In the past, the path to library management was considered open only to those who had paid their dues. The typical manager was a senior member of the team who was considered very knowledgeable about the business of their unit. This model still exists but is no longer the norm. It is now more widely understood that a manager who has particular skills and abilities can make a great deal of difference in engaging personnel and making their unit effective (Goleman & Boyatzis, 2008). It is now more common for libraries to hire external candidates for management positions and to seek candidates who have proven records of accomplishment as managers rather than promoting the person with the longest record of service in the unit. Combine this with an increased emphasis on innovation and presenting a more youthful image, and the result is that younger librarians are increasingly filling library management positions.
For a young librarian, managing more experienced colleagues can be a daunting situation. No doubt, some of your mature team members (both librarians and library assistants) may think you are not up for the job because of a lack of experience. In this situation, you will need to build trust with senior team members by seeking and acknowledging input, following through on promises, and consulting a broad group of team members before pursuing a new direction. Managing librarians from your own age cohort may also prove to be a challenge, particularly if some are former peers. You may need to set boundaries around friendships — including disconnecting on social media and spending less time together — in order to maintain a professional relationship with your team.
Working with senior library administration can be another challenge for a young manager. If administrators are looking to you to lead your unit through significant change and innovation on a short timeline, they may become impatient when you want to take time to build trust and buy-in. Additionally, they may not invite you to the table when important issues are being discussed due to assumptions about your level of knowledge and experience. Despite these challenges, young managers should avoid the trap of shifting the blame to administration when communicating decisions and new directions to their team. While this strategy might work in a limited way in the short term, eventually they will need to learn how to lead effectively and not rely on simply passing the buck.
Mentoring is essential for all mangers, but particularly for young managers. It is most beneficial to seek out many different mentors and not just one. Kerry Ann Rockquemore (2014), president of the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity, expressed this perfectly when she wrote: "[T]he idea that one person can meet all your mentoring needs and guide you throughout your career is a fantasy. So stop searching for that one special someone. Focus instead on building a broad and deep network of people who can assist you."
Just as everyone can benefit from having mentors, there are benefits to being a mentor. Young managers will be thrust immediately into roles where they are mentoring individuals from both their own and younger cohorts. They may also find themselves mentoring individuals from a more senior age cohort. This kind of mentoring relationship can be very valuable to the young manager because, as in any mentoring relationship, the learning goes both ways. Cross-generational mentoring can get multigenerational teams working more effectively and produce benefits for both the mentor and the mentee.
Taking on a management role can be a challenge at any stage of life or career, but doing it when you are among the youngest in a workplace can bring an additional age bias into the mix. This is particularly true in a field where the norm used to be that the manager was the most senior member of the team. Building a professional relationship with your team based on trust and respect, getting support through mentoring, and being a strong advocate (both for your team and for yourself) in dealings with library administration are essential to the success of young managers.
Goleman, D., & Boyatzis, R. (2008). Social intelligence and the biology of leadership. Harvard Business Review, 86 (9), 74-81.
Rockquemore, K. A (2014, February 10). When it comes to mentoring, the more the merrier (Blog post). Retrieved from: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/326-when-tocomes-tomnetoring-the-more-the-merrier.