Going Solo – 8 Skills Critical to the Success of One-Person Library Management

January 22, 2016

I recently saw a great infographic based on Larry Cooperman’s book, Managing the One-Person Library. It’s a “test” that allows you to assess whether you have the right stuff to operate as a solo librarian (and it can also be used as a recruiting and hiring aid). Please read on for some secrets to effective one-person library management.

The infographic made me think back to my first job out of library school, when I was the solo librarian for a real estate consultancy. Upon reflection, I realize that in practice I grappled with all 8 of the assessment areas represented—but I don’t think I knew that because I was too busy rushing about and trying to do everything accurately, all at once!

So let’s say you already are a solo librarian. The 8 skills/areas of focus in the infographic aren’t just useful for career planning or recruiting. Taking a look at them and building your departmental plan around them makes a lot of sense.

All are important, but I think it’s critical to prioritize—and that prioritization must be based on the strategic and operational goals of the organization rather than your own preferences or departmental objectives. In fact, your most important departmental objective should be to map library management tightly to the top level business strategy—now, and in the future.

The 8 areas, in no particular order, are:

  • Time Management
  • Change Management
  • Stress Management
  • Marketing
  • Professional Development
  • Collection Development
  • Information Technology
  • Cataloging and Serials Management

In my case, the collection was very focused on a few granular areas of real estate, and consisted mainly of reports, journals, maps and newspaper clippings. Collection development was really not a priority, but cataloging what we had and managing our serials effectively—particularly routing—was very important to the partners who ran the firm.

I was the first librarian they’d ever had, so marketing my services was really important, since if they remembered I was there and came to me I could save the consultants and partners lots of time, and improve the quality and accuracy of their output. As the only library resource, I had to manage my time very tightly in order to accommodate everyone’s requests – see, my marketing efforts were successful! At first I kept track of content and projects on paper or in spreadsheets, but when I undertook a significant special project to develop the leasing mix for a large open air shopping center in Santa Barbara (I intended it to be the first of many such projects), I needed to focus on the information technology side of life. Library automation software became a priority, based on the needs of the partners.

Change management, stress management and professional development were all back-burnered, though still important (mostly to me). In fact, I left the firm because they were resistant to change, and I was no longer learning anything, and I went to a large management consultancy where I was part of a team. Turns out, the “8 skills critical to the success of one-person libraries” are portable, but their priority order shifted yet again in a different environment.

If you’re a solo librarian, take a look at the 8 skills/focus areas and see where they fit in with your organization’s top level strategy and operational goals. Then, think of the percentage of your time leadership would expect you to assign to each based on their priorities—and build your departmental plan based on that. And stress management? That’s what spas, exercise and chocolate are for!

Sarah Nichols

Sarah Nichols

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