When I started to read the Administration section in the Librarians thread of R. David Lankes’ Atlas of New Librarianship, I was prepared to respond with enthusiasm. I’d just finished reading my friend Laura’s blog post about activism as management metaphor, and I was hoping to find a similar blend of optimism and practicality in Lankes’ text. “Librarians working together, be it in formal or informal organization boundaries, are not some organizational chart but a participatory network… we must turn our facilitation skills loose on the profession” (Lankes, 2011, p. 160). Yes! Indeed! Eagerly, I read on.
But then I arrived at these lines:
Before, if a librarian wanted to start a blog and you said no, you had to manage the librarian’s disappointment. Now? Librarians go and set up a free Blogger account and away they go. Now you have to manage their rebellion and potential impacts on the institution… The same awesome freedom that makes librarians invaluable makes them hard to say no to. This is power discussed throughout the Atlas, but for management it is a challenge. (Lankes, 2011, p. 161)
and I felt some librarian disappointment of my own. “Manage their rebellion?” That was the most vital conversation we could have about the specifics of manager-employee relationships, the one concrete example we were going to discuss? Lankes affirmed that the librarian’s charge to “facilitate our members and lead our communities (to improve)” applied within the working-at-the-library circle of the community as strongly as it did anywhere else. However, he claimed that we must simply learn from the best management concepts outside librarianship, without “seek[ing] to advance this knowledge per se” (Lankes, 2011, p. 161). Not advance this knowledge? Why not?!?!
Administrative librarians can and must seek to advance knowledge about managing humans. If our foundational skill as librarians is meant to be facilitating conversations, shouldn’t we have a lot to contribute in broader conversations about management? Even those few librarians who never manage other people will be almost certainly be managed by someone; don’t they need to develop a professionally-grounded understanding of how management should work? Shouldn’t we try, in our LIS educations, our professional scholarship, and our reflective practice, to figure out what being a managing librarian should mean, going beyond a straightforward adoption of practices and insights from other professions?
My own experiences as an employee and a manager, and my understanding of librarianship, convince me that the most important thing a manager can do is to recognize (and support) the moral agency of her fellow employees. Later in the Librarians thread, Lankes advocated that LIS students should be taught “[h]ow to plot and scheme, cajole and convince. How to map power and gain power to put beyond a vison” (Lankes, 2011, p. 18o). He further insisted that mentorship should be recognized as a universal professional obligation, under which “the entire profession sees itself as part of the education of new librarians” (Lankes, 2011, p. 185). To teach each other what we most need to learn about power, we must not manage rebellion, but manage for it. We must encourage everyone we manage to “challenge legacy processes. all of them. often.” (Buckland, 2011). We must encourage them to resist our authority for change when they think we’ve lost our way, and our authority for stability when they believe in a needed change. We must work harder at fostering revolutions than we do at starting or containing them. How else can librarianship grow?
Buckland, Amy. (2011, June 26). The talk I meant to give [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://jambina.com/blog/the-talk-i-meant-to-give/
Lankes, R. D. (2011). The Atlas of New Librarianship. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.