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Managing your relationship with the profession

[The First Year Director: Strategies for Success, 6 of 8]

The next relationship to manage concerns the larger library profession. The successful library director is engaged with and contributes to our various professional networks. That might include an informal but regular regional gathering for lunch. It might be a formal participation in a longstanding library system, perhaps as a member of the governing board. It certainly includes participation in state library associations and state library committees. It requires membership in the American Library Association, and relevant divisions, offices, and roundtables.

Why does professional engagement matter? The main reason is continuing education. We learn from others. Our social and political environment is complex and changing. It's easy to miss things. Attending a session about, for instance, homelessness, makes it clear that this is not an isolated problem in just a few American libraries. The issue is widespread. Some libraries are conducting important experiments to respond to it, such as the hiring of, or partnership with, social workers. Attending to those presentations and reports not only helps library directors get ready for what may be developing, but find ways to more swiftly move to solutions, and avoid duplication of failed strategies.

But education is not just one way. Professionals have an obligation to check in with colleagues and shine a light into their own emerging issues. You may be dealing with something that seems very specific to your community or institution (homeschooling or charter school support, for example)--only to find that, in fact, many libraries are addressing the issue. One of the most powerful ways to learn is to teach.

Yet another reason to reach out beyond your own institution is to build a network of support. New directors can find it awkward to admit to board members or staff that they really don't know how to tackle something. Having a colleague, a director in another system, is a way to get some perspective and confidential advice. And when things go spectacularly wrong, those colleagues can offer comfort, more advice, or formal advocacy.

Advocacy is important. If one librarian shows up at a legislative gathering, that librarian is almost invisible. If 500 libraries show up, or 3,000 librarians leave phone calls, that starts to look like a significant constituency. It has greater effect.

Finally, professional activity is a dimension of relationship management that has another important result: Rejuvenation, about which I'll have more to say in my next article in this series. Professional activity lifts your head out of the trenches. It lets you compare your challenges with those of other libraries. It stretches the brain. A friend of mine once described himself to me as obsessive. His pattern was get fired up by some  new passion, then get deeper and deeper into it until he finally burned out. The secret, he said, was to have two things to worry about. When his brain started to fry, he switched.

Travel is another reason to be professionally active. Travel can be expensive, and it can be hard, at some conferences, to fit in some poking around. Yet library conferences are often in the vicinity of major cultural, historic, recreational, or natural sites. Adding a day or two before or after a conference to investigate the area is a way to mix business with pleasure, and maybe scout out your next professional move. But lest board members say "why should we send our director out to look for a new job?" remember that more often, conferences are not only a way for directors to stay current, they also  recruit new talent to their existing institution. Talent matters.

Finally, successful library directors realize that the advantages of professional activity pertain to the rest of the staff, too. The best practice for continuing education is to dedicate at least 2 percent of your salary budget for classes, tuition, professional memberships, conference registration, and travel. This may be part of a larger strategy to recruit promising talent to the profession.

The Series:
  1. The First Year: 5 Strategies for Success
  2. Managing your relationship with your boss
  3. Managing your relationship with staff, Part I
  4. Managing relationships with your staff: Part II
  5. Managing your relationship with the community
  6. Managing your relationship with the profession
  7. Managing your relationship with yourself
  8. Managing relationships: pulling it all together

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