No one likes change, especially sudden change, and most emphatically we tend to dislike the kind where we feel totally out of control about it. But sudden change often is better than the long, drawn out excruciating type of change where they warn you it’s going to happen and then nothing does for awhile, and then when you least expect it, then they pull the rug out. Actually, we’ve been going through that kind too at my library, but that’s another story.
Recently, there have been some rather abrupt changes at my workplace. These changes, to be honest, didn’t really come out of nowhere, but to many who work with me, they seemed to happen overnight and without much lead time. But the conditions had been brewing all along, right under our noses. It was just a matter of time …
This is the story of two of my direct reports becoming my peers over the course of a couple of weeks. To be fair, I had a hand in this decision and although I do not directly gain from the change, in the long run, I may gain much. Or I may crash and burn; it remains to be seen what effect it will have on me. But this story is not about me, really.
Instead, this is about the serious “brain drain” many academic institutions are suffering from as the economy lumbers toward better days, but not quite fast enough. We have very talented librarians at my institution, but this is a place where employees have not seen a meaningful salary raise for 5 years (except for a couple of symbolic gestures hardly worth the administrative paperwork to make them happen). This is also one of those institutions that can’t (or won’t) decide whether librarians should retain faculty status and so as we wait in limbo for a decision on this, the natives get restless.
Our associate dean (now the interim dean) has been juggling two + jobs since our dean retired last summer. The assistant director for special collections retired this spring, as did several other key personnel. We’ve needed additional voices present on the management group, and it was unlikely we would successfully recruit from the outside since our campus administration is currently restricting us to only offering 1-year contracts. Under normal conditions this sort of sudden upward mobility might not occur this way, but desperate times require creative solutions and I applaud our interim dean for recognizing talent from within when we need it.
So our interim dean made a somewhat radical move. And in retrospect, I think, a very smart move. The individuals involved are well-respected department heads who were considering heading elsewhere, but instead are staying and being given more responsibilities (and yes, pay, we hope). One is a newly conceived position for scholarly communication leadership and the other is going to carve out a new division focused on acquisitions and collection development activities. And me, I’m giving up the acquisitions and collection development piece but taking on library systems, web applications and discovery, but keeping cataloging and ILS Services. (We haven’t had anyone in the AD for library technology position for over a year, so I am helping out by adding that to my plate). There are others within the ranks who are also serving in various interim leadership roles as well.
Several aspects of these shifts in responsibilities are of interest to me. First, the reactions from others, both within the library and from colleagues outward have been a mixed bag. Some of the typical comments:
• Does this mean if I can garner an outside offer, I too can get a lucrative counter-offer from the university? (Uh, well, that depends …)
• Library Technology and Cataloging? They don’t go together — We have nothing in common! (Actually — Data and MetaData are related. And, surprisingly, this seems to be a trend – though frankly, I didn’t see it at first myself. But we’re not so out of synch, this arrangement is being tried at other libraries too. Not to mention the cataloger/programming movement …)
• I don’t like how sudden this was! (Gosh me too, but really, aren’t you glad these great colleagues didn’t leave us?)
• So, how do you really feel about what they did to you? (In this case I was part of the doing, so I don’t feel too bad, actually.)
This is not to say we won’t have bumps in the road — I know we will, but I’m sure we’ll work through them. I hope in the long term we will all be better off for having been willing to try something new and retain great people for at least a little while longer.
Secondly, as a member of the Taiga Steering Committee, and a veteran in the field, I am interested in mentoring new assistant directors and others who fall into that management level (regardless of what the job title may be), and I’d like to hear people’s thoughts about their experiences being thrust into new responsibilities. I would like to invite those who have had similar experiences with “sudden succession” to be guest bloggers here. Let’s consider this another theme for the blog as we go forward.