Management and the single librarian by Matt Holland

Whether you want to be alone or not. Working as a one person organisation has its challenges. This is a reflection on the first five that come to mind. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

One. Know your value

Value has two parts. One part is the value you place on yourself. Just a Librarian? This is a profession that is traditionally self deprecating. If you work alone it’s good to assert your professional value. Look in the mirror every morning and say “I am a Librarian and I am proud … “. Grab your line manager by the collar and tell them, “I am a librarian, get used to it … “. Metaphorically of course. You should always observe workplace etiquette. The other part is the value people place on you. Other people, not Librarians, will have a preconceived idea of what that is. An aside. A colleague volunteering in the Territorial Army was frequently stopped with the words “… and this, Sir, is a Librarian!” It meant something. They were never sure what. You do have a limited space to redefine what your role means for others. Make sure that it reflects core professional values and skills. The CILIP Professional Knowledge and Skills Base (PKSB)[1] will guide you if you are unsure. If their view is too narrow it will limit your scope for action. Too broad and you will find your time is consumed with peripheral tasks that aren’t core to library & knowledge service delivery.

Two. Sometimes I just sits, and sometimes I sits and thinks …

A wise comment I once read. You are working when you are thinking about work. You may be staring into the middle distance, but your brain is fully engaged. Perhaps some clarification. Worry about work when you should be thinking about something else is excluded here. This is about positive problem solving in the confines of your own head. Thinking is a much underrated activity. It’s your time to plan. To compile a list of projects and activities for when you have time and money. If either of these two turn up. It doesn’t do any harm either to have a few good ideas hidden away on your phone, or laptop or notebook that you have given some thought to. It’s good to share innovative thinking and forward planning with colleagues and managers when you have the opportunity. It gives a good impression.

Three. Multi-track your day

On any one day there are the quick hits, and slow burns. Quick hits might be a fast turnaround of a user enquiry. That should take priority anyway. Slow burns are the many small tasks that build up to bigger projects to be completed in the future. You need to do both to keep your library world spinning.

The challenge here is that the quick hits promise immediate satisfaction, a job done, possibly a thank you eMail from a grateful user. The slow burn offers deferred satisfaction in the future. However, if you don’t do something for the long term each working day your horizons start to shrink to the present and that’s never a good thing. Why? Although you do a lot, nothing ever gets done. So big projects sneak up on you and have to be rushed to the detriment of your service and its users.

An example. Each year health care libraries have to submit a quality return, the Library Quality Audit Framework [LQAF]. It has 48 points and each requires as a maximum 5 pieces of evidence. That’s 240 actions that should be documented, some big, write a strategy, some small, minute a meeting. It can’t be done in a few weeks or a few days or possibly even a few months. It could be done over six months if you start now. Something everyday. In every sector in every organisation there are jobs like this. Know what they are and do something everyday.

Four. Do something interesting …

In the one person library no one can hear you delegate. The danger is that work becomes an accumulation of routine tasks that might be delegated to colleagues in a larger organisations. The advice here is to do what effects customers first and be ruthless about how you divide up the rest of your time. We digress. There has to be something though that makes it all worthwhile. It might be the work with users, a special project or working with colleagues in other institutions. Just have to have something that gets you to bounce out of bed in the morning. There is a little bit here about being your own human resources manager. Take yourself aside and say “don’t do this now”. Take a break do something more interesting and come back to it tomorrow.

Five. Follow not lead …

Always a difficult one. The ambition to be an innovator is tempting. However, there are pitfalls here. Innovation is time consuming. It eats a precious resource and unchecked can eat your whole library service. It can have an unfortunate effect on your marketing too. You concentrate on one area and you end up being a one trick pony in the eyes of your users. What to do? Take a lead from Everett Rogers diffusion of innovation model [2]. Be an early adopter, even a member of the early majority. Leave the innovation to those with more resources. This does not preclude adopting the best practice of others once the wrinkles have been ironed out.

Matt Holland, Librarian, NWAS NHS Trust BA, DMS, Dip Lib, MA, MCLIP Mobile: 07747456736, E-Mail:, Website: NWAS LKS is supported by NW Health Care Libraries Unit (HCLU)


[1] CILIP, [2014]. CILIP Professional Knowledge and Skills Base. Available from: [Accessed 15 January 2015].

[2] Wikipedia, 2015. Diffusion of innovations. Available from: [Accessed 21 February 2015].

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