Keep the “CO” in Coordinating
My first academic library position was at a large academic institution in the heart of Atlanta. While our library faculty was very large, the organizational hierarchy for my department was relatively flat – my departmental coordinator (and direct supervisor) was the only person between me and a member of the library administration. I watched my supervisor successfully navigate expectations from other library leaders. She reconciled those goals with her philosophy of library service and her vision for public service, all while dealing with numerous human resources tasks and requirements.
I noted that instead of seeking to control people’s daily work, her style leaned toward transparency, team-building and skill-strengthening. Today, I am working as a coordinator at a small library with six librarians (one of whom is the library director) and six full-time staff. Although I don’t have supervisory duties, I find that my core goal is still similar: to align the professional goals and expectations of my colleagues, my library and my academic institution. Because of a flat organizational hierarchy, I find that using the following tenets have helped me reduce the “CO” in control and focus on more positive ways to coordinate the daily and ongoing work of our organization, especially as it pertains to reference and information services.
- Communicate. While the other tenets are in no particular order, communication is first on the list because it really is the most important piece in a coordinator’s toolbox. Coordinators should avoid the tactic of withholding relevant information as a method of control (with the obvious exceptions of sensitive and legal matters). Find ways to talk with and listen to your coworkers. These exchanges can be informal – conversation during a walk to the coffee shop, or during a lull at the reference desk. They may also be formal – meetings set up to discuss matters of concern to your employees. Moreover, keep them apprised of your vision and ask for feedback about their roles in those plans.
- Collaborate. Activity on LIS listservs proves that librarians seek out advice on everything from iPads to information literacy. In general, librarians enjoy working with others. If you are consistently responsible for all stages of a project or plan, consider using your coordinator position to identify your employees’ strengths and to use that knowledge to create working teams. Periodically, ask for feedback on processes or policies that you have put in place. Excluding coworkers from projects that are appropriate for group work could make them feel alienated and disconnected from the department or the library and its mission.
- Collapse service barriers. One of the goals of librarianship is to make it as easy as possible to access information and use library services. Even in this time of budget cuts and economic downturn, my top objective as a reference coordinator is to create and implement information services and programs that don’t add red tape to library users’ information-seeking processes. Seek solutions that are low- or no-cost; foster collaborations with like-minded (and better funded) departments; or appeal to the generous nature and expertise of your coworkers. Work with your techno-centric colleague to locate free, ADA-compatible software for tutorials, or recruit poetry professors to host a student reading at your library. Join forces with the best people who can help you expand the library’s service reach and promote the library as a central scholarly/social space on your campus.
- Collegiality. Information professionals work toward a common purpose: to create an informed citizenry in the quest for a more perfect democratic society. Practicing collegiality requires coordinators to model and encourage behaviors that respect library workers’ skills and abilities to uphold the values of librarianship. Allow room for autonomy. Remind colleagues about the American Library Association Code of Ethics. Approach disagreements with solution-focused results. Seek out fresh perspectives on old questions. Discuss your mistakes and, most importantly, celebrate daily triumphs!
In addition to helping me clarify my leadership style, I have found that these basic principles of collaborative coordinating have lead to professional development and training opportunities, successful program initiatives and improved workplace communication. Perhaps you are in a similar position at your library. What are some practices you employ to stave off the dark side of coordinating?
Kaetrena Davis Kendrick, M.S.L.S., is Reference Coordinator at the University of South Carolina’s Aiken Gregg-Graniteville Library.
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