#SLAers Flying Solo

Categorized | Education

Solo Project Management: The Myth and Reality

Here’s a little preview for you of what you can expect from Pat Wagner’s upcoming webinar. Information about the webinar, as well as registration for the event (which will be taking place on November 18 from 5-6 PM) can be found at http://slanypublications.org/event-registration/?ee=10.

One of the benefits that attracts professionals to work in solo library positions is what I call “The Myth of Autonomy.” For the person who chafes at supervision and the messier features of human interaction, having one’s own territory to rule over seems ideal.

You get to decide (more or less) what to do–when, how, and how much–most of the time. There is no chatty co-worker to interrupt you with tales of weekend adventures and small talk about television shows and family problems. You can arrange your work area exactly the way that suits you.

Or not.

The truth is more complicated. Some solos try to manage their libraries as if they were castles surrounded by moats. with one narrow drawbridge by which to control requests and general communications. Control is the operative word. They then are upset when co-workers in the institution–their internal customers–try to bypass the carefully crafted one narrow conduit–and attempt to breach the walls.

“They don’t pay attention to library policies and schedules! They don’t memorize the procedures! They expect me to wait on them hand and foot! They want immediate responses! All they care about is their own work.” Why does it sometimes sound as if the library’s customers are the enemies: the legendary barbarians at the gate?

The drawbridge model–with the attack hippos waiting in the reeds–does not work well.

Instead, solo librarians would do better to see themselves as part of a team, even if the other members are thousands of miles away. To manage those relationships means a mental shift from gatekeeper to that of being a node in a network of many people and sites working together.

Three issues that we will be discussing in our Solo Project Management webinar on November 18 address this shift.

  • Understanding the concept of “management overhead”. The time it takes to maintain effective communication with your customers is not the same as the reference interview or an advertising blitz. It is more about building a relationship with frequent small conversations by phone, e-mail, online and in person. Touching base, as my mom used to say.
  • Anticipating the needs of the customer so you are better prepared for requests. This translates into fewer surprises.
  • Empowering your customers and allies. One theory of special librarianship says that the services of the library shall be conducted only by degreed professionals, so nothing important can be delegated to library associates, regardless of their competence, education, intelligence, or experience. A different theory says that improving the skills of others can mean better service and a less-stressful workplace. We will explore both ideas.

Solo librarians have limited resources and are constrained by that annoying time-space continuum. However, the application of classic project management techniques can make work life more productive, even for a singleton.

Pat Wagner is a library trainer and consultant with over 35 years’ experience working for and with special librarians. She can be reached through her website at www.sieralearn.com.

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