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  • Managing the Team
  • Marianne Ryan

If it’s spring, it must be baseball season. I am an unabashed fan of the game and a long-suffering, die-hard fan of the Chicago Cubs. I make no apologies for either fealty and, in fact, have especially appreciated the metaphors for life—and much else—that these allegiances provide. I have never understood those who claim that baseball is boring, bland, or bygone, any more than I’ve understood those who feel that way about libraries.

The Cubs have gone more than a hundred years without a World Series win—the longest of any team in history—which has made them something of a laughing stock.1 But they may have the last laugh if the direction they took last season continues to trend. The organization hired a new manager, Joe Maddon, who brought his well-honed style of principled leadership to the job. In one season, he led the transformation of a floundering group of players who had won a mere 73 games and finished last in their division into a focused team who won 97 and went two rounds deep into the postseason play-offs.2

What accounts for that kind of turnaround? Is it the manager, or is it the potential the manager has to work with, that breeds success? In the case of the Cubs, the human resources were largely comparable in both of those years. The new manager, however, deployed those resources very differently. How could one person come onto the scene, tap the team’s talent, and manage a course correction so quickly? What caused the Cubs to accept their new leader and buy into his philosophy and vision?

While these are interesting questions, you might wonder just what any of them has to do with academic libraries. The answer is: everything. Conversations with colleagues at other institutions suggest that almost all libraries out there are striving to improve their game and find ways to cultivate a more agile staff. Stable, winning organizations want sustained success; those that are struggling or undergoing sweeping change seek solid footing. So if we could answer the questions posed in the previous paragraph with any kind of reliability, we might have a playbook for developing consistently productive and dedicated teams that would take our organizations to new heights. I believe some of the answers can be found in Maddon’s management method. The key tenets are straightforwardly bold: maintain perspective, lead by example, and build trust—principles that are equally effective for managing people on the field or in the office.3 [End Page 219]

Maintaining Perspective

During his introductory press conference upon joining the Cubs, Maddon shared his mantra: “Don’t ever permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure,” a statement he also writes across the top of his lineup card before each game.4 Acknowledging that professional baseball is hard work, he underscores that it also is something to enjoy. His goal is to cultivate a strong team with a focused work ethic while reminding players they should appreciate the opportunity to play baseball for a living—and try to remain as relaxed as possible while doing it. Simply put, he believes that if team members “play loose,” they’ll play better.5

By contrast, in libraries we have a tendency to keep “piling on.” More and more librarians admit to feeling stressed out, overloaded, and unable to handle everything on their plates. Librarian burnout has been on the rise for years and is now soaring. Experts have suggested that overwork is the primary cause.6

In the world of academic libraries, it has tended to be a point of pride to emphasize that our exempt status—exempt, that is, from being paid overtime—means “putting in the amount of time it takes to get the job done.”7 If taken literally, that means workdays and workweeks would never end, since it’s virtually impossible to finish everything there is to do. As more organizations embark on major change processes, introduce arrays of new services and initiatives (without eliminating existing ones), and undergo staff attrition, the need to do more with less becomes ever more pressing. Librarians with...


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pp. 219-223
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