Smack the piñata: How moving on from a job I loved was one of the best decisions in my life

Pinata-Unicorn-01

Back in May 2018 I was with the Royal Danish Library in a position as director of Roskilde University Library, Faculty Library of Social Sciences and The Administrative Library and I was a really happy library camper and was proud of what we were doing. At that time I had also been with The Royal Library for 8 years – almost my entire carrier as a library professional – and this idea had got stuck in my head. Or maybe not an idea, more like a desire – a desire to try something else, to be challenged, to explore new perspectives on what libraries can do in this world, to grow in my leadership and as a person. Even though I had the privilege to be in different positions over my years with The Royal Library it was still the same work place – same culture, same ways of doing things and it was safe and I felt like a library star on the top of my game. But the desire for trying something else was about to get the upper hand and one day I saw a job in my feed; the position as Director of Libraries and Citizens services at Roskilde Municipality. It was kind of a piñata of great stuff just calling me to smack it. And so I did and in September 2018 I took the leap and started my new carrier in Roskilde leaving academic libraries for public libraries.

When I smacked that piñata in Roskilde it exploded with a lot of new awesome things and also a bunch of challenging mind twisting difficult things and the train has just been keeping up steam and pace from since then. I love it and I’m so happy I did it and in the middle of all the wonderful chaos I recently did a few reflections on my first year and some. And I decided to write them down in this blog post. It is really basic stuff but I often find basic stuff to be good and hopefully it can be useful for someone else who are about to smack a piñata themself; thinking about moving from academic to public libraries and vice versa or are hearding on to a new leardership position or just any new position.

Be humble and ask questions

I’m impatient by nature. That is both a weakness and a force I guess. Walking into a new library system, a new workplace, a new culture I instantly felt a huge desire to start shaking things up, shape them in different ways and change them for (what I think) was for the better. As a director it can be your privilidge to do so but I didn’t in this case and I think it was a good idea. Everybody loves development but nobody wants change. Change often equals fear because as humans we are really not happy about the unknown and changes comes with unknown factors. Fear is not good for us but at the same time change is necessary in organizations so the important thing is how you get about it. I choose to take it slow getting myself allowed to know the people, the culture, the community before starting moving things around and letting the organization and chance to get to know me. And I was humble about not knowing this place and I asked a tons of questions – case is if you know the things you are gonna change you are more likely to be succesful than if you don’t know them. And pro-tip; Listen a lot to Bowies Changes.. Ch-ch-ch-ch-change turn and face the stanges.

Invest in the team

I could be the most brilliant leader in the world but with 140 people around, 6 libraries, 4 archives, one creative house of culture for kids, citizens services and Central Library for the Region of Zealand I can’t run it all by myself. Also that is not the role of any leader to take on all the responsibility or all the decisions in the organization. I am deeply depended that I have a great group of leaders around me – they are the key for me to make things happen. So I invest a lot in that team; We focus on how we are good together and how we can be better, we talk about it when we fail, we focus on how to make the best condition for everyday library life and development and we constantly work on how to give our most valuable asset – the employees – the best tools, skills and conditions to be great at what they do – making the community stronger and better.

Invest in your weakness

As mentioned above I’m impatient. And I sometimes find it hard to accept 80% when I want 100%.  Every leadership test I’ve ever taken points those out to be my biggest weaknesses (or in some cases as an advantage). I could decide to care less about this but in order to get better at what you do, looking at your weaknesses often holds more impact than focusing on your advantages. So I work and those things and I’m slowly getting better.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

It is really not a cliché; You can make the most ambitious library strategy in the world but if you don’t take the culture of your organization (alongside with the communty your library serve) into account when you implement it there is a big change the strategy will just be a piece of paper in your drawer. The point is not to make a strategy that fits your organizational culture but to be aware of the culture when you make it, when you involve people and implement the strategy. If it doesn’t fit don’t change the strategy – start working on changing the culture.         

What are they building in there? The leap between academic and public libraries

Obvious there is difference between academic and public libraries but also many similarities. Having hardly no public library experience it took a little getting-used-to starting in Roskilde but I quickly found that the values that shapes the academic and public library are basically the same – ideologically and in practice. What struck me the most about the move from academic to public libraries is the lack of understanding and knowledge from library professionals from each sector. When I announced the move academic librarians said “Hey, congratulations, sounds cool but doing reading programs for kids – really?” and welcoming me public librarians said “Hey welcome, aren’t you glad to get away from academic libraries? Sounds soooo boring”. Kids reading programs are extremely meaningful and academic librarianship is so awesome and I think we can do better than having such a lack of understanding about academic and public libraries in Denmark. A higher level of mobility and collaboration between the two would be a great key for that.

Take a break and climb a mountain ones in a while

I’m busy and sometimes I’m very busy. That is fine because I love what I do and I really don’t thrive when I have nothing to do but getting everything covered – from a door that don’t work in a branch library to a national strategy to support reading – can be complex. So every ones in a while I climb a mountain to get a clear view of everything and when I stand there, and sees it all from above, I make a list of what is important that I focus on and put my energy into in my role. The list never got more than eight things on it. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care about stuff outside the list – I do – but if that takes up to much of my focus something is wrong and I need to fix that so I can put energy into the right things again. That climbing really is a great and important trip from time to time.   

If you cherish learning you really cannot fail

I’m not sure I am right about this one but I hope I am: My move has been a success and I love my job. I was not sure about this before smacking that piñata – maybe bad stuff would fall out of it. I guess if bad stuff would have fallen out the move would still have been the right thing to do because my main aim was to learn something new about myself and others. And we also do that when we make the wrong choices.

Keep smacking that piñata

Some people go through their whole life in the same job with the same tasks. That is cool but it is not me. My guess is that I will smack that piñata a few more times during my carrier and then we see what falls out. But damn it feels good to smack it ones in a while – if you haven’t tried it recently you should considering giving it a swing.

Cheers

Christian

Roskilde Bibliotek - foto INSP Media 2019-0140
Roskilde City Library by night

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