In 2011, I attended the Eureka! Leadership Institute in California. It was one of the best professional development experiences I have had to date. For 5 days, I worked alongside 31 other librarians around California with a variety of experience and years in the field—from directors to supervisors and managers to part-time and full-time librarians. All had a passion to be a driving force for change in their library systems and were eager to learn how to start the process.

We went through a series of planned exercises and discussions related to management, leadership, change, and the importance of vision. We exchanged some laughs and some tears, ideas and insecurities, and most importantly, we opened ourselves up to our fellow colleagues and really got the chance to examine what it means to be a librarian in the 21st century. After the intensive training was finished, we each went back to our communities, inspired, and committed to a year-long project that filled a demonstrated community need. Another valuable aspect of our training was to participate in an online grant-writing course, develop outcomes and evaluation measures for our projects, and write our own grant to secure funds.

My project, “Voices of Santa Monica: Empowering Teens Through Oral History,” focused on developing key assets in at-risk youth through oral history and training in interviewing techniques. I partnered with our local continuation high school and conducted a weekly class at the school that concentrated on learning the basics of oral history, research, and interviewing community members. The culminating project of the class was to film and produce their own cable show entitled, “Voices of Santa Monica,” which including interviewing community members in a REAL cable studio.

Like many libraries, partnerships have always been a valuable way to expand services and programming, and this project was no exception. Through a unique opportunity, students were able to use our local cable station’s new studio, get trained on professional film and production equipment, and film their own cable show, from start to finish. This part of the project offered some very exciting opportunities, and a few leaders began to emerge. Whether it was taking command of the 3 different cameras we used or directing people in the production booth, these students experienced something completely new and unforgettable. The “Voices of Santa Monica” crew filmed 6 shows and interviewed 6 different community members—a Santa Monica historian, a formerly homeless woman, a cross-dresser, a dancer, a detective, and the Deputy Chief of Police. The shows aired on the local cable station, and many (including the principal of the continuation school) were able to tune in! We also received copies of the shows and will be showcasing them on our future local history website.

Without the Eureka! Leadership program’s support and training, I would not have been able to accomplish such a large-scale project on my own. As librarians, we like to think that we can easily fold multi-part outreach projects into our already burgeoning slate of programs and duties. But sometimes, there just isn’t enough time or staff or training or money available. By applying to this leadership program, I was able to gain the confidence and the approval to pull several pieces of our community together and make this project work.

In my opinion, every librarian should have an opportunity to experience a program like Eureka! “The Next Big Thing” comes from innovative thinking, from collaboration (as was mentioned in the November 8 blog post) and partnerships, and from being inspired to move forward and ahead, rather than doing “what’s always been done.” Leadership programs like the Eureka! Leadership Institute are incubators for this type of thinking and change. And many provide librarians with a full network of mentors and colleagues outside of their own system.

You CAN discover your next big thing at your library and in your community. For me, it wasn’t just about my specific project or program, although it was an amazing, unique experience. It was more about discovering my own abilities and leadership capacities, as well as my voice. It was about examining my changing role in the community—as a youth advocate, a library representative, and a community leader. The next big thing for you might not have anything to do with programs, but instead it may have to do with a fundamental shift in your perspective as a librarian and the way you approach your community’s needs. It may be introducing new technologies or leaving the library once a week to provide services at a non-library location. It may be sponsoring non-library services at your library or partnering with unlikely organizations. Whatever it is, participating in a leadership program is an excellent way to help you discover it for yourself.

Here are just a few examples and resources on library leadership programs:

YALSA’s Competencies for Librarians Serving Youth include Leadership and Professionalism as an area in which library staff need to demonstrate competence. The association also has a year-long grant from the Institute of Museums and Library Services to explore the future of library services to teens. Through its online town meetings the project gives everyone the opportunity to have a voice in leading teen library services into the future.

American Library Association (ALA) Emerging Leaders Program

A leadership development program that allows newer library workers to gain an inside look into ALA and get involved in national, as well as local, library committees and organizations.

ALA Library Leadership Training Resources

A list of national and state leadership programs and institutes.

Eureka! Leadership Institute

A program for California library staff with between three and ten years of professional library experience.

Innovation Leadership Program at Los Angeles Public Library

This program is open to recent MLS or MLIS graduates and pairs new librarians with seasoned librarians during a two-year residency at LAPL.

Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA) Mentoring Program
A program that pairs librarians who are currently in leadership positions with librarians who are interested in becoming leaders.

One Thought on “Connect, Create, Collaborate: The Next Big Thing Takes Leadership & Finding Your Voice

  1. Great post, Erica! As a member of the 2012 Eureka cohort, I agree, the experience is invaluable. I hope your post inspires many librarians to seek similar opportunities.

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