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Staff Empowerment

My first position as a department head coincided with the opening of a new branch.


It was hectic.


Our branch was the first in a major capital building campaign, and it featured a lot of new technology.  Besides different phones and fax machines, we also had an audio recording studio and a Smartboard.


To top it off…we were short staffed.  Just after the building opened, the head of children’s (I was teen at the time) left for a different position.  Therefore, we had a lot of substitutes in the building for a few months, which was difficult because they were not comfortable with the new equipment.


The department heads (me, the head of adult, and the branch manager) were running ragged.  Not only were we doing our typical job and handling the high volume of visitors we faced the first 6 months, but we were constantly troubleshooting the new equipment, as we were the ones best trained for that.


Adding to the chaos was that the old branch was very slow and the prevailing culture to this point was very top-down in nature.  For example, if computer or copier broke, staff would contact a department head to report it.  This practice was not prescribed by the library system…it was just how things worked historically at the branch.  The same could be said of incident reports.


After all three of the department heads came down with stress-related illness (I developed oral ulcers—my dentist was shocked that I did NOT drink coffee and blamed stress), I brought up the need to empower the staff as a whole in a department head meeting.


I did not need to be particularly convincing to my fellow department heads—they were “down” with changing the branch culture.  The rest of the branch staff had mixed reactions.  One staff member had been eager for this to change and jumped in right away.  She was extremely helpful.  Others had to be reminded that they could—and should—complete these tasks themselves.  We would walk them through the process at first, but then turn it over.


What did I take away from this experience?  Let your staff take a leadership role when appropriate concerning the rules of your library system.  They CAN right up customer incidents.  They CAN report faulty equipment.  These are short, easy ways to empower your staff and give them additional responsibilities to prepare them for future positions.


I also am now much more cognizant about how I may be able to help my supervisors when situations are overwhelming.  I am careful to not overstep but having an awareness of how you can assist allows you to continue to build needed leadership skills.


Maria Trivisonno is the Children’s Branch Services Supervisor at the Mayfield Branch of Cuyahoga County Public Library in suburban Cleveland, Ohio.  She is a member of the Managing Children’s Services Discussion Group and can be reached at


This post addresses the core competency of VI. Administrative and Management Skills.

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