Managing Terror

Ed.Note.  I’m real excited by this post.   This week, a good friend and colleague, Brian Dewar, of Luther College High School in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, gives us some advice on taking on a new position when you’re a brand new librarian.  Look for more posts by Brian in the weeks to come.


I’m Brian Dewar, and I recently took a job managing a library at a private high school in Regina. After some initial reservations (not the least of which was confronting an inherent – and unfounded – prejudice against high school libraries), I pursued the opportunity. What I found once I got to Regina was surprising: no OPAC or ILS, circulation was exclusively done via cards, students and teachers were regularly circulating library materials outside of a controlled system, and the collection had not been properly organized for some time. Needless to say, upon finding my library in this state, I was intimidated by the enormity of the tasks and my morale was low.

Managing Terror

If you were anything like me, you did not emerge from library school brimming with confidence. I had a vague idea of how things are, a notion of how things should be, and no idea whatever about how to get from here to there. There were (and honestly, still are,) a lot of unknowns in my library. And there’s no denying it – unknowns are scary. But it’s not really the unknowns themselves that are frightening, it’s the implication of powerlessness that comes with them. It’s incredibly difficult to solve problems that you don’t understand and can’t define. So to regain a sense of control, I needed to answer these questions:

  • What are this library’s problems?
  • How can I solve them?
  • In what order do they need to be solved?

I decided that I needed library infrastructure in order to accomplish anything in my library in terms of outreach, collection-building, or research support. Developing this foundation has included surveying the collection to determine the capacity an ILS would need to have, researching available systems and matching those systems to the library’s needs, buying the system, and then inputting all of the cataloguing data into the system. After I finish accomplishing these tasks, I can begin to build the collections in earnest, and then use those resources to aid students.

The basic strategy of:

Acquire and utilize an ILS ==> Begin to rebuild the collection, using the newly acquired infrastructure ==> Use those newfound resources to educate and perform outreach for students

has enabled me to move from the terrified position of helplessness that I felt on my first day. I now have a benchmark against which to weigh any action – I can ask myself, “is doing this thing going to further my goals? Does it follow the order of the plan?” Being able to ask myself those questions allows me to filter the sheer amount of things that need to be done into more manageable, discrete segments. Would I like to be teaching a mandatory anti-plagiarism course for students caught cheating? I’d love to – but I haven’t advanced to that part of the plan yet. These things have been prioritized, and the plan must be respected in order to have any value at all.

So, for any other new librarians out there: making a plan alleviated my anxiety in a new position. While admittedly I have more autonomy than most, within the constraints of any job, making (and owning!) a plan can make all the difference. Speaking personally, too, I’m so much happier knowing that it’s my plan that I’m carrying out. And because of that control, my morale couldn’t be higher.

Brian Dewar is the Librarian at Luther College High School in Regina. He enjoys boxing, baking, and biking.