Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dismantling a Culture of Mediocrity

Miriam Pollack, in her October 2008 article "Cruel to be Kind", identifies a number of common patterns amongst librarians as managers that perpetuate ineffective libraries, allow problematic staff with little or no appropriate skills but strong personality disorders to run herd over meek or ineffectual "leaders", and fosters an environment where incompetent individuals rise far above the level of the Peter Principle. She calls on the librarian profession to stop acting like a Ladies' Church Auxiliary (my words, not hers) and instead start acting like a profession that matters.

I heartily support her observations, having all too often seen exactly the dynamics which she identifies in her article. I would go so far as to say that some libraries foster a culture of mediocrity. Having worked for leaders who have fostered such an environment and having on far too many occasions been saddled with fellow managers who felt threatened by competent staff and therefore routinely eliminated strong and effective candidates from the running, promoted incompetent staff over the competent ones, and who routinely choose "nice" candidates over effective candidates, I think that we as a profession - or at least those of us who find ourselves in such a culture of mediocrity - should stand up and demand an end to this mind-set.

Having found myself in just such an environment, I know that the consequences of challenging such a culture of mediocrity are not always pleasant. I have found myself routinely attacked by fellow managers for not "understanding the culture of our environment" and therefore "not fitting in with the [fill in library's name] way". The problem is not that I did not understand the Library X Way, the Library X Way was broken and I felt that it was imperative to point out that the emperor had no clothes on. We owe it not only to ourselves as professionals to demand that our work environments be filled with actualized, creative, competent colleagues, we most especially owe it to our patrons, our faculty, our boards, and the rest of our stakeholders. Doing anything less is conduct unbecoming of a professional librarian.

So, to all the nay-sayers and do-nothings, be warned: the competent professionals out there have your number, and we don't take prisoners.

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