Daily Archives: March 19, 2012

Many 21st Century Library Directors Are NOT Librarians


That headline snapped into my brain yesterday when I read that The new head of Ottawa’s library is not a librarian,

Danielle McDonald took over the Ottawa [Canada] Public Library and its $50-million budget this week. She’s a departure from her predecessor, Barbara Clubb, who started out shelving books and capped her career with a national award for her service to librarianship. McDonald is a lifelong administrator specializing in behind-the-scenes work in the city bureaucracy.

With a rich history of service to a population of now over 880,000, and a $50M budget, what kind of experience and/or education would a librarian need to direct such a large operation in Ottawa? Obviously, these library decision makers/boards of trustees/ community leaders believed that it is not necessary for their library’s director be a librarian. One could easily make the argument that they believed it was more important for the leader to be a leader, have some business acumen, be an experienced manager, and be able to direct the library’s activities in a successful direction.

When one looks around at all of these mega-library systems, one finds many library directors who are not librarians. Every librarian should ask themselves “Why?”

Salt Lake County Library Services has been headed by Director James D. Cooper, MBA, since 2001. In 2005 the system garnered the Best in Utah Library title, and the system has grown significantly under Jim’s leadership, building two new branches since 2008, making a total of 20 throughout the County of over 500,000 customers. According to Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings for 1999 to 2010, SLCoLS ranks fifth in the nation.

Would anyone realistically expect the President of New York Public Library to be a librarian?

Dr. Anthony W. Marx, President of Amherst College and a distinguished political scientist, became The New York Public Library’s President and CEO on July 1, 2011. … A native New Yorker, Dr. Marx attended P.S. 98 and the Bronx High School of Science. He then attended Wesleyan and Yale, where he graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in 1981. He received his M.P.A. from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University in 1986, then earned M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton in 1987 and 1990.

The former Director, St. Louis Public Library, Glen Holt did not have an MLS degree, but directed the multimillion dollar operation for 15 years, that included initiation of a $70M library renovation, before turning over the leadership to his deputy director in 2004. Associate Professor and Chairperson Dr. Mary E. Brown, Department of Information and Library Science, Southern Connecticut State University, uses a Holt publication in her coursework.

Holt, Glen (2002). A way to the future: reorganizing library work, The Bottom Line: Managing Library Finances, 15, 1.
[Summarizing:] Holt argues that traditional library work tends to entangle librarians in chores that do not take advantage of their training and abilities and encourages library management to make structural changes that will allow librarians to do intellectual work rather than less significant tasks. This intellectual work should include old and new tasks that require full use of librarian expertise while using non-librarian employees for most other work. Mr. Holt discusses steps that his institution has taken to evolve the traditional role of librarians into knowledge managers. Although these steps may not be appropriate for every institution, there are several principals that may serve library administrators attempting to transform their institutions in a similar fashion. Principally applying business principals for cost-benefit efficiency and using technology to improve the communication and services of a library institution. [Emphasis added.]

Several states like Wisconsin have laws that require library directors to be certified – with one notable exception.

Administrators of public library systems, county libraries, county library services, and municipal public libraries except Milwaukee Public Library must hold certification as described in this manual. An “administrator” of a library or system is, according to administrative rules, the head librarian or other person appointed by the board of the library or system to direct and administer the library or system. [Emphasis added.]

IMHO, the major issue is leadership and executive experience required for larger library systems. Where does a librarian get that? OJT? I don’t think so. SLIS? Definitely not!

It appears to me that this trend toward hiring non-librarians to fill high level library director positions will continue until the profession begins to develop its own – its own visionary leaders and executives – and takes mentoring very seriously.

If anyone has examples of librarians ascending to these high level library director positions, please share.

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