Managing the Twenty‐first Century Reference Department: Challenges and Prospects

Linda Sheridan (La Trobe University, Wodonga, Victoria, Australia)

Library Management

ISSN: 0143-5124

Article publication date: 1 October 2004




Sheridan, L. (2004), "Managing the Twenty‐first Century Reference Department: Challenges and Prospects", Library Management, Vol. 25 No. 8/9, pp. 404-404.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

I was fortunate to be asked to review this book at a time when the library I was managing was seeking a new head of reference services, and I had only recently assumed an executive role. This collection of essays, therefore, explored issues of great personal significance; what is needed to both lead and manage effectively and what qualities are desirable in a head of reference.

Each of the eight chapters (essays) is written by an experienced library professional who clearly understands the requirements of reference work today and is aware of the implications for its future. Each essay deals also with leadership and management, ostensibly in the context of a reference department, but exploring principles that are relevant in any leadership role.

There is some debate over the difference between leadership and management, with a general consensus that leadership is about people and “doing the right thing” while management is about tasks and “doing the thing right”. While there is disparity of opinion over which is more important, it is agreed that skills in both, to some degree, are essential. Varying styles of management are explored, from a focus on individual personality traits to a collaborative form of management described by McMillan and Reilly. Their Reference and Information Council model, with its team approach to major managerial tasks, is offered as a possible solution to the difficulty of finding experienced reference librarians who also wish to assume administrative roles. As Leahy (p. 14) so perceptively observes: “When a reference librarian takes a chance and goes into management, he or she is often making a big personal trade off and relinquishing something they love (frequent reference work) for something they believe in (administering and leading a department with all the challenges, headaches and responsibilities that entails)”. Heads of reference departments, it is argued, must also be skilled practitioners so that they may act as a model and an inspiration to other staff. Their managerial skills, if necessary, can be developed and nurtured.

This collection of essays is predominantly about leadership/management – exploring what is required to be an effective leader and then applying it in a reference context. If the reader is seeking a detailed exposition of the emerging trends in reference librarianship they will be disappointed. This book is about leading, managing and supervising a reference staff – on the premise that the skills inherent in an effective leader, and indeed in an effective reference librarian, will meet any challenge that changing trends may present.

I found the ideas contained in this book to be thought provoking and stimulating. I will certainly read it again and would recommend it to anyone who is passionate about reference work and is interested in the practical application of leadership and management skills.

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