If you’ve ever had drinks with me at a conference, you know that conversation inevitably turns to library school – why it exists, what’s its real value, and what they heck are they teaching there?! By the second drink, we are redesigning the list of required courses on the back of a cocktail napkin. Three drinks in, we are plotting a full-on revolution. Then we pay our tab and part ways and wait for the next conference and the next hotel bar and next convo about libary skoo (BTW – see you in Chicago, Meghan and Natalie and Chris!)
Those moments were on my mind last fall when my alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science, offered me a teaching gig. I was SUPER excited to get to teach things like Reader’s Advisory 101 or a seminar on Public Libraries or maybe even a special topics class on User Experience or The Future of Public Services. So, when they asked me to teach the required “Management for Information Professionals” course, I was a little less excited. But then I thought about all of those conference cocktail convos and thought, “THIS is my chance! The revolution starts HERE!”
When I sat down to design the course, I started talking to library colleagues from around the country – who are managers and leaders themselves – about the management courses they took in library school, what they learned, and what they wish they had learned. I thought about my own experience and considered what I learned versus what I do on a regular basis – and the skills and knowledge I need in my current job.
Based on my own thinking and my conversations with others, I decided on two important guiding principles for the course – 1) It will be a practical approach to management, based on real world scenarios rather than textbook theory and 2) It will be based on best practices for management generally, rather than a library-centric approach.
In the course of the semester, we’ll talk about hiring/coaching/developing/firing employees. We’ll talk about managing budgets and managing PR crises. We’ll discuss performance measurement and LEAN and project management. We’ll read First, Break All The Rules and The No Asshole Rule. However, before we get into all that, I wanted to start somewhere that would ground the class in those two guiding principles of practicality and universality. So we spent the first class or two with the father of modern management, Peter Drucker.
If you haven’t delved into Drucker in a while – or ever – I encourage you to do so. His thinking and writing are still incredibly relevant to just about any profession or organization. Here’s some of what we discussed in class, and gleaned just from the introduction to his classic book, Management:
- On leaders vs managers – “The very best leaders are first and foremost effective managers. Those who seek to lead but fail to manage will become either irrelevant or dangerous, not only to their organizations, but to society.”
- On the necessity of management – “None of our institutions could function without managers.”
- On what managers do – 1) Set objectives 2) Organize work 3) Motivate and communicate 4) Measure 5) Develop people
- On managing people – “The manager works with a specific resource: people. And the human being is a unique resource, requiring particular qualities in whoever attempts to work with it. “Working” with human beings always means developing him or her.”
Again, that’s just the introduction. In this and other works, Drucker offers practical insight into just about every realm of management from assessment and planning to work/life balance and personal development. Seriously, check him out.
In revisiting Drucker’s work and in sharing it with my class, I am struck by the clarity of his thought, the precision of his writing, and how much we can all learn from him, no matter where we are in our careers. Because for him, management is not an art or a science but a practice.
Conceiving of management as a practice demystifies it for those at the beginning of their career, as it is something that can be learned and understood. Conceiving of management as practice offers reassurance for those who are already managers, as it reminds us that we can reflect and learn and continually hone our craft.
In Jim Collins’ forward to the Revised Edition of Management, called “Peter Drucker’s Legacy,” the Good to Great author reflects on the reasons for Drucker’s enduring appeal:
“What accounts for Drucker’s enormous impact? I believe the answer lies not just in his specific ideas, but in his entire approach to ideas, composed of four elements:
- He looked out the window, not in the mirror
- He started first- and always – with results
- He asked audacious questions
- He infused all his work with a concern and compassion for the individual.”
The students in INLS 585 and I agreed that if we – as aspiring and practicing managers alike – can approach our work with these four elements in mind, our libraries, archives, school media centers, and just about any organization, will have an enduring impact as well.
So, yeah, I’m a fan of Mr. Drucker. And I encourage you to run – don’t walk! – to your local library and check out one of his books. And see if you don’t find yourself inspired. And the next time we see each other in a hotel bar at a conference, we can toast Mr. Drucker, grab a napkin, and get to work redesigning that information retrieval class.