I’m going to state an obvious fact: being a good librarian means having strong interpersonal skills.
I already knew this on a basic level when I decided to become a librarian. It is difficult to work well with people if you are an unpleasant person or keep saying inappropriate things. It is even more difficult to keep your business running if you can’t be nice to patrons or customers. One of the things which strike me whenever I go to a library is how pleasant and polite the librarians and desk clerks are, so I figured that being nice to people was pretty much mandatory if you worked in a library.
During my current semester in USC’s MMLIS program, my professors have begun emphasizing the number of interpersonal skills that we ought to develop, from being able to understand what coworkers and employees want to making sure to praise employees and coworkers. One professor even had us take a Myers-Briggs test just so we could discuss our personality types in class and how different people with different personalities should be handled. She did emphasize that the test wasn’t completely reliable, but that it was still a good way to understand how others think, what they want and what is likely to agitate them or make them angry. For example, someone who is by nature a hard worker may become frustrated when supervisors or other employees do not appear motivated to make a strong effort when it comes to completing projects. Someone who is quiet by nature may expect others to listen to them when they finally open their mouths to offer an insight or an opinion – after all, didn’t they listen quietly to everyone else?
Betha Gutsche suggests in her article Coping with Continual Motion that focusing on competencies (such as interpersonal skills) is a good way for librarians to remain grounded in the face of the constant and often overwhelming changes which libraries undergo. Gutsche indicates that librarians can find comfort in the fact that while many library tools and duties change, “many core values and services” of a library do not.
Doug Johnson, the author of the Blue Skunk Blog, states that using good interpersonal skills is also important when addressing concerns outside of the library. When defending your library against budget cuts, it is crucial to be able to clearly express your concerns without sounding accusing.
One thing which somewhat surprised me was that money is one of the least effective tools in keeping people happy. While people often do appreciate a raise, they appreciate even more what people are trying to say with a raise. Evidently, it’s much more effective to tell people what valuable workers they are and how much you deeply appreciate all of their hard work than to just give them some cash and leave them to work out what you are trying to say themselves. In fact, raises can even backfire. Giving someone a smaller raise than they believe they deserve can offend them, since people believe raises, or rather thank-yous in the form of a bigger salary, ought to reflect the amount of work they put in. As we know from the bad economy and budget cuts, we have a tough time securing extra funding to grant the types of raises people deserve.
Saying “thank you” is a major way to boost employee morale. You should always make sure that your employees know that they’re appreciated, that you view them as more than another pair of working hands. People don’t just want money; they want to know that they matter. They want to know that they’ve made a difference, whether in the library or in the world.
Rachel Friedman was born in Woodland Hills, California and resides in Los Angeles. She graduated from the University of California, Riverside with a Bachelor of Arts in History; her specialty was Ancient and Medieval History. She attended Pepperdine Law School for a year before deciding that she would prefer a career in library science. She applied and was accepted to USC’s MMLIS program. This is her second semester.