Advice for a Library School Student

A library school student recently asked, “If I were interested in being a public library director, what should I read and what should I know?” Here is a slightly modified version of my response:

  1. Every library director needs to understand EDISJ, and In the Library with the Lead Pipe remains the leader in our field when it comes to this profession-defining topic. Start with Fobazzi Ettarh on vocational awe and April Hathcock on diversity initiatives.
  2. Remaking One of the Nation’s Busiest Main Libraries” changed my career. Someone else in public libraries cared about evidence-based decisions!
  3. Understanding the history of libraries has shaped me as a leader. I recommend The Spirit of Inquiry and the Williamson Report (Sarah Vann’s book on the Williamson Report includes a letter he wrote to her, which I read every couple of years). Also, if you are not familiar with Egan and Shera on social epistemology and Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science, these are foundational. I have the Five Laws posted above the door in my office.
  4. Death by Meeting. I fell apart the first time I read it. If you can’t run a meeting, you won’t succeed.
  5. Warren Buffett and Atul Gawande are two of my primary role models. They read constantly and write with empathy and precision, simplify as much as they can and manage their time, value objectivity and equity, surround themselves with people they trust and separate themselves from bad situations, and align incentives so that everyone on the team feels appreciated when they do what’s in the client’s and organization’s best interest. To learn about Buffett, read The Making of an American Capitalist and his letters to shareholders. For Gawande, read “The Bell Curve” and Better, especially the chapters on positive deviance.
  6. Impostor Syndrome is real and pervasive. I manage it by dressing inexpensively and in a way that feels authentic, which I learned mostly from Jesse Thorn’s Put This On (the underlying principles, not the specific vendor recommendations). And Judith Martin was instrumental in helping me feel comfortable with board members, elected officials, and donors. The rules of etiquette are fairly simple, and free to learn and use. I especially like Common Courtesy and Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior.
  7. Burnout is real and pervasive. What seems to help me is getting enough nutrients and sleep, and taking my mind off work by exercising. Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is my go to cook book, and he recently co-authored How to Eat, a sensible guide to nutrition (note: I am not giving medical advice). For me, exercise needs to be a habit and reward, not a chore that’s associated with guilt or shame. For sleep, I think the best advice is to stop overthinking it, which I stumbled on after overthinking it for decades.