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New Department Head Energy

I haven’t written a lot about becoming a new department head in a new department mostly because of lack of bandwidth and time, but also because as a manager, a lot of stories are not mine to tell. One story I can tell, with the help of our department’s assistant head (Mea Warren), is how we started off our time together as a new Teaching & Learning department after our liaison program (and Liaison Services department) was dissolved. Mea and I presented at the Conference on Academic Library Management (CALM) on April 28 about the development of our new department. Our slides are above, or, if you’d prefer to watch a recording you can do so via the CALM YouTube channel.

I didn’t enter librarianship with the desire to one day be a manager or administrator, and quite frankly I don’t know a lot of librarians who do enter the profession with an eye towards middle management. So many of our library structures are flat, leadership opportunities exist outside of positional authority, and there are only so many supervisor jobs to go around, particularly if you’re an instruction or liaison librarian. My first supervisory role was as an Instruction Coordinator at UH Libraries, where I was fortunate to have a wonderful and small team of teaching librarians who put up with my learning on the job. My mantra going into management has always been, “Don’t be an asshole. Try to be a decent human being.” My hope is that I’ve accomplished that as a supervisor overall, knowing that there are days when I’ve likely messed up.

But as a new department head, the stakes feel much higher. I’m fortunate to have Mea as our assistant department head, which, as one of the participants in our conference session alluded to, helps ease some of the loneliness and stress of being in charge. Ultimately though, it’s my responsibility to advocate for my department members, represent our interests in library managers’ meetings to my peers and administrators, understand the holistic mission of my division and the libraries, AND be a decent supervisor.

It’s a lot. It’s more than I thought I would ever do in my career. On top of all of that is the knowledge that I have the power to make people feel safe and content at work or miserable. The desire to submit a proposal to CALM came from months of planning and community building in our department. Mea and I both knew that without a solid team our new Teaching & Learning department would flounder. The librarians who chose to move to Teaching & Learning were motivated to teach, work with undergraduate and graduate students, and facilitate learning throughout the university experience. It was up to me to make sure they felt (and continue to feel) empowered to do so. Our presentation is primarily about our first year as a department and all of the community building, planning, training, and work we’ve done and will continue to do. Our Teaching & Learning department is amazing and I feel an enormous sense of pressure to ensure their continued job satisfaction and growth as professionals.

I am struggling to figure out what all this means for me, though. Am I still a librarian or am I a manager now? I have less time to teach and meet with students. I still do both, but not to the degree that I used to as an Instruction Coordinator or liaison librarian. I feel like I am pick pick picking at a million different projects and yet don’t have BIG RESULTS to share. The administrata is intense and real. I have the trust and faith of my associate dean, which makes a huge difference, but ultimately, this is my program to shape, in collaboration with Mea and our department members. So in the words of RuPaul (sorry, I had to), how do I not fuck it up?