In February I went on a trip to Christ’s College, Cambridge, for an event called “Moving Into Management”, hosted by the Academic & Research Libraries Group’s eastern contingent. It can be hard for a subject librarian to get management experience; we’re used to managing our own work and budget, as well as juggling the competing demands of departments, schools, library teams, students, researchers, and our other users, but in many places it’s rare for us to line manage. Events that are aimed at helping non-managers understand, prepare for and practice management skills therefore always catch my eye.
The event began with Barbara Allen, an extremely experienced manager – Barbara started her career as a librarian and is now the Dean of a Business School (though, I hope, once a librarian, always a librarian). She told us how she hadn’t intended to move into senior management, but had made moves based on them looking interesting, and bringing new challenges, and that had eventually led her to a high position – via stints in Serials, running an private sector library, academia, and project management within academic libraries. She helped us understand key characteristics for good leaders and managers – and the difference between the two roles, and helped us think about how to prepare strategies for tackling first-time management.
After a very well-biscuited, networky break, we listened to the experiences of three librarians who had recently taken on their first management roles. Andrew Gray is Librarian at the British Antartic Survey, which means he faces very particular management challenges – for one thing, some of his team are thousands of miles away in an icy wasteland, which obviously makes things like communication MUCH more of a challenge than usual. He talked us through his career so far and suggested some things that can really help to develop management skills: organising events for library groups, any scale of project management, any kind of budget management experience, and being involved in recruitment and selection.
Claire Sewell is the Deputy Team Leader at for the Reader Services Desk at the UL, and she talked about her experiences with the transition from being managed, to being the manager, and the sort of challenges that arise. Claire had developed a lot of informal experience in management by supporting CPD and covering in managers’ abscences before taking on a formal management role. She recommended that, as new managers, we try not to put ourselves under too much pressure, especially if moving within an environment where you already know people. She suggested learning more about management and whether it would suit you by reading around the subject, including using MOOCs, and shadowing and observing managers if you can.
Hélène Fernandes is the Deputy Librarian at the MML in Cambridge, and she shared with us the seven things she wished she’d known about being a manager before she started. The ones that resonated with me were – “Don’t expect to be an expert from Day One”, “Don’t panic”, and “Build a support network” – it was reassuring to hear that it’s okay to check things, to read up, to not know the answers straightaway. Her suggestions about who could form a support network and why you might want one were really useful, too.
I really enjoyed this event: I got some great tips and ideas about how to ready myself for a line management role, whilst also being reassured about a couple of things. The first is that by getting experience in recruitment and selection, and chairing the Management Information Group, amongst other things, I had already been moving in the right direction. Secondly, I realised that I was worried about lack of line management experience specifically, but others had plenty of that and were worried about, for instance, never having managed a budget. We’ve all got things to work on, and there are always ways you can tackle your particular issue.
One thing that wasn’t specifically mentioned was taking advantage of opportunities such as internal secondments – I can now say, several months later, that it’s turning out to be a great way to challenge yourself and learn new skills!