SundaySpec: Librarian Leadership

I’ve taken to watching TED talks as part of my continuing professional education. These presentation range from five to twenty minutes in length and there is a wide variety of subjects being covered. TED has put out a pretty cool app for the iPad, allowing me to watch a talk or two in bed before turning off the light. The app doesn’t have access to every TED talk but it does allow you to save the talks it does have for offline viewing.

Last night, I watched a variety of amazing talks: Mick Ebeling, Caroline Casey, Morgan Spurlock, and Ralph Langner. But it was the General Stanley McChrystal talk that really got me thinking. In the middle of his talk, the General makes the observation that the old leadership days of getting all of the major decision makers into the same room and being able to look them in the eye is over. The new leadership reality means using email, chat, and phone and video calls to build trust and a consensus of a common purpose. Instantly I thought about the different things that happened out of the HarperCollins limited eBook circulation announcement. There were emails going to lists of people, chatting online with various folks, some phone calls, and only when I got to the Computers in Libraries conference did I finally talk to someone face to face about it. While it is not the same as sending men and women off into combat, I felt that the tools used by the General and the people organizing against HarperCollins are one in the same. It made me reconsider the issue of leadership within the librarian community.

For as much as people complain about the lack of leadership coming from the state and national librarian organizations, the reality is that the leadership vacuum has been filled by a numerous and diverse group of people all across the country, both online and offline. While the state and national associations are important for taking consensus (read “strength in numbers”) action, the steady state of leadership position turnover in these organizations has diffused actual leadership to members of the librarian community.

There’s a saying in poker that if you sit down at a table and you don’t see a sucker, then the sucker is you. I’d like to paraphrase it to my librarian brethren and say that, if you see an issue that you want to change and don’t see anyone taking charge of that, then the leader is you.

A group of students felt like their graduate school education was incomplete so they formed a group blog HackLibrarySchool to address and provide some of the education they felt was missing. JP Pocaro and Justin Hoenke felt that there was a lack of movement in incorporating video games as a viable collection materials and for programming; they founded 8bitlibrary as a library oriented video game and gaming resource. Brett Bonfield and Gabriel Farrell felt so strongly about the HarperCollins eBook limit that they set up the website Boycott HarperCollins and loaded it with information as to the importance of the issue.

These are but a few examples of people within the librarian community seeing a leadership need and filling it. Are there other examples you can think of? Has the librarian leadership really diffused to the community?

16 thoughts on “SundaySpec: Librarian Leadership

  1. I love TED talks as well, but rarely take the time to watch them consistently (usually wait till someone recommends one to me).

    The angle you seem to be taking is the diffusion of leadership. I’d like to consider how existing leadership can use the technology variety to keep the work moving forward. I like to think of all my librarians as part of the leadership team for the Luria Library. We try to meet face-to-face every couple weeks. In between, we constantly communicate via email, chat, texting, Facebook, and Twitter.

    It’s amazing when ideas arise and how easy it is to discuss in the “non-work” hours of our lives. Facebook is clearly on aspect of merging of the personal/professional. This semester we started using GroupMe for team texting – LOVE IT.

    I’ve probably digressed here, but those are my thoughts after reading the post.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kenley. I too would like to see more leadership engagement across a bevy of different mediums. It might be the new leadership aspect as to have the ability to pick out which medium creates the greatest amount of confidence in a person. If I’m leading, does this person react to a Facebook message more than a phone call? A Twitter DM? A face-to-face conversation? Which one builds their confidence in me and mine in them?

      • The “reaction” concept is intriguing. Each person is so different and we don’t really know which method works best unless we ask (I suppose). For example, for 1-1 communication I prefer email but 1-many works well with Twitter or Facebook. With the GroupMe app, I’m trying to merge a 1-1 tool into a 1-many tool. Finally, Facebook messaging kind of sucks for me because I always forget to read and respond.

        So, do we ask or simply do?

        • My personal experience is a bit trial and error. I email. I call. And if those don’t get a good response, I’ll see about meeting face to face. (Since we don’t use Twitter or FB at work, those are my options.) Personally, I do a mental checklist:

          If it is faster or more convenient to call, I call.
          If it is something short or needs people to think about a reply or doesn’t require one right away, I email/message/etc.
          If it is a ‘come and go’ conversation or something I can run in the background while I work on something else, I chat.

          Personally, I prefer voice or face to face. It gets a load of information faster than I can type. Plus, there is the human social element that works in its favor.

  2. Thanks for the links. More reading and learning resources for me!

    I worried about my MSLS being totally online and about the fact that I only have in-person communication with one other library science graduate at the moment. After reading this, I realized I have more connections. I communicate online with several librarians and library science students.

    I suppose it’s that old-school (before email) part of me that refuses to accept electronic communication as relevant. I’m getting over that.

  3. While I am old school enought to prefer face to face, your post (and McChrystal’s comments) made me realize how communication has changed and how important that is. There is no way to get all of the librarians in my library together as often as I would like to bounce ideas off of them (hourly), so I communicate electronically (and some of them bemoan it! hhmm) and, the best and the brightest shoot ideas back to the group.
    However, I agree with your concepts of leadership around definable issues, although these tend to be reactions to an undesired action. But, what about more general leadership in the library community?
    The new Public Libraries has my opinion piece about outsourcing of library management (and, no, I am not just writing this to promote myself – it’s just the timing of your post. I’m actually feeling kind of fragile about it.). I truly believe that, in the library systems where there are true leaders, outsourcing is not even on the radar. Frequently, (in NJ anyway), if a library board is considering contracting for outsourcing of library management, we in the library community look at each other and shrug, as if to say “well, of course, look at the situation there”.
    How do we support/encourage/foster the growth of general leadership? By doing all of these things for smaller projects? By having this conversation more often and more widely so that folks at least think about it? Or ….?

    • In Morgan Spurlock’s talk, he has a slide that says something on the lines of “When we teach people to be risk adverse, we are making them reward challenged.” That grabbed my interest as well because I know from my experience (and heard from countless others) about the hand wringing cautious approaches that can smother ideas in the cradle. It’s never a matter of not being able to do it, it’s the overly fearful second guessing that takes the idea and strips it down to the negative downsides.

      Insofar as NJ’s issues specifically…. I wish I knew. I have my hunches. Find me at NJLA and maybe we could compare notes.

  4. Now that I’m an MLS working in the corporate world/sold her soul to Satan, I’m working on starting something up (what form, I do not know) that shows the viability of taking your MLS and going outside the library, perhaps even – gasp, dare I say it?! – working for vendor?! (Pauses to let traditional hardcore types clutch their chests and faint in horror.)

  5. This reminds me of thoughts I had a few weeks back. President Obama was in Brazil during a critical phase of the Libyan crisis, and he was being criticized by some for not being in Washington to handle the sensitive negotiations. And I thought, why does he have to be in Washington? He can be anywhere and handle the crisis effectively with today’s technology. So I think you’re right, in today’s environment the ease of communication makes the dissemination of information much easier. Almost anyone can take a leadership role on a particular issue with the click of a mouse or a light touch on a tablet. The problem I see is that people in the library community are following different leaders for different reasons, paying attention to some and ignoring others. There doesn’t seem to be a general consensus on who is leading the conversation or where it is going, exactly. Maybe this means that many decisions about the future of particular libraries will become localized–leadership diffused to specific communities–rather than broad-based decisions that affect the library community as a whole.

    • An interesting point, Bonnie. Although, being a leader and having people follow you are two different issues. From what I have seen and experienced, it’s what you do when you meet someone who is leading their own group that matters. My hope would be that you would link up and work whatever advantages that each group possesses. Coordination is another matter.

  6. Beyond the multiplicity of communication formats, the other part of your post is that we also have the opportunity to provide leadership, which I heartily agree with. I hope my staff always feel they can pitch ideas and possibilities with me or anyone else; I doubt I’ll ever be a stickler about chain of command. What I most often see, though is a group of people standing around waiting to be led. Step up and make things happen!

    • I’m only a stickler on the chain of command when a person bypasses it on a regular basis. I disagree with my boss on issues, but when they make a decision, I support their choice. Too often I have seen people get a ‘no’ and then immediately skip up to the next person. Not that you shouldn’t, but when it becomes a default action, what’s the point of a chain of command then?

      The last line of your comment reminds me of Seth Godin’s Tribes; there are people out there waiting to be led. Lead them!

  7. While I think that communicating via Twitter, Facebook, email, etc should be standard practice for both leaders and followers, I think that face to face communication is still the most powerful and direct. Rather than call people I will walk and talk to them in person if I want the person to completely understand what I’m saying or if I’m asking an important question. This might have something to do with my reading/writing skills, but I prefer to react and have other react to the body language as well as the words. In terms of leading, yes online communication is the most efficient and able to do long distance, but if you want to truly provoke and inspire people, I believe the best method is still the old school way.

    • I agree with you that face-to-face communication is the most powerful and direct; however, because I am better able to express my thoughts in writing, I sometimes will give the person I intend to talk to a “preview” of my position via email so that the conversation starts on the right foot and heads in the right direction. I sometimes get flustered in the moment and lose the essence of what I wanted to say or forget important points that I wanted to make.

  8. I had a similar discussion with some librarians in our state with regards to advocacy. They kept saying ‘no one is doing anything!’ ‘Where is the State Association in all of this?’ When I made suggestions about how they could contribute, asked if they’ve used Capwiz, etc. I received mostly blank stares in response.

    Face to face, email, blog, whatever form works for you, work it!

    • It sounds like people wanting to be lead; that’s not a bad thing, but it can be a fatal thing if *no one* steps up to the plate.

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