Becoming a new supervisor while in library school

crossword puzzle with red pencil that has circled leadership. Puzzle also contains: planning | management | strategies | leading | developing | performance | success | searching | organization | support

As I ushered in a new semester this Spring, I also accepted a new position at my library as a supervising coordinator! I have worked in my role as a marketing and adult programming coordinator for the past four years, operating fairly independently in those areas to host events, market those events and share general library communications, work on the circulation desk, and of course, “other duties as assigned.” With my first move up the management ladder, I became a supervisor of a colleague that was promoted from part-time to full-time status and also added marketing and adult events to her responsibilities. I’m loosely dubbing us “Community Engagement Crew.” I’m incredibly excited to share my workload and start putting some of my leadership lessons from graduate school to immediate use.

Gathering Resources

Like any librarian, I immediately sought to ground myself in existing wisdom, best practices, and actionable guidance. Meaning, I added a bunch of books to my “to be read” list right away. “The Leadership Challenge” by James Kouzes and Barry Posner was a foundational text for my Leadership in Information Organizations course and was a good baseline for me to refer back to for how to approach my new role. I also picked up “Dare to lead: brave work, tough conversations, whole hearts” by Brene Brown and “The art of gathering: how we meet and why it matters” by Priya Parker upon recommendation of my local bookshop. There are countless lists of leadership books and I’m still working on sifting through what is relevant for my work, workplace culture, personality and views.

After this initial reading spree I had to be honest with myself…am I really going to have time to read about leadership on top of my other reading and school assignments? Probably not. They say that experience is the best teacher anyway and I’m lucky to have some great role models. Whether in past positions with supervisors, professors, volunteer coordinators, I have reflected about their actions and lessons about how they led. I also am fortunate to connect quarterly with a professional mentor that ALA has matched me with and our zoom conversations give me a chance to interact directly with someone that has a 30+ year tenure in library leadership.

With tapping into these different books and then personal practical applications, I’m doing my best to avoid overload and irrelevant information. I’m being patient with the process – knowing that there is a lot that I don’t know and I’ll inevitably evolve and improve over time. Bearing in mind that I have some important goals and a vision for myself as a leader to pursue.

Refining my Vision

Part of my leadership coursework involved crafting my leadership values and how those translated into action. At the time it was hard to push myself to think about future scenarios and “what ifs” and how I may act given more responsibilities. Through it all, I spent the semester building self-awareness of how I act right now and manage myself and how that would translate with a career transition into leadership. My values are: growth, honesty, compassion, flexibility, and service. I keep them on a sticky note by my desk and am referencing them frequently. 

Goal Setting

It was immediately clear when making this move that a priority set by my director and the new “Community Engagement Crew” was that we could not immediately add new things to our plate or radically adjust existing workflows. When I started my position four years ago, my first task was to perform a marketing assessment where I gathered feedback, statistics, and existing best practices about what was happening for our library to make recommendations for the future. I have asked my new supervisee to revisit this process, not only to gauge our progress but also research who we are and how we currently communicate to guide future goal setting.

I cannot underscore the importance of referencing our current strategic plan and “the big picture” of libraries in general. Every day it is my goal to communicate our public library’s value to the community by sharing some aspect of our services, resources, events, activities, collections, and anything else I can come up with. At their core, public libraries are essential to society in providing open and equitable access to information and connection to community. The challenge always seems to be narrowing potential messages down and prioritizing this wealth of content about what our libraries offer.

Through the onboarding process, our new team has focused on strategy, existing processes, but I look forward to shifting gears from the past and present to think more about the future. My goal is to empower my supervisee to find workflows that work for her and the team and that she finds fulfillment in library work. Communicating about and advocating for public libraries is now a two person task and the more the merrier!


In terms of the actual workload of adding leadership duties to my plate – outlining expectations, timelines/deadlines, channels of communication – are top of my list. Setting recurring meetings where we carve out dedicated time to discuss what we’ve learned this week, what’s working, what we want to spend more energy on, what to focus on the following week and month, has been essential.

“Project management” has become more than a buzzword for me and I’m having to actually delegate tasks after working independently for so long. It has been a transition but not just trudging through training, embracing problem solving and collaboration, has been fun. Yes, management is a task in and of itself, but honestly library school has prepared me for this more than I realized. I’ve stepped up as an informal leader in multiple group projects and practicing such detailed organization in a remote environment is very valuable for locating and fine tuning a system that works for us all.

Finally, I’ll mention that checking in with myself is more important than ever. Becoming a leader within libraries was one of my goals in pursuing my MLS. In my very first foundational course, our professor was adamant that supervisory responsibilities are very likely, if not imminent, when you get your MLS and to prepare yourself accordingly. Now that it is reality for me, being a supervisor is an opportunity for me to share what I’ve learned so far, in turn learn from others, add a new dimension to my work life, and challenge me in new ways. I welcome any and all of your feedback about becoming a new supervisor – please share your own advice for me! Did you become a supervisor while in library school or shortly thereafter? What has been your experience navigating this transition? 

Taylor Worsham is from Gunnison, Colorado and is currently pursuing her MLS from Emporia State University’s distance program. After studying communication and political science for her undergrad at Western Colorado University, she worked briefly in marketing communications before finding her true calling in working in public libraries. Her current position as an adult services coordinator for Gunnison County Libraries focuses on public relations, programming, collection development, and circulation. In the future she hopes to expand her career to include more outreach and leadership duties. Outside of work and school, Taylor enjoys spending as much time outside as possible, traveling, photography, and reading contemporary fiction.

Read more of Taylor’s stories here & find her on Instagram @rockymtnlibrarian

Image credit: Getty Images Signature

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