At the end of November, my friend and coworker, L, retired after 30 years working in the library acquisitions department. Before we stuffed our faces with vanilla cake with cream cheese icing, our department head stood up to give a brief commemorative speech. After that, she turned over the talk to L.
L didn’t talk, really, about herself. First, she briefly thanked the entire department for being great people to work with. Then, she decided to give advice on how she was able to lead such a long and happy career in library acquisitions.
L said that her series of bosses (department heads) in acquisitions enabled her to have a great career. The three supervisors she had would provide training and then they would step back; they gave L space to “do what [she] needed to do” in order to get her job done. And, more importantly, she said, her supervisors gave her space and time to take care of herself as well. So long as L got her work done and made up her hours, her supervisors allowed plenty of flexibility, allowing L to take care of herself and her family while helping the library progress through previously unheard of changes. (She saw approval books to approval paper slips to electronic approval slips. She participated in the population of the online catalog. when it was first implemented. She went from cataloging print books in a card catalog, to managing the receipt and cataloging of ebooks.)
This flexibility that L described is incredibly important. Yes, ideally, all workplaces would allow their employees with plenty of flexibility – but libraries especially need to be flexible. The library profession is female-dominated; and (fortunately or unfortunately) women shoulder the majority of the burden for caring for aging parents, children, and the home itself. Increased flexibility in careers allow libraries to be staffed with incredible, talented women (and men).
And this flexibility helps keep employees engaged. It gives employees opportunities to refresh. Even just a regular 40 hours (or 37.5 hours) per week enables this recuperation; 90 hours…does not. After relaxing and recuperating, employees have the energy and attention to focus on their work; this increases productivity.
So, I’m going to take L’s wisdom to heart, for when I enter management positions: give your team members room to breath (i.e. don’t micromanage); and then be flexible, you’ll have a better team that way.