Friday 29 June 2012

Five reasons why the Art of Library Management is like the Art of Baking

I know what you’re thinking; what do Library management and baking have in common? I guess the answer is me. Last month I was successful in becoming the acting Library Manager for the City of Sydney Library service. I went from running a single branch at Surry Hills with a staff of 7 to overseeing the 9 branch libraries of the City of Sydney with approximately 120 staff.

Just before I was successful in getting the role, I found an old CWA cookbook on the library shelves and even though I had never baked before, I decided to try and make sultana scones. It was a complete success and my love for baking was born.

As I started to learn about my new role and more about the art of baking, I noticed the weird synergies between good management and good baking.

  1. Study the masters - enrich your palette
I don’t believe people are born managers; anyone can become a good library manager with the right skills. Most managers (like me), completed a University course, others paid their dues studying how the organisation works and rising through the ranks to become managers.

Whether your masters are information theorists, like Brenda Dervin or Elfreda Chatman, or existing staff who have been with the organisation for years, both groups can teach you so much about how a library works. It’s through both types of learning that you learn to push yourself and your talents and as a result become better at what you do.

It’s the same with baking. You can’t start baking without a recipe. Whether that recipe is from a famous chef’s cookbook or from your Granma’s handwritten recipes, either way you need to start from somewhere.

  1. Respect those who came before you
When you first start a new job, especially a management position, it’s a natural tendency to want to shake things up and make your mark on the position. I know I did. However; you first need to have an understanding of the organisation and how it runs, before you can start the process of change. It’s a fact of life that most people fear change and the quickest way to get everyone offside is to start changing things without an understanding of the service you  currently manage.

It’s the same with baking, very few would start to change a recipe before you have tried it out, tasted the results and seen if what has occurred is a gloriously sweet confection or a sour flop. Respecting the collected knowledge of those who came before you is an essential skill in both library management and baking.

  1. Develop your own style
Every manager manages in a different style. The secret is making your style work in your workplace. I must admit I adopt a more consultative approach using active listing and communication with staff, as I find this instantly promotes dialogue and helps to work through issues. However, there comes a time when all managers will have to implement, do or say something that not everyone likes. It’s in these cases your management skills will really kick in.

This is where active listing and communication help to find out what the problems are and to solve them as best you can without getting staff offside. Of course you can’t keep everyone happy all the time and you need to fight the urge to get upset if this happens. Always remember you are the manager and the buck stops with you. If you think a decision is the best one, then run with it, but be open and listen to any feedback as it’s through discussion and debate that the famous middle ground is usually created.

I like to think I bake with my own particular style. I add more of what I like and less of what I don’t with all my baked goods. However I don’t always bake for myself so I always have to keep who I bake for in mind. What they like and what they don’t, so the result, what eventually gets eaten, will be a complete success.

  1. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Trust me you’ll make mistakes, everyone does. The trick is to learn from them and not let them define your career. It’s from these mistakes you learn more than with any of your successes. From the errors you make you are forced to re-examine how you work and this will give you a new perspective that you may never have thought about before. The only real mistake is making the same mistake twice.

Most chefs will tell you baking is a science and you need to have everything just so before you start. Don’t listen. Feel empowered to add or try new ingredients or make mistakes. It is from this experimentation new creations are born.

  1. Remember you are part of a community
Always remember there is a community of professional librarians and managers out there. So go to the conferences, attend the lectures and do some library visits. Get on blogs, explore the internet, and follow others on Twitter/Facebook; this will all help to enrich your knowledge and skills. This will keep you open to the plethora of different ways of managing and running a library. And always remember to share your knowledge with others. Be a part of the information web that binds us all together.

It’s like Jamie Oliver says about recipes: if you get a good one ‘Pass it on’. Go share a recipe that worked on the internet, look at the blogs, and talk to those at work about your baking.

As my first manager said to me when I started my career, ‘Knowledge is power’. So share the knowledge you have and be open to the collective knowledge of those around you. Always be willing to grow and adapt. Remember that if you manage a library or bake a cake there are always possibilities to become better at what you do by learning and developing your own skills through a combination of networking, ideas sharing and hard work.

Paul Garbin is the Library Manager, City of Sydney Library Network.

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