Tips for Inexperienced Managers
How to Supervise Experienced Staff
By Jennifer Honeycutt (Hughes)




              Show Respect

             Treat Employees Like Bosses

             Treat Bosses Like Employees         

             Build Better Employees

             Build Better Teams

             Accept Diversity

             Communicate Effectively

             Give Credit


             Learn from Mistakes

             Solve Problems

             Have Leadership Tested




The gap is widening between the demand for professional librarians and the supply of people in the  

field. There are a few reasons for the abundance of available library positions including: high

retirement rates, low wages, poor recruitment, and more professional alternatives for librarians in

non-traditional environments (Lifer).  Because of the shortage of qualified job applicants, many

library employers are promoting or hiring librarians that do not have substantive experience for

library management positions.  Furthermore, these inexperienced library managers have not

received adequate management and leadership training.

Although M.L.S. programs offer numerous courses related to cataloging and reference, M.L.S.

programs typically offer only one or two management courses.  The management courses do not

provide a comprehensive study of management issues, therefore, library managers must often times

learn from trial and error after being thrust into the management environment (Weaver and Burger). 

It typically takes managers a year or longer to begin to appreciate all the elements of the

management role, and although subordinates are usually supportive during the first few weeks, the

new manager’s authority will soon be questioned (Graham; Glen).  

This chapter provides advice for new, inexperienced managers who supervise experienced staff. 

These tips have been compiled using numerous sources to help prepare managers.



The inexperienced manager should show some respect and appreciation for the past

achievements of the experienced employees.  Remember that the staff members have

contributed to the successful completion of many tasks before you became the

supervisor. A manager should value the experiences and knowledge of the staff. 

Although a certain amount of authority is inherent in the manager’s job, respect must

be earned.  One of the most effective ways for a manager to gain respect from

subordinates is for the manager to show respect to the subordinates. It is a good idea

for the new manager to remember that the balance of power will change and the

subordinates may be the supervisors someday.   (Wendleton; The young and the old)


As the new manager, it is not necessary to make a big deal about being "the boss,"

however it is crucial to demonstrate that, as the boss, a positive difference is being

created. One approach is for the manager to act as if employees are bosses.  For

example, managers should report to the staff frequently about work activities, justify

thought processes to the staff and ask the staff for input on ways the work

environment and performance can be improved. It is the manager’s responsibility

to provide the staff with the equipment, facilities, time, and other resources needed to

increase job productivity and satisfaction. The manager should should strive to work

for the employees, not over the employees. (Sowards; Reh, F.J.)


A manager’s primary duty is to assist upper level management.  As a new manager, it

is important to schedule times to meet with the library director to give information and

receive guidance.  Keep the director updated on the progress of the department’s

goals, plans, and problems, to ensure that the director will not be taken by surprise or

embarrassed publicly regarding library issues. Also meet with the director to receive

guidance, training, and information about library-wide developments.  Be courteous,

and honest with the director; discuss what works and what needs improving.(Sowards;

Reh, F.J.)


Managers should help all staff members grow by aiding in the development of

additional skills and increased levels of responsibility regardless of the employee’s

age or experience level.  It is also important to remember that although much of a

manager’s time is consumed by budget, patron, and personnel problems, good

employees should not be taken for granted or unexpected problems will arise.



Employees are what make or break the quest of becoming a good manager; so a great

amount of attention and time should be spent getting to know the employees.  After all,

anything anyone in the department does, or doesn’t do, reflects on the supervisor, and

the manager must be prepared to accept this responsibility.  Teams should be

comprised of people with diverse backgrounds in order to be successful and

productive. When each staff member’s input and ideas are respected, each member

of the team will become a true asset.  If staff is included in the planning stage of

projects, and are able to provide input from the beginning, the project will be better

received, organized and executed.  It is far better to seek advice and volunteers for

projects than to commit someone else’s time to a project because the staff will know

what needs to be done and why.   The manager’s job is to supervise employees, not

outdo or attempt to own the employees.  The manager’s personal abilities should not

limit the department’s accomplishments because the library is staffed with many highly

qualified and experienced workers.  Be grateful for and take advantage of the skills

each staff member possesses (Reh, F.J.; Maynard; Sowards).


It is important for inexperienced managers to understand the difference between

"different" and "wrong".  When staff completes tasks in a way that deviates from the

manager’s preference, it may not necessarily be incorrect.  It is important for new

managers to recognize the diverse social and work experiences of the staff members.

Knowing these personal and professional values will allow the manager to develop

more meaningful management techniques. As library organizations become more

complex, it is important for librarians to know the strengths and weaknesses of

each staff member in order to manage library operations more effectively.  The

manager should find ways to bring together the best contributions that each employee

has to offer.  As the new manager, it is important to realize existing staff members

will have more experience in some areas, and instead of competing with employees,

the manager should strive to enhance the department.   (Reh, F.J.; Maynard;

Cooper and Cooper)


In today’s technologically advanced work environment, there are a variety of

communication methods available for managers and staff to keep connected including:

meetings, phone calls, electronic mail and memos.  It is important for managers to

realize that other people in the organization are relying on and waiting for responses. 

Managers should read mail, return telephone calls, reply to email messages, and

submit paperwork on time.  It is better to admit not knowing the answer than to

neglect the request all together (Sowards). To avoid making unnecessary mistakes,

new managers should ask for input, listen to advice and concerns from the experienced

employees, and take advantage of the available talents.  As a manager, it is imperative

to listen to staff  members, keep promises, and give credit where credit is due.

(Sowards; Reh, F.J.;Wendleton)


It is important for new managers to remember to "praise in public, bash in private."  It

is the manager’s responsibility to inform the entire library about the accomplishments of

the department so the staff may receive recognition and merit.  When accomplishments

are shared throughout the library, all managers are able to learn from the experiences.



One of the most important skills for a new manager to learn is the art of delegation. 

Delegation occurs when the supervisor gives subordinates the responsibility and

authority to complete a task.  Not only does delegation help the manager to become

more productive and focused on essential tasks, but it also allows subordinates to

grow and develop leadership skills.  Experienced staff members need to be

challenged, so the new manager should delegate without fear of losing power or

authority.  When delegating, it is important for the manager to find the right person for

the task, provide thorough instruction, and conduct follow-up.  (Ong; Irvin)



As a new supervisor, new skills will have to be learned.  Unfortunately, while one is

learning, mistakes are inevitable.  Managers are human and will make an occasional

mistake or two; the dose of humility helps managers value the employees’ expertise.

(Wenleton; Sowards)


One of the most complicated skills for an inexperienced manager to learn is how to

solve problems. When problems arise it is ultimately the manager’s responsibility to

determine and implement the best solution.  Although some problems require

immediate attention, many allow time for light to shed on the situation.  Oftentimes, the

apparent problem is not the real, underlying problem, so it is important to observe,

gather information and reflect before taking problem-solving actions.  Managers must

remember that the experienced staff may be able to provide valuable insight.

(Sowards; Reh,F.J.)


Subordinates will question the authority of the new manager and test the leadership of

the manager’s least confident area.  The staff member will complain about the new

manager in many ways including, the boss being too young, too old, too experienced,

not experienced enough, or any number of other trivial reasons.  New managers

should not dwell on the differences, lower personal standards, or alter performance

expectations.  The manager must remember who the upper level management has

appointed to this leadership position (Graham.)


Although this chapter is not intended to provide a comprehensive look at library management, it is

hoped that inexperienced managers will be able to avoid some common mistakes when dealing with

experienced staff.  It is important to remember that supervising library staff is just one of many

managerial duties performed by librarians.  In addition, library managers are responsible for

preparing budgets, fundraising, public relations, contract negotiations, grant writing, and library

planning.  Because most M.L.S programs do not adequately prepare students to become library

managers, it is important for librarians to research management issues further.  Furthermore, library

managers must also keep abreast of the rapidly changing library environment.  As technology

continues to become a more essential aspect of library service, managers will need to rely on the

experience of all library staff members.  Managers must have good relationships with staff members

from all generations, in order to successfully meet the needs of the library users.  The citations

included in the bibliography and further reading sections provide excellent sources for library



Cooper, Julie and Eric Cooper. "Generational Dynamics and Librarianship: managing Generation X" 
Managing Generation X. 15 Mar 2004.

Glen, Paul "Becoming a Manager" 24 Mar        

Graham, Gerald. "All new leaders face problems when the honeymoon is over" Wichita Business      
Journal May 15, 2000 17 March 2004.

Irvin, Candace.  11/17/2002. March 2004.

Lifer, Evan. "The Boomer Brain Drain: The last of a generation" Library Journal May 2000 v 125 i8    
p38 infotrac.

Maynard, Roberta. "Managing employees older than yourself" Nation’s business. Sept. 1995
v83 n9 p12 infotrac.

Ong, Richard. "10 Tips to Effective Delegation."  March 2004.

Reh, F.J.. "Top 10 New Manager Mistakes"      30 Mar 2004.

Sowards, Steven W. "Observations of a first-year middle manager; Thirteen tips for new middle
managers" C&RL News,  July/August 1999 vol 60 no 7.

Weaver, Barbara and Leslie Burger. "Library Leaders for the 1990s" Wilson Library Bulletin Dec 1991 35-37.

Wendleton, Kate. "Younger Bosses Older Workers." The Five o’Clock Club 1998 15 Mar 2004.

The Young and the Old The Hindu Opportunities   
April 23, 2003 15 Mar 2004.


Broderick, Dorothy. "Turning library into a dirty word: a rant" Library Journal July 1997 V117 no 12 p42-44

Howard, Greg. "The care and feeding of the younger manager." TriNet September 2001 15 Mar

Lancaster, Lynne. "The Click and Clash of Generations."  Library Journal 10/15/2003 www.library 15 Mar 2004

Urgo, Marisa. "No Slackers here! SLA’s youngest members have the vision and enthusiasm to shape
the future of the profession." Information Outlook April 1998 v2 n4 p 29=33.

Vallandigham, Christopher. "Propagating the Species: Will Librarians Go the Way of the Dodo Bird?"
AALL Spectrum V7 no 5 Feb 2003