Are you a manager? A supervisor? Maybe, like me, you feel you are a great follower. I have been working in my current position, as the sole full-time library staff, for eight years; and I have developed my position as well as our library collections and the services we offer, and slowly but surely, my department is growing. I have also, over the last four years, been increasing my participation in local, state and national library associations and events.
As I keep thinking about how my Library Services department can best respond to my community’s needs and interests, as well as how I can grow professionally, I have been thinking about what leadership is. Through this exploration I started thinking: maybe I can be a leader. Maybe, in some small ways, I had already taken steps on the path to leadership. That was an intense moment for me, as I had never thought of myself as a leader. Here is what I gained from my research, which I hope will also provoke new ideas for you!
A LEADER’S ATTITUDE
Current research on library leadership agrees: library leaders know that a library is at the heart of their community, and that the emphasis should not be on what the library owns but on what the library does. Thus, library leaders need to focus on discovering, understanding and responding to the community needs.
The philosophy can be condensed to: “Books out, people in”. That is what Louise Berry, former director of the famous Darien Public Library in Connecticut, used to say. It is the work of library leadership to bring together the library (staff, collection and services) and its community. An example of that philosophy is what the Tuzzy Consortium Library (Barrow, AK) has been able to put together, thanks to their leadership’s focus on the community. They have partnered with the school districts, local public and private organizations, the State Library, local clubs, and many more, to channel their power into one goal: serving the community.
Leadership can be demonstrated through several characteristics, which I have been fortunate to observe in the leadership team at my school. Leaders:
- hire people who fit well with our school culture and have the same vision and values;
- trust them to do their job on their own;
- hold themselves and others to high standards;
- provide (internal and external) professional development for everyone within reach and even go beyond those standards;
- listen to our community (staff, faculty, students and parents);
- make decisions based on our community’s needs and interests.
A LEADER’S INFLUENCE
So what are library leaders doing today to meet their community’s needs? They focus on their process and their attitude. The process includes designing policies, collections and services with the community’s needs and interests in mind – not just the leaders’ own; while their attitude focuses on the people (both staff and patrons) and supports the staff and patrons to be successful, including experimenting with new ways to better serve their community.
Three main leadership characteristics can produce a wealth of positive results:
- First, successful leaders understand that professional development empowers library staff generating the next library leaders. It gives the staff chances to build their self-confidence, skills and aptitudes, as well as the opportunity to give things a try – and reflect from both failures and successes.
- Second, leaders see a positive cycle of community participation in the library. Partnerships allow libraries to serve more people in their community than they could have reached alone. When it is time to support libraries in the voting booth, people will know why they vote for them.
- Finally, leaders see the value of growing partnerships and collaborations. More opportunities for partnership and collaboration snowball as word-of-mouth from successes spreads.
Libraries are needed now more than ever with tightening resources and uncertainty, and it is up to library leaders to take their libraries, staff and communities through these hard times. Leaders will know how to motivate their staff, harness their energy and focus it on the needs of their particular communities. Whether you are starting on your path to leadership or are a seasoned leader: what will you do today to serve your community, and how will you energize your staff or coworkers to help you?
Elsa Ouvrard-Prettol, Library and Media Instructor at Natomas Charter School, 2016-17 YALSA Research Committee member, 2016-18 California School Library Association – Northern Region section 2 representative
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