Leading from the Middle

I’m not a library manager. I don’t have a budget, and faculty members like me don’t supervise staff, but my immediate supervisor is the dean of my campus, not the library director at the main campus. She, the library director, the other librarians at the main campus, and the staff I work with throughout the day realize the weird position I am in. I am the only full-time employee.

There are so many employee changes in store this coming academic year. In April, we hired two part-time librarians to help cover evening  hours when I leave work. Both these ladies are working this summer (I have a 10-month contract), and I am so happy to have the extra help and assistance for our students in our much busier fall season. Our part-time library media technician just retired after 27 years of service, and one of our part-time library media bookstore clerks (the bookstore is in the library) just got a great new job at the local University of California (UC). We have one remaining library media bookstore clerk. The dean is really going to push for a full-time library media technician position, and I think we have a good shot at getting it, but, in the meantime, our substitute library clerk will be filling in, and I think our new retiree may  be helping through September.

I lead from the middle, so to speak. I do have a vision for a more friendly space. I have very slowly been making changes over the last two years to help cultivate the library as a campus hub, and now that I know what needs to happen and what kind of stuff works, delegating will be easier. I sense excitement with our remaining team, and I am looking forward to getting to know our future new people and discovering what people like to do and what they want to learn more about. This is my first professional librarian job, and I just wouldn’t have been ready for such a big change in my first or second year.

With that, I am really thinking I might need to do a little more reading about leadership. I found this great little article from Lifehacker, “Become a Stronger Leader by Asking Yourself These Three Questions” that made me take pause. The questions are:

1. What am I not saying that needs to be said?

2. What am I saying that’s not being heard?

3. What’s being said that I’m not hearing?

Which questions would you add? Someone in the comments from the Lifehacker article gave this little gem, “What is best unsaid?” Isn’t that the truth? I think I might even make a little note with these for my desk.

Mini One-Third Life Crisis

I turned thirty in April.

I look at my 20s, and all I can say is that I whipped it. I finished college; met and married my wonderful husband; finished graduate school; bought a house; and I am about to embark on my third year as a full-time tenure track librarian at a community college. I am proud of where I am. My mother is an immigrant from Mexico (she came here as an adult), and both of my parents work in canneries operating machines. Academe is not part of my home culture, and I have been navigating it ever since my beginning college days.

Right now, it seems that my biggest concern is professional development. I have not found that ONE THING I really enjoy in librarianship, that one thing I can say, “Yes, this is what I’m into.” I had the same problem as an undergraduate. I could have majored in any humanities. The only reason I have a history degree and not an English degree (I minored) is that I had one more class completed when it came time to really decide.  I struggled coming up with a senior thesis topic. The real reason I dropped out of the history MA program is that I just didn’t have a niche in order to write an eventual thesis. And, yeah, that letter from library school also helped.  I did love library school, though. LOVED IT. However, I didn’t super love my fellowship at the Library of Congress. I now, it sounds like blasphemy, but I wasn’t thrilled working with 17th and 18th century Spanish plays. (Am I truly a generalist?)

My job is a Jill of all trades librarian position at a very small full-service campus of a community college. I’m the only full-time employee and the only librarian during the day. We finally hired two part-time librarians to cover the evenings when I leave work.  Our campus has 19 full-time faculty, myself included; 1,100 students; and a 2,000 square foot library. The campus has been around for over forty years, but we’ve been at our newer location since 2007 or 2008 (not quite sure of the exact year–I was an adjunct in 2012 and became full-time in 2013). We’re an hour away from the larger main campus. At the main campus, which has 9,000 students, there are three full-time librarians, two long-time part-time librarians, and the two part-time librarians who work at my campus in the evenings also help out at the main campus.

I teach information literacy sessions, create LibGuides, weed the collection, order just a few materials, assist students with research, create displays, provide research help, participate in college committees, and I am otherwise trying to cultivate the library into a campus hub. It’s hard, mostly because I do it all from the reference desk with very little money and few tools, including no access to review materials. (I don’t have off-desk time; my concentration and feeling present have really suffered.) And yet I just keep churning ideas, ideas that don’t always or can’t transpire for any number of reasons.

I do truly love helping our students—you can actually see students’ lives being transformed at the community college level—but I often feel like something is missing. So many people will tell you how passionate I am about my work. I really am, but I often find myself longing to do the big sexy projects that other colleagues at other places do (sigh, I am definitely feeling Magpie Librarian here). I find myself captivated by all the librarians’ clever social media bios, witty blogs, and the dizzying array of library-related groups (I made the mistake of actually trying to organize Twitter via lists. haha I’m still not done…).

I can’t be the only person who feels like this, right? I don’t want the rockstardom that runs rampant in academics and the library profession. I don’t need to be the “it” person for something, but I would like a something.

That’s what this is. An attempt for a something.