Not Quite Grasping the Carrot Concept.

You might be asking, "I don't manage anyone. Why do I need to know this?" In the small public library at some point in time everyone's a manager: directors like to take vacations and not have to be in charge for a little while, volunteers need guidance, or a student may be doing your shelving. Running a small public library is a team effort and management is simply working with people. Directors read this section very carefully several times and keep practicing — the more you manage people and the more you work with them, the better you get at it. Management is more of an art than a science, no matter what people tell you.

Your staff is your most important asset and you should be their biggest supporter, always listening to their ideas and concerns. Progress must be made in spurts so plan to push changes a little at a time giving staff recovery time to assimilate the new paradigm. Reduce the new to a few simple points everyone can remember and understand. When running meetings stick with facts, avoid interpretations, and provide limited choices to keep control of decisions and debates. Use whatever happens by working it into your plans and overall approach; employees may be right even if they aren't following your plan or doing things your way. Forcing matters at the wrong time will only hurt you, your employees, and the entire community.

Leadership is a reciprocal relationship: to influence others you need to be open to their influence, to lead you need to listen and be in a follower role too, and to have your needs met you need to meet the needs of others. Take time to understand the different perspectives of all the small groups and individuals involved as the expertise often is with the people on the front line, doing the basic jobs day after day. Assume the people you work with are not like you and have different preferred ways of doing things. Keep your mind and eyes open to how you can work with others and how you can adjust your style toward theirs. Everyone, including you, should help out at the circulation desk when it gets busy.

While it's important in managing a library to make sure the staff are comfortable with the procedures and the way things are run, it's more important to make sure the way everything is done makes it as easy as possible for patrons to use the library. "It is the library director's responsibility to establish, through both direction and example, the appropriate balance between efficiency and cordiality."1 The work of the library must take precedence while keeping a people centered, caring, warm, and informal climate. This will take time, but overall it'll both increase the enjoyment of everyone working at the library as well as the service you can give to the community. Do all things for the ease and convenience of your patrons especially shelving the books so it is easy for patrons to find what they are looking for; if this means abandoning the Dewey Decimal System entirely, then do so. Give patrons as much control as you can: design check out so it is easy and intuitive, make returning books a snap, and make signing in to use the computers as simple as possible.

As a normal employee you only have to worry about getting your work done; as a supervisor you have to make sure everyone gets their work done. "Your major responsibilities will include planning, coordinating the work of your unit, training employees, and ensuring that your unit meets its goals. [You need technical expertise,] good communication skills, the ability to delegate effectively, good planning and coordination skills, the ability to manage time effectively, and good decision-making skills. An effective supervisor needs self-confidence, the ability to be flexible and creative, and a sense of humor."2 It is important when making any change to start with oneself so this chapter first covers managing and organizing your own work then discusses managing other people, not just those reporting to you but also your boss through planting ideas and giving them credit. Communication, especially listening, is the single most important skill for a manager and is covered in depth. Delegation and motivation tie for second most important skill since trying to do everything yourself gets everyone nowhere. Motivate all people involved with the work of your library by linking their existing internal motivations to the work and goals of your library. The chapter ends with an important discussion on managing change and conflict; both are inevitable, so read up on a few good ways to make them work to your advantage.

Managing Yourself

Welcome to the small public library. Even if you are not a director, you are a leader as people look up to you and emulate what you do. Make decisions when they come up without delaying long, being prepared to take risks, and striving for creativity. Set priorities and tackle tasks one at a time, not worrying if everything is perfect so long as it gets done. As a leader you get the glory for the good things — share it. You also get the punishment or complaints for the bad — keep it. You ARE competent and know what you are doing, even if you don't always feel it and taking a little blame doesn't change that fact. At times people will be angry with what you do or don't do; it means you're doing something. Fail some; it means you're trying new things. Ask for favors and make requests since you never know what you might be able to get simply by asking. Say what you think before things build to a head, telling people the way it is in those times you have to push through the resistance after other routes fail. Force employees or co-workers to make a decisions too; you do not control everything.

Know the library's policies and who is in charge. If you are having a bad day or have things outside the library heavily on your mind, let the staff know it is not their fault and that it's okay for them to let you know when they are having a bad day or other troubles. Be willing to keep anything they tell you confidential, but don't take on their problems — instead suggest to them wording or actions so they can handle it themselves while being empathetic, listening, and trying to understand. Ask what they have tried and what they will do next, offering to help them solve the problem on their own. Encourage them to talk about the situation and, if needed, bring both parties into your office to start the process. The effective listener evaluates and reviews the message while listening to someone, instead of daydreaming or thinking about other tasks and always gives feedback or rephrases what they heard during complex messages. It is better to ask someone to repeat themselves than to guess wrongly and best to pay particular attention to the concepts and main ideas of the message so you can catch them the first time.

5 Steps to Making a Decision

1. Define the problem
2. Collect information
3. Identify options to resolve the problem
4. Evaluate your options
5. Select the most effective option

When evaluating options look at (1) whether the option increases your chance of solving the problem, (2) what resources are required, and (3) the interest and excitement the option will generate. Your most effective option will be the one needing the fewest resources while generating the most fun! Do not fret over a lack of information or over missing a possible option. It is more important to make a good decision than to delay weeks or months trying to make a perfect decision. Worst-case scenario: your decision is scrapped after a brief lifetime for a better solution.

Spend time getting to know people at your level, both within and outside of your organization, inviting them out to coffee or lunch to create networks of communication and support. Put those working beyond your building to work for you too. Vendors have specialized knowledge, can answer many questions you may be struggling with, may be able to loan you equipment for short periods to either try it out or handle a special project, and can usually provide you with freebies, i.e. promotional items, larger discounts, free trials, or customized lists for your library.

Managing Your Time

You can say no; it is okay to say no when people ask you or the library to do something — do not take on too much! Write down your goals and priorities along with those of the library and finish any extra tasks before you take on the next one! There is nothing wrong with not taking on every problem or every project as your own. In fact, it is detrimental to the people working for you if you take everything as they need to own projects and problems as well; they need to know their skills and decisions matter just as much as yours. It is both possible and imperative to have a life AND a library — enjoy what you do in your time away from work since there is too little time in the world to not enjoy what you do. Everything you do and have done helps you to be a better librarian — in a small public library there is no such thing as too much knowledge.

Only use high priority tasks to provide direction for daily work, taking up to ten minutes before leaving each day to set priorities for the next workday. Consider long-term career objectives; not all urgent issues are important for professional development or promotion. Schedule time to deal with top priority issues and allow time in your day for unexpected high priority issues — priorities can change from day to day; change with them. Revise personal priorities regularly, assist employees in doing so, and encourage all staff to adopt this process and support each other in the completion of priority tasks. Keep a prominent written list of each day's priorities always asking "What is the best use of my time right now?"3

Scan your incoming messages, e-mails, and mail to determine priorities. Many can be filed for recycling immediately, others quickly scanned before recycling. If action or response is required it is best to do so right away, dating and noting your action on the item before filing it. Keep a neat office area filing important documents and information you may need to refer back right after you review it — handle it once! It is best to throw material away (I mean recycle it) immediately if there is little or no chance you will look at it again. Keep low priority reading materials with you and read during daily waits such as before meetings or appointments. Designate file drawers for various records then every time you put something new into a file, go through that file and remove everything you can. Have a drawer for permanent records back in the staff area with other drawers for records that only need to be kept for limited times, shredding and recycling old records once they are not needed. Always keep your staff and personnel files locked and frequently used files within arm's reach of your desk. Create a drawer or two of catalogs accessible to all staff and when you put new catalogs in, recycle the old. Place file drawers for local information and local history near your service desk. When in doubt, throw it out!

Many apparently urgent items only have a patina of created urgency and should be ignored until they die their natural deaths as anything truly important will be followed up on by the person asking for the work or answer. Items followed up on must still be proven worth your time and effort through increasing patron satisfaction, increasing community benefit, or increasing the security and stability of the library. Reply quickly to those requests from your boss, always asking them when they really need it and what they actually need since it might not be exactly what was requested and extra time is often allowed for procrastination and system inefficiencies. Requests from subordinates deserve an equally snappy reply hopefully giving them the information or answer they are looking for and getting them back on their task. Put down a reminder to contact the requester a few days before you agreed it was needed to make sure it is still necessary. Remember whose task it is and do not let people working under you in the library get away with giving you their work, saddling you with their problems, or always deferring any questions they have to you. Even people at your level should not drop problems in your lap; likewise, do not pass off your work to your boss or to your peers.

Managing Boards and Staff

Personnel Management Musts

* Hire the best staff possible.
* Invest in training.
* Deal with problems fairly and promptly.
* Do not allow routine to rule the library.4

The library board determines a yearly budget, reviews all library bills, hires and evaluates the director, and sets policies and goals in order to meet the library's mission. Any other work should be delegated to their director who oversees the staff accomplishing it and regularly reports to the board. If your board insists on being more involved in the daily operation of the library, work to get them excited about the Carver Policy Governance Model; an online introduction is available at Carver's web site, and through the link for nonprofit organizations at this page's bottom, or check out his book Boards that Make a Difference. Policy Governance reinforces the separation of duties between the board and their only employee, the director, and provides great ideas for the board to oversee your work without sticking their noses in it. Once a board gets excited about Policy Governance they will be focusing on their jobs and debating over how they should work together as a group, not how the library should keep track of their internal files or log phone calls. Take any job descriptions before the board and review them yearly pointing out possible improvements and asking for clarification on any ambiguities — if any positions are lacking a job description work to get one approved. All library policies should be reviewed by the board every year; this can simply be reading over most of the policies and then discussing any areas of concern. Developing or controversial issues in the library world should also be shared and discussed with the board, i.e. intellectual freedom and Internet filtering — encourage the board to take a position on these issues. Get board support for the team concept, complimenting your staff to the board and making sure board compliments get back to the staff. Give the board a list of staff addresses and accomplishments and work to have the board send everyone at least a card during the holidays.

For both boards and staff, you need to find out what motivates the individual person and figure out a way to link it to the goals of the whole library. Everyone is motivated by something: money, helping people, publicity, recognition, fame, etc. Figure out what it is and find a way to attach each person's natural motivation to the goals of the library. The board members are all on the board for a reason — no one is forced to be on a library board. The staff all work at the library for a reason — we don't have slave labor in this country anymore. Find out what those reasons are and get to know the people around you always thinking about how you can help your employees! Doing things for your employees both big and small has infinite value in the long run.

Engage in management by wandering around, i.e. get out of your office and experience all aspects of the library saying hello and asking how things are going. Encourage staff to do the same by getting out from behind the desk and asking if patrons are finding everything okay. Management by walking around allows you to keep an eye on employee performance and catch miscommunications or possible problems early. If you notice mistakes occurring, take the person aside and talk with them since it's much easier to make sure things get done correctly than to redo them later. Learn how your employees do their jobs and be open to any suggestions they might have for improvements or changes, listening to what they have to say about routines, procedures, and organizational stories. It is very important to learn as much as you can about the organization before even considering any of your own ideas for change or improvement. Once you know what you are starting with, then you can start to mull over how your ideas and changes might work; some of them will be great and fit the situation well while others will need to be thrown away without ever forcing them on a staff and organization they do not fit. The best thing you can do in management is not to move too fast since resistance to change is very real. Slip changes in a little at a time so the big change has already happened before anyone notices. Know what the library's goals are and work to reach them through a team attitude created with coaching, mentoring, and training. Ask others for help and encourage everyone to do so. Schedule a yearly staff day function away from the library to both learn something and to build together as a group. Always set a good example, showing the rest of the staff how to behave and how to treat the public by doing it yourself.

Four Steps to Successful Management of Employees

1. Let them know what you expect.
2. Show them you are there to help and support them in any way possible.
3. Set yearly goals with them for their improvement and development as employees.
4. Review their expectations and goals with them at least every three months.

The interest and skills of the director or branch manager will determine those needed in other staff to create a complete team for service delivery. A director is needed with the perspective and background to spot areas for improvement, introduce new methods, and help the library best serve its community. Employees are the library so it is very important who you hire — avoid hiring anyone you can't fire! Hire good people, give them good training, give them guidelines and make sure they know the policies then let them make the decisions. Always let them ask other people for help and never let them say, "That's not my job," since running the library is everyone's job. Each staff member in a small public library needs to be flexible so avoid hiring people who cannot learn new tasks and handle a variety of jobs on short notice. Work with the board to make your library jobs as attractive as possible to the candidates you are seeking, providing jobs with challenge, variety, and wages appropriate to similar jobs in your area. Remember non-monetary compensation such as flexible schedules, easily available unpaid time off, training, great workspaces, and support for exploration of employee interests. Have a staff schedule and stick to it, i.e. if employees can't get someone to cover for when they plan to be gone, they are stuck working it. To avoid difficulties and countless schedule iterations, ask the employees to handle scheduling after informing them of how many workers you want at the library each day. Schedule at least two months in advance so everyone can prepare for when they are working and be willing to adjust the schedule. Require employees to schedule half of their vacation days before the start of the year so everyone has an idea of when they will need to cover. Provide everyone with adequate space, supplies, equipment, funds, and time to do a good job which may be as simple as upgrading library thermostats or putting a water cooler in the staff area. When needed write out step-by-step instructions for a task. Organize your workspaces together so they are uncluttered, make sense to everyone, and have everything you need to do the job!

Let employees provide solutions and suggestions and have them role-play common situations along with difficult ones. Appropriate and timely training is indispensable especially in communication skills and technology. Look at all of the employee evaluations for library wide deficiencies then schedule or pursue training in these areas to boost overall library performance. Inform employees and the board of the status of problems, budgets, orders, repairs, and replacements. If you think someone needs to work harder or you want them to take on a project or new task, tell them — do not suggest or ask in the form of a question as it is not a question or a suggestion and phrasing it as such will only confuse the employee and frustrate you! Tell your employees they were hired for a particular job and responsibility, they know what they have to do by their job descriptions, and you are always available if they have any questions or need any help. If you see them stuck or lost, help them figure it out and get their direction again, but do not stand over their shoulder or constantly tell them what to do. Inform them of the level of freedom you prefer they operate at and any exceptions to this rule; recommend Level 5 if everyone is well trained and knowledgeable. Any time staff need training in an area they should let you know so you can work with them to arrange for the training often covering the needed information yourself in a one-on-one session.

Levels of Freedom

5. Act on own; routine reporting only.

4. Act, but advise at once.

3. Recommend, then take resulting action.

2. Ask what to do - OUTLAWED. Have at least a suggestion for what to do when you ask (Level 3).

1. Wait until told - WAY ILLEGAL!5

Create places in your library for everything: materials needing repairs, materials needing replacements ordered, new items the library purchases, new donations, and materials working their way through your processing system. Each area should be separate and distinct from all others so people do not have to ask what a pile of books is for. Create places for software and manuals removing obsolete software and manuals for donation, sale, or the garbage. Have a place in the library for people to leave their comments, good or bad, with another place nearby for staff responses providing a new level of communication between the public and the library.

If a library employee is bothering you, call them into your office and talk with them about it — the sooner you communicate, the better, even if it is not always something positive. If an employee is surprising and pleasing you, call them into your office and praise them! "Fair is important. When employees feel you're trying to be fair and you're listening to their points of view, they're much more likely to cooperate, in the present and future, even though they disagree with the decision."6 Celebrate differences and special occasions with parties or potlucks. Praise, thank yous, and recognition are important to people so share your appreciation with your employees. It is important to be specific as generality may cast suspicion on the praise; notice what is most effective with your staff and individual members of the staff. Find out how each employee prefers to be complimented: a private word, announcement in front of the whole staff, a brief personal note, press release, or a small gift. Ask your Friends of the Library group to donate prizes for staff days and meetings, do a staff luncheon, or host a staff appreciation day. Take conference give-aways back to your staff or nominate your staff for local, state, and national awards. Create an atmosphere of giving, kindness, and assistance; share things you aren't using like extra food you make. Let your staff know there is nothing you won't do.

Implementing Goals

1. Work backward from the goal deadline listing each step and estimating the necessary time.
2. Assign the steps with all the necessary information and authority to the best available employee. Make sure they know and accept their deadline.
3. When each step is accomplished celebrate it and recognize the efforts of the individuals working on it.

Counseling Employees

Deal with employee problems as soon as you notice them to stop them from getting bigger and to help everyone work better in a more comfortable and supportive environment. When employees are not contributing or having other work problems, such as complaints or dissatisfaction, it is necessary to listen empathetically; imagine the other person's point of view and try to understand it. There are four purposes to this:

1. let them know their feelings are legitimate
2. see the situation from their perspective
3. give importance to both them and the issue
4. empower them to find a resolution

The "goal in empathic listening is to assist your staff member in removing obstacles to successful work performance. To create an affirming environment give the other person your undivided attention. Move from behind your desk. As the other person talks, avoid the temptation to suggest an immediate solution or to compare the other's troubles to your own. Limit your responses to questions seeking clarification or restatements of what you are hearing." "Counseling, however, calls for heightened and slightly different listening skills. It is imperative you make certain the other person is hearing the message that you intend. It will be useful to ask at regular intervals for him to rephrase or repeat the message you are sending. If his understanding seems inconsistent with your intent, it is important to take the time to restate your message."7

Review an employee's evaluation with them four times a year letting them know what they are doing right and, if necessary, where they need to improve. Make evaluations a process where you look, along with the employee, at their performance since their last review in accordance with their job description and goals and develop plans to attack weaknesses uncovered and to continue to strengthen the employee. Once a year the manager and the employee both complete the official evaluation and then meet to discuss what each of them sees. The most important part of the evaluation is not evaluating what has already happened, but developing a plan for improved performance — there is always room for improvement.

Watch out for employees claiming something is not their job, suffering no matter the load, doing things only half way instead of simply saying no to the task, and trying to get in good with you. Other people have problems and these are not your responsibility so there should not be guilt in telling employees you can't help or they need to take care of it themselves. Watch for employees using flattering, pleas for sympathy, guilt, intimidation, or withdrawing when you say no; they may be trying to manipulate you. Be alert for employees who tend to agree too quickly, get angry, never say anything, or always demand more. Work to remedy these difficult situations. If an employee instantly agrees to everything you say or suggest, make sure they understand what you are saying and are listening enough to actually agree to it, establishing steps and goals for them if necessary. Let a mad employee vent themselves out without interrupting them or evaluating them then ask them why they are upset and try to determine the reasons behind their anger so you can work with them to remedy the situation. If an employee does not respond at all or simply nods at everything start asking open-ended questions with no simple answer, be willing to wait through silences, and keep encouraging them to speak, listening when they do without interrupting or evaluating. If you have a very demanding employee remind them we are a team at the library and must all work together, let them know they are indeed great, and work to get their view of reality down to actuality. For more tips see pages 112-113 of the Manager's Guide to Performance Reviews by Robert Bacal.

Documenting incidents is necessary to show the reasoning behind unpleasant decisions. While you cannot fire someone for one mistake, you also cannot fire them for a history of major mistakes if none of these were ever documented! Accurately document behavior, facts only, not measuring up to an employee's job description as they occur, always following your written disciplinary policy. Document problems in all employees, not just ones giving you headaches. You are welcome to document times when an employee's behavior is above and beyond their job description and at least congratulate the employee in an appropriate way when positive behavior and incidents happen.


Personnel, or human resources, are a big part of a small public library director's job. Supervising and evaluating employees takes up time and more important is simply keeping everyone at the library on the same page — you may need to create small checklists of all the employees then mark down what message, change, or discussion one is for keeping it with you until you can check off each employee. "Studies have shown that employees value one-on-one, face-to-face communication most highly."8 Constant communication, even when it is a painful chore, will lead to a much smoother running library. Communicate your messages to the staff in a variety of ways, such as memos, notices on bulletin boards, talking to them one-on-one, or in a staff meeting all at once. Have a time at each staff meeting to review communication in the library and attempt to identify and solve problems asking for improvements and suggestions and following through on them. Mention any trouble areas or hot spots possible and what you are doing to resolve them letting everyone know you are aware of the issues. Rumors and guesses will be shared unless you share the facts: make sure staff get minutes from each board meeting and keep people up-to-date on project progress letting everyone know if you have no information or if the project has been postponed also mentioning when you expect information or expect the project to resume.

When other people approach you with messages or concerns, LISTEN and do not interrupt or decide until the speaker is done. Say thank you daily to let everyone know what they do is appreciated. Use tact, honesty, and a sense of humor when communicating with your co-workers and staff working to build trust and cooperation. Making people feel comfortable with their jobs and with their coworkers goes a long way towards improving staff communication. Double check with staff by asking what they think you said and when this doesn't match with what you thought you were saying, trying again; getting the message across is more important than looking competent every minute of the day. Occasionally, have your staff all write down (1) what they thought the message was about, (2) what priority they assigned to it, and (3) what they plan to do after getting the message and bring all this information to a meeting to share what they have and compare the differences. Then explain to them what you meant, what priority you wanted assigned, and what you hoped they would do. In the future, skip to the point and make sure you mention these three things when you talk to them or send out any information.

Work on your communication skills and learn to read between the lines, noticing nonverbal communication and tone of voice as the majority of meaning in any exchange comes from nonverbal communication. Share information in several different ways and several times to make sure it gets across communicating messages at least twice, once verbally and once in writing. Provide training in effective communication for all staff and make sure your skills are constantly being improved; include writing, listening, public speaking, group discussion, interviewing, problem solving, and brainstorming. Communication skills once learned need to be used in practical applications and honed and refined through trial and error. Include communication skills, both interpersonal and organizational ones, in orientation of new employees, staff development and training, library board discussions, and more. Training is often available from local community colleges or adult education programs.

There are many human barriers to communication including attitudes about what a library is and how it should operate. Five of the most troublesome barriers are personality differences, perception, low self-esteem, lack of communication skills, and attitudes about communication. Some formal communication channels are movies, newsletters, question and answer sheets, videotapes of speeches and events, memos, bulletin boards for staff and the public, specific bulletin boards for different organizations or functions of the library, agendas for meetings, structures of meetings, telephone systems, systems of notes, or a white board where you can leave notes for individuals. Informal communication channels are also important and can include social events, luncheons, open-door policies where people can drop in and talk to the director or other employees, chat sessions to air grievances and concerns, and the old grapevine carrying mostly gossip.

Whatever method or combination of methods you use, write and speak in a friendly and accessible manner providing contact information if people have more questions or suggestions. Always have an outline for any talk or meetings you are involved in and know what you're going to say and the order you're covering your topics. You do not need to write everything down unless it makes you more comfortable only to have a roadmap on where you're starting from, where you're going to end up and how you're going to get there. Rephrase your main point several times, but not ad infinitum or your receivers will start looking for differences in the assumption they are supposed to be getting new messages. Always end with a summary of your key points to give your message a higher chance to be understood and acted on.

Sample Job Priority List

1. Helping the public

2. Helping with programs and events

3. Organizing the library

a. Items easy to find and where they are supposed to be

b. Signage obvious and self-explaining

c. Regular questions answered by signage or handouts

4. Cataloging and processing purchased items and new donations (released within the last 6 months or so)

5. Calling on overdues and ILL's

6. Learning new technology and new procedures

7. Repairing or processing items already in the collection

8. Working on collection development projects, including weeding

9. Cataloging and processing donations


Meetings allow the library to anticipate difficulties with new procedures and services before they go into effect. If people above you in the library have already made the decision and there is no way to change it, simply post the information instead making sure you require each staff member to initial it after reading. State the meeting objectives clearly or don't meet at all — meetings must have a reason for existence and accomplish something! Create and post or distribute an agenda of clear, specific items several days ahead: indicate the start and end time of the meeting never going over two hours, mention who is responsible for each item, and provide necessary information along with instructions (read, think about, answer). "It is to your advantage to keep the meeting limited to as few participants as needed to get the job done. In deciding whom to invite, consider who understands the issue; who has the power to make a decision; and who will be affected by the decisions taken."9 Invite people opposed to the decision or project and sitting on the fence as well as those favoring it; dealing with their issues up front will allow everything to go smoother later. If even one essential participant cannot make the meeting, reschedule. Schedule meetings for 11 AM or 4 PM to encourage a quick resolution avoiding first thing Monday or last thing Friday. Use a circle or horseshoe seating arrangement seating adversaries side by side and sitting opposite someone you want to gain support from. Make sure the seats are not too comfortable or too uncomfortable and your room is well lit, allows for minimal distractions, and is well ventilated.

Start on time without waiting and do not review decisions late arrivers missed to ensure adjourning on time! Bring extra copies of agendas and handouts and make sure you or someone else is keeping minutes. Make participants welcome and put them at ease asking questions and drawing out quiet members or controlling loud ones — squash any private discussions that may develop as meetings are a group activity. Wait to give your own opinions until others have contributed theirs and summarize discussions and conclusions reached after each item. If necessary interrupt to keep the meeting focused on its purpose by raising your hand and saying, "Just a second, may I…" then continuing when the speaker pauses. Never allow anyone more than 15 minutes to speak — everyone should listen more than they talk, most importantly you! Avoid groupthink by involving outside participants like vendors, government officials, or visiting librarians. Throw in some visuals, whiteboard work, or flipcharts to keep it interesting. Set a positive note when closing while summarizing the major activities and recapping responsibilities for further action.

After the meeting, make sure the minutes get out promptly to all participants and interested parties sharing what you learned with everyone. The minutes can be in the form of a meeting action sheet with decisions reached, actions required, persons responsible, and completion dates for each action. Evaluate the meeting in your mind and make notes for future improvements or particularly successful aspects to repeat next time. Take out your copy of the minutes occasionally and call up those responsible for actions to get progress reports.


It's amazing what employees can do — anything you can do, often better. Have the staff handle any and all tasks they are capable of handling and if they work well together they can even do their own scheduling. Build up your employees' confidence in their abilities, while getting to know them, through training and regular review of their decisions and the results of their new tasks until both of you are comfortable with them handling the whole operation. "The sole purpose of coaching is to get yourself into a position where you can delegate with confidence. Delegation is not a single administrative act…; instead it is a state of affairs reached only after sufficient coaching."10 Train your employees to more and more complex tasks, considering delegating every task you perform over the course of a week. Before delegating any task, consider whether the library could get along without it since staff and funding do not exist capable of handling unnecessary tasks. Delegation done correctly allows all the daily decisions to be handled by your employees always considering workloads when assigning or delegating tasks and supporting them in the completion of their priority tasks. Remind employees they will need to regularly revise their personal work priorities.

Use the lowest level staff possible to do the job; if a part time student employee can handle the task, have them do it! Hire part-timers for busy times at the library such as after school and your first workday of the week, Sunday or Monday. Focus staff members' time on tasks requiring skills appropriate to their position and salary allowing the library to keep costs down and have more money for materials and technology while still providing the same level of service to your community. The skills, abilities, and talents of each staff member must be used to their fullest in any small public library so look at the whole person, not just how they are as a library employee and what they do at work, as you may have an amazing performer or artist in your midst.

Use volunteers where you can realizing volunteers, like staff, will need training, support, job descriptions, defined tasks or responsibilities, evaluation, and recognition. Meet with local school personnel dealing with any student service learning or volunteer programs so you can learn about them and they can learn about the library. Create a written agreement between the library and school, if needed, to cover liability, evaluations, paperwork, and training. Work with library staff to plan interesting assignments for volunteers and students. Always remember to recognize and thank each volunteer, student to senior citizen as their contributions help to make your library the wonderful place it is.

Avoid any service not directly contributing to your library's mission and to helping your patrons watching out for traditional routines now in this category; even if this is always done libraries remain extremely labor intensive. Work can be delegated outside the physical structure of the library. i.e. materials can be purchased already processed and catalogued although some will always need new classification numbers once they arrive. Putting computers to work for you allows easy cross checking to ensure all magazines are still arriving and if not then they are reported to the company responsible for their timely delivery. Records of all materials checked out from the library, even those sent to other libraries or borrowed from them, can be entered into your circulation system and the system can then handle all overdues and track all materials for you.

Reasons many supervisors fail to delegate:

* It doesn't occur to them. They get so caught up in the job they're doing it never occurs to them someone else should be doing it.
* It is viewed as losing control. They either have not learned how, or are not confident enough to be a coach, teacher, and mentor.
* They think they can do everything best. They need to teach those under them to operate independently and to even run the library when the supervisor is not there.
* They don't trust those under them. Different people will do jobs in different ways; trust them and let them!
* They think they won't get the credit. Don't worry, supervisors always get the credit, and the blame. Facilitate subordinates as they perform their jobs and you'll be a great supervisor.
* They delegate responsibility, but not authority. Provide staff the support, training, and power to get the task accomplished.11

Delegating Tips

When delegating, always prioritize. Make sure your subordinates understand that being different and even wrong is not fatal. Never order anyone to do anything, except in an emergency, and never allow reverse delegation. Focus; give complete information and lists which point employees in the right direction. Match up projects and employees, customizing team roles based on interests and strengths. Break down projects or have the lead employee break it down creating an agreed upon timeline listing tasks and who is performing them. Manage as it progresses checking to see tasks are progressing and questions are answered. Put it together then take time to celebrate giving credit and praise to each person involved!


Train your staff so they develop an attitude of strength and responsibility letting people know if they aren't comfortable with a situation, i.e. "Can I get someone to help you?" or "That's an inappropriate web site, you need to get off it." Train staff to keep their cool when responding to angry patrons just stepping away if they need to and, if the patron is threatening or disruptive, calling local law enforcement. Definitely keep updated with law enforcement and get their commitment for support while supporting them too providing for positive interactions between the public and law enforcement at your library. Work to improve everyone's concentration, pattern recognition, extrapolation, and reasoning while encouraging them to learn from their mistakes. Develop people's strengths and reinforce the wonderful, unique individuals they are. Let whatever is not in your control or influence go so you can focus your time and energy on what is under your control and influence.

Staff need training and practice time on computers, especially with your catalog, databases, and the Internet — searching skills do not get used until they become ingrained and subconscious. Computers are a great tool for learning and reinforcing new skills. Everyone today needs to learn how to use a keyboard properly and typing tutorial programs exist to guide you through how to touch type and to give you plenty of practice using this new skill. Word processing provides a much easier format to read and is easy to correct or reprint. Look into organizational programs allowing you to keep track of assignments, meetings, due dates, special activities, and reminders. Voice recognition technology is the latest helper available and transfers verbal notes and ideas directly to text.


Motivation is creating enthusiasm that makes people want to do something; making your employees want to do their jobs instead of having to do them. Put carrots in front of them so they each have something to strive for complimenting each employee at least once a week! Motivating employees is not a problem you can throw money at so consider doing away with performance based raises or bonuses; travel certificates for hotel stays, gift certificates for lunch, and opportunities for additional vacation time work better anyway. Match interests and personalities to tasks linking what motivates people to the library's goals. Learn your staff's tastes and provide simple, immediate rewards such as chocolate, lunch, or small gifts; you can share things you pick up at conferences, samples mailed to you, and more. Give employees control over their work and schedule making unpaid time off easy to receive helping your employees avoid burnout. Encourage and practice open, honest, tactful communication. "If you don't know what kinds of non-monetary rewards employees might like, ask them: What would make your job better? What kinds of incentives are important to you? It may seem obvious, but there is no one better to answer key questions about what motivates employees than the employees themselves."12 Humor solidifies a group, improves productivity, and gains and holds the listener's attention so most importantly give the staff permission to have fun!

Each employee is different and requires individual consideration — humans are complex beings! It takes time to know your employees well enough to be able to work with them towards what they desire from their job. Motivation comes from inside and everyone has something that can motivate them to do a great job, even if it has nothing to do with the actual work. "Matching preferred thinking styles and work assignments is another suggestion. For example, staff who are "concrete" thinkers will probably be more comfortable organizing material into logical patterns, based on vocabulary identifiers rather than by idea. "Abstract" thinkers, on the other hand, will enjoy helping patrons, and they can deal with multiple problems at the same time."13 To keep employees engaged with their work and working towards an objective, talk with them regularly about what they are doing and always connect it back to the success of the library, its goals, and its mission; every job at a small public library contributes to the library's overall success. Remind people how great things feel when they are going well and ask what does the organization need for everyone to feel good?

Pay everyone a fair salary by performing, or borrowing, a job analysis every few years that looks at similar jobs in your community and nearby libraries. Even though public libraries are non-profit organizations, they must still compete in the labor market with every other company and organization seeking workers. Keeping your pay in line with similar jobs in your community and with area libraries will allow you to find the best employees for your jobs; being flexible and working with employees and their lives outside work also helps. Between employees also be fair in what you pay them being up front with them about what is needed to receive a raise. Everyone doing a good job should receive raises together and if someone isn't performing up to receiving a standard cost of living raise, let them know. If an employee failing to receive a raise doesn't show any improvement in the next year, let them go — moving negative people out of the library works wonders for raising morale and improving performance. If you see bad behavior you must do something as ignoring or rewarding bad behavior is the fastest way to sink morale. Give the problem employee an incentive to act, but the incentive needs to wait until they actually do improve. The carrot stick approach may help get employees moving in the right direction if all else fails by mixing a firm message with positive feedback or potential rewards. Learn what makes people tick and then reframe the whole situation around this as there is no substitute for considering the individual's circumstances.

What Employees Want

"Out of 67 potential rewards for doing a good job, employees ranked personal congratulations from the manager as number one, and a written note from the boss came in second."14

1. Full appreciation of work done.
2. Feeling of being in on things.
3. Help on personal problems.
4. Job security.
5. High wages.
6. Interesting work.
7. Promotion in the company.
8. Personal loyalty of the supervisor.
9. Good working conditions.
10. Tactful discipline.15

People of similar age tend to have some of the same needs in the workplace. Those born near the end of the 1900's require structure and help with their time management. Workers born in the 60's and 70's desire quick feedback and control over their work assignments. The Baby Boomers prefer personal recognition and advancement opportunities. Workers born before World War II desire respect and public recognition needing library ceremonies to mark the passing of time and projects.

Motivating Volunteers

* Welcome newcomers sincerely and introduce them to others.
* Provide safe situations for people to speak up and become involved.
* Listen closely and pay attention to nonverbal signs.
* Involve volunteers in planning and decisions.
* Divide projects into manageable and logical pieces before asking for volunteers.
* Be generous with positive suggestions and compliments, but don't overdo it.
* Be informal and personable working with the volunteers once in a while.
* Be enthusiastic about each program or project.
* Utilize the contacts of each volunteer.
* Ask volunteers for their ideas, suggestions, and help.
* Use every chance to instill a sense of their importance!

Change & Conflict

Epidemics, dangerous storms spreading out of control, are not just infectious diseases. We also need to deal with an ever increasing pace of change both in our profession and in the world around us as technology, published materials, formats, and web sites increase and advance exponentially.

Plan for a resounding welcome to change! Do not thrust change upon your staff, but recognize their needs and make them feel safe giving them plenty of warning and allowing them involvement in all aspects of the decision for change. Share information on changes as soon as you know about them, preferably as soon as you know you're working towards changing. Have the staff involved and get their input at the beginning of the process, specifically asking for negative feedback and potential problems on any planned or proposed change. Ask people opposed to the change what is good about the change and what they would do to improve it communicating with them to establish common ground and answer their questions and worries. Be prepared for resistance and respond with information and openness to it. Most employees do not resist change but resist losing control of their work lives so do not force change on people, but involve them in the process of change. Make every effort to ensure negative attitudes toward change are brought into the open and work through these issues with your staff, even if the staff does not always volunteer the information. Tell any people negatively affected by a change first to let them hear the bad news from you instead of second hand and, if possible, tell everyone about the results at once. When communicating changes, briefly communicate the process and data involved in reaching the decision to make the change. Be sure you communicate the change back to the staff in writing when it occurs making sure all staff are informed before any of the information gets out to the public — you never want to leave your staff caught off guard. Support your staff so they know what's going on and can keep the library's image that of being informed and responsive.

5 Rules for Innovation

1. Develop a shared vision
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate
3. Empower employees to make a difference
4. Take limited risks
5. Use technology, don't invent it

Encourage sharing of bad news by dealing with problems brought to you, listening without judging or interrupting, and never retaliating against the bearer of bad news. Have a weekly gripe session with each staff member individually, or each manager in a larger organization. The public library which admits the reality of a constant struggle between change and stability and encourages everyone to think about options is best positioned to take advantage of new opportunities. "Virtually every activity in a strategic plan will require some staff action to be implemented. However, library staff are fully occupied — some would say overoccupied — with current tasks. Changing staff assignments is always challenging. So is the process of reallocating collection resources."16 Proceed slowly and with caution, constantly training and developing your staff. Priorities change and, even faster, the tools available to your staff change leaving many of them feeling pushed constantly to evolve or become useless. Work with them to establish control over the changes your library adopts and the pace at which changes are implemented to regain a margin of comfort. Change happens — plan for it, watch for it, and be ready. Be vigilant about focusing library services and activities on the library's mission and goals. Change can be a fun, enjoyable experience and, since you can't stop it from occurring, you might as well make the most of it.

"Accept and expect that during the time your staff experience change, they will experience feelings of loss. Build and maintain support systems for everyone involved. Encourage people to take care of themselves physically. Honor the past as a tactic in surviving the transition. Help staff inventory their assets and strengths rather than focus on their inadequacies. Create a ritual or ceremony to facilitate the process of letting go. Begin to create a picture of the future and a new beginning. Identify fears and make plans for confronting them. Recognize and build on risk-taking behavior. Encourage people to identify what they want and to set priorities. Help everyone view change as an opportunity to grow, to learn, and to self-renew."17


Tips to Manage Conflict

1. Be calm.
2. Define your needs; what do you want and why?
3. Listen — try to put see the situation from their point of view!
4. Be willing to take responsibility for part of the problem.
5. Use "I" statements avoiding accusing the other person with "you" statements.
6. Stay focused — once you establish a common goal, stick to it.
7. Look for win / win solutions.
8. Summarize the plan after you reach an agreement being clear on the next steps and who is taking them.

Conflict is inevitable and beneficial if handled correctly. "It is the best means of stimulating provocative ideas, creative solutions, and zestful interchanges." "Uncertainties and tensions seem to keep people on their toes and functioning better; solving problems provides a sense of accomplishment. When problems defy our efforts at resolution, however, we become depressed and frustrated."18 Express and work through the conflict to a resolution not focusing on removing disagreements, but on managing them to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Remember to see the situation from the other person's side and agree with them when they are right or when the disagreement is not important to the organization's success. Avoid smoothing conflict over or covering it up since the problem will remain to bother and annoy those involved. Communicate to people what you want and what you will and won't do. Everyone has the right to voice their opinion and beliefs so assert your rights and at the same time be sensitive to the rights of others. To create greater power; build teams, work with others, and share whatever power you have.


1. Create a common ground, find areas of agreement
2. Enlarge areas of agreement and build upon them
3. Gather information, details of concerns or problems
4. Focus on issues, not personalities


1. Darlene Weingand, Administration of the Small Public Library, Third Edition (Chicago: American Library Association, 1992): 102.
2. Joan Giesecke, Practical Help for New Supervisors, Third Edition (Chicago: American Library Association, 1997): 2.
3. Joan Giesecke, Practical Help for New Supervisors, Third Edition (Chicago: American Library Association, 1997): 77-78.
4. Donald J. Sager, Small Libraries: Organization and Operation, Third Edition (Ft. Atkinson, Wis.: Highsmith Press, 2000): 62.
5. William Oncken Jr., Managing Management Time: Who's Got the Monkey? (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1984): 106.
6. Joan Giesecke, Practical Help for New Supervisors, Third Edition (Chicago: American Library Association, 1997): 201.
7. Abby Kratz and Melinda Flannery, "Communication Skills," Practical Help for New Supervisors, Third Edition (Chicago: American Library Association, 1997): 55-56.
8. Diane Mayo and Jeanne Goodrich, Staffing for Results: A Guide to Working Smarter (Chicago: American Library Association, 2002): 14.
9. Myrna J. McCallister and Thomas H. Patterson, "Conducting Effective Meetings," Practical Help for New Supervisors, Third Edition (Chicago: American Library Association, 1997): 61-66.
10. William Oncken Jr., Managing Management Time: Who's Got the Monkey? (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1984): 190.
11. Paul John Cirino, The Business of Running a Library (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 1991): 49-50.
12. Elisa F. Topper, "Working knowledge: knowing how to say "thank you"," American Libraries 35:1 (January 2004): 96.
13. Barbara Conroy and Barbara Schindler Jones, Improving Communication in the Library (Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx, 1986): 108.
14. Elisa F. Topper, "Working knowledge: knowing how to say "thank you"," American Libraries 35:1 (January 2004): 96.
15. Paul John Cirino, The Business of Running a Library (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 1991): 171.
16. Sandra Nelson and June Garcia, Creating Policies for Results: From Chaos to Clarity (Chicago: American Library Association, 2003): 9.
17. Rebecca R. Martin, "Managing Change," Creating the Agile Library: A Management Guide for Librarians (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998): 26.
18. Barbara Conroy and Barbara Schindler Jones, Improving Communication in the Library (Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx, 1986): 93-94.


* Conroy, Barbara and Barbara Schindler Jones. Improving Communication in the Library. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx, 1986.
* Giesecke, Joan, editor. Practical Help for New Supervisors, Third Edition. Chicago: American Library Association, 1997.
* Oncken, William, Jr. Managing Management Time: Who's Got the Monkey? Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1984.

© Edward J. Elsner, 2005

Edward Elsner Library Consulting

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License