NELA 2014: The Youngish Leader on Changing Direction

Stand Up and Shout: The Youngish Leader on Changing Direction, Zach Newell and Peter Struzziero (Monday, 4:30pm)

Peter and Zach presented a polished talk on some of the challenges of being a young leader in libraries. Peter is the director of the Winthrop Public Library (MA), and Zach is the Humanities Librarian at Salem State University (MA). In addition to their experience in NELLS (the New England Library Leadership Symposium), both have been involved on several committees at the local, state, and regional levels; this is one way to acquire leadership experience as library staffs shrink and the middle management level disappears. With little or no middle management, the route to the top is quicker, but people aren’t always excited to step up; they may fear they’re underqualified, or they may not want a different job than the one they have. However, Zach and Peter pointed out, younger/newer librarians can use other experiences and committee work as leadership training, and they can learn on the job by listening and observing.

Being a library director is “a different job from librarianship” – you’re removed from the “front lines,” and have to deal with things like union negotiations, staff issues, the budget, statistics, old buildings, new websites, and new programs. As Zach said, “We never stop to admire a job well done, because it’s never done.” (While it’s true that we’re always working toward our goals, I do think there’s time to appreciate progress and achievement.)

Advice:

  • Building relationships is essential; communicate with staff and with others in the town and community, even/especially when you don’t need anything from them.
  • Get involved in the community. Be a familiar friendly face. Go to Town Hall meetings.
  • Take risks to make positive change.
  • Recruit good Trustees, and build a Friends group if there isn’t one (or if they all quit on you…)
  • Get involved in your town library board (if you live in a different town than the one you work in)
  • Collect before-and-after stats to illustrate progress; “the proof is in the pudding.”
  • Consider the future of libraries, but also YOUR future.
  • Look at job postings for library director jobs, even if you don’t feel ready yet. See what skills and abilities are required. (“You may be ready now, even if you don’t feel ready. You never feel ready.”)
  • There are lots of places to acquire MBA skills without actually getting an MBA. Try edX, lynda.com, and TED talks; ask for informational interviews. There are also NELA and ALA (ALSC, YALSA, NMRT) mentoring programs.

Tweets from the session:

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Citations and references:

Are you a library leader? What’s your #1 tip? Share in the comments.

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