Behind the Scenes: ALA Leadership Institute-Part 1 of 3

We’ve all probably got an opinion or reaction when we hear the word “leadership.” Maybe we think, “oh that’s just not for me,” or “I want to be more successful at making change,” or perhaps “I think I’m doing a pretty good job but could always use more pointers” or even “I’m not a manager so this probably doesn’t really apply to me.”

If it’s all or none of the above, you’re in the right place.

Last month, ALA held an inaugural four-day Leadership Institute in Illinois. Forty participants from all types of libraries and all kinds of positions were invited to participate on an application basis. Six YALSA members attended. We’ll hear from three of them on the YALSAblog. Stay tuned to hear from others through YALS, as well as other upcoming publications that will share their excitement about the powerful experience.

Elsworth Rockefeller, Manager, Adult and Teen Services with the Oak Park Public Library, IL, shares his experience through an email interview:

KC: So this institute was all about leadership. Can you talk about a few points you plan to take back to your library and/or community?

ER: The Institute reinforced the idea that sustained, effective communication is crucial for organizational health, and that part of a leader’s job is to create an environment where that can happen. This is something I think all communities (from small work teams to service departments to entire libraries and beyond) can work on. As a department manager, I always appreciate the chance to look at why communication matters so much and be reminded of the ways I can best facilitate meaningful dialog with internal and external library customers in my daily work.
Significant time was spent doing self exploration and identifying personal leadership skills and areas of growth, and having a fresh self assessment of my own abilities will help me identify opportunities to effectively lead as well as occasions where I can develop new skills.
Working with library peers on the topic of innovation was also inspiring. I think a lot about balancing innovation and traditional service in libraries, so it was great to hear opinions from all over libraryland about organizational risk and reward in innovation. It was especially interesting to compare the decision making processes used by library professionals in different types of libraries when considering new services and models.

KC: What about points to take back to the larger YALSA community?

ER: As an active YALSA member, I hope to continue utilizing my leadership skills in committee work and other YALSA activities. I’ve been fortunate in my YALSA volunteer work to serve with people who were excited to be involved, passionate about our shared charge, and able to use effective and appropriate communication with other members.
I would encourage YALSA to offer members as many chances for leadership training and development as possible, and to continue to support participation in programs like ALA Emerging Leaders. I believe teen services librarians become the best library administrators and decision-makers (I might be a little bit biased…), so I love to see support for YALSA members to grow as leaders.

KC: What if anything, can you pass on to YALSA members that didn’t have the opportunity to attend the Institute, do to develop their leadership skills?

ER: I would advise YALSA members to watch for leadership related training opportunities in their library, their community, and through ALA. Take a risk and push yourself to participate in things that feel professionally challenging, like volunteering for a committee, writing a column for a local newspaper about library offerings, or serving as an embedded librarian somewhere in your community. There is a wealth of information available about leadership in most public libraries, so get to know the classic and contemporary canon of leadership-related materials. Don’t limit yourself to just library-focused topics; explore widely and see what other fields have to offer.

KC: Was your understanding of leadership changed as a result of this experience? If so, in what ways?

ER: My understanding of leadership was certainly enhanced and refreshed by participating in the Institute. I enjoy reading about leadership and have had several opportunities to take part in leadership trainings—including the ALA Emerging Leaders Program in 2007 (sponsored by YALSA!)—so I went in with a solid understanding of the major models discussed. The facilitators of the program, Maureen Sullivan and Kathryn Deiss, did a great job of illustrating how leadership themes work together in different ways, and I gained a lot from seeing how the presenters designed and implemented the curriculum.

KC: Any other thoughts you’d like to add?

ER: If you have the chance to attend a training facilitated by Maureen and Kathryn, don’t miss it! It was interesting to see how many participants had also been part of the ALA Emerging Leader program.

About Kelly Czarnecki

Kelly Czarnecki is a Teen Librarian at ImaginOn with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She is a member of the YALSA blog advisory board.
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