Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ask the Administrator: The Library as Ladder?

A new correspondent writes:

I am the library director at a small liberal arts institution. I have
worked closely with the administration and also served on many
standing and ad hoc faculty committees. Looking 10 years or so into
the future, I feel very drawn to, well, jobs like yours. Community
colleges particularly interest me because I started out in public
libraries and still feel drawn to that broader public mission.

I have my library master's and a subject master's, but no doctorate. I
can't afford to go into debt to complete another degree. Is there any
hope for me?

Thanks for any help or advice you can give!

I’ll open by admitting that libraries are a field of their own, and it is not mine. Folks with backgrounds in the library world are invited to shed light as appropriate.

As I understand it, the question is about using the background as library director to leap into another administrative position with broader authority.

I’ve only seen it done once. In that case, the college had recently experienced convulsive turnover, and the director of the library was recognized and respected as an even-tempered grownup. He more or less inherited a deanship, due primarily to his personality and ability to work well with the existing faculty. At that point, they were so starved for peace that nobody got upset about subject matter.

At last report, he did quite well, which makes some level of sense. Librarians are to academia what catchers are to baseball. Catchers have to be able to talk to both position players (which they are themselves) and pitchers. As a result, catchers tend to make successful managers. Librarians are staffers who have to work well with faculty, and who have to have a pretty serious academic background. As such, they’re well-positioned, at least in theory, to manage across gaps.

If you want to leap from the library and associated services to the faculty/academic side, I doubt that a doctorate would be the critical variable. Instead, I suspect that your reputation for level-headedness and competence would be the driver. (I’m assuming that you have that.) Put differently, I suspect that it would be most likely to happen, if at all, where you already work.

The key would be in putting yourself in a position in which people will see you as a campus leader, independent of title. Ways to do that could include leading an accreditation self-study, taking a conspicuous and active role in a whole-campus initiative, and being the voice of reason during campus disputes. In other words, if you want to be seen as a leader, start leading.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers -- especially those from the library world -- what do you think?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.