Leadership in Librarianship

Professional development isn’t just for managers

September 1, 2017

Abby Johnson

What is your library doing to foster leadership within the organization? If your current department heads left, would staff members be ready to step into management roles? What are you doing to develop your own leadership skills?

These questions have been on my mind since I attended Power Up: A Conference in Leadership for Youth Services Managers and Staff at the Information School of the University of Wisconsin–Madison in March. This amazing event had a dynamic array of presenters who talked about topics such as empowering teens to be leaders, finding your programming style, managing multigenerational teams, and dealing with burnout.

I attended the conference with Teresa Moulton, who serves as a youth services librarian in my department, and it was valuable for us to review talking points from our different perspectives—mine as a manager at New Albany–Floyd County (Ind.) Public Library, and hers as a strong “unofficial” departmental leader. Here are some of our professional development takeaways:

Identify your leaders. Leaders aren’t necessarily managers or administrators. There may be employees at your library who may not have the job title or people reporting to them, but they take on informal leadership roles. Managers need to recognize these people and help them grow their skill sets in order to sustain their organizations.

Go outside the library. Administrators should budget for staffers’ memberships to professional organizations or encourage them to do national and local committee work, where they can connect with other librarians and bring ideas back to their departments. Local organizations such as Rotary and Kiwanis clubs should not be overlooked; they give staffers an opportunity to get involved with the community and make connections that could result in mutually beneficial partnerships for the library.

Take initiative. If you see yourself as an unofficial leader at your library, step up and offer your expertise to the organization. “Leadership isn’t something that’s bestowed upon you,” Teresa points out. “You don’t have to wait until you’re assigned to be a leader.” She urges librarians to volunteer for tasks that need to get done, or ask to take on projects that interest them.

In youth services, big-picture thinking means creating a framework around what we do.

Make the time. Managers should invest in staffer initiatives and take early inventory as to what types of skills and interests their employees have to offer. It’s important that employees pursue new projects and are given room in their daily schedules to devote time to them.

Welcome innovation. Gretchen Caserotti, keynote speaker and director of the Meridian (Idaho) Library District, urges managers to have a growth mindset and nurture perspectives besides their own. If a proposed project from an excited employee is not going to work at the current time, look for opportunities down the line when it might be feasible. “The answer is not ‘no’—it’s ‘not yet,’” says Caserotti.

Think holistically. In youth services, big-picture thinking means creating a framework around what we do. Youth librarianship is not just storytime, and storytime is not just “storytime.” The programs we’re offering are designed as developmentally appropriate experiences where children learn skills that contribute to literacy. Yes, we have fun in storytime, but we’re doing so much more than that. To that end:

Share what we do and why. It’s easy for us to get tunnel vision and block out anything beyond our high volume of programs and reference questions, but we need to show the value of our work to those outside of our field. I tell people that youth services staffers have the most fun of anyone in the library, but we’re also doing the serious business of educating our youngest library users. We need to make sure we’re telling the public that part, too.

Leadership takes on many forms in the library. And leadership can be for everyone, no matter your current role.