Understanding Good Library Management with Tiffany Duck

Community Profile
Tiffany Duck

“I like being a manager. I know it can be stressful but I really like it. I think it gives you the opportunity to help shape people’s work and help them grow and get to where they want to go professionally.”

Tiffany Duck, ‘13 MLIS
Suffolk, VA

For Suffolk Public Library Manager Tiffany Duck, her first experiences at a library would shape her adolescence and her future academic path.

“As a teenager, you know, libraries were my saving grace,” Tiffany said. “I had to go to the library quite frequently. We didn’t have computers or the Internet at home where I grew up, so I had to go to the library to literally do homework sometimes and print out papers and those sorts of things. So I probably walked to the library after school every day.”

On top of having the equipment she needed to complete her school work, Tiffany explained how the librarians took an interest in her and began to ask her to volunteer with some of the other teens.

“They convinced me to volunteer for the summer reading program and even to sign up for Battle of the Books with my middle school library. And that’s kind of what started my interest in libraries. I probably wasn’t the nicest teenager or that easy to deal with. But the librarians were very patient. They were always happy to see you regardless and they always helped us out.”

Tiffany’s positive experience with her local librarians has inspired her work with teens at her own library. 

“Depending on where you work, there’s a lot of kids and teens that may be on their own after school. But the situation can be complex sometimes because there are a lot of other things that come with that – they may be hungry, or maybe playing around a little bit, or potentially causing disruptions in the library. So I really try to develop programs and talk to churches, get snacks and things for the kids –  and build those relationships while they’re in libraries, the same way those librarians did for me.” 

Finding Her Path 

Though she would not enter college with the intention of pursuing librarianship after high school, Tiffany’s experience at her local library would continue to inspire her for years to come. As an undergraduate, Tiffany started working at a digital media lab inside a university library, which would bring her back to her former love. 

“I started asking questions before I graduated about how I can become a librarian, and people guided me and said that I needed to go to library school, and so I applied before I graduated.”

Tiffany started her MLIS program at the iSchool initially intending to pursue the Academic Librarianship track, but she wanted to keep her options open. She took courses in Young Adult Literature, Collection Development, and Services to the Homeless Population to widen her scope. As it turned out, this was a good thing — because her first job after she graduated was in a public library, at the management level. 

“My boss calls me a manager’s manager,” Tiffany says. “I went straight into management outside of library school. And so I’ve been in management for a pretty good amount of time, but I like management. I like being a manager. I think it gives you the opportunity to help shape people’s work and help them grow and get to where they want to go professionally.”

Managing People and Expectations

Part of working in library management, Tiffany says, is learning on the go. 

“I do think I learned a lot getting my degree,” Tiffany said. “There are some things that you can [only] learn on the go. And for some people, that can be hard. Libraries use a lot of technology and it’s always changing, and that kind of rapid change can be challenging for some managers because it means you to continue to learn new skills and upskill constantly.”

Tiffany also stresses the fact that as a manager, especially in public libraries, you inherently work with people. 

“I love people,” Tiffany explains. “I am a people person, but people can also be challenging. So I think working with the general public, there are a lot of different challenges that come with that. In libraries, we do get a little bit of everybody. So you know we have lots of different types of patrons and personalities, which can be hard for a person.”

This also includes learning to look out for your staff, Tiffany adds. Managing the amount of work that needs to be done along with your employees’ needs is a tough balancing act, but a necessary one, especially amidst the Great Resignation

“I’m a proud millennial,” Tiffany says. “And I can say that sometimes it’s not about the check or the job, there’s a lot of things going on these days, and people have different needs. [This is] gonna be really important moving forward here in the next few years for managers to understand.”

Giving Back and Managing During a Pandemic 

Like many people around the world, Tiffany’s biggest challenge in library management would come around the start of the pandemic. 

“Nobody had information. That was the hard part — you couldn’t go ask somebody, so we were really trying to solve problems and develop solutions to things and still take care of the staff while trying to make sure we were doing things safely.” 

On top of which, like most libraries and businesses, for a long while during lockdown Suffolk Public Library was shut down, and this meant youth programming was temporarily put on pause. 

“So doors were closed and that was hard [on staff] when you know that there were kids who needed resources and things. They would sometimes come to the door but the library building itself was closed.”

Tiffany stressed the importance of allowing her team to take regular breaks and a more staggered schedule especially when it was just the team working alone in the otherwise closed library building.

“There was a lot going on at the same time we had all those racial justice issues like that George Floyd situation, and COVID and the schools going virtual all at the same time and I think it was wearing on people.”

Part of managing well in moments like this, Tiffany says is having an EDI focus: 

“That’s Equity Diversity and Inclusion. And that’s not just race. All different types of abilities and needs, and come from different backgrounds and different philosophies. It’s important to educate yourself as a manager to create a more inclusive work environment.” 

A people-focused management style is just one way to ensure your staff is taken care of.

Advice on Public Speaking and Better Management 

Tiffany also teaches management courses and says her interest in teaching came from INFO 250 — Instructional Strategies. Yet even still, she probably was not prepared for the amount of public speaking that was expected of working in libraries or how often she would need to present to raise resources and library funding. Tiffany expressed that she was afraid that the boards she spoke in front of would know more than she did about the topics or that they might ask her a question she couldn’t answer — but luckily another library manager gave her some solid advice. 

Her manager’s advice was to address the room of professionals before you give your talk and say, “Some of you may be experts, so as we go along if there’s a question that maybe you can answer if you have something, feel free to chime in.”

The second piece of advice was to speak with a co-presenter when you can, at least at first, to help divide some of the attention so it does not feel like it is all on you. And if you are asked a question that neither of you can answer right away?

“You say, ‘you know, I haven’t thought about it that way, but if you leave me your name and your number, we’ll follow up with you.’” 

It is as simple as that. 

For current library students, Tiffany also recommends starting to work in libraries as soon as possible and getting involved in groups and committees because that is one way to be seen and gain new and unexpected opportunities.

“I’ve been on the literary awards committee for the Black Caucus of the American Library Association for six years consulting on some of their standing orders for their African American titles. Awesome people have reached out to me like, ‘would you be willing to be on this committee or this great team?’ That’s how people found me typically.” 

And finally, Tiffany recommends reading library blogs and listening to books like the No Ego Podcast by Cy Wakeman for advice on leadership and finding new perspectives in organizations and management.