Small College Library Directors: Getting in the Door and Surviving on the Job
Julie O'Keeffe, Business Reference Librarian
Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
This paper reports findings from a 1996 survey which examined job preparedness of library directors at four-year colleges in twelve Midwest states. The survey measured: a) qualifications possessed at the time each person obtained his or her first director's position; and b) the skills and abilities directors felt were essential to surviving and doing well in their positions. One hundred fifty-eight directors returned questionnaires for a response rate of 84 percent. Participants in the 1995-96 College Library Director Mentor Program also supplied a list of essential skills for the first year in a new position.
Small college library directors are a unique breed of service professionals. They are called upon to perform a host of diverse duties, from answering reference questions to providing leadership on campus. Furthermore, their roles have evolved over time as they are continually challenged by new environments. Directors' responsibilities also vary greatly from institution to institution, depending on a whole host of factors related to each particular institution.
It is important that the library profession continue to identify and prepare talented individuals to direct our small college libraries. The unique nature of the role, however, may make it difficult for aspiring directors to know what to expect and whether they are adequately prepared for the job. Terrence Mech reported in a study from 1983:
Small college] libraries are often a direct reflection of their directors' skills and abilities. Since library directors tend to respond to problems and challenges based on their own previous experience, education, and background, these factors are important to consider. While there is a small but growing body of knowledge about college librarianship, very little is known about the men and women who direct the nation's many small college libraries.1
How can someone best prepare him- or herself to fill this role? What level of experience and qualifications are desirable going into a director's position? What are the skills that enable directors to survive and do well in their positions?
One method to determine a probable level of desired qualifications is to look at the persons already holding positions as directors. What degree of professional experience did each of these people possess when they obtained their position? How many years of experience did they have? At how many institutions and in how many positions did they gain this experience? Did they have any experience supervising other librarians? Did they have much administrative experience? Had they ever published anything? Had they held many leadership positions in professional library organizations prior to gaining their position as director?
For aspiring directors of small college libraries, understanding the level of qualifications needed to compete for a director's position is only half of the process. It is also important to understand what it takes to survive on the job and succeed in a director's position. There are a number of "softer" skills and abilities that a director must possess in order to perform well in his or her new role. These are skills librarians may not have learned in library school, such as negotiation, personnel, communication, and the ability to articulate a vision. Such skills and abilities are extremely important in smaller institutions where faculty and administrators must work closely together and relationships play a key role in the ability to get things done. It is an art to run a successful library, advocate its needs, and gain adequate support on campus while maintaining good relations both internally and externally.
This paper reports on a 1996 survey of small college library directors which measured both: a) the qualifications possessed at the time each person obtained her first director's position; and b) the skills and abilities these directors felt were essential to surviving and doing well in their position. The author also contacted directors who participated in the 1995-96 College Library Director Mentor Program, conceived by the Leadership Committee of ACRL's College Library Section and initially funded through a grant by the Council on Library Resources. Each person was asked to supply a list of essential skills for the first year in a new position. The author intends that the information obtained from these two groups of directors will serve as a guide for aspiring directors and take some of the guesswork out of preparing for their future.
A literature review failed to identify any survey research from 1985 to 1996 that addressed the issue of preparedness, in terms of qualifications and skills, for small college library director positions. A limited time frame was chosen for the review with the notion that any survey data covering prior years would be of insufficient value in today's library environment. The author identified a number of articles published over the past ten years that used survey data to profile directors or librarians in one way or another. These profiles include measurements of a number of qualifications for specific groups of librarians in various types of organizations. In terms of directors, however, these profiles examined the entirety of their professional lives, not just the portion completed at the point they became directors. Therefore, it was not possible to learn from those studies the level of qualifications possessed at the time each director obtained his or her position. It was possible, however, to glean other relevant data from two studies.
Mech conducted survey research in 1983 that profiled directors in seven Midwest states. These directors were located at institutions accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCACS) and which had an enrollment of fewer than 3500 students. He found that women directed 45 percent of the libraries at these colleges. Almost half of the directors held graduate degrees in addition to their MLS. One out of four directors had worked only in their present library and 29 percent were internal candidates. Seventy percent of the directors were native to their region and twenty-five percent were employed by their alma mater. Mech noted that the latter situation correlated to institutions with smaller enrollments. Most of the data above points to a narrow set of experiences for a portion of the group studied in terms of knowledge of more than one institution or geographic region. The remainder of Mech's data relevant to the current study does not allow comparison due to the time period examined in measuring each variable (entirety of professional life versus time prior to obtaining first director's position).2
Mech conducted another study in 1989 in which he examined the managerial role of library directors at institutions in nine Midwest states that were accredited by the NCACS or Southern Association of Colleges & Schools and had enrollments greater than 500 students . He found that:
. . . baccalaureate and community college directors spend more time with faculty and students, spend less time as negotiators and decision makers, and see technical skills [as] more important to their jobs than do other directors. Perhaps their situations demand . . . these directors to 'tend to the library' and perform more as professional librarians than as managers.3
Most of the other survey research between 1985 and 1996 regarding librarian qualifications either focused on populations not useful for comparison to the population of the current study or reported results from research conducted prior to 1985.
The author designed a mail questionnaire to measure specific small college library director qualifications and to obtain a laundry list of skills that directors consider essential to their job performance. Seven variables were used to measure qualifications, all limited to the time period prior to gaining their first director's position: 1) years of full-time professional library experience; 2) number of full-time professional positions; 3) number of institutions at which these positions were held; 4) years of full-time library administrative experience; 5) years of experience supervising professional librarians; 6) publication record; and 7) number of committee and officer's positions in professional library organizations. The author chose these variables as measurements of qualifications over other possible measurements because she felt they are normally considered when filling director positions.
The three-page questionnaire included thirty questions organized under six headings: Personal Information, Education, Work Experience, Publication Record, Professional Activities, and Job Effectiveness. The questionnaire first asked respondents to record the year in which they obtained their first director's position, allowing for the possibility that a director may no longer be in her first position. The questionnaire then asked respondents to answer each subsequent qualification-related question in terms of activities and experience prior to that year.
The essential skill portion of the questionnaire was located under the heading "Job Effectiveness." To obtain a laundry list of essential skills, the author instructed respondents to "Please identify the most important abilities or 'things' you believe are essential to surviving and doing well in a director's position." Examples were provided, consisting of "patience," "ability to handle personnel problems," and "the ability to look at the big picture."
The questionnaire was pretested in February of 1996 with 32 library directors in Tennessee and Arkansas. It was then sent in April of 1996 to library directors at every primarily four-year college in twelve Midwest states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. The author chose Midwest states due to familiarity with the region and because this region is home to many four-year colleges. Four-year colleges were defined as those classified by the Carnegie Foundation as Baccalaureate I or Baccalaureate II. One hundred ninety-five institutions fit these classifications. Six institutions did not currently employ a library director, leaving 189 institutions in the survey group. Ninety percent of these institutions had enrollments less than 2000, thereby allowing the study to maintain its intended focus on "small" colleges. All of the directors at these 189 institutions received a questionnaire. For the recipients who did not initially respond, the author sent a follow-up postcard. Finally, one week after the postcard, a second copy of the questionnaire was mailed, along with a stick of gum, to all remaining non-respondents. Ultimately 158 directors responded, for an 84% response rate. (The author highly recommends an edible incentive.)
The author then contacted the 1995-96 participants of the ACRL/CLS mentoring program for new college library directors. Each of the fifteen directors received the questionnaire described above, with one change: the "essential skill" question was rewritten to solicit a list of skills these directors felt were essential to surviving and doing well in the first year of a director's position. Thirteen of the fifteen participants responded to the questionnaire. (No gum was required.)
The author was initially uncertain how much of the data from the mentoring group would be used in the subsequent analysis. The main goal in soliciting their participation was to learn which skills they considered essential to the first year in a director's position. This portion of the data proved useful and was examined on its own and compared to skill-related data from the other group. The mentoring group's responses regarding qualifications, however, were excluded from any data analysis because: a) the individuals in the group did not meet the criteria for inclusion in the main population chosen for the study, and b) the small size of the group did not allow for any useful analysis of qualifications on its own.
The questionnaire data collected from the main population of the study was tabulated using SPSS. Composite averages were calculated for the data, including the seven qualification-related variables. Averages were then recalculated for these seven variables in terms of other factors to determine whether there was a correlation between a respondent's level of qualification and 1) gender; 2) age at the time she obtained her first director's position; 3) enrollment size of the institution where she obtained her first director's position; 4) whether the respondent was an internal or external candidate; 5) whether the respondent was an alumnus of the institution; 6) the decade in which the respondent obtained her first director's position; and, 7) Carnegie classification of current institution.
The essential skills identified by the main population of the study were categorized either according to the functional area with which the skill is associated ( categories: Management, Personnel, Communication, Planning, and Budget) or by grouping similar skills together (categories: Campus-Wide Relationships, Service Orientation, Perspective, Personal Attributes, and Misc. Skills). Respondents contributed a total of 648 items, distilled and de-duplicated down to 135 items.
The skills identified by participants in the mentoring program were then compiled and compared to the above sets of skills. Fifty-four items were contributed, distilled to 32 items.
A general profile of the respondents, excluding participants in the mentoring program, includes the following data:
- Eighty-one respondents (53 percent) were male and seventy-one (47 percent) were female.
- The average age of respondents when they obtained their first director's position was 38.
- The average enrollment size of respondents' institutions was 1351. Most (80 percent) enrollments ranged from 400 to 2000.
- Almost half (46 percent) of all respondents were internal candidates for their first director's position.
- One out of five (20 percent) respondents were alumni of the institution where they first served as library director.
- Thirty-three percent of respondents obtained their first director's position prior to 1981; 45 percent obtained their first position between 1981 and 1990; and 22 percent obtained their first position between 1991 and 1996. Twenty-five percent of respondents now direct libraries at institutions classified as Baccalaureate I institutions. The other 75 percent of respondents serve at Baccalaureate II institutions.
- Three out of four (76 percent) respondents are still employed in their first director's position. Of the directors who moved on to other jobs the average length of service in their first director's position was five years.
- Every respondent holds a masters degree in library science.
- Thirty-eight percent of respondents hold at least one masters degree beyond their masters degree in library science. Most (86 percent) earned their second degree prior to obtaining their first director's position.
- Fourteen percent of respondents hold doctoral degrees. Two thirds (64 percent) of this group earned their doctorate prior to obtaining their first director's position. Half (50 percent) of the respondents who hold doctoral degrees pursued a career teaching at the college level before becoming a librarian.
- Forty percent of respondents had earned undergraduate degrees in either English or History, with another 14 percent in Education.
Professional Work Experience
Table 1 shows the work experience of respondents prior to the time they obtained their first director's position, including the following averages:
- 8.2 years of full-time professional (post-MLS) library experience
- experience in 2.1 full-time professional library positions
- professional, full-time experience at 1.8 institutions
- 3.2 years of full-time library administrative experience
- 2.3 years of experience supervising professional librarians
|Percent of Main Population||100 %|
|Years of Full-time Professional Library Exp.||8.2 years|
|No. of Full-time Professional Library Positions||2.1 positions|
|No. of Institutions where Positions were Held||1.8 instns.|
|Years of Full-time Library Administrative Exp.||3.2 years|
|Years of Experience Supervising Librarians||2.3 years|
|Percent of Group that had Published||43 %|
|Percent of Group that had held Positions||49 %|
A different look at the data gives a more interesting picture. Almost twenty percent of first-time directors possessed one year of professional library experience or less when they assumed their positions. Thirty-two percent of directors had held only one professional job prior to gaining their first director's position, and fourteen percent had not held any professional jobs. Half of all respondents possessed no full-time library administrative experience, although administrative experience was defined as "at least 75 percent of your duties involving paperwork, as opposed to hands-on provision of service." Considering that a) service is the major component of small college library positions, and b) the organizational structure is normally comprised of only two tiers, it is not surprising that respondents had attained little experience in concentrated administrative work. Finally, sixty-five percent of first-time directors had never supervised professional librarians when they assumed their position. This is also most likely attributable to the flat organizational structure.
Prior to the time they obtained their first director's position, forty-three percent of respondents had had at least one item accepted for publication. Specifically:
- One out of five (20 percent) respondents had published articles in peer-reviewed library journals.
- One out of seven (14 percent) respondents had published articles in peer-reviewed non-library journals.
- One out of four (25 percent) respondents had published articles elsewhere.
- Fourteen respondents (9 percent) had written chapters of books.
- Seven respondents (5 percent) had been the sole author of a book.
- Two respondents (less than 2 percent) had been the co-author of one or more books.
- Four respondents (less than 3 percent) had been the primary editor of one or more books.
Prior to the time they obtained their first director's position, almost half (49 percent) of respondents had held an officer's position or committee position in a professional library organization. Specifically:
- One out of four respondents (25 percent) had held positions at a sub-state level.
- One out of three (34 percent) had held positions at the state level.
- One out of five (20 percent) had held positions at the national level.
Qualification Differences between Subgroups
Certain subgroups of respondents were noticeably more qualified than other subgroups in the study. The author made comparisons by examining the work experience, publication record, and involvement in professional organizations within the following seven sets of subgroups: men versus women; respondents who were 38 or younger when they obtained their first director's position versus respondents who were older than 38; respondents whose institutions had enrollments less than 600 versus enrollments between 600 and 1100 versus enrollments greater than 1100; internal versus external candidates; alumni versus non-alumni; respondents who gained their first position prior to 1981 versus those who gained their first position between 1981 and 1990 versus those who gained their first position between 1991 and 1996; and directors who currently work at Baccalaureate I institutions versus directors who currently work at Baccalaureate II institutions.
Qualifications were compared within each set of subgroups through a three-step process. First, averages were calculated for each variable in each subgroup. Then the resulting figure for each variable in one subgroup was compared to the same variable in the opposing subgroup. For example, men had an average of 6.11 years' experience, while women had an average of 4.9 years' experience. Therefore, men had 25 percent more years' experience than the women. Finally, a mean was calculated as the percent difference in total qualifications between subgroups. For example, men possessed 32 percent more qualifications than women.
All seven sets of subgroups showed differences in qualifications within their set. The following section describes these differences.
1. Alumni versus Non-Alumni
The set of subgroups that showed the greatest difference were alumni and non-alumni. Non-alumni were three times more qualified (222 percent more qualified) than alumni. As table 2 shows, non-alumni had 2.3 more years of work experience than alumni (37 percent more), 1.0 additional positions (77 percent more), over four times the number of years of administrative experience (322% more), and nearly ten times the amount of experience supervising librarians (867% more). Non-alumni were also more than twice as likely to have published (48 percent of non-alumni versus 23 percent of alumni) and sixty-nine percent more likely to have served in committee or officers' positions (54 percent of non-alumni versus 32 percent of alumni).
|Percent of Main Population||20 %||80 %|
|Years of Full-time Professional Library Exp.||6.3 years||8.6 years|
|No. of Full-time Professional Library Positions||1.3 positions||2.3 positions|
|No. of Institutions where Positions were Held||1.1 instns.||1.9 instns.|
|Years of Full-time Library Administrative Exp.||0.9 years||3.8 years|
|Years of Experience Supervising Librarians||0.3 years||2.9 years|
|Percent of Group that had Published||23 %||48 %|
|Percent of Group that had held Positions||32 %||54 %|
2. Older Candidates versus Younger Candidates
The next greatest difference in level of qualifications correlated to age at the time respondents obtained their first director's position. Keep in mind that the study did not look at respondents' current age, but rather their age at the time they obtained their position. Respondents' ages ranged from 24 to 68 when they became directors. Although it may seem apparent that older job candidates would have more qualifications than younger job candidates, this is not necessarily the case. It is important to consider that some directors may have pursued other careers prior to joining the library profession and therefore would have fewer years of experience in the library profession when they obtained their first director's position than would otherwise be expected.
Despite this possibility, the data showed that candidates who were 39 and older were more than twice as qualified (139 percent more qualified) as candidates who were 38 and younger. As table 3 shows, their biggest advantage was in terms of supervisory experience; older candidates possessed an average of 4.1 years of supervisory experience when they obtained their first director's position, as compared to 0.8 years for younger candidates. It appears that older candidates may have simply waited longer before gaining their first director's position and accumulated more qualifications in the process.
|Age of Candidate||38 and Younger||39 and Older|
|Percent of Main Population||53 %||47 %|
|Years of Full-time Professional Library Exp.||5.0 years||11.8 years|
|No. of Full-time Professional Library Positions||1.6 positions||2.7 positions|
|No. of Institutions where Positions were Held||1.4 instns.||2.2 instns.|
|Years of Full-time Library Administrative Exp.||1.6 years||4.9 years|
|Years of Experience Supervising Librarians||0.8 years||4.1 years|
|Percent of Group that had Published||38 %||48 %|
|Percent of Group that had held Positions||38 %||62 %|
3. Large Enrollment versus Small Enrollment
Enrollment was the third best predictor of qualifications. Respondents who gained their first director's position at institutions with enrollments over 1100 were more qualified at the time they assumed the positions than directors at institutions with enrollments between 600 and 1100 (40 percent more qualified) and directors at institutions with enrollments less than 600 (77 percent more qualified). Specifically, they possessed significantly more administrative and supervisory experience than directors at medium-sized schools (88 percent and 95 percent more, respectively) (table 4).
|Enrollment Size||600 and Less||601 - 1100||Greater than 1100|
|Percent of Main Population||33 %||33 %||33 %|
|Years of Full-time Professional Library Exp.||7.1 years||7.5 years||9.6 years|
|No. of Full-time Professional Library Positions||1.6 positions||2.1 positions||2.7 positions|
|No. of Institutions where Positions were Held||1.4 instns.||1.8 instns.||2.1 instns.|
|Years of Full-time Library Administrative Exp.||2.9 years||2.4 years||4.5 years|
|Years of Experience Supervising Librarians||1.5 years||1.9 years||3.7 years|
|Percent of Group that had Published||32 %||43 %||53 %|
|Percent of Group that had held Positions||28 %||64 %||60 %|
4. Decade in which Position was Obtained
The next best predictor of qualifications was the decade in which each respondent obtained their first position. As seen in table 5, although respondents who became directors between 1991 and 1996 had only slightly higher qualifications when they assumed their positions than those who gained positions between 1981 and 1990 (5 percent higher qualifications,) they had almost twice the qualifications of those who gained positions prior to 1981 (93 percent higher qualifications). Directors who obtained their positions prior to 1981 possessed less than one fourth of the supervisory experience and approximately half the administrative experience possessed by the 1990's group. The same group also held positions in professional organizations at approximately half the rate of the 1990's group.
|Percent of Main Population||33 %||45 %||22 %|
|Years of Full-time Professional Library Exp.||5.3 years||10.2 years||8.3 years|
|No. of Full-time Professional Library Positions||1.8 positions||2.2 positions||2.3 positions|
|No. of Institutions where Positions were Held||1.5 instns.||1.9 instns.||1.8 instns.|
|Years of Full-time Library Administrative Exp.||1.7 years||4.1 years||3.5 years|
|Years of Experience Supervising Librarians||0.9 years||2.7 years||3.8 years|
|Percent of Group that had Published||36 %||45 %||48 %|
|Percent of Group that had held Positions||34 %||54 %||64 %|
5. Baccalaureate I versus Baccalaureate II
Directors who currently work at Baccalaureate I institutions possessed qualifications 53 percent higher than the qualifications of directors at Baccalaureate II institutions (table 6). They had more years of experience (41 percent more), had held more positions (30 percent more), had over twice as much experience supervising librarians (147 percent more), and published and held positions in professional organizations at a noticeably higher rate (53 percent and 58 percent higher, respectively).
|Carnegie Classification||Baccalaureate I||Baccalaureate II|
|Percent of Main Population||25 %||75 %|
|Years of Full-time Professional Library Exp.||10.4 years||7.4 years|
|No. of Full-time Professional Library Positions||2.6 positions||2.0 positions|
|No. of Institutions where Positions were Held||2.0 instns.||1.7 instns.|
|Years of Full-time Library Administrative Exp.||3.7 years||3.0 years|
|Years of Experience Supervising Librarians||4.2 years||1.7 years|
|Percent of Group that had Published||58 %||38 %|
|Percent of Group that had held Positions||68 %||43 %|
6. Men versus Women
Men were 22 percent more qualified than women (table 7). Men had 12 percent more years of full-time professional library experience, 10 percent more full-time professional library positions, 10 percent more administrative experience, and 71 percent more experience supervising professional librarians. Forty-eight percent of men had published, compared to 37 percent of women. Fifty-two percent of men had held officer or committee positions in professional library organizations compared to 46 percent of women.
|Percent of Main Population||53 %||47 %|
|Years of Full-time Professional Library Exp.||8.6 years||7.7 years|
|No. of Full-time Professional Library Positions||2.2 positions||2.0 positions|
|No. of Institutions where Positions were Held||1.8 instns.||1.7 instns.|
|Years of Full-time Library Administrative Exp.||3.3 years||3.0 years|
|Years of Experience Supervising Librarians||2.9 years||1.7 years|
|Percent of Group that had Published||48 %||37 %|
|Percent of Group that had held Positions||52 %||46 %|
7. External versus Internal Candidates
External candidates had 14 percent higher qualifications than internal candidates. This does not mean that internal candidates were necessarily at a disadvantage when they sought their positions, however. It is possible they were each the most qualified person in their pool of candidates. In terms of specific qualifications, external candidates fell short of internal candidates in one area: years of experience in profession. External candidates possessed 7.8 years of experience as compared to 8.6 years for internal candidates (9 percent less). In all other areas external candidates ranked anywhere from 17 to 30 percent higher (table 8).
|Percent of Main Population||46 %||54 %|
|Years of Full-time Professional Library Exp.||8.6 years||7.8 years|
|No. of Full-time Professional Library Positions||1.9 positions||2.3 positions|
|No. of Institutions where Positions were Held||1.6 instns.||1.9 instns.|
|Years of Full-time Library Administrative Exp.||2.9 years||3.4 years|
|Years of Experience Supervising Librarians||2.0 years||2.6 years|
|Percent of Group that had Published||39 %||46 %|
|Percent of Group that had held Positions||49 %||50 %|
Members of the study's main population were generous in contributing a list of skills, abilities, and other "things" they felt were essential to surviving and doing well in a director's position. Table 9 shows the percent of items mentioned by category. The largest categories were personal attributes (29 percent of all items), followed by management skills (15 percent), personnel skills (13 percent), communication skills (11 percent), and campus-wide relationships (10 percent). Less-mentioned categories included planning skills (6 percent), perspective - or ability to see the big picture (4 percent), budget skills (4 percent), and a service orientation (2 percent).
|Skills/Abilities||Number of Comments||Percent of Comments|
26 Strong interpersonal skills
19 Sense of humor
16 Ability to compromise / negotiate
11 Problem-solving / Decision-making skills
17 Ability to hire good people that work well as a team
31 Ability to communicate library concerns, articulate a vision, advocate for library
16 Good relationships with faculty
13 Good relationships with admstrs
12 Involvement in campus activities
11 Political skills
Strong interpersonal skills, patience, a sense of humor, the ability to compromise / negotiate, and flexibility claimed the top positions (in that order) when it came to personal attributes. Although they were only five of the forty items contributed as personal attributes, they comprised over half of all comments in this category.
There were a number of items in other categories that were widely cited by respondents. The most-often cited skills within selected categories were: problem-solving / decision-making skills (12 percent of all comments in management category); ability to hire good people who work well as a team (21 percent of all comments in personnel category); ability to communicate library concerns, articulate a vision, advocate for the library (42 percent of all comments in communication category); good relationships with faculty and administrators (when combined, 45 percent of all comments in campus-wide relationships category); and vision (40 percent of all comments in planning category).
Members of the ACRL/CLS mentoring program also provided a valuable list of skills, abilities, and other "things" they considered essential to surviving and doing well in the first year as a director. As shown in table 10, the largest categories were campus-wide relationships (22 percent of all items), communication skills (19 percent), personal attributes (15 percent), management skills (15 percent), and personnel skills (11 percent). Less-mentioned categories included planning skills (4 percent), perspective - or ability to see the big picture (4 percent), budget skills (4 percent), and a service orientation (2 percent). The items cited most frequently were, independent of category: good relationships with faculty and administrators (cited seven times), communication skills (cited four times), ability to gauge the political climate and understand the organizational culture (cited three times), and the ability to advocate for the library (cited three times). On the whole, participants in the mentoring group did not repeat each other's contributions often; only 12 of the 32 items were mentioned by more than one person.
7 In general
3 Political skills / ability to learn organizational culture
1 Ability to earn trust
1 Involvement on campus
4 In general
2 Ability to listen
3 Ability to advocate for library / make it visible
1 Diplomatic skills
2 Sense of humor
1 Leadership skills
2 Problem-solving / decision-making skills
2 Knowledge of all aspects of library operation
1 Ability to organize
1 Ability to prioritize
1 Ability to delegate
2 In general
1 Ability to earn trust
2 Ability to build morale / create team spirit
1 Ability to hire good people
2 In general
1 In general
1 Ability to see others' perspectives
1 In general
1 Good mentor
1 Parenting skills
1 Interact with other directors
Skills contributed by the mentoring group resemble those contributed by the study's main population in a broad sense. Although ranked differently, the top five categories are the same for both groups of respondents (campus-wide relationships, communication skills, personal attributes, management skills, and personnel skills). Conversely, the remaining four categories (budget skills, planning skills, perspective, and service orientation) rank lowest for both groups. Individual skills that stand out in both sets of responses include good relationships with faculty and administrators and the ability to advocate for the library.
It makes sense that campus-wide relationships ranked as the highest category for first-year directors. Cultivating these relationships is critical to the success of the library. It is less obvious why personal attributes eventually percolate to the top, as seen in the list of skills for directors who are in subsequent years of their position. Perhaps it is because directors are tested over time and their ability to handle various situations is directly tied to their personal attributes.
This study does not attempt to analyze the data obtained regarding essential skills. The list of skills is intended primarily to serve as a guide for aspiring directors so that they are aware of the skills they may need to improve. At the least, it helps to make future librarians aware of the skills they will likely be expected to display.
Two concerns should be addressed regarding the list of skills included in this study. First, the author recognizes that the skills listed here may not differ from those needed at a larger institution. No attempt has been made to compare or contrast skills required at different size institutions. Secondly, no attempt has been made to prioritize the skills by measure of importance, although the frequency of mention by the respondents of certain skills would seem to indicate that they may play a more prominent role in a director's ability to perform.
Additional Comments from Respondents
The final area of interest from the study were respondents' additional comments. The best quote from the questionnaires describes the role of a small college library director in a nutshell:
I think the most important skill is the ability to juggle - to work around constant interruptions. To smile at the student who needs help just when your creative juices are flowing; or the faculty member who needs to talk about resources for the department when your budget request is due tomorrow.
The quote demonstrates the patience, flexibility, and interpersonal skills that respondents frequently cited as essential skills.
Other comments demonstrated the degree of satisfaction derived from, and variety involved in, directing a small college library. One respondent indicated he enjoyed his work " . . . because I like to do a variety of things. I can still have some amount of "hands on" as well as running the show. Aspiring directors need to be versatile and flexible to cope with the many tasks you are called on to do." Flexibility was also illustrated through respondents' examples of various nontraditional duties: moving furniture, dusting, cleaning up a roof leak, and fixing the time clock.
The factors of limited financial and human resources were also apparent. One respondent indicated, "Before I became director, our library did a national search for a director who ideally would have administrative experience . . . However, our institution has difficulty attracting someone of that caliber because of low pay." Other respondents commented on small staff size. One person stated, "I had only been a librarian for one and a half years when I was promoted to the position of director. We are a small library with only two professional staff - therefore, my responses may not be typical." This person did not realize that his or her situation is not uncommon.
Politics was also the topic of many comments. Respondents indicated the need to gauge the political climate and act within it. One person said, "I have seen several directors defeated by their lack of political ability."
Two final comments of interest included: "One's qualifications get the interview. After that it seems to be chemical," and "Train under an excellent director. Observe closely."
Participants in the mentoring program made some useful comments regarding their first year as director. One director stated, "I think no matter how well you prepare yourself for the position, there will always be surprises at the reality, especially with the first directorship." Another respondent said, "The best advice I'd give a prospective director is to make sure you've had enough of the 'hands-on librarian' work so that administration appeals to you. In other words, make sure you're ready for something totally different." Finally, someone offered, "Know that you will make mistakes and that they will be more visible than before [becoming a director]. Learn from them and move on quickly - don't dwell on the past."
The items presented in this report are important in preparing for a position as director at a small college. Although progressive work experience, publications, and leadership in professional organizations are often the focus of professional development pursuits, of equal importance are the softer skills and abilities essential to the day-to-day administration of a library.
Advertisements for director's positions at smaller institutions often include a statement regarding the ability to function well in a small, collegial environment. Institutions that place these announcements understand they cannot afford to overlook the importance of softer skills. The institutions that hire only on the basis of more measurable qualifications may achieve a certain degree of prestige in the public eye, but it may be at the expense of the director's ability to perform well in his or her new environment.
The ideal situation is to hire directors that have both hard qualifications and softer skills. Although it might infrequently prove difficult to attract such people to smaller institutions, there are a number of librarians who prefer a smaller environment. Often they are the products of small colleges themselves and seek to have the same personal impact on today's students as they experienced as undergraduates. The library profession should encourage and support these individuals in preparing for this role
1. Terrence F. Mech, "Small College Library Directors of the Midwest," Journal of Academic Librarianship 11 (Mar. 1985): 8.
2. Ibid., 8-13.
3. Terrence F. Mech, "Academic Library Directors: A Managerial Role Profile," College & Research Libraries 51 (Sept. 1990): 425.
___ Second masters degree (recommended)
___ Eight years of experience in profession
___ Professional experience at two institutions
___ Two years of experience supervising librarians
___ Administrative experience of any duration
___ One or two officer or committee positions in professional library organizations
___ Publications of any type (preferably in library journals)
___ Strong interpersonal skills
___ Sense of Humor
___ Ability to compromise / negotiate
___ Problem-solving skills
___ Ability to build good relationships with faculty and administrators
___ Political skills
___ Desire to participate in campus activities
___ Ability to hire good people
___ Ability to articulate a vision / advocate for library
___ Ability to look at the big picture