Administrative and Management Skills

Wanna be a Branch Manager? Manage Yourself First.

Picture of a list of priorities with a finger pointing to the word "priority."
Image by Mohamed Hassan at a free images resource.

Do you want to be a branch manager? Ok, I have a scenario for you:

Let’s pretend you are a children’s librarian in a large multi-branch library system, with a personal passion for serving homeless adults in your city’s downtown district. Given the choice between facilitating an outreach storytime in a women’s shelter downtown or in a private Montessori school one block from your library (all other things being equal), which should you choose?

If you chose the private Montessori event over the shelter’s outreach event, you answered correctly and your branch manager is relieved. You understand that your priority at work is to serve the children in your branch’s service area. If you are internally debating all the reasons you should/need to go downtown, hopefully by the end of this blog post you will have changed your mind. If you are internally arguing that somehow/someway you could do both, I am going to give you a very important lesson in branch management: you can’t do all the things and you must prioritize your branches needs first.

Not only do branch managers not do all the things, odds are, they don’t even know how to do all the things. Branch managers are not expected to know or do all the things. They are expected to oversee and prioritize the workflow of employees in the branch in order to meet the overall goals of the library system. Good branch managers understand that someone can accomplish all the things they need to do, but not necessarily all the things they want to do.  This important tidbit leads me to the point of this blog: If you want to be an effective branch manager for your organization, start thinking like one, and learn to manage yourself first. That means managing your time by setting priorities and goals that allow you to meet (or even exceed) the expectations of your current position.

Self-Management is a learned discipline; anyone can master it. It not an intuitive talent, nor is it based on theoretical anecdotes from books or webinars. The formula is simple, but just like weight management and savings goals, the application can be difficult to implement. What is the not so magical formula? Start by setting your own goals that align with the library’s mission, strategic plan, and service model. Then prioritize your tasks and manage your time appropriately to meet the goals you have set.

Pink Post-it Note in the left hand that states: Set Goals.
Image by Gabrielle at a free images resource.

As children’s librarians, in many ways we are already meeting system-wide goals. Summer Reading, outreach, scheduling performers, and storytime all meet the goals of the strategic plan in one way or another. These events do not plan themselves, and despite what the children think, magical elves are not creating those fabulous bulletin board and book displays at night while we are all asleep. There is no doubt that children’s librarians are awesome and we are busy. But is all of this busy work productive?

Let’s use a practical example: Pretend a 100% FTE children’s librarian spends 40 hours a month (25% of their time) creating bulletin board displays in the children’s room and posts pictures of the displays on all of the major social media platforms. Why would a children’s librarian do this? Is it because:

  • A. They enjoy crafting bulletin boards and appreciate all of the positive attention on social media (they are Pinterest worthy after all)
  • B. The local community responds positively to the bulletin boards. They significantly increase foot traffic, circulation of books and materials, programs attendance, etc.
  • C. The library’s administration has prioritized visual displays as a major part of its marketing plan and social media strategy
  • D. All of the above
Image by Bev at a free images resource.

In an ideal world the answer is D, and any combination of A, B, and C, is acceptable. But if the librarian’s answer is only A, no matter how much positive attention they get on social media, the bulletin boards are busy work, and those projects need to be re-evaluated and re-prioritized. Taking the initiative to prioritize and evaluate the situation, and arriving at the same conclusion without the department head/supervisor talking to them, is managing oneself first.

Hopefully by now every reader is saying: of course, duh! Understanding that these examples were oversimplified, keep the lessons they provide in mind when you have all the library things offered to you. You will need to prioritize what projects to tackle and what can be declined. Always ask yourself, “What are my priorities?” This doesn’t have to be a mystery to figure out. Scooby, Velma, and the gang need not be invited. If you need help determining your priorities use the resources available to you. For example: ask your branch manager, read the library’s strategic plan, review the branch’s circulation statistics, and read any reports regarding community needs, assessments, and service survey evaluations. Studying this information will help you set goals and determine your priorities.

Remember that a branch manager’s goal is for the branch to succeed in serving its community well. They will prioritize its staff’s resources to best accomplish this goal. If branch management is a career aspiration, start behaving like one. This begins with goal setting, prioritizing, and managing yourself first.

Today’s blog post was written by Nichole Brown, Children’s Librarian II at Oakland Public Library in Oakland, CA, on behalf of the ALSC Managing Children’s Services Committee. She can be reached at

This blog relates to ALSC Core Competency VI. Specifically VI.II.

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