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portal: Libraries and the Academy 2.3 (2002) 497-498

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Book Review

Coaching in the Library:
A Management Strategy for Achieving Excellence

Coaching in the Library: A Management Strategy for Achieving Excellence, Ruth F. Metz. Chicago: American Library Association, 2001. 105 p. $45 (ISBN 0-8389-0809-8)

This slim paperbound volume is the first book on coaching for managers that is adapted to a library setting. It is also Ruth Metz's first book, drawing on her thirty years of practical experience as a library administrator and consultant, mostly in public libraries.

Grounded in the tenets of behavioral psychology, Ms. Metz's thesis is that coaching library staff for better performance is the positive antidote to a critical environment that threatens achievement. Coaching provides positive reinforcement that helps individuals and groups overcome difficulties and reach peak performance. She asserts that library people generally like to learn and that coaching facilitates the achievement of personal goals as well as furthering organizational goals. "Coaching is the purposeful and skillful effort by one individual to help another achieve specific performance goals." (p. 4)

The first two chapters present an overview of coaching in a library setting, distinguishing it from tutoring, counseling, and mentoring. Metz introduces ten workplace scenarios in which coaching can help and returns to these examples often later in the book. She also lists ten personality traits that she calls performance factors. They can manifest themselves either as barriers to good performance or as "pathways to excellence"—e.g. "either/or thinking" (negative) or "comfortable in the gray zone" (positive). Successful library coaches develop a habit of "mindfulness," observing what others often do not see to prompt a coaching intervention that will help a fellow employee achieve success. There are three stages of coaching: in the initial stage the coach and "player" agree to work on a problem; in the content stage they develop an understanding of the issue; and in the wrap-up stage they bring closure to the problem. The effective coach is purposeful, attentive, detached, listens carefully, is observant and discerning, is nonjudgmental, maintains confidentiality, analyzes and strategizes, and gives effective feedback.

The next four chapters focus on different coaching situations: coaching individuals, teams, leaders, and managers. Each ends with an extensive example, or "application," that illustrates an appropriate coaching scenario for that chapter. Coaching individuals can help sustain effective performance, improve good performance, achieve higher levels of performance, confront poor performance, or coach someone into a different job or out of the organization. The chapter on coaching teams gives a helpful summary of the conditions that influence good teamwork. [End Page 497] Since managers and leaders are so important for the success of the library, coaching them is of critical importance.

In the last chapter, Metz describes how coaching can improve organizational effectiveness as a whole, helping staff members to cope with change in positive ways. Coaches can foster meaningful and quality interactions, promote understanding about directions, contribute to a stable workplace, support employees' learning and help them visualize success and see possibilities, discourage isolation, and help staff to adapt to new circumstances.

This book argues persuasively that coaching library staff will result in better service and improved employee morale and it describes the theoretical framework of the coaching relationship. It will help library managers to approach problems in a positive fashion and encourage them to use coaching as one useful method to effect desired change. Yet, this book alone will do little to help library managers become good coaches since they must still draw upon their own knowledge and skills to provide the content for productive coaching sessions. The examples in the "applications" only scratch the surface in helping the library manager to know what really needs to happen during the coaching sessions. Including more case studies would have made this a more practical book.

The book includes an index and a short annotated list of selected books and articles, mostly from the business literature. There is also a listing of websites, including the International Coach Federation, and information on...


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