If you cringe as you read this, please know that I cringed with you: I think we need more MBAs in the libraries. I cringe because I’m not an MBA myself, but I try to remember that lumpiness of labor is an economic fallacy — more work for one person (or in this case, one class of people with one type of degree) does not mean less work for the rest of us. So while trying not to cringe, I’d like to expound on the thought that that we need more MBAs in the library because library work has increasingly called for more business acumen.
A prime example of this is in negotiating licensing deals with publishers over e-content (databases, journals, books). While the libraries have hired lawyers (another cringe?) to take care of some of the details of negotiation, I believe the work can benefit from having people used to crafting business deals sitting on the libraries’ side of the table. I feel that somebody who has experience driving hard bargains, who knows what contract negotiations look like in the corporate world, and who, frankly, will neither shy from schmoozing nor be afraid of confrontations can a tremendous asset.
I haven’t forgotten either that one of the great leverage of an MBA hire is the contacts he would be bringing. Imagine if the person negotiating for the library knows the person sitting across the table from him because they used to the do the same work. In this case, they should both know what each other are capable of. Less BS would be tossed around. The person working for the large publishers will be stripped of the psychological superiority (however unjustified) he’s used to having if he has to deal not with “genteel folks from the dusty libraries” but the steely eye, well connected business shark.
Where can we get these MBAs with the kind of experience we need? I take it as a given that libraries are not going be competitive in terms of pay alone. We can leverage what we do have — reasonable hours, respectable/elite image, non-ulcerous working environment — and try to target, say, businesswomen who have young children, part-time feel-good-about-the-civic-work-we’re-doing high ranking business managers, corporate citizens with college-age kids who are angling to get their kids known. (In case you find this last idea objectionable, so do I, but universities have legacy programs where they offer admissions to kids of their alumni. If that is OK, then I don’t see why an informal arrangement like this wouldn’t be.)
Academic libraries have another trump card up their sleeves — they’re located on campuses where MBAs are trained. This gives libraries the opportunity to “get ’em while they’re young”. Academic libraries can get people to think about the possibility of working for the libraries in business positions by persuading the undergraduates majoring in business administration to do case studies on the libraries. They can get the people in MBA programs to become the “business buddies” group of the library. With such established ties, it will be easier for libraries to recruit seasoned business professionals and their colleagues down the road.