Today’s Library Director, Part 2: Partner Relationships, Facilities Management, and Reading a Budget

Watch the full webinar from Sarah Houghton here.

Last week we took a look at Sarah’s first two must-have skills: conflict management and familiarity with legal issues. Drawing from her experiences as Director of San Rafael Public Library, Sarah gave real-life examples and obtainable resources for each skill: what had she wished she’d known before becoming a library director? What resources did she use, and how did she gain experience in these skills? Or, best of all, what advice does she have for librarians considering becoming a director themselves?

This week we’ll take a look at Sarah’s next three must-have skills: building relationships with community partners, managing your facility’s maintenance, and reading a library budget.

3. Partner relationships

“One piece of advice I got as a new director from someone who had been a director for 20 plus years was to form close relationships with three departments: fire, police, and public works,” says Sarah. “If you can even have friendships within these departments, your life will be a lot easier.”

By building relationships with these departments, you’ll increase your credibility when a serious issue arises in your library. Say your library’s air conditioning goes out in the middle of the summer. If you have a good working relationship with the head of public works, you can easily give him or her a call and cut through the layers of bureaucratic niceties to get straight to the heart of the issue: “Hey,” you’ll say, “our AC is out. Can you get here in 30 minutes?”

Whether you’re speaking to the head of fire, police, or public works, each will know that you’re being serious because you’ve built a professional relationship with them. It’s important to let each department know how much you care about the wellbeing of your facility and community so they know your requests are necessary.

Beyond these “golden three” relationships, create relationships with local organizations that share the same goals as you. These organizations that also provide programs and services to the public—schools, help centers, after-hour teen programs may help you develop ideas and programs for you library’s future.

While departmental relationships may provide assistance in case of emergency, with these like-minded relationships, you’ll have contacts already in place to brainstorm more ways to serve your community. 

How to Build Better Business Relationships

Effectively Collaborating with Other Libraries and Partners

Partners for the Future: Public Libraries and Local Governments Creating Sustainable Communities

4. Facilities management

“It’s amazing how many of us having absolutely no experience, background, or skill in managing a building,” says Sarah. “It’s just not something you think about.”

As director of a century-old building, you may be responsible for more facilities management than you expected. However, learning how to manage a building is an important skill for directors of both old and new libraries.

So what issues might you face? There are sewer issues, pest problems, leaks, mold, fire… the list goes on and on. Some may need to be dealt with in the middle of the night, others in the middle of the day. Don’t let these details phase you, though. Overseeing the safety of your facility can be manageable with the right management skills.

Sarah recommends keeping a spreadsheet of all various problems you might find in your building. This includes problems surrounding network connections, air filters, dirty windows, and more. Keep track of the frequency in which maintenance tasks are carried out—when was the last time the carpets were cleaned? When should the windows be washed next? By keeping every task in a single, accessible place, you’ll find it easier to manage the safety of your library

It’s also important to note what expenses you’re responsible for—some may need to be taken care of by you while others could be covered by the university, city, or other organization (facilities maintenance, public works, etc.). This is not always spelled out clearly; however, it’s important to preserve your budget by avoiding any unnecessary cost.

The below resources may help launch your own research on facilities management:

Managers Need to Keep up with Changing Technology

Facilities Operations and Maintenanc

5. Reading a budget

“It’s actually easier for me to read [budgets] on paper,” claims Sarah. “I’d read budgets in the past but nothing as large or as complicated as an entire library system.”

The first step towards understanding a budget is knowing how to read a spreadsheet and how to interpret numbers. The rest stems from understanding how to look at budget estimates, projected expenditures for the year, or remembering to pay attention to a red-flagged item over an extended period of time. Being comfortable with reading your library’s budget will take time, but there are resources all around you.

While budgeting may not have necessarily been engrained in your education or experience as a librarian, researching has. Budgeting will become more manageable to you through this skill alone. 

Finance books are always available to you. Channel your inner student by taking a look at which text books are being used by students in local university and college finance classes. These will teach you the fundamentals and give you a solid base from which to build upon.

Don’t be afraid to sit down with someone who understands budgets. This may even be the former director of your library. Ask them to walk you through the budget and to answer any questions you have. What’s the bigger picture?

You’ll undoubtedly find yourself making difficult decisions such as cutting funds in one area to provide funding in another. However, your local resources will give you the foundation to feel strong in these decisions. 

These resources may provide a starting point for your budgeting research:

All About Financial Management in Nonprofits

Materials Mix: Investigating Trends in Materials Budgets and Circulation

Budgeting: A Comprehensive Guide (book, 3rd Edition)


To listen to Sarah’s entire presentation, click here.

Click here to read Part 1: Conflict Management and Familiarity With Legal Issues

Click here for Part 3 and discover Sarah’s 6th, 7th, and 8th skills: Discipline, Talking to Generations, and Elevator Pitching.  


Liz Van Halsema
Marketing Content Writer