learning to be a librarian: leadership during a crisis
I find it strange and fitting that my current readings for INFO 5300 (Management of Information Agencies) focus on leadership. We are certainly facing challenges our modern society has never faced before, causing some leaders to struggle and others to shine.
I have continually been impressed with how the leadership at Southern Methodist University, particularly SMU Libraries, has responded to the coronavirus. As our readings emphasized and I previously have written, communication is always important in any organization, but it is particularly important when facing the unknown. In my last week on campus, there was a lot of confusion about what might happen, whether we should worry/work from home/have all classes go virtual/shut down the buildings.
While all of these questions were being discussed, the leadership at SMU Libraries was communicating in a variety of ways, via email and meetings (in person and then via Zoom). We started getting frequent updates from our Dean on March 11. They weren’t daily, but they were detailed. Within a week, she began sending daily updates; if there wasn’t new information from the campus leadership, she’d send information specific to the libraries, or encouraging notes about how to get through this, both as a team of employees and as individuals — even something for a chuckle, like when she shared the below image from the Chattanooga Times Free Press (with proper citation of the source, of course).
The director of our building, and the Associate Dean for SMU Libraries, was even better. She immediately set up daily meetings to communicate changes in policy and for facilities, to discuss what we needed to do for the students and for each other, and to determine how best to continue serving our students and faculty given the current situation. Only once students were back in class and the daily changes had slowed did she reduce the daily meetings to twice weekly, while noting that she would still let us know immediately about major changes or situations.
Both women emphasized that our safety was more important than anything else. When working from home was on a voluntary basis at first, given personal needs with health conditions and child care, they both underscored that taking care of ourselves and our families was paramount. They acknowledged our importance as workers, but that our work was secondary to keeping our health and sanity.
I was last on campus only two weeks ago, but it feels like it has been an eternity. I am so thankful I work for an organization that has such strong leadership, women that have made us all feel as safe as we can while we adjust to our new normal.