Last August, 40 librarians gathered at the Eaglewood Resort and Spa in Itasca, Illinois, to participate in the first ALA Leadership Institute. Facilitated by ALA past-president Maureen Sullivan and Association of College and Research Libraries content strategist Kathryn Deiss, the group learned about models of leadership and group dynamics, and shared ideas and research. They covered such essential issues as leading in turbulent times, interpersonal competence, power and influence, the art of convening groups, and creating a culture of inclusion, innovation, and transformation.
“It was a think tank of 40 professional librarians who were as passionate as I am about their careers, clientele and purpose…an empowering learning experience that left me committed to applying what I learned,” Rayburne "Ray" J. Turner, assistant branch manager/reference services manager at Otranto Road Regional Branch-Charleston County Public Library in North Charleston, South Carolina told ALA. “The Institute helped me to identify my personal strengths and allowed me to examine my areas of needed growth as a leader, while also allowing me to help the other 39 individual do the same in a collective body through examination of theories, methodologies and individual case studies.”
Jennifer Anders, school librarian at West Jefferson Elementary in Quinton, Alabama, agreed. “This was the best conference I’ve ever attended,” she said. The learning didn’t stop for Anders at the end of the institute, either. “Over the past several months, I have tried to employ the skillful discussion model, with my colleagues and with my elementary age students. A great part of my vocation is to respond to students and faculty members’ needs. Skillful discussion moves beyond exchange of knowledge to working together to develop and implement solutions or complete a project. I hope I have worked better at listening to students and teachers as a result and responded more efficiently to their needs.”
Natalie Nation, branch manager at Meridian (Idaho) Library Silverstone branch, used skills learned at the institute to help build community outreach. "I undertook a project to expand access to books using little free libraries. I sought donations through Home Depot and enlisted a local high school to help schools and families build six of them across the city, and submitted a proposal to partner with Meridian Parks and Recreation to install them in parks and along prominent walkways."
Most of the participants continued their networking and communication on a Facebook page, friending each other’s professional Facebook pages to follow activities. They also relied on ALA Connect to maintain contact.
Robin Clark, director of Sump Memorial Library in Papillon, Nebraska, says, “These connections benefit me by allowing me to feel a part of the bigger community, knowing that I could message any of these 'friends' and colleagues with a question and usually receive an answer by the end of the work day.”
While at the institute, participants broke into small groups to problem solve and discuss assigned topics. Julie Zamostny, staff development coordinator at Western Maryland Regional Library in Hagerstown, found this to be the best part of the training. “It was really interesting to hear about the other types of libraries and how they’re organized—we’re so similar and yet so different! Of course, hearing about the individual projects everyone had going on was also exciting. Just being able to exchange ideas, celebrate successes, and commiserate challenges was very helpful, almost therapeutic,” she said.
Darlene Weber, managing librarian at Mill Creek (Wash.) Library, was initially skeptical about the benefits of working with different types of librarians, but she enjoyed connecting with those “from many backgrounds, from across the nation, and learning that we have so much in common.” After the two-day event, Weber said she found herself reenergerized. “I received training and course material that I’ve been able to return to as I continue to develop as a leader.”
Anders also follows others through social media and email. “The dynamics of this particular group were so extraordinary, I feel like when I 'see' them it’s like connecting with an old friend. Several participants have shared links and ideas related to leadership and librarianship through the Facebook group,” she said.
As Weber noted, “The leadership path is a journey. I found strength in the larger fellowship discussions at the institute. No matter the focus of that particular person’s library profession –academic, public, school, special – the leadership skills needed were the same. The idea that all leaders share the same skill set, no matter the professional focus was a strength I took away from the institute. I have developed more confidence in myself and feel more comfortable inside my ‘leader skin’ since attending the institute.”
Those interested in applying for the second ALA Leadership Institute, which will be held August 10-14 at Eaglewood Resort and Spa, have until April 25 to apply. Cost is $1200 and ideal candidates will be mid-career librarians ready to assume a higher administrative or managerial role. For more information, visit the ALA Leadership Institute page.