This week my last requirement beyond the thesis/capstone for my MLIS began—a library management class. The professor is good for a variety of reasons but the most important one so far is her tendency to emphasize good managers as having a “bias for action and innovation.” I’ve seen what happens when managers aren’t good. In the session today, we were asked to reflect on our best and worst experiences with managers, consider how they impacted our work, and how they made us feel.
My worst managers were a combination of indifferent and ignorant, or moody, masquerading under business-speak buzzwords. If they were neither of these, it was an absentee landlord—usually the case with franchise hotel properties. I rarely got along with any of my bosses because they were often inflexible micro-managers who responded to questions with “We’ve always done it this way.” As a hotheaded twenty something, I resisted and did not listen. As a hotel clerk, I bent and broke rules for customers in the name of better service. I wore business suits instead of the brand uniform and got away with it because the alternative was firing me and causing a manager to work night shift until a replacement was found. My customer ratings were high; the guests sober enough to remember the night shift girl loved me.
As a library staff member in a large public, I forgave the fines of precocious teen readers in high poverty areas and did my best to multitask—shelving reserves while keeping an eye on the desk and helping customers. For this, I was condescended to. I loved my patrons and my observed interactions showed this. I had some of the highest in the branch. Yet, I was made to feel as though I was a problem, always doing the wrong thing no matter how closely I followed procedure.
Maybe a public library was not for me. This was a strange thought. Many of my classmates at Kent State were sure they’d become librarians for public systems. My adviser was assigned to me because I’d discussed the usability flaws of large public library discovery layers and the abuse of so-called Web 2.0 technologies in my admissions essay. I disagreed with Michael Goreman, loved Google, and was interested in how librarians responded to disasters like September 11 and Hurricane Katrina.
The next library was better in many ways. I thought perhaps I’d found a home at last. Although this manager was innovative and friendly, all my ideas were swiftly dismissed before they were appropriated as examples of a willingness to listen. I learned a great deal from this library. This manager wanted one big family at work and I agreed you should be happy at your job. But I was the problem child. Again, I figured this was my fault. I came home from work exhausted and in a dim, chronic pain. They are a great team, but I was not right for them.
It’s kind of an American thing to hate your job and resent your boss. But for every manager that failed me, I too made a mistake: I failed to understand the kind of environment I would thrive in. I assumed all jobs were like my previous ones, with favorites and kingdom builders and sanctimony. So tonight when during the class session, my professor asked us to remember how those bosses made us feel, my muscles flexed with tight pain and I felt my brain dull with terminal boredom.
But this doesn’t have to be the case. You can go to work happy. You can come home with energy and a sense of accomplishment instead of an extra bottle of wine. I hope this class can help me understand how and why people thrive, why they stop, and how to build an environment to help others flourish.