by Zahra M. Baird and Patti McCall
Library employees are more often finding themselves in a position where they must cultivate leadership skills, regardless of their place on the organizational chart. While employers may or may not furnish leadership training opportunities, it is wise for librarians to actively seek out opportunities for leadership development. The good news is that library associations are rising to the occasion and offering programs, academies, institutes, and workshops focusing on the development of library leadership skills. You can often also find opportunities to serve on committees (such as faculty governance in an academic setting), play an active role in the community (such as in a public library setting), and participate in other roles outside of the library (such in a special library setting).
Leadership vs. management
A very important distinction that needs to be made is that between management and leadership. Florence M. Mason and Louella V. Wetherbee say it best in their article “Learning to Lead: an analysis of current training programs for library leadership:”
Management is about what things get done, while leadership is about how things get done. Management involves accomplishing tasks, while leadership involves influencing and guiding a course of action. “Leadership programs for librarians should cultivate and nurture attributes including the ability to coach and motivate teams communicate effectively, engage the community, negotiate conflict, deal with change, think strategically and creatively, take risks and trust, plan for the future, convince and influence others, feel emotional intelligence, and envision and implement proactive models of library customer service.
Professional library associations
At the national level, a successful example of cultivating and showcasing library leaders continues to grow via the American Library Association (ALA) Emerging Leaders Program. According to the Emerging Leaders Wiki, “Emerging Leaders began in 2007 as one of Immediate Past President Leslie Burger’s initiatives. The Emerging Leaders program enables newer librarians from across the country to participate in problem-solving work groups; network with peers; gain an inside look into ALA structure, and have an opportunity to serve the profession in a leadership capacity. It puts them on the fast track to ALA and professional leadership. This initiative started off being offered only to librarians but in response to the notion that library leaders are not just currently employed MLS librarians, the program will be expanded to include library employees, library school students and those librarians between jobs. Applications for the 2010 Class of Emerging Leaders should be available mid-April 2009.”
The Special Libraries Association (SLA) holds an annual leadership summit with the purpose of bringing together hundreds of leaders of the SLA, its chapters, divisions, sections, caucuses and committees to encourage their members to learn leadership skills to prepare them for the year ahead. The purpose of this event is mutually beneficial, as their tagline states: “Shaping Your Future…and that of SLA.”
A sampling of state leadership secrets
Formidable collaborations are happening on the state level. Working under the premise that in order to ensure a strong and exciting future for all libraries of all types, library workers must embrace effective leadership as a core component of professional practice, the California State Library, in partnership with Infopeople has developed and is implementing a dynamic leadership program called “Leadership Training: Eureka! Leadership Program: Discover the Leader Within.” Designed for professional librarians with three to ten years of professional library experience, the program is also open to those in library management positions who do not have an MLS. The program’s target participant base is California library staff who exhibit leadership potential and are willing to share with others their enthusiasm, optimism, and vision for future library services.
The current state of the economy has translated into major library budget cuts. With slim to non-existent travel budgets, libraries are not sending as many or any employees to national and/or state conferences. In response to this development, The New York Library Association (NYLA) has identified its highly successful annual conference programs, turned them into reasonably priced half-day or full-day workshops, and taken them on the road to various parts of the state. In addition to offering regional institutes across the state, NYLA is looking into offering on-line education seminars and courses and also providing onsite training in the state of the art training center at the brand new NYLA office site. NYLA is providing national and state caliber programming at the local level, leaving no stone unturned in the quest to meet the leadership and educational needs of their membership.
Leaders have an extremely important role in ensuring the success of the library profession and our professional library organizations. Therefore, it follows that significant educational support is essential to foster this success. To provide leaders with the support they need, another trend with state library associations is the creation of Leadership Institutes and Academies. One of the more comprehensive web sources for library leadership institutes and programs can be accessed through the PALINET website, which was designed to help future and current library leaders network, exchange information, collaborate and get organized. A great resource, this site includes leadership training, mentoring, bibliographies, and articles on variety of related subject areas.
NYLA’s Leadership and Management Academy is an illustration of an educational program for emerging leaders in the library profession on a statewide level. The program was created with the intention that participants gain skills and knowledge needed to advance up the career ladder in library management. Intimate by design, the enrollment is limited initially to 40 students each year. Enrollees are required to complete ten courses over a three-year period to receive a Leadership and Management Academy Certificate. The Academy ’s target population is mid-career library professionals interested in obtaining the practical knowledge and basic skills critical to becoming a library leader or manager. Applicants must either have five years of library experience and a Bachelors Degree or two years of library experience and an MLS.
Simply learning about various leadership skills in the academy or workshop setting does not a leader make. Discussion of your experiences with leaders who have used these skills can give valuable insight into transferring skills into real life situations. This is where library association mentoring programs both informal and formal can come into play.
In this vein, The Minnesota Library Association has fashioned an Institute for Leadership Excellence called “MILE 2009: Discover Your Inner Leader” that will launch in April of 2009 and is open to all library workers with all levels of experience who aspire to leadership roles. An attractive parameter of this institute is that participants will reflect on the variety of leadership opportunities available at the local, regional, and state levels and participants will then be matched with and work with a mentor for several months following the Institute.
Library associations supporting personal leadership plans
When developing your leadership potential, assessing your leadership strengths is a first step in becoming a better library leader. Next comes identifying the leadership skills that are important to you and start looking at how you can use them within your sphere of influence. You can create an action plan as to how you can better develop your skills and continue to learn and develop your leadership skills.
Once you have identified leadership skills you wish to cultivate, scout out the opportunities provided by your local and state library associations and take advantage of what they are offering. Don’t see what you are looking for? Speak up and contact the executive director or chair of the continuing education committee. Once you’ve taken courses, read books and articles. The next step is see your leadership knowledge in action. One of the best ways of mastering this skill is learning by doing. At the local, state, national and international library levels you can find many opportunities to try out and hone skills by serving as Committee Chair, Officer of a Roundtable, or on the board of directors of a Sections or Division. Library associations offer the opportunity in a non-threatening environment to build on existing skills, stretch abilities, and learn skills that will translate to the job and most organizations need and welcome volunteers. Librarians are encouraged to seek such opportunities within their own organizations to develop skills and connect with colleagues. Such opportunities are not only critical to the development of leadership skills but also in promoting the value of the library.
Library associations are growing members who are able to lead from any position, regardless of job title. Association initiatives and opportunities are focusing on enhancing the natural leadership skills of their members. Being mentored and mentoring is a key to strong leadership. It has inspired us to develop a few of these skills and grow a little bit more professionally and personally. We hope you will too.
American Library Association Leadership Training. The list contains leadership programs functioning in late 2008, holding institutes and workshops in 2008 or planning to hold institutes in 2009.
Learning to lead: an analysis of current training programs for library leadership, by Florence M. Mason and Louella V. Wetherbee. Library Trends. Summer 2004 (53:1) pp187-217.
Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader, by Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books. 1997
Zahra M. Baird is currently Head of Young Adult Services at the Chappaqua Library, a member library of the Westchester Library System. Patti McCall is the Corporate Librarian at AMRI in Albany, NY. Both Zahra and Patti demonstrate leadership skills including critical thinking, risk taking, and creativity, regardless of their positions within their management structures, actively participate in local, state and national professional library associations and enthusiastically pursue personal and professional growth through continuing education.