Gaining a Managerial Mindset

By Hannah Joy Chapman

The monthly online discussion in December focused on the process of becoming a manager. The interest in this question was not only the routes library staff took to become managers but also in the tools and resources used to maintain and improve on management skills. This question was of particular personal interest because I am a relatively new manager of student assistants who work several hours a week at the reference desk in a large academic library. I find myself constantly searching for ways to improve my management skills or revise my style. The methods used to gain managerial skills or improve upon those skillsets can vary greatly depending on the resources available to you and often times the pre-existing structure of your place of employment can play a huge role. This post will elaborate on some common tools and methods to achieve managerial growth.

Through the discussion thread I found that there is a contingent of supervisors who have experiences quite similar to my own, in which a supervisory role may come suddenly or unexpectedly through retirements and reshuffling of tasks. As one respondent pointed out, it can be helpful when you have the opportunity to move into a management role directly from a pre-existing position in the same institution. One of the benefits being that you are already somewhat familiar with the workflows and supervisory styles preferred by your newly acquired reports. As a new supervisor in a library familiar to you, your reports may informally assist in mentoring you into the role of a new supervisor.

When confronted with a question, what better to do as a librarian than research the topic? One supervisor scoured YouTube to uncover a wealth of free resources, including New Manager Training – Excellent Manager Training tips. The YouTube video is provided by, another resource providing managerial guidance. Some libraries offer, a subscription-based video database containing curated instructional material on a variety of topics including management. Library Juice also offers a six-course certificate series in Library Management taught asynchronously for a fee.

Voices of those with early-career supervisory ambitions were also heard in the discussion. One of the recommendations was to take courses during your MLIS on management. The formal style of learning in a classroom can be very helpful in gaining a managerial mindset. A management course was required by my MLIS curriculum, I wish I had considered the course as potentially helpful to my future career goals so that I may have taken more away from the course and felt it worth the time to enroll in an advanced management course later in my MLIS. Hindsight is always 20/20. An integral point in taking required management courses seriously is to have a clear understanding of the current landscape and the varied types of management available. Although one may not aspire to be a university librarian or library director, management skills are useful in nearly every position.

The discussion also had a recommendation for a book called Good to Great by Jim Collins. The respondent recommending this text had been introduced to the reading in a management course. Despite some age and potentially problematic content the book holds up to present a view of a managerial style that is worth a close read. I have also found value in some readings specifically focused on a niche like student management in an academic library setting. One title to recommend is Mentoring & Managing Students in the Academic Library by Michelle Reale. Reale’s title speaks very specifically to the unique circumstances of student management.

The next best thing to taking courses during an MLIS career is to seek courses elsewhere. Some communities offer courses in person at nonprofit training centers. Opportunities for growth and development may also be offered at your institution, and actively seeking those courses from your own supervisor may be the only barrier to enrollment. Mentoring can also be a great way to gain insight into managerial styles and techniques. NMRT offers a mentoring program which can allow you to interface with an experienced librarian who may offer an alternative viewpoint based on their position or setting. Some larger libraries also offer formal mentoring programs and pair a seasoned librarian with a new comer. Both types of formal mentorship arrangements can augment the experience of a new supervisor.

If you aren’t able to set up a formal mentoring arrangement, looking to listservs can offer similar support and advice. In my role as a student supervisor, I have found the listserv to be extremely helpful as a sounding-board and a place to share tips and tricks. Although I don’t work in a circulation department currently, the lib-circplus listserv contains ample content on student supervision. One of the discussion respondents wrote that some friends had worked to set up a community web page and associated listserv for aspiring or new library directors. The website is: and the listserv signup can also be accessed from the website.

Seeking support from groups can be difficult if those groups don’t exist within your community. Taking the initiative to form a group such as the library directors group or an informal face to face meet up can reveal others within your community desiring the same type of support. If a group meeting seems like a heavy commitment to add to an already hectic work level, informal peer-to-peer mentoring can also fill the need. Among the most important aspects to becoming a supervisor or working in management is to feel supported in your new role and to find resources and people to look to when you need advice.

Resources & Experiences Shared:

  • Management responsibilities can be an unexpected addition to current tasks
  • Courses during MLIS on management or other management training targeted at the nonprofit sector
  • Read Good to Great by Jim Collins
  • Website and listserv for new library directors:
  • Take advantage of formal and informal mentoring opportunities
  • YouTube videos can be very helpful, a search for ‘new manager training’ is a good place to start in addition to New Manager Training – Excellent Manager Training tips
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