I contend that the greatest impediment to the future of public libraries is the growing number of library practitioners who lack community leadership skills. I fear that many key staff members in public libraries are reluctant to interact and work with local government administrators and other community leaders, at a time when it is absolutely crucial to relate how the library finds solutions to meet the needs and priorities of the communities we serve.
So wrote 2012–2013 PLA President Eva Poole in her first message as president – Leadership Skills More Crucial Than Ever – in the July/August 2012 issue of “Public Libraries”
…., we must remember that we share the same challenges and issues as those faced by our local government administrators. In a Public Management (PM) magazine article titled “Picturing It: The Year 2020,” local government administrators were asked to predict what their professional challenges would be in the year 2020. Their predictions were summarized as follows:
• Quality of life and a sense of place will be important to residents.
• IT developments will allow for greater productivity.
• Service delivery will be streamlined.
• Resident engagement will become the norm.
• Performance measurement and benchmarking will be emphasized.
• Teamwork and consensus building will be essential skills.
• Working effectively with diverse and aging populations will be a major skill.
• A commitment to sustainability will be standard.
Isn’t it ironic that what our local government administrators see for their future is the current reality for us as public library leaders? We can make a difference in the way public libraries are perceived by our local government administrators by becoming not only effective library leaders, but community leaders.
What seems ironic to me is that it has taken this long for our professional leaders to recognize what we in the field have been asserting for years. Local libraries don’t have time to wait for the slowly turning wheels of bureaucracy and committees and associations to turn around to recognizing the issues and addressing the solutions. We’ve begun to find our own solutions that those other “leaders” can look to as examples.
In 2006, PLA established a Leadership Development Task Force, chaired by past-PLA president Luis Herrera, to develop leaders for the profession and the association in response to the changing environment in which public libraries operate. We need leaders who embrace change and can implement a vision that will transform public libraries. The work of the task force, now chaired by Carolyn Anthony, continues. The task force has identified key elements of successful leadership for public libraries. A key observation is that to be an effective library leader, a person must be a community leader, engaged with the community and relating the library’s offerings to the needs and priorities of the community. Effective library leadership also involves partnerships with other agencies in the community. We continue to develop this leadership model and plan to launch it nationally.
SIX years for a “task force” to come up with a plan is not something to brag about, but I sincerely applaud President Poole for making leadership her number one priority.