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Librarian as Administrator: A Journey of Expanded Learning

by Mary Ann Venner

Abstract: Becoming an administrator is a unique opportunity for a librarian to expand their career path. It is a stepping stone for growth in a variety of areas. Vision building, human resources management, budget oversight, strategic planning, operational planning, and staff development are areas that administrators are engaged in where librarians serving in those roles see a different side of the library organization. The learning experience is a valuable one for librarians who seek to serve in more administrative roles.

This article will describe how administrative roles for librarians are valuable learning experiences that provide growth in a multitude of areas.

An administrative role in an academic library offers librarians a window into a level of decision making and planning that is unlike any other. Serving as an administrator of a unit enables librarians to utilize leadership skills and serve as a role model for those they lead. Administrative roles also offer development and experience building in several different areas. Librarians may encounter bits and pieces of these areas throughout their careers, but as administrators they become more heavily engaged in them and are responsible for making decisions about them.

Vision builder
An administrator sets a clear direction for those they lead through a well thought out and planned vision. Developing a clear vision means its elements are woven throughout unit goals and communicated at every opportunity so that everyone understands what the vision is and what their roles are in supporting it. This vision is espoused by the values held by the organization and what overall goals the organization is striving to achieve. Having a clear vision not only benefits the staff but also the administrator. A well-established vision creates a framework for the administrator and serves as focal point for all other areas the person is responsible for overseeing. Decision making about strategic planning, budget allocations, staff development and human resources management all tie in to the vision. Having a clear vision helps an administrator more readily direct the performance of staff.

Human resources management
One of the many hats an administrator wears is that of human resources manager. An administrator is responsible for making human resources decisions and designing and managing the performance of staff. As a human resources manager, an administrator makes hiring, terminating, recruiting, evaluating and management decisions. Human resources management brings its challenges, but also enables the administrator to have an awareness of how each staff member contributes to the unit through the work they do and evaluate the needs of the unit on a regular basis. Administrators are able to guide job performance through effective evaluation timelines with opportunities for feedback. Administrators should be engaged human resources managers where they are approachable and respond effectively to personnel matters in a timely matter. Maintaining documentation of human resources activities is an important aspect of being an organized and efficient human resources manager.

Budget oversight
Administrators are often given oversight of a budget for their unit that is allocated for a particular period of time. Budget oversight includes not only setting a budget, but also requesting budget allocations and managing different types of expenditures efficiently to stay within a budget. For an administrator in an academic library there are a variety of expenditures to consider when setting a budget: staff salaries, student wages, travel and professional development expenses, event and programming expenses, marketing materials purchases and equipment and supply needs. Managing the budget requires having a familiarity with budget processes, accounts and forms, so keeping up with training regarding this area in particular is extremely helpful. An effective administrator will also communicate budget timelines, processes and overall expenditures with the unit so there is transparency on how budget decisions and allocations are made as well as set guidelines for acceptable expenditures.

Strategic planning
A strategic plan communicates the overarching goals of an organization and takes into account what is achievable given an established budget. An administrator’s role in strategic planning is multipronged. An administrator of a unit in an academic library will be involved in strategic planning for their area which is based upon the strategic plans of the university and in the framework of the vision of the dean. As part of the library’s leadership team, an administrator of a unit will be involved in strategic planning activities at the leadership level, but they will also be informed by the work they have done with their unit department heads and staff regarding feedback on directions needed in a strategic plan. The timeframe for a strategic plan can be one year or multiyear. An effective administrator will communicate to their unit staff how the unit will support the goals of the strategic plan and will work with their department heads on developing operational plans that support the strategic plan goals. Transparency to the strategic planning process is important as well.

Operational planning
Administrators oversee the development and implementation of an operational plan for their unit. Operational plan development provides administrators the opportunity to put their stamp on how their unit will help the library achieve their strategic plan targets with specific goals and objectives their unit will carry out. Operational plan development also provides administrators with an opportunity to work closely with their staff to outline the unit’s activities for the academic year and communicate how those activities will be supporting the strategic plan. Operational planning retreats are an effective platform for engaging staff in the planning process. Generally an operational plan for a unit in an academic library is for an academic year.

Staff development
The opportunity to develop staff to reach their potential and be even more effective in their job performance is one of the most rewarding roles an administrator has. Staff development can be in the form of participation in courses offered by the university or library, or even more creatively, through staff retreats, leadership seminars and workshops that provide follow up discussions on how to incorporate what was learned into the work environment. Creating an environment that is supportive of staff development and encourages staff to identify development opportunities promotes morale and a positive workplace.

The journey of learning offered to librarians in administrative roles is paved with much opportunity as well as challenges. Administrators are continuously moving along the learning curve as the library and university landscapes change. Understanding the processes for strategic planning and how they inform operational planning within set budgets takes time. Becoming effective human resources managers and promoting staff development well also can improve with time. Mentoring received from experienced administrators as well as continued participation in trainings and professional development will help the inexperienced administrator acclimate to their new role much more effectively. Serving as administrators librarians wear several different hats and are continually in a state of learning. Being an administrator is a wonderful, educational experience for a librarian and enables them to have a positive impact on those they lead.

Copyright 2018 by Mary Ann Venner.

About the author:
Mary Ann Venner is the Associate Dean for Public Services at the University of North Texas Libraries in Denton, Texas. She has worked in an academic library setting for over 20 years in various public services roles. Contact information: