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Vol. 19, No. 3/Spring 1997

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Start Reading For Your Library MBA

By Bruce Rosenstein

Can a current or aspiring library manager learn anything from the many business and management books available in libraries and bookstores? Or is the information too easily outdated, repetitive, contradictory or boring? You could just give up and not try to learn anything this way, but somehow it seems that is not how a librarian should operate.

I have compiled a number of books by authors who can enlighten those interested in management (since it does affect everyone in an organization). I have kept it to books I am familiar with, not necessarily those considered must-reads by others. Unless otherwise noted, all editions are paperbacks.

Have you read any books by Peter F. Drucker, the dean of management gurus? If not, start there. And if you have read Drucker, make sure you've read enough of him. A good title to start with is "Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices" (HarperCollins, 1973), a giant compendium of Drucker's teachings through the early 1970's. (He is still active today, at 87.) Other valuable titles (all published by HarperCollins) are "The Practice of Management" (1954), "Managing for Results" (1964), and "The Effective Executive" (1966), which some people feel is the best business-oriented time management book.

In keeping with the theme of management books featuring excellent writing, challenging ideas and clear thinking, read Charles Handy, an Irish-born former oil executive and business school professor who now calls himself a social philosopher. His classic is "The Age of Unreason" (Harvard Business School Press, 1989). Like Drucker, he is very erudite and discusses management with references to philosophy and religion.

Tom Peters put business books on the map for more than just a narrow audience with 1982's "In Search of Excellence" (written with Robert Waterman, Jr., Warner Books). Although dated, it's not a bad idea to be familiar with its general principles. I enjoyed Peters' weekly syndicated newspaper column, which he no longer writes. But a couple of worthwhile recent, inspirational titles are "The Tom Peters Seminar" and "The Pursuit of WOW!" (both Vintage Books, 1994).

If Peters reached at least some of the masses, Stephen Covey broke down the doors with his mega-hit "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" (Fireside Books, 1989). You can make fun of Covey's common sense, Biblical principles, but he is the one laughing all the way to the bank. It's worth being familiar with Covey's ideas just so you'll know what other managers have been reading.

As a member of the Special Library Association, you are no doubt familiar with the term "core competency." If you're curious as to its origin, and what its original meaning is, read "Competing For The Future" by the business professor/consultants Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad (Harvard Business School Press, 1994; paperback edition, 1996). Being able to drop their names and displaying at least basic familiarity with their ideas can't hurt your career.

The management literature makes frequent reference to the concept of leadership, and possibly the biggest guru in this field is the veteran author Warren Bennis. Unlike many of the other gurus, he has extensive management and leadership experience to go with his credentials as an author. He's written many books, but you might want to start with "Leaders," co-written with Burt Nanus (HarperCollins, 1985, although a revised paperback edition has just been released).

Of course you might not be able to read these books cover to cover right away. In this case, temporary alternatives include an invaluable, handy volume by the British author Carol Kennedy, "Instant Management" (Quill, 1994). It summarizes the key concepts of many of the top management thinkers; not only Drucker and Handy, but also the likes of change-management expert Rosabeth Moss Kanter, and the father of Total Quality Management, W. Edwards Deming. Each author is given his or her own chapter.

A somewhat similar approach is taken by another British author, Stuart Crainer. "Key Management Ideas" (FT Pitman Publishing, 1996) discusses most of the familiar authors, but chapters are organized around concepts, not people. Crainer recently picked the top 50 business books of all time in a British-only release I have not seen, "The Ultimate Business Library" (Capstone Publishing, 1996). However, the titles are listed in his article in the "Financial Times," "Fads that speak volumes," December 9, 1996, pg. 14.

Another interesting recent book which analyzes the work of management gurus such as Drucker, Peters, Handy, Hamel and Prahalad is "The Witch Doctors," by two editors of "The Economist," John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge (Times Books, 1996, hardback-only at the moment).

If you are even more pressed for time, there is "The Manager's Bookshelf," by Jon L.Pierce and John W. Newstrom, (HarperCollins, third edition, 1993; though a newer, half-revised edition has since been released). It includes excerpts or summaries from some of the above-named authors as well as superstar gurus such as Michael Porter, one of the biggest names in the field of strategy, and Peter Senge, author of the hugely successful "The Fifth Discipline" (Currency Doubleday, 1990).

These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. Once you get deeper into the subject, you will find many more authors who are worth reading. And then there are the not-strictly-management books (a la Covey) which have found a following, such as the seminal psychological work by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" (HarperCollins, 1990).

And you do regularly read or at least skim the "Wall Street Journal," "The Economist," "Business Week," "Forbes," "Fortune," and "The Financial Times," don't you?

Bruce Rosenstein is a reference librarian at USA TODAY. He can be reached at

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