, he or she should be trained, either by a former employee who worked in the position, if still available, a department manager, or his or her direct supervisor. The training includes the library’s general issues, such as collections, departments, branches, objectives, projects, networks, systems, WebOPAC, the email system, the intranet, office issues, and so on. He or she should also be trained on job-related responsibilities and skills. After two or more weeks of training, most new employees should be able to perform their job duties independently, although they are still mentored in the probation period (normally 6 months).
In the meantime, outside training or workshops should be selected for the new staff. In our case, I always send a new hired employee to OHIONET, a regional service provider of OCLC, to attend two to four workshops in the first two years of employment. The new employees also have opportunities to attend regional or national conferences (mostly for professional librarians) or state conferences and workshops. In Technical Services, all the newly-employed librarians and staff attend ALAO (Academic Library Association of Ohio) annual conferences and new staff attended OLSSI (Ohio Library Support Staff Institute) workshops in the past years.
Training and continuing education opportunities are for both newly hired and existing staff. These opportunities provide new technologies and skills, and refresh or update their knowledge, which keeps the library staff in the front of the profession. I always watch for training and workshop opportunities and find financial support and time for my staff. If I think any workshop is suitable for my staff, I will encourage them to attend or recommend it to my supervisor. For example, if we hire a new cataloging staff member, I will send him or her to attend basic cataloging, Library Congress Subject Headings, and MARC basic workshops. For a department manager, I let him or her attend workshops in an advanced level. If money is an issue, I will sometimes not attend a conference myself in order to save money for my staff to attend other workshops or seminars. This year, I will send one librarian to attend OVGTSL (Ohio Valley Group of Technical Services Librarians) Conference and the Cataloging Manager to attend 2006 OLC (Ohio Library Council) Technical Services Retreat. I will not attend either. When I find a good opportunity for my staff’s continuing education or training, I catch it immediately. I was a member of the Planning Committee for 2005 OVGTSL. I secured opportunities for three of my staff to attend. To gain free access to the conference, they were pleased to work at the conference registration desk for half a day.
The bottom line is that once the staff enrich their knowledge and skills, they will improve their work, and the library managers benefit from their investment in staff training and continuing education. It is a win-win situation.
After managers select qualified employees and provide necessary training, staff must work efficiently for the library at an above-average level. If your library has good health cultures and a pleasant work environment, the new employees should grow faster.
3. Working efficiency: quantity and quality
Good library management finally results in work efficiency, which includes quantity and quality. Some library services are countable, such as the number of library visits, circulations, interlibrary loans, reference questions, classes taught, workshops offered, books purchased, books and government documents cataloged, print journals received, electronic databases, e-journals, and e-books processed. Some are uncountable, such as the staff’s knowledge, skills, work attitude, eagerness to serve, and so on.
For countable services, we count them. In the Technical Services Department, I put a lot of effort on modifying and improving the departmental statistics from the time I began working. Each department, including Acquisitions, Cataloging, Serials, Government Documents, Collection Development, and Book Repairs, counts its monthly work on a statistics spreadsheet. I also ask each department to make a work status report at monthly departmental meetings, using the past month’s figures against the same month one year ago. Accurate statistics are important. They are not only for the library’s statistics which are required by state, regional, or national agencies, but they are also for the department managers to know the situation, either up or down, of the work, and managers can adjust the workflow if needed.
For quantity control, I asked some of the Technical staff to count their work quantities on an hourly basis for two to three weeks when I was asked by a competing library which was writing a technical services grant proposal. For example, for an acquisitions staff member, I asked for the numbers of orders processed through our two major book vendors in one hour. For cataloging staff, I asked for the numbers of copy cataloging in both DLC (Library of Congress records) and non-DLC records in an hour. After continuing to count these numbers for 2 or 3 weeks, I knew the average of a staff member’s normal quantity of work accomplished. Then I compared these figures with the national library profession and determined the level of our quantity. I was pleased with the results which showed our staff are good or very good based on work quantity. I also asked my staff to count outsourcing against insourcing on acquisitions and cataloging work to show whether the outsourcing cost saves our staff’s time and should be continued. Based on the quantity results, the Cataloging Manager and I made a goal to reclassify an additional 500 volumes from Dewey call number books to the Library of Congress system per month. I also keep these general numbers in my mind. If work quantity is down sharply in a month, I will investigate the reasons.
In most cases, the quality of work is uncountable until an error is reported by a reader or a library public services staff (circulating staff or reference librarians). I transferred the quality control work of existing records from the Cataloging Manager to myself several years ago since I wanted to know about our situation in cataloging quality. In order to recognize who makes an error in the work, I asked my staff to insert their initials on each item record and make a note about what they did to the record, such as corrections, relocations, and so on. If I see an error which happens occasionally, I correct it right away and count it. If I see errors occur with a staff member repeatedly, and it seems to be a trend with that staff member, I will have a conversation with him or her. I also modify our existing procedures to match our current practice to help staff avoid making mistakes. After doing this quality control work, errors are found less and less in existing records. The total error records found were reduced 95% from 127 in 2001 to 7 in 2005 based on my quality control statistics spreadsheet.
Quantity and quality controls are good ways, not only for managers to manage staff’s work, but they also are useful methods for library staff to manage themselves.
Our library also uses a new appraisal tool called LibQUAL to measure our library services. Although most results were focused on public services, I watched for any issues relating to Technical Services, such as book selecting, book ordering, and cataloging errors, etc. I always encourage Technical Services staff to put faculty and students’ requests as a priority in our work. For example, if a faculty member wants to buy a book and put it on reserve for his or her class as soon as possible, we will do our best to purchase and catalog it as a rush book. When the book is received and cataloged, one of our cataloging staff will send it to the reserves and notify the faculty by sending an email message. We have received several "thank-you" messages from faculty in the past years after we implemented this procedure.
4. Understanding staff’s career goals and support them if you can
Library staff have professional development needs and individual career goals. They need library managers’ understanding and support. Managers should also recommend and create career opportunities for them. A classified staff went to a technical school after she was hired 5 years ago. I wrote references for her so she received course credits from her everyday work and received two of the Continuing Education grants from ALAO. Her new skills such as Web design and grant seeking were used for Technical Services. At our March department meeting, she announced that she just received her associate diploma. Another newly graduated college student jointed our team four years ago. Then she decided to attend a library school as a part-time student. I wrote her a reference for her application for the library Master’s program. I always approve her requests related to adjustment of her work schedule and shorten her lunch time to help make up time she missed for her studies. About one year ago, when we had a need for copy cataloging new books, I allowed her to do the copy cataloging work after discussing it with her. When my supervisor suggested putting her to work at the Help Desk of Information Service two hours per week since November 2005 and on the library Reference Desk two hours per week since March 2006, I supported it strongly. I know these not only fit the temporary organizational needs, but also offer her opportunities to learn more and to accumulate and broaden her work experience. She will get her Master’s degree in library and information science in August 2006. With her four years’ library full-time experience in cataloging government documents and managing the Government Document Collection and library gifts, plus her copy cataloging, information services help desk, and library reference desk experience, I believe she will have no trouble finding a professional librarian’s job very quickly after her graduation.
As a manager, when you truly support your staff, you will be rewarded by receiving support from them. I had a fifty-day long vacation and academic exchange work in China in summer 2005. Some of my staff shared many of my responsibilities after a short training period and proper arrangements.
5. Getting support from supervisors
Every library manager has a supervisor. In order to carry out your management objectives and to do a good job, you need to be understood and supported by your supervisor. You should always communicate with him or her and report your plans to him or her. The supervisor is your support, without such support, you can do nothing. I was hired by the current Chief Information Officer and Director of Libraries. I have learned from her about her management strategies, styles, and received support from her.
I am very lucky to have such a good supervisor. She selected and hired me because she knew my capabilities and potential. She trained me on the library’s management system when I first came. With close work relations, I have observed her work routine as well as her dealing with special issues, projects, or problems. When I have a question which I cannot answer, I go to her for an answer. When I have a problem which I cannot solve alone, I go to her for advice. Before I make an important decision, I report to her and get her permission. If she says "no" to one of my plans or objectives, I will stop it immediately. If I think I am right, I will raise the issue at another time and explain the details to her. Most of time, she will reconsider my suggestions. Now I meet with her not as often as several years ago, but we still keep the same work relations established between her and me. Of course, I continue to get her support.
6. Recognizing competent staff
In our library’s five-year strategic plan, we state that "staff who make significant contributions to the goals of the library should be recognized and rewarded accordingly." This is an important part in library management. Library managers should recognize good staff in a timely manner. A Chinese proverb says, "A fine example has boundless power." It works in the United States, too. To recognize a good staff member or a good thing which is done by a staff member may have two results: It will encourage his or her positive attitude and achievements, and at the same time, encourage other staff to follow the model. If managers keep recognizing staff’s contributions and achievements, with the passage of time, the entire staff will know how to succeed and some of them might work harder to achieve more.
I have recognized any contributions and achievements made by my staff. I send a message to the entire staff when I hear good things and congratulate them on their achievements. If their achievements are good enough for a state or regional award, I will recommend them. In the past six years since I came on board, 80% of my staff received several awards from state, regional, or national organizations, such as the ALA Serials Award, ALAO Continue Education Grants, NOTLS Scholarship, ALAO Outstanding Ohio Library Support Staff Award, ALAO Jay Ladd Distinguished Service Award, OSSI Scholarship, OWU 2005 Hourly Staff 5 Years Awards, OWU Golden Bishop Awards, etc. Of course, these also show that I have a great staff team to lead and work with.
7. Promoting and increasing salaries
Library managers may have ways to promote good staff, such as promoting staff from an hourly employee to a classified staff or from a paraprofessional staff to a professional librarian, or increase staff salary. Theses options can be limited by the university (academic libraries) or government (public libraries) rules or budgets. However, library managers should know that fair pay is about ensuring quality service. Well-paid staff tend to stay in their job longer, thus ensuring a stable work force. The stable work force is a key to your initiatives as a manager. With a well-paid and stable work force, you can plan for long-term expansion of services, develop a positive organizational culture, and build strong ties between your staff and patrons, thus personalizing service. Therefore, I always keep this in my mind and would strongly support my staff if there is an opportunity. I know promotion and fair pay are real matters that our staff care about, especially when they do a great job in the library.
8. Evaluating staff
Formal evaluation of staff is for many managers a major time-consuming annual event. It is necessary to spend enough time to produce a thoughtful and constructive evaluation. Evaluations summarize work the staff have done in the last year, list major tasks and achievements with numbers, comment on staff’s strengths and weaknesses, make a standard overall evaluation for the staff, such as "good," "very good," or "excellent," and list goals you wish the staff to complete in the next year. Evaluation is one of the most effective means of communicating with your staff. You get a chance to have a formal conversation with your staff. Tell them what they have and have not achieved. Ask them if they need assistance or explanations. Good evaluations follow with improvements from employees, happiness in both staff and you, and better relations between staff and you.
I have paid more attention to each individual evaluation for my staff each year. I use this as an opportunity to recognize their achievements, add good points if they forget, point out their goals for the next year, and foster a closer relationship with my staff.
9. Encouraging ideas
Managers should welcome all ideas from staff, even the ideas that they know cannot be implemented, whether in the short-term or ever. An idea that cannot be implemented as initially suggested may turn into a different worthwhile initiative. An idea that does not work now may be implemented next year or later.
In her second year, the Serials Librarian sent me three proposals. The first two were to stop creating item records for our periodicals, which would save staff time, and not to attach barcodes to individual issues, which would save supplies. I approved them after my investigation. The third one was to discard the old serials financial documents, which would increase office space. After consulting with my supervisor, we decided to keep these documents since we have had three personnel changes in the Serials Department. So I did not approve it. The Cataloging Manager has worked in the library for more than 33 years and has rich background, experience and knowledge of the library. She has offered many ideas and suggestions, of which there were many great ones.
If managers encourage staff to contribute their ideas, consider them carefully when received, implement the ones suitable now and explain why some are not accepted, and recognize them in meetings or other events, as time goes on, not only the library work will be improved, but also the staff should have a sense of ownership and contribution, and the organization should have a more positive culture.
10. Making change
Change is everywhere now, in our societies, our profession, our organizations, and our lives as individuals. The term "organizational change" covers a wide range of organizational interventions, from low level iterative changes and improvements through wide-ranging and fundamental restructuring and radical reorientation in the ways that organizations operate. In all libraries, managers and library staff have to face rapid change all the time. However, the capability of organization to achieve changes is, to a large extent, determined by the attitude of the staff – human resources of the organization – to respond to and adapt to change. People can be either the major obstacle to change or the major factor for success. It is popularly held that people, particularly those working in established organizations, will tend to resist change. Strong resistance to change may come from people who are afraid of new situations and the unknown, from those who think things are just fine as they are and do not understand the need for change or from those who have become cynical and negative towards change.
Library managers’ responsibility to change is to show change as something that has to be done and to create necessary conditions for staff to go through the change. When the library administration decided to use PromptCat (an OCLC Cataloging service), upgrade YBP GOBI (electronic book selecting and ordering software), transfer from OCLC Passport for Windows to Connexion, and switch from INNOPAC to Millennium of Innovative Interface, Inc., we had all kinds of obstacles. Even for a small change to save a little time for librarians when they order books, I had to convince a department manager several times. For most fundamental changes, I make plans and schedules, arrange necessary training, prepare procedures and documents, and work together with departmental managers and staff. So far we have had a lot of changes and all these changes were completed successfully.
11. Having additional skills
One Chinese proverb says, "Additional skills are not your burden." As a library manager, if you possess not only the management skills, but also the skills your staff possess, you will benefit from these additional skills. If you cannot do their work and someday one of them is absent temporarily or has resigned, you may have troubles. Our Cataloging Manager took a two-month medical leave 3 years ago, and our Acquisitions Manager is taking a three-month medical leave currently, which is in the busiest period of ordering and receiving in the year. Both of these cases were not worth hiring and training a temporary substitute. The only way is for me, their direct supervisor, to take the majority of their responsibilities with help from other Technical Services staff .
Also, if you cannot do their work, one of them may challenge your authority, which is not good experience for a manager. Some may use their special skills to bargain with you. If this is the case, you must be an under-control and weak manager.
Although I do not do my staff’s daily work, I can handle most of my staff’s jobs. I answer their questions, solve their problems in work, and always train them on new software or technologies. Some staff are fast workers. You may not work as quickly as they are since you do not do this work everyday. But you can be more detailed and make fewer errors than they do. Some staff pay more attention to details and may be slow on new technologies. When you work as their substitute, you may have a chance to modify the existing procedures and improve the workflow.
12. Having your own management style
All library managers have their own unique management style. Some managers are aggressive bosses, some are conservative; some prefer macro management – taking care of big pictures and letting department heads to do the details, some prefer micro management – also watch for the details; some are so called over-control – using power and authority a little bit too much, some are under-control – letting your employees make decisions for you. No one can say which style is better. The results are the only answer. If you see more problems happening because of your micro management or over-control style, you may need to adjust.
I received my college education in China and my bachelor’s degree is in Chinese history. The doctrine of Confucius and Mencius affected me deeply. In Chinese philosophy, Confucian thinks the doctrine of the mean is the highest level of moral state. Not too much, not too less; not too firm, not too weak. Do everything in the middle at the right point. Confucius also said, if you do not want it to happen to you, do not impose it to others; you should be strict with yourself and lenient with others; and you should set an example for others. I have been trying to follow these doctrines in my management work and treat other people and friends in my life.
In the end of his book, Modern Library Management, Dr. Hwa-Wei Lee said, "govern by doing nothing that goes against nature is the highest level of library management." "Govern by doing nothing that goes against nature" is a Taoist concept of human conduct. I have not reached such a level yet, although it is one of my goals.
13. Developing health and positive library cultures and work environment
A good library manager, via people-centered management, leads the direction of the organization, identifies new projects and creates new teams, task-forces, and committees to work on these projects, introduces new technologies, programs, and services, and directs applications for grants. Very fortunately, our Director of Libraries has focused on establishing healthy library cultures and work environments in our library. In the past six years, the library mission, vision, core values, and strategic plan were established under her directions. All library personnel, from classified staff to librarians and library administrators, have guidelines for our work.
Our Mission says, "We, the staff of the Ohio Wesleyan University Libraries, support the teaching, study, and research activities of the University. We enthusiastically serve the community of scholars by acquiring, organizing, and preserving information, and by teaching its ethical and effective use. We actively encourage the lifelong pursuit of knowledge."
Our Core Values list ten points. They are: collaboration/teamwork; open communication; flexibility; cooperation/civility/courtesy/mutual respect; opportunities for professional growth; appreciation and acknowledgement; honesty and trust; autonomy; equal treatment for all "classes" of employees, no double standards; and commitment to thorough training and cross-training.
We use these documents to hire new staff and require existing staff to follow them. Library managers show the Core Values to every new employee. I use the Core Values to check my staff’s activities when I write their annual evaluations.
As a manager at the library for more than six years, I can see the difference between library cultures before and after these documents were established. We have a library (now LIS, Library and Information Services) staff retreat and Christmas party every year, which improve relations between staff and managers and help with understanding each other. In Technical Services, we have lunch together every several months. I still remember when I got my first library full-time job at the Elizabethtown College Library. My supervisor took me for lunch in a restaurant with other library managers and paid for lunch for me on the first day I started work. When I left the library after two years services, the library staff bought a cotton blanket with the college buildings map printed on it, which I hang on the wall in my living room now. Every time I see it, I feel warm in my heart. From the beginning of my work at Ohio Wesleyan University, I made a non-written rule for myself, that is, to take every new employee to lunch. When an employee leaves the library, I do the same. I also give each of my staff a small Christmas present every year. I marked their birthdays on my calendar recently so that I can send an electronic birthday card to them when their birthday comes to thank them for their hard work. When I came back from China after presenting at the Library Society for China 2005 Conference, I bought small gifts for my staff. Occasionally, I will engage in small talk related to the daily life of their families. After doing this for years, I can see the changes in the team cultures. It is lubrication for improving the relations between library managers and staff and ultimately benefits the library work. The improvement of team cultures leads to increased collaboration, collegiality, and effectiveness. Most of our objectives and projects are conducted effectively and smoothly.
It also has disadvantages. When something happens, you may think more about people than the matter itself. You may have difficulties when a policy does not allow something but in fact you think you should do it for your staff. If you focus on people-centered too much, sometimes when an individual staff member does something against the organization policy, you may make a special exception. Later when more people do the same thing and you cannot allow breaking the rule for all, you will be in a difficult situation. When you say "no" to others, you break the organization rule of equal treatment for all employees; if you say "yes", then you break the existing policy totally. Also some people may think you are too kind and without power and authority. It makes you tend to be under-control management.
When I was Deputy Director of the Yunnan Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and in charge of the institute’s library from 1987 to 1989, we used "book-oriented" services. None of the library staff had a formal library education background. The library was only a store for books and journals. The library staff did only acquisitions, cataloging, and circulating work. They did not do other services like bibliographic teaching. There was no reference service at all in the library. Since the institute is a research organization which does international studies, the Head Librarian of the institute knew some English. He went to the only foreign book store in the city to purchase foreign language books and journals. In the management of the library, he did not have enough power to make decisions about the library’s budget, staffing, planning, etc.
After almost 17 years, library services and management in China have been tremendously changed, which includes both in hardware, such as collections (print and electronic resources), automated and management systems, technologies, the Internet, Web, and newer and larger library buildings, and software, such as professional librarians and educated staff, reference services, and improved work attitude. Many library managers in China now are professionals with rich management skills. They lead library staff to make the above changes.
Now library managers both in China and in the United States may have more flexibility to allocate the organization’s budgets and research funds, but they still have limited right to increase library staff’s salaries. In China, most library department heads and managers are promoted from inside instead of hiring people outside the library. In the United States, the majority of them are searched regionally or nationally and hired from outside. In the United States, library managers may have more power in staffing than in China. Library managers in both countries are able to say "No" to their staff or even department heads. However, dismissing a staff member may be more difficult in China than in the United States. After issuing two years of bad evaluations, a library manager is ready to fire a staff member in the United States. In special situations, after consulting with human resources office and negotiating with the Labor Union (if there is one in the organization), a library manager may fire a bad staff member right away. In China, library managers may be involved in staff’s family issues, such as marriage or divorce, housing, and so on. This does not apply in the United States. When a department head or a key staff member is ill, his or her manager may bring fruit or canned food and visit him or her at home to show solicitude for the staff. In the United States, if a staff member is in hospital, he or she may receive a get-well card with other staff’s signatures. He or she may also receive a basket of flowers.
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Associate Director of Libraries and Head of Technical Services
Ohio Wesleyan University
Delaware, OH 43015
The author would like to thank Danielle Clarke and Martha Powers for their help in editing this paper.
|Jin, Xudong. (2006). "Human Touch of Library Management in the United States: Personal Experiences of Creating and Developing a Harmonious Environment." Chinese Librarianship: an International Electronic Journal, 22. URL: http://www.iclc.us/cliej/cl22jin.htm|