The books behind the successful management of an academic library

Drawing his Nightshelf series to a close, Stephen Town donates a collection of books on management to the University Library


Probably the best gift I can give to this University on retirement, but maybe the least desired by the recipient, is some wisdom on management. As I work towards completing my PhD by publication submission I am obliged to reflect on over thirty years of personal experience as a departmental head in universities, and to think about the personal influences that have shaped my own leadership and management practice and ideas. This also leads to consideration of what seems missing, not just in this University’s library stock on the subject, but also in the overall management appreciation of the organisation.

Just some of the books I've referenced over my years managing university libraries

Maslow, A., A theory of human motivation

It may be a truism, but if you don’t understand people you cannot manage. Motivation may depend on needs, and Maslow’s idea of a hierarchy of human needs makes him one of the most quoted psychologists of all time. The well-known pyramid diagram of need culminating in self-actualisation has been a feature of my own management understanding and teaching, and no doubt of many others. Maslow himself did not create the pyramid, preferring recognition of the more fluid reality we all inhabit. We do not have a separate version of Maslow’s original paper, so this is the first of this set of eight donations.

Tenner, A. and DeToro, I., Total Quality Management

My first management research was generously funded by Cranfield University in the early 1990s, when the quality revolution was in full swing, and those of us working to improve information services were seeking models applicable to public service contexts. The fundamental three step model I found in Tenner & DeToro’s Total Quality Management (Customer Focus/Systematic improvement/Total Involvement) still forms the basis of the conversations I have with all new staff in the Directorate. Of course it is best now not to use the term TQM any longer, as this appears outmoded, but there are some very basic fundamental ideas and methods here of value to anyone seeking to make this a truly world-class institution.

Zairi, M., Practical Benchmarking, Benchmarking for Best Practice and Measuring Performance for Business results

The research I undertook was the first systematic application of benchmarking in academic libraries, and it was very helpful to draw on Mohamed Zairi’s contemporary work for this, and so I offer three of his texts in this donation. The first two concentrate on benchmarking, and the third on performance measurement, which has become my own speciality. Although these are twenty-year-old texts, they include ideas and methods that each generation tends to rediscover when it wishes to learn or ‘steal shamelessly’ from others through benchmarking and comparative measurement. Universities, despite being places of learning, often seem to have a culture where the experience of other leading institutions is regarded as irrelevant; something I still find surprising.

Margretta, J., Understanding Michael Porter: The essential guide to competition and strategy

Benchmarking is about being competitive, and no University can now pretend that it is not in competition in some way with others. Michael Porter is regarded as being a key thinker in this particular area, but perhaps also sometimes either appearing inconsistent or misunderstood. Hence, I offer as my next donation a text explaining his thought, which I found very useful when creating the University’s current Information Strategy. Joan Magretta’s book also has a chapter on continuity as a key strategic test; something to reflect on in relation to retirement and succession.

Cambridge Handbook, Strategy as Practice

The creation and implementation of successive information strategies across the University has been an interesting experience. Universities are not always very corporate, and even when decisions seem to be made about change, there are many ways in which agreements can be subverted, delayed or ignored. These ‘micro-level social features’ as they are sometimes (euphemistically) termed are the subject of the relatively new field of ‘strategy as practice’, and so the new edition of the Cambridge Handbook of Strategy as Practice seems like a relevant donation as the University seeks to implement a raft of new strategies in the coming years.

Mintzberg, H., Managing

Finally, Henry Mintzberg has been one of the leading critics of strategic planning, but in this more recent work, and donation, Mintzberg goes back to the fundamental substance of what management is. Like Rosemary Stewart before him, Mintzberg believes that management is what managers do, and the way to find that out is to observe them. There is great wisdom in this book which has certainly helped me both understand and practice management better in the last few years. The dedication “to all those who manage with wisdom and respect” is one I can share in the making of this gift.

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