Library Leadership

Library leadership is something I approach passionately.  Why is library leadership important?  It is the path to truly excellent library service. Without strong leadership libraries can’t succeed.  In order for libraries to succeed, they need effective leaders and in order for leaders to be effective they need to be prepared.

Library Leadership: Not Just at the Top

What are leaders?  Leaders are influencers. Leaders innovate and develop.  Leaders keep the long range perspective in mind.  They exhibit new ideas and challenge the status quo. Leaders focus on and develop people. Leaders continually question.  And leaders aren’t just the people at the top of an organization.  Committee chairs, working group leaders and well trusted colleagues all hold important leadership roles in an organization.

Preparing for Library Leadership

So, if a librarian is interested in a leadership role how do they prepare?  If a librarian finds themselves in a leadership role, how do they get up to speed? Certain concepts come up again and again in the literature related to leadership skills.  They are:

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Understanding the Bigger Picture
  • Professional Comportment
  • Change Facilitation
  • Decision-Making
  • Communication Skills
  • Innovation

My first piece of advice to anyone moving into library leadership is to get familiar with these notions.  But don’t just take my word for it, research what others say about essential skills for library leaders and familiarize yourself with the concepts they list.

First Steps for improving Library Leadership Skills

Here are 10 easy-to-implement actions for improving your leadership skills.  They are in no particular order and are applicable to people in any field, not just library leadership:

  1. Find a mentor (formal or informal).
  2. Form a “Community of Practice” or “Mastermind Group” of other developing leaders to share your experiences and learn from one another.
  3. Create a daily reading list (including the campus or local newspaper, Chronicle of Higher Education or other industry publication, blogs, twitter, etc.). Map out time on your schedule to accomplish this.
  4. Conduct a skills assessment–where do you most need to grow?
  5. Apply to a leadership development program (ALA’s Emerging Leaders, Harvard’s Leadership Institute, Educause/CLIR Leading Change Institute, etc.).
  6. Learn your organization’s mission(s), vision(s) and values.
  7. Write a personal mission, vision and values statement.
  8. Schedule “thinking time” and “reading time” on your calendar.  You may not always honor it but you will honor it more often than if you don’t schedule it!
  9. Adopt an innovator’s approach to your work.
  10. Look for inspiration everywhere.

Are you transitioning to library leadership?  I would love to hear about your triumphs and challenges.  Have you learned your own leadership lessons?  Share your wisdom!

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Focus Groups

What are Focus Groups?

Focus groups are a great way to gain insight into the needs and opinions of the people you serve.  Generally they are a group of 6-10 similar people who are willing to meet for 45-90 minutes to provide feedback on your services within the context of their own needs. Your library or organization may use surveys and other assessment tools to measure your effectiveness.  Focus groups are a great way to follow up with specific details and action items to improve service.

Focus Groups:  The Pre Work

Focus groups are one of those things that are easy to run well if you do some behind-the-scenes work up front.  There are three essential things to do before hand

  1. Identify a list of 8-10 questions that will keep discussion focused.  What are the things you want information on from this group?
  2. Determine who you will invite, how to invite them, location for meetings and compensation. You don’t need to provide a huge amount of compensation, but it’s nice to have an answer for the question, “what will I get out of this” (even if that answer is simply, “improved service.”  It is even nicer to provide them with a small token or snacks during the focus group.
  3. Find two people not connected to your organization to run the focus groups.  Why not connected to your organization? You want the focus groups to be open, honest and not defensive.  With someone outside of your organization participants may feel more free to be honest.  With someone outside of your organization you can protect against the focus group becoming a session someone explaining why certain choices have been made.  Why two people?  One person facilitates the group and the other records what is said.  It is best to make an actual recording of the session to transcribe later but if this is not possible notes are essential.  Don’t have funds to hire a consultant?  You can ask someone from a separate department or better yet offer to run focus groups for a local colleague if he or she will do the same for you.

Focus Groups: The Work

During each focus group meeting the facilitator encourages and manages the discussion with the goal of generating the maximum number of ideas from the largest variety of people.  I like to take notes on a flip chart to supplement the recording.

Your participants should be “heterogeneous strangers.”  This means that the people should be similar in terms of the people you serve (“senior citizens” or “graduate students” or “faculty” should be grouped together) but they shouldn’t be people who know each other well.  For that reason it is usually a good idea to avoid pre-formed groups.  Keep in mind that you will run groups until you stop hearing new ideas which usually means scheduling 3-5 groups.  So this means you will need to invite 30-60 people to 3-5 specific sessions.  This will improve your chances of having groups of a useful size.

The facilitator keeps the conversation going.  They keep it neutral, not commenting on suggestions but merely taking them on board.  The types of questions that are most useful are ones that fully get at a challenge or pain point for the user.  Then the experts at your organization can determine how best to address those issues.

Focus Groups:  The Post Work

After the focus groups are over the real work begins.  The data collected in the sessions needs to be collected in a usable way.  Generally this involves “coding” the responses (tagging the responses into categories) and  ranking the most common responses to the questions by type of user and answer. Then your organization can begin to make an action plan based on the information learned.

Focus groups are fairly simple to run and can help you to learn a lot about how to best serve your users.  More information can be found in a great 13 page report on how to run focus groups published by Duke University.

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Personal Mission Statement–What’s Yours?

What is a Personal Mission Statement?

A personal mission statement is a succinct declaration of what is important to you and how you bring that to action.  We have all heard it before:  success is preparation met with opportunity.  One way to prepare for opportunities is to know yourself.  Knowing what is important to you helps to make decisions that feel right.  By knowing what your capabilities are you can make decisions that suit your talents.

How to Write Your Personal Mission Statement:

Fast Company recently published an article on using businesses strategies in planning to create a personal life plan.  To create the direction needed to fulfill your life’s purpose, here are four questions to answer.  The answers you provide will help to form your personal mission statement:

  1. What makes life meaningful to you?
  2. What are you truly passionate about?
  3. What are your talents?
  4. What are your core values?

By sitting down for a quiet hour, thinking about these questions and recording your thoughts you will be on your way to developing your personal mission statement.

Benefits of a Personal Mission Statement:

Once you have identified what is important to you and what you are good at your mission then informs your life strategy.  Everything from choosing where to live to choosing a job to deciding where to go on vacation is an easier choice because you have a model for making that choice.

I would love to hear what you uncover when you ask yourself these questions.

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Disruptive Innovation Rethought

Rethinking Disruptive Innovation

Last spring I wrote a series of blog posts on disruptive innovation as applied to libraries.  In it I discussed ways in which ways in which certain business thinking can be applied to the mission driven sector.  While I still stand by those ideas, I just read a New Yorker article that really made me think. The article questions the value of disruption in business by questioning the research on which disruptive innovation is based, namely the research of Clay Christenson, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma.

Disruptive Innovation:  The Market is not Always Ready

The author makes some thought-provoking points, among them that disruptive innovation is not always successful because sometimes the market isn’t ready for a truly disruptive product.  This reminded me of the introduction of the ISO ILL standard in the late 1990s.  The marketplace (libraries) simply was not ready, and in an industry based on sharing a core group of partners had to be there in order to carry out the fundamental mission.

Disruptive Innovation and Failure

What I couldn’t fully grasp is if the author was arguing for an incremental model of innovation.  Does that still work in today’s world?  She argues that the “Logic of disruptive innovation is the logic of start ups”.  And as a point of fact, most start-ups fail.   “Disruptive innovation is a theory of why businesses fail.”  OK, I will buy that, but perhaps the focus should be less on success or failure and more on creativity?  Disruption is a process as opposed to a result–what if we think of it as simply casting side all preconceived notions and assumptions and looking at something in a completely new way? Certainly it can also lead to failure, but comfort with failure is the necessary flip side of innovation, and the possibility of failure needs to be embraced if we are to strive for true change.  And if one is trying to think in new ways about a problem does that not increase the likelihood that a solution will be found?

What Do Others Say About Disruptive Innovation?

This is indeed a provocative article, and there have been a number of responses to it.   Clay Christensen  himself responded in Businessweek; and others have responded in Slate, Forbes and The Boston Globe, to name a few.  As I work through my thoughts on this I would love to hear what others think about disruptive innovation.  Please leave a comment with your thoughts.

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How Leadership Lab Became a Thing

Last Spring I had an idea.  I wanted to develop a new type of leadership training that was highly customized to the participants.  I wanted to use technology to do this and I wanted it to be in depth.  I thought and thought about how I could do this.  I researched “communities of practice.”  I discussed the idea with my own community of practice–my beloved Mastermind Group–as well as a number of library directors I am personally acquainted with.  Then I thought some more.  Finally I drew up a project charter.

Over the summer I proposed Leadership Lab to Metro, The Metropolitan New York Library Council, and organization I’ve been affiliated with for more than a decade.  Not only did they agree to sponsor my prototype, they were the ones who came up with the fab name!

So this fall I had the fantastic opportunity to turn my idea into an actual program.  Ten people were chosen to participate through a competitive application process.  Some things went really well, a few things did not.  Many could definitely be improved, but it was a prototype, so I knew that.  Best of all I learned lots of ways the program could be improved for next time.

It really was a great experience to bring something from idea to reality and see that others also saw the benefit in what I had created.  I look forward to the next iteration!

7 Brain Biases and How to Minimize the Impact on our Work recently published an article about our mental biases and how they effect your investment choices.  As I read this I couldn’t help but think about how these biases also impact our work.

  1. Recency is short term memory winning out over the long term.  Is it really time to find a new job, or are you just having a bad stretch?
  2. The Sunk-Cost Fallacy is kind of the opposite of Recency; it is the notion that you have already invested the time so you may as well stick around so that invested time isn’t a waste.  It is the notion that you can’t “cut your losses”–but usually you can!
  3. Overconfidence is seeing only the positive. At work this could be fear of failure or perhaps the “halo effect” that can happen during personnel evaluations.
  4. Confirmation Bias is the basic human trait of thinking you are always right.  People naturally go to great lengths to seek out information to uphold our preconceived notions. this could include opinions on people you hired or projects you ran.  Are they really perfect?  There is always room for improvement.
  5. Status Quo Bias is sticking with what you know.  Over time this can weaken an organization as they hire more of the same type of person, leading to a lack of diverse thinking in an organization.
  6. Bandwagon Effect is going along with the crowd.  Does your organization offer services and products the same as everyone else’s or do you truly innovate?
  7. Negativity Bias is giving more credence to bad news than good news. At work this could translate to focusing on what your organization is doing wrong or failing to learn from failure.

So, if you can see some of yourself or your organization in the list above, what do you do about it?  the Forbes article lists some strategies that are worth taking a look at.  The coach in me says that simply being aware of these biases in your self or your organization can be a tremendous catalyst toward managing them.

Coaching and Questioning

[The following was prepared for Leadership Lab participants.  It is posted here partly as an easy way to distribute the information to Leadership Lab participants, but also because of the wider usefulness of the content]

During the course of the next six weeks we are all going to be coaches. We are embarking together on a learning journey. Just what is a coach? A coach is someone who facilitates learning in others. Generally this is done by helping an individual to clarify a goal and identify actions toward meeting it. In Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart, Mary Beth O’Neill writes that coaches approach clients with, “the kind of trained yet natural curiosity of a journalist or anthropologist to the leader’s work situation.” As such, it is important to understand just how to question your fellow participants (and indeed yourself) to facilitate this learning.

To facilitate learning in ourselves and others our goal is to question with a truly inquisitive spirit as opposed to a skeptical one. By questioning we want to help the coachee to grow in their understanding of solutions. In her book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, Marilee Adams describes moving from the “judger” path to the “learner” path by changing the way you question:

learnr vs. judger

Click on the image to improve the clarity.

While it is pretty natural to judge, it isn’t productive. If you feel yourself instinctively wanting to judge, simply acknowledge the feeling and control the impulse, instead opting for a more productive line of inquiry. This goes for coaching others as well as your internal dialogue. For many of us this will be a new way to approach challenges. The goal of each question should be to help bring about clarity on how to approach the challenge. Pondering such questions should help bring about wisdom. Here is a list of “wisdom access questions” to further assist in this new way of thinking:

What is this costing you?

What is the goal?

What is beyond the problem?

What is ahead?

What are you building toward?

What has to happen to call this project a success?

What’s in the way?

What would make the biggest difference?

What do you hope to accomplish?

What’s the first step?

What’s important about that?

What’s the ideal outcome?

What’s working for you?

What would you do differently?

What haven’t I asked that I should ask?

What needs to be said that has not been said?

What else do you have to say about that?

What is left to do to have this be complete?

What do you have invested in continuing to do it this way?

What do you suggest?

What is the simplest solution here?

What are you willing to give up?

Please keep this approach in mind not only in our group coaching sessions but also in your interactions with colleagues and perhaps most importantly, in your own internal dialogue.

Write Yourself a Letter

photo from

photo from

I recently posted about personal vision statements and mentioned a very simple but impactful activity:  writing a letter to your future self.  This is a really accessible, helpful way to begin to make your goals a reality.  By envisioning where you would like to be in one, five or ten years you can start to get there.

At the beginning of September I ran across an article that outlines another great way to use letter writing to your advantage.   The author indicates that seeking advice from your future self–the you 20 years in the future–can help you to make authentic, ethical decisions.  It also strikes me that these are very likely to be decisions you can live with because you aren’t turning to someone else for advice! Specifically, writing an article about your current life from the perspective of yourself 20 years in the future can provide you with insights about decisions and choices to make.  And doing this regularly can help you to strengthen your commitment to what is important to you.

So why not write some letters?  You might be surprised by the trajectory you set for yourself and the advice your able to provide.


Preparing for Conference Season: A Guide for Introverts

I am not a natural networker. My Myers-Briggs type reveals me to have an introverted mind and for me, going to a conference is work–a lot of work!  With the American Library Association Annual Conference coming up in a few days I thought I would share the four strategies that have worked for me to get the most out of conference attendance.

  1. Do your Homework.  Before you attend a conference learn a little about the specific attendees you would like to connect with.  Look up their positions, research interests and work projects. Admittedly, this is easier to do at a smaller conference for which the entire participant list is shared, but at big conferences like ALA you can simply target this to smaller meetings.
  2. Tweet.  Live tweeting a meeting can help you to identify individuals with whom you have common interests or help you to see who has an interesting perspective.  Why not connect with these individuals in person? Thank them for the re-tweet or favorite or tell them how much something they said made you think.
  3. Ask about them.  One of the best ways to make a positive impression is to truly listen as you allow another individual to talk.  Come up with 3-5 questions that ask what people what is important to them: “What’s new at your library?” is a great place to start.
  4. Network and Follow Up.  Throughout the conference note the name of people that you have met and follow up with them. LinkedIn is a great way to do this, but don’t just make the connection–send a message about something you discussed, mail them notes you took that they might be interested in, or ask to collaborate on an upcoming project.

The more conferences I have attended the more I have realized that everyone appreciates a friendly face and a someone to have a good intellectual discussion with.  With a little preparation networking doesn’t have to be a daunting task.  What are your personal best practices for conferences?

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Fantastically Out of My Comfort Zone

Last week I attended the Research Library Partnership meeting in Amsterdam, and an associated workshop on the evolution and stewardship of the scholarly record.  My background is straight-up public services–I know service, I know spaces, I know re-orgs, I know management, I know leadership. Scholarly communication isn’t something to which I’ve had a lot of exposure. And if I’m honest, I haven’t really sought out the exposure.  In fact, I tweeted during the conference that I might have been more at home in the “handling customer complaints” training the hotel was hosting across the hall.

But sometimes the biggest growth comes from stepping outside of one’s comfort zone.  I’m still digesting a lot of what I learned about the topics (and I’m sure there will be future posts about them) but the most important thing I learned–or maybe was just reminded of–is that engaging with new ideas is nothing short of exhilarating.

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