Library Leadership in the Desert: Library Administration and Management Association Institute
Some 185 librarians gathered in the desert resort of Palm Springs, California, November 18-20, for the third national institute held by ALA's Library Administration and Management Association. While offerings at the previous two institutes were divided into various program tracks, this year's event focused on a single crucial issue: "Creating Library Leaders for the 21st Century: What It Takes to Take the Lead."
Andrea Lapsley of Houston Public Library, chair of the programming committee, said that the planners "wanted to take one topic and explore many aspects," choosing leadership because "that's what LAMA is all about." A roster of distinguished leaders from the library profession led participants in an intense two-day series of presentations and workshops exploring the various facets of leadership.
Opening speaker Carla Hayden offered lessons she's learned from her long career as a library leader, which has included stints as chief librarian at Chicago Public Library and 2003-2004 ALA president as well as her current position as director of Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library. She noted that leadership "is a matter of survival" for the library profession, which is at a crossroads as it faces "a Googlized world" while minorities and poor people depend on us for internet access. "We are going to need leaders in all aspects and in all places to help us get through this," she observed.
Some experts claim that leaders have more in common with artists, scientists, and other creative individuals than they do with people in their own fields, said Hayden. Warning that leaders can be cowardly or greedy, she said good leaders are the ones that master their dark side "so they can achieve greatness rather than infamy."
The diversity issues facing the profession illustrate that there's no single route to leadership, Hayden said. "Leadership is ultimately personal, and you have to find the skills and style that are right for you." She concluded that "leadership is like power, money, and information; it's better when it's shared."
Mark Winston, associate professor at the Rutgers University School of Communication, Information, and Library Studies, addressed leadership styles, techniques, and values. He agreed with Hayden that librarianship faces a leadership crisis caused by pending retirements, recruitment challenges, and the profession's historical reluctance to embrace leadership. Many in the profession have viewed upper-level management positions as unattractive due to quality-of-life concerns, a lack of desire to do fundraising, and removal from the type of work that attracted them to the profession in the first place. The result, said Winston, is "a perception that leadership is the purview of the charismatic few."
Julie Todaro, dean of library services at Austin (Tex.) Community College, stressed the importance of transferable skills--competencies that can be applied to a different type of library or other organization. Knowledge of issues and operations in all library types is critical in establishing collaborations and partnerships, forming consortiums, and designing technological and service systems, she noted.
Todaro observed that many current academic library directors have come from a technical services background because of the experience they gained handling major automation projects. She predicted that we will see "quantum leaps" in the number of directors coming from the areas of development and human resources.
Leadership under fire--and flood
In a case study of leadership during a crisis, Camila Alire related her experience as head of the Colorado State University library in Fort Collins when the building was hit by a flash flood that damaged every bound volume and half of the book collection (AL, Sept. …