Column Description: Within academic libraries, administration and management can appear cold, calculated, and often comically complex. A good administrator, however, knows how to connect with faculty and staff, to set goals, and to foster a workplace environment that allows everyone to be successful. In other words, a good library administrator is an approachable administrator. The Approachable Admin offers tips, insights, and stories into one ARL library’s administration.
Every hour or so, my Garmin running watch buzzes with a reminder to get up and move. Occasions like these highlight an incidental perk of working in a three-story, academic library: I leave my desk, take a lap around each level, and return to my seat in about ten minutes. A nifty break from my computer screen, my legs thank me for the opportunity to shake loose after a grueling track workout. Even better? I have a routine in place to establish and maintain touchpoints with our librarians.
On each of these walks, I pick out a librarian or two and drop in on them. I find an open office door represents an invitation to say hello, to ask what they’re up to, and to express genuine interest in their work. Over the course of a given week, I cover nearly everyone. Sometimes these interactions turn into larger conversations and sit-downs; I once hammered out the logistics of a visiting faculty member’s speaking engagement (funding, marketing, the whole package) just by popping in on a librarian—no planned meeting necessary! On other occasions, a simple smile and wave are all that’s necessary to convey a message of support from the Dean’s office. These simple gestures go a long way toward building a culture where librarians—who spend their time staffing the reference desk, presenting in classrooms, and working directly with professors—and administrators work towards a common goal.
Too often administrators approach faculty only when they need something. Did you finish the grant proposal? Can you forward me your travel itinerary? I need your signature on this by close of business. This transactional style of communicating with librarians only strengthens silos and deepens distrust towards management. As administrators, we must engage faculty on their terms, recognizing them as people first, as team players second, and never as assets or commodities.
Administrative savviness takes many shapes. We maintain records used for accreditation, balance operating budgets with often complex restrictions and regulations, and of course do the little things that keep the lights on and the doors open. Our to-do lists often get so long that we can fit them only on CVS receipt paper. Still, that doesn’t mean we should miss out on engaging with our librarians.
Try it sometime. A walk doesn’t require a meeting request or an agenda. The conversations don’t have to be deep, or even work-related. It’s the relationship that matters. Think of it as an opportunity to plant seeds for future collaboration or for improved trust. All you need is ten minutes and a smile.
Take a walk, have a chat, and build a connection.
Tyler Norton (he/him) is the Assessment and Development Coordinator at the University at Albany Libraries. He holds a BA in History from UAlbany, as well as an MS in Education Administration and Policy Studies. His research focuses on library administration and leadership, mindfulness, and employee wellbeing.