Leader Development

OK, let’s agree that the librarianship profession does not attract lots of leader type people. What should we do about that? DUH! We should develop leaders from among those librarians who have an aptitude for it, express an interest in being a leader, and are willing to work to become one. AND, I am not referring to individuals who simply want to get the highest salary or be top dog in their local library, or library association. I am referring to REAL LEADERS – those librarians who “by force of example, talents, and/or qualities of character” will play a directing role and wield commanding influence to inspire others to follow them in creating a 21st Century Library.

How do we, either individually or collectively, develop real leaders within the librarian community? Obviously, by educating, training, mentoring and nurturing those who would seek to become leaders.

In my December 19 Post Why Not a Bachelor’s in Library Science?, I explored the idea of establishing the BS degree as entry level for the librarianship profession, not the MLS. Teaching management and leadership at this level creates a foundation of knowledge and skills upon which the entering librarian can build through experience, mentoring and nurturing. That’s how it’s done in every other profession! Librarianship is missing the boat.

I cited responses from BLS programs that included this.

2. We believe that librarians, especially public librarians, are called upon to do much more than their earlier counterparts. Skills in technology, management, marketing, and finance are needed for the 21st Century Librarian. Can all this be learned in the 36 credit hours of most Master’s programs? The Library Informatics program compliments graduate level studies in Library Science and provides a pathway for library science students.

Pointed and succinct! “Skills in … management … are needed for the 21st Century Librarian. The [BS] program compliments graduate level studies in Library Science and provides a pathway for library science students.” WE ARE NOT CURRENTLY PROVIDING AN EFFECTIVE PATHWAY FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT WITHIN OUR PROFESSION. It is totally unrealistic to expect a MLS graduate to spontaneously develop the management or leadership skills necessary to lead a library. That should begin at the undergraduate level!

What about local or national programs for developing leader librarians? Well, they’re better than nothing, but how many people have time and resources to invest in attending this type of continuing education away from their librarian job? And, who are the people teaching these “leadership” courses or programs? What is their background in leadership education, experience or talent? Any really useful or effective programs are few.

A quick review of ALA’s roster of Library Leadership Training Resources reveals significant inadequacies – both in the quantity and the goals.

Leadership Training: ACRL/Harvard Advanced Leadership Institute for Senior Academic Librarians
The Advanced Leadership Institute for Senior Academic Librarians enables senior library leaders to better understand and respond to a complicated set of leadership challenges facing academic libraries.

For a handful of ‘senior’ academic librarians.


Leadership Training: Emerging Leaders
The ALA Emerging Leaders (EL) program is a leadership development program which enables newer library workers 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 participants on the fast track to ALA committee volunteerism as well as other professional library-related organizations. [Emphasis added.]

I love this one. Let ALA train you to be an ALA committee member – NOT A “LEADER” – a volunteer to help perpetuate the organization.


Leadership Training: Leadership Development
Association of Research Libraries ARL’s Leadership Development initiatives assist research libraries to meet the instructional and research needs of higher education.

Another limited, although very important, segment of the librarianship profession.


California State Library, in partnership with Infopeople
Leadership Training: Eureka! Leadership Program: Discover the Leader Within
The California State Library, in partnership with Infopeople, is pleased to offer an exciting professional development initiative – the Eureka! Leadership Program: Discover the Leader Within. The Program has been designed for professional librarians with between three and ten years of professional library experience, but is also open to those in library management positions who do not have an MLS. The Program is looking for California library staff who exhibit leadership potential and are willing to share with others their enthusiasm, optimism, and vision for future library services.

Although CSL has a sterling reputation, this reads a bit tentative to me. Not to mention that the program wants librarians who have between 3 – 10 years experience, so I guess all the rest of you are out of luck for developing your leadership skills. You either don’t know enough to get leadership training, or you’re over the hill – career wise.


Wyoming State Library
Leadership Training: Wyoming Library Leadership Institute
The Wyoming Library Leadership Institute operates two institutes. During the even-year summer we will hold the library leadership institute for new attendees. During the odd years we will hold an advanced leadership institute opened to anyone who has attended in the past. The Library Leadership Institute exists to provide opportunities for learning, mentoring and developing leadership skills to promote the personal and professional growth of the Wyoming library community. The institute is a tool for nurturing both degreed and non-degreed individuals in leadership roles. It is not a workshop on becoming a library director or a workshop on library administration.

Although several states have leadership programs of some form, this one above from Wyoming caught my attention as addressing real leadership issues, and just leadership. “… to provide opportunities for learning, mentoring and developing leadership skills to promote the personal and professional growth of the Wyoming library community.”

It doesn’t get off track with developing “cohort groups”, “identifying the local, state and global environment”, “leadership roles within [state library association]”, “advance up the career ladder in library management”, or some other non-leadership topics. Iowa and North Carolina also have interesting sounding programs, but the total list of resources for leadership development is woefully short. Every state should have a leadership institute or program, focused strictly on “leadership”.

Most of the significant accomplishments within the profession regarding leadership development need to be achieved through entry level education that creates a solid foundation, followed by mentoring and nurturing on the job, with regular exposure to leadership programs at the state and/or local level. Again, we are not currently providing an “effective” pathway for leadership development within our profession. It is ludicrously unrealistic to expect a MLS graduate to spontaneously develop the management or leadership skills necessary to lead a library.

If the librarianship profession expects its leaders to “by force of example, talents, and/or qualities of character play a directing role, wield commanding influence or have a following” in reestablishing the relevance of the library in the 21st Century community, it had better get started by developing real leaders among new librarians – and hope and pray it’s not too late.


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3 responses to “Leader Development

  1. Laura Isenstein

    Many public libraries run their own leadership development courses for staff at all levels. These include Phoenix AZ, San Francisco CA, Louisville KY among others.

    I serve on the Public Library Association’s Leadership Development Task Force which as been developing a leadership program for library staff and supporting sending library staff to leadership development programs at major US university business schools i.e. Wharton, Michigan, Harvard.

    The Urban Libraries Council, for three years, offered an Fellows Program to develop leadership using a custom-designed program based on action learniing taught by recognized published experts in leadership and business communities. Several of its graduates have become successful library directors and are equipped to face the today’s challenges.

    The challenge for all these programs is to sustain the funding to keep them going. They are effective and they are expensive.

    I strongly recommend that undergrads interested in libraries take business management and leadership courses. I also suggest that graduate library programs offer serious management and leadership courses that are based in the reality of today’s complex world.

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