Thursday, September 4, 2014

Problems on the Path to Promotion

I have a few related thoughts to what Erin talked about yesterday, and I'm just going to throw them out there without data or citations.

When I got my very first job as a librarian at a small liberal arts college, one of the orientation steps was sitting down with the provost. He was a very smart guy. He sat me down, asked me how everything was going, and then said, "you need to think about whether you want to go into administration." It wasn't a reflection on my vast potential, but a reaction to the climate of higher education.

In higher ed, we have a weird kind of career ladder which makes sense when you go assistant professor, tenure, associate professor, full professor.  All of those are the same kind of job. But somewhere in there is dean. It's not a promotion from associate or full professor. A dean is a completely different job. One that we need people who are good at and want to do.

The same is true in libraries. Especially true for the kind of "traditional" library jobs like reference and cataloging. Dean or Director is a fully separate job than that. One that there is no clear path toward.

The dynamics of a professional class with a bimodal age distribution (many boomers, many young folks) is that the jobs aren't where the applicants are. They are in middle and upper management. What my provost was trying to tell me when I was a tiny baby librarian is that, decide now if leadership is for you because things will happen fast.

If we need quality people in leadership roles, we need to ask all new librarians the question that I was asked. The answer may be "no," that's okay, but when the answer is "yes," we need to work with that so that we can create the kind of leaders that we need. Great leaders are going to rise quickly from the ranks of new librarians who have an aptitude and a desire to lead.

However, there are some inherit tensions in this situation. The first is that leaders (or even just managers) are going to be "promoted" into those wholly different positions past the folks who said "no" to administration. Just because you don't want a job doesn't mean you're not going to resent the person that got it for any number of reasons. We need to work on that individually and collectively. Perhaps the "do you want to administrate" question was only asked tacitly, and creating an environment where it is an honest discussion would help.

Additionally, in many institutions, there is not much room for advancement and most of the staff stay in their positions or desire to remain in the same institution.  In these situations, developing leaders can often mean investing in staff only to see them leave your institution for opportunities with greater responsibility and long term advancement. The worst form of this is seeing someone with a great potential and (perhaps unconsciously) hamstringing their development so that they will stay at their current position. No. We need to understand that our field will benefit from the best leaders in the positions best suited for them, and we should help our colleagues in their professional development because it is the right thing to do by them as professionals and for our profession. As managers, you need to be flexible and advocate for what they need for advancement.

I think if we confront those two tensions, if we help each other think about leadership and our own professional goals, we can make libraries way more awesome for everyone who already works here and everyone trying to get a job in a library. What do you think?

Keep Rockin',


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Two things. First, I wholly resemble this sentence: " Just because you don't want a job doesn't mean you're not going to resent the person that got it for any number of reasons." Second, this is in general an important tension to recognize. My grandfather (not a librarian--a physician who worked in public health) worked for the NY state health department, and was promoted to...maybe the head of the department? Turned out he didn't like it, so he went back to his previous position. Still in administration, yes, but... less so. His lesson from this: if you don't want the promotion, there's nothing wrong with not accepting it.