Practical Management for Librarians: The RISWS Approach for Effective Library Team Management

Welcome to our project blog. I’m happy to announce the launch of a grant-funded study implementing RISWS in academic libraries. The Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI) funded this project for the 2015-2016 academic year. For the next ten months, we’ll be blogging about our process and what we learn about management practice in three library settings.

About the project:

This project addresses the reality that most middle managers come into positions of leadership without a solid base of training and without extra time to devote to grappling with sticky management issues. By combining best practices in employee-focused management with daily observation, reporting, and analysis within our specific library contexts, this project will demonstrate one approach to empowering the “accidental library manager.” Our cohort will follow the RISWS methodology and “learn to routinize reporting of challenges and achievements from their team members so they have an accurate picture of the challenges they’re facing and can make a plan to eliminate those challenges” (Pecsenye).

About us:

The trainer. I’m Magda Pecsenye. I developed the Reporting/Interpreting/Solving Workflow Solutions (RISWS) management approach as a way give managers the skills to interpret a regular stream of data from their team members about how they were working and what things needed to be fixed and how they were excelling. I think most managers already have the normal people skills to be great managers, and just need to have systems in place for using those normal people skills to remove distractions and facilitate excellence in their team members. I’ve been happy but not surprised to see how much success Rana has had using RISWS to manage her team in an academic library setting.

The facilitator. That’s me, Rana. I completed my own round of RISWS training with Magda earlier this year and applied for the CARLI grant because I grew convinced that this agnostic, straightforward data-gathering process could be of great help to my colleagues in library-land. I’ve worked in management roles in libraries for nearly a decade. My first job out of library school (where I completed exactly one management class) was Head of Reference and Electronic Services at a small public library in the Chicago suburbs. I then served in various supervisory positions at the American Planning Association and now work as the Director of Library and IT at Meadville Lombard Theological School. I directly supervise one full-time archivist and one part-time library assistant and tangentially manage one part-time tech support position.

The trainees.

Valerie Neylon graduated from Dominican University with an MLIS in 2013 and currently works as a full-time faculty librarian at Richard J. Daley College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. She supervises five library assistants, two work-study students, and seven library adjuncts.

Gabrielle Toth is an associate professor and chair of Library and Instruction Services at Chicago State University. As the first-ever faculty chair of the CSU Library, it is her job to determine how a chair can best serve a group of faculty who, as part of their profession, organize and manage information, processes and people on a daily basis. 21 people directly or indirectly report to her: 7 tenured or tenure-track library faculty, 2 non-tenure-track library faculty, 1 administrator and 11 civil service staff.

What’s next:

As the cohort goes through training, we will report here on our progress and challenges. We hope to answer some of these questions:

● How do you manage the personnel and political dynamics of your team when you can’t stop the clock and go to a management seminar?
● What does professional development on the job look like when you’re years out of your MLIS program?
● How do you learn an organization’s culture and assess the strengths and weaknesses of your team while doing all the other things that comprise your day job?
● How can you find out what is making your people dread coming into work, find a solution, and put your people to work in ways that engage and empower them and benefit your library?

Thanks for playing along.