Career Strategies for Librarians
by Andrea Delumeau

Wikipedia , the internet encyclopaedia, defines time management as “a number of techniques that aim
to increase the effectiveness of a person in getting the things done that need to be done.“ It also points
out that time management should be called self management, as “time passes without regard to what
we do; the only thing we can manage is ourselves.” Therefore time management is really about self
management, which can be facilitated by a number of different “tools, techniques and attitudes.”

In her review of time management literature for librarians, Lisa Peterson states that working in a library
presents unique situations as libraries are service-oriented institutions and their clients mostly “drop in.”
This creates special time management challenges, whereas in most other professional environments
clients are scheduled.

Time Wasters and Negative Attitudes

Check this list of frequently-cited time wasters and negative attitudes to discover your strengths and

too many meetings
answering e-mail or returning phone calls
too much socializing
lack of daily plan and/or self discipline
attempting to do too much at the same time
unrealistic time estimations
poorly organized work space
unrealistic goals
inability to say “no”
inflated ego (thoughts like “no one can do this as well  as I can”)
poor communication or lack of information
In his hugely popular book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey suggests writing a
contract with yourself. In a recent presentation, Deborah Wilcox Johnson suggested writing something
like this:

my strengths in managing time are …
my weaknesses in managing time are…
I will work on improving…
I will reward myself with…
Although much has been written on time management in general, Johnson points out two major flaws in
commonly recommended techniques for managing time.  One is delegating (most of us in library land
are not in a position to do this). She suggests this technique should be called “get someone else to do
it.” The second flaw is having too linear an approach – for example, “first do this, then this” – because life
does not usually work this way.  

Strategies, Attitudes and Techniques for Managing Time

Peterson reminds us that individual librarians must develop their own strategies, attitudes and
techniques in order to choose the most appropriate time management tools for their own unique
circumstances.  Some strategies include:

·        Setting goals or setting priorities. First you decide what you want to achieve; then you assign each
item a level of importance.  Developing a personal mission statement can add focus, direction and a
sense of purpose to this decision-making process. On his useful website, Stephen Covey provides an
interactive tool to help you develop a personal mission statement. He points out, "The key to the ability to
change is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about and what you value."   

After you have developed your personal mission statement, you might draw up a to-do list. Wikipedia has
the following to say on this: "A to-do list is a standard tool in time management. It usually is a flat list of
tasks that a person needs to complete. To increase the efficiency of the ordinary to-do list, prioritize the
tasks in four different categories:

important and urgent

important and not urgent

not important and urgent

not important and not urgent."

Wikipedia continues, "Effective time management is learning to say “no” to tasks in categories 3 and 4 to
make more time for tasks in categories 1 and 2.  Freeing yourself from doing the unimportant tasks
leaves more time to focus on the important matters. However, some doubt the effectiveness of
prioritizing by importance, pointing out that so-called “unimportant” tasks have a tendency to become
emergencies if they are neglected. If tasks need to be done, then it makes no difference in what order
they are done – the essential thing is that they get done. If they don't need to be done, what are they
doing on the “to-do” list in the first place?"

It might also become necessary to stop doing low priority items – the things least noticed by your
environment – possibly by getting someone else to do those tasks.

·        Eliminating time wasters.

·        Being proactive.  An attitude of ”highly successful people,” according to Covey, this means you
anticipate things and don’t wait for them to happen to you.

·        Analyze how you do things.  Look at the sequencing of things to see if there are ways to accomplish
them more efficiently.

·        Adopting the attitude “no one (including me) is irreplaceable.”

Johnson also recommends the following techniques:

·        Be aware of yourself.  This means being aware of what motivates you, how orderly your workspace
needs to be for you to function optimally, and knowing your energy level highs and lows.  Try to arrange
your schedule accordingly; for example, come to work earlier or trade service desk shifts if possible.

·        Be kind to others and respectful of their time.  For example, when writing a report, you could edit out
unnecessary text or highlight important passages.

·        Make use of time fragments.  When waiting for the computer to boot or a meeting to begin, do
“portable” activities such as going through mail or writing a note.  

Recommended Resources:

Covey, S. R. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. New York:
Simon & Schuster, 1989.  

Peterson, Lisa C.: Time Management for Library Professionals. [http://www.lis.uiuc.
edu/review/5/peterson.html]. Accessed Aug 2005; no longer available online.

Johnson, Debra Wilcox: Time Management: Getting Things Done. ”Soaring to Excellence” workshop.  
College of Du Page. Glen Ellyn, IL. 2003. 1 videocassette (2 hrs)  

Siess, Judith A.  Time Management, Planning and Prioritization for Librarians, Latham, Md.: Scarecrow
Press, 2002.  

About the Author:

Andrea Delumeau is a reference librarian at the American Library in Paris, France. In November 2001
she had a brain injury on the job, which affected her mobility and speech and forced her to stay home for
the time being. However, she plans to go back to work shortly.

Article published Sept 2005

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