Picture Yourself in the Director's Chair
A Monthly Column about Life on the Job
|By Elisa F. Topper
American Libraries Columnist
Elisa F. Topper is director of the Dundee Township (Ill.) Public Library District and a career consultant. Contact her at email@example.com.
Column for December 2004
Doubtful Department Head
As interim director, you have a great opportunity to try on the director's role and see how it fits. Some of the results may surprise you! For example, as a first-year public library director (after working as an assistant dean of a library school), I have been challenged by the legal knowledge my new position requires, and delighted by the number of hours I get to spend becoming involved in the community.
A few questions to ask yourself as you consider this step:
- Being a director takes more than 40 hours per week. Are you willing to put in the extra evening and weekend hours in order to do the job, which can include attending numerous community events? Remember also that you are the first person the police or fire department will call in a nighttime emergency.
- Can you physically deal with stress from staff issues, the public, and the board?
- Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit? Being a director can give you the opportunity to run your library as a small business and be the boss.
- What are your responsibilities outside work? Can your family adapt to a director's schedule?
What would new directors tell others just starting out? “Direct all your energy and focus on one project at a time; the little things will take care of themselves,” advises Bloomingdale (Ill.) Public Library Director Tim Jarzemsky. And Todd Morning, who is in his first year of directorship at the Bartlett (Ill.) Public Library, points out that it's crucial for a director to have “a vision of what you think good library service should be and the ability to work with the staff, board, and community in formulating that vision.”
Finally, consider the advice of Wilmette (Ill.) Public Library Director Richard Thompson, who retires this month after more than 30 years as an administrator: “I encountered two surprises about being a director: 1)How time-consuming it can be. But when you discover you love doing something, it takes more and more of your time and your life. That is not all bad; it's just a fact. 2)How much fun it is. As a former lawyer, I look at every board meeting as a lawyer approaching a trial, with the board as judge and jury. I love working with staff to figure out the best solutions to a particular problem.”
- The Accidental Library Manager by Rachel Singer Gordon (Information Today, 2004).
- Administration of the Small Public Library, 4th ed., by Darlene E. Weingand (ALA, 2001).
- The Next Library Leadership: Attributes of Academic and Public Library Directors by Peter Hernon, Ronald R. Powell, and Arthur P. Young (Libraries Unlimited, 2003).
- Resources for Public Library Directors, www.nmrls.org/directors/resources_directors.shtml.
(c) Copyright 2004 American Library Association