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.)


  • 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,, and TED talks; ask for informational interviews. There are also NELA and ALA (ALSC, YALSA, NMRT) mentoring programs.

Tweets from the session:


Citations and references:

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

What to read and how to read it: RSS feeds and library blogs

When Google Reader announced it was shutting down, I considered several options and chose to migrate to The Old Reader. The migration took a few days because of heavy traffic, but once that was done and I started using it, I liked it a lot; it was the most similar and therefore least disruptive change.

However, right around the time I went to NELLS, The Old Reader was having some issues and it looked like it was going to be down for quite a while. To their credit, they’re doing everything they can to make The Old Reader sustainable in the long term, but I didn’t want to be without my RSS feed for that long.

feedly-logo1-640x297Instead of looking back at my first post on the topic (see link in first paragraph), I went ahead and chose Feedly. If I had looked back at my own research, I probably would have gone with Newsblur, but I’ve been fairly happy with Feedly. It’s easy to organize your subscriptions into folders and move the folders around; there are a number of view options; the app for the tablet is good. The left-hand sidebar menu tends to disappear (to give more room to what you’re reading), but reappears when you float over it.

But the RSS tool is only the how, not the what. The what, of course, is the content itself, and since NELLS I have added a few more blogs to my “Library Blogs” folder, including friends and fellow NELLS participants Anna at LCARSLIBRARIAN and Sarah at librarysarie. (Those links go directly to their posts about NELLS.)

A few of my other favorite library blogs:

  • Brian at SwissArmyLibrarian: SwissArmyLibIn addition to the always-interesting Reference Question of the Week, Brian also writes clear, concise, thoughtful posts relevant to the public library world. He has a lot of experience as a librarian, but I think his blog would be interesting for library patrons as well as other librarians. Plus, he works in Massachusetts, so if you’re in New England there’s a good chance you’ll see him in person at a conference. Say hi!
  • Sarah at LibrarianInBlack: Opinionated, honest, and unafraid to stand up for herself and her library, Sarah is the director of a public library in California. As she says on her “About” page, “I am a big technology nerd and I believe in the power of libraries to change lives.  Combined, they make a fearsome cocktail.”
  • Jessamyn at Jessamyn writes from Vermont about libraries, technology, politics and government (she covered the Kirtsaeng v. Wiley case, for example). A great writer, relevant and interesting content. LibraryLoon
  • Gavia Libraria, the Library Loon: the pseudonymous Loon writes about issues within library school and academic libraries. I enjoy her opinionated style as well as the substance of each post. She recently linked to Meredith Farkas’ piece, “Managing the ‘whole person,'” which I highly recommend, especially to NELLS folks. Meredith’s blog is another good one for those interested in academic libraries and instruction in general.
  • Julie at Perfect Whole: Julie is a librarian, reader, and writer who until recently wrote twice-monthly essays, published on the first and 15th of the month. This schedule has been suspended recently but there are plenty of thoughtful, well-crafted essays as well as the occasional current post.  Her “I can’t believe you’re throwing out books!” essay sparked a lot of conversations about weeding.
  • Linda at ThreeGoodRats: Linda is one of my co-workers (we both write for the Robbins Library blog) and ThreeGoodRats is where she reviews the many, many books she reads. Her reviews are neat, to-the-point, honest, helpful (if you’re trying to decide whether or not to read that particular book), and insightful. She also has a Sunday knitting feature that will knock your (handmade) socks off. YALSATheHub
  • Young Adult blogs: I enjoy the unique review style at Forever Young Adult, though I don’t read 100% of the content. Some of their reviews are now featured on Kirkus. They also write TV show recaps. YALSA’s The Hub is another YA blog I browse (Anna of LCARSLIBRARIAN writes for them sometimes). There is a high volume of content so I don’t read everything, but a recent favorite post is “Too Many Trilogies.”

So those are a few blogs I make a point of reading. What are your favorites? And what have you found to replace Google Reader (assuming you were using it in the first place), and are you happy with it? Comment below!

Open Letter: Authors for Library E-Books

Naturally the subject of e-books in libraries arose during the week at NELLS. For those who are unfamiliar with the issue, Maureen Sullivan’s open letter to publishers (9/28/2012) is a good place to begin. In it, she explains how libraries support publishers by improving literacy, instilling a lifelong love of reading, and aiding discovery of new authors and genres. E-books in libraries will no more cannibalize e-book sales to consumers than print books in libraries have (i.e., they won’t; research shows that most people who borrow from the library also buy books).


The Authors for Library E-Books campaign (@Authors4LE on Twitter; #A4LE) is an effort to encourage authors to speak out on this issue. Libraries and authors are natural allies, and we all need to speak up to bring this change about. To this end, I contacted a few authors that I have met over the years – through publishing or through author events at bookstores and at the library. I’ve included a template of my letter here; if you know an author (or two, or five, or twelve) who supports libraries, feel free to tweak this and send it along. I personalized each one by mentioning a recent reading of theirs that I’d attended, a program they’d done at a library, or a new book of theirs coming out soon.

An Open Letter to Authors for Library E-Books

Dear [Author],

I hope you are having a good summer so far. I know you are a strong supporter of libraries, and I thought you might like to join ALA’s “Authors for Library E-Books” effort.

I’m sure you’re aware of the ongoing discourse between publishers and libraries on this topic. As it stands, each publisher has come up with a different solution: HarperCollins, for example, licenses e-books to libraries at a reasonable cost, but those licenses expire after 26 uses. Other publishers, such as Random House, charge libraries more than three times the consumer price for e-books and digital audiobooks.

Author and library advocate Cory Doctorow has made a short (four minutes) video about why he supports the Authors for Library E-Books campaign. He says, “Libraries have been so important to the careers of writers, and librarians are such fabulous advocates for authors….Libraries should be able to buy books and they should be able to buy them on fair terms.”

Join Cory Doctorow, Jodi Picoult, Ursula Le Guin, and many other authors who stand with libraries on this issue. You can sign onspeak out, and learn more at the A4LE site, or of course feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback.


NELLS Discussion Questions

Many of our most lively and productive discussions during NELLS came out of asking questions; a single question could launch an hour-long conversation. I have included several of these questions below, including snippets of our discussions, but first, a definition:

Leader: a person who influences others in an identified situation or group to obtain a particular result that will benefit the organization. Such a position does not depend on a title or on some recognition of formal authority.

That is the definition of a leader from Developing Library Leaders by Robert Stueart & Maureen Sullivan (Neal-Schumann Publishers, 2010). The difference between a leader and a manager is not purely semantic; not all people in management positions are leaders, and many leaders are not in management positions. Thus, when a question is directed at “leaders,” it can apply to managers and non-managers alike.

What do you want to do/become? The scope of this question can be as large or small as you like, but keep in mind: “This is not a dress rehearsal – this is it.” As Maureen Sullivan said, “We are adults in development throughout our lives.” At the same time, she reminded us, “Perfection is not possible.”

What are the three greatest challenges that you face as a leader in your work? Identifying and articulating the challenges is a first step in beginning to address them in a productive manner.

Questions managers can ask those they are managing: What is one thing you would like to change and how could we do it? (One NELLS participant, a library director, said her approach was, “We’re not brain surgeons, no one’s going to die, let’s try it.”) What about [our library/this process] would you like to change? Managers can empower those they manage by saying, “Okay, try that.”

Where and when do challenges become opportunities? “Innovation happens most often through adaptation,” Maureen Sullivan pointed out.  Sustained change does not happen by a revolutionary process, but by an adaptive process.

Who are you, what do you bring, how can you sustain it over time? Consider your strengths. Also consider how you can stay energized and focused. (“Work-life balance” was mentioned here.)

Why are we doing what we do? There was a flood of answers to this question, put to the group by Rob Maier. One participant said that patrons frequently approached the desk at her library and prefaced their question with the phrase, “I don’t know who else to ask…” As a group, we determined that libraries are (or can be): the heartbeat of the community, a community center, a social good, access to information and resources, a nonjudgmental space, a path to citizenship, the cornerstone of democracy. Some of these answers sound lofty, but all are true.

Would you rather have a boss/employee who is passionate or effective? This was one of the best discussions of the week. Ideally, of course, you work with people who are both passionate and effective: people who are inspired, energetic, and visionary, and who have the ability to get things done on a detailed, day-to-day level. In reality, however, most people fall toward one end of the spectrum or the other: some see the big picture but aren’t great at the details, while others excel at getting things done efficiently and effectively, but aren’t overflowing with big ideas. The solution? Not everyone has to be everything, but make sure your staff has some of each.

Why aren’t libraries on the radar of non-library users? In every community, there are people who don’t use the library – not to check out books or movies, not as a quiet work space, not to attend programs for themselves or their children, not to access the internet. What can we do to convert more non-library users into library users? Is it a matter of advertising what we offer, or offering different things?

Questions to ask when assessing a new process or program: What went well/what worked? What didn’t work? If we did it again, what would we change? Evaluation is an important part of trying new things and improving them for the next time around.

What if you’re happy where you are and don’t want to get to “the top”? Most libraries are hierarchical to some extent, but what if you have no desire to be a library director? We discussed how to grow within your current position, and considered the question, What do you need to know to do your work?

What steps can we take to prepare for the future and ensure that our libraries thrive? Like many organizations, it can be difficult for libraries to move with agility and speed to adjust to change. This question bypasses reactive steps and encourages proactive ones. Libraries are ideal environments to foster a culture of experimentation and learning. We can help – in nearly every case, are already helping – close the digital divide. We can take more risks, without jumping on every new trend. Libraries can be like nimble little goats, surefooted on a rocky surface.

How is 24-hour access to the web changing your library and how do you want to lead that change? Again, the focus here is on leading change, not reacting to it. Library websites, accessible 24/7, are patrons’ only portal to library services when the building itself is closed. What resources can we offer, and how can we present those resources in a clear, organized, attractive way?

Do you feel barriers to political or community engagement? Can you overcome them? Librarians can and should be advocates for the library, which means community engagement and political engagement. The OCLC report, From Awareness to Funding: A Study of Library Support in America, is a good place to start. (For those in Massachusetts, Krista McLeod, co-chair of NELLS and director of the Nevins Memorial Library in Methuen, can provide additional resources.)

NELLS exercises and evaluations

Throughout the week at NELLS, we did a number of exercises and self-assessments. I have shared three of these below (PDF). They were all valuable exercises, in that they cause you to think deeply about your experiences, inclinations, and preferences; also, by examining how you work best, you can consider how others work best, how your styles might differ, and how to manage those differences to achieve a positive outcome.

Leadership self-assessment: This assessment tool helps identify areas of strength and areas for development*: the categories include communication, professional ethics, decision making, planning, solving problems, entrepreneurship, team building, coaching, leading change, motivation, empathy, social skills, self-awareness and regulation, and supervision. The questions, over four pages, are “I” statements, with a 1-5 scale from “seldom” to “frequently” for answers (e.g. “I explain ideas and concepts so all can understand”).

Conflict_management_style_assessment: This assessment tool consists of 20 questions with two possible answers each (choose a or b) over two pages, with scoring key on third page to determine your conflict management/negotiating style(s). Answer the questions before consulting the scoring key. Consider how you might work best with someone whose conflict management or negotiation style is different from yours.**

Risk-taking in organizations: This is less of an assessment exercise and more of an opportunity for reflection; it is two pages of open-ended questions.

*”Areas for development,” not “weaknesses.” The old familiar SWOT model of analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) can be replaced with SOAR: Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results. With this model, organizations can avoid getting bogged down in the negative and what has happened in the past by focusing on the positive (what is working) and on the future (what do we want it to look like, how do we want to function, what do we want to offer).

conflict_management_styles_graph**One of the best discussions of the week came out of this exercise, when we regrouped to discuss our results. Someone who had one conflict management style asked those with a different style how best to approach them to deal with conflict in a positive way. Recognizing that your co-workers – no matter where they are in the organizational hierarchy – may have a different style from yours brings a new level of awareness to the process of conflict management and negotiation.

In the photo at right, the circled numbers in green represent the results of the NELLS group. Though many of us scored high on two management styles (collaborating and compromising, for example), these numbers reflect only the highest scores. “Collaborating” was the most prevalent style, followed by compromising, competing, avoiding, and accommodating.

NELLS resources

st-exuperyOn the first day of NELLS, each participant and mentor received a binder full of resources, including a “selected list of readings on leadership” compiled by Maureen Sullivan, which I have reproduced below (she said it was okay to share):

Bennis, Warren et al. Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor

Bennis, Warren and Joan Goldsmith. Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader

Berger, Jennifer Garvey. Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World

Bridges, William. Managing Transitions.

Cohen, Allan and David Bradford. Influence without Authority.

Farrell, Robert and Kenneth Schlesinger. Managing in the Middle (an ALA Guide for the Busy Librarian)

Fisher, Roger and Daniel Shapiro. Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate

Heifetz, Ronald et al., The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World

Kinlaw, Dennis. Coaching for Commitment. Jossey-Bass, 1999.

Kouzes, James M. and Barry Z. Posner. A Leader’s Legacy and The Truth About Leadership

McKee, Annie et al. Becoming a Resonant Leader

Patterson, Kerry et al. Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations

Sinek, Simon. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Stueart, Robert D. and Maureen Sullivan. Developing Library Leaders.

rollingridge_mazeOf course, many other books and articles were mentioned by Maureen and others during the week. I have listed as many of those as I could find here, but if other NELLS folks want to add more in the comments, that would be great. Links for books go to the Minuteman or OCLC catalog, links for articles go to various websites.

Alexie, Sherman. “Superman and Me.” The Story and Its Writer: an Introduction to Short Fiction.

Amabile, Teresa. Growing Up Creative: Nurturing a Lifetime of Creativity

Boyatzis, Richard. The Competent Manager: a Model for Effective Performance

Brazelton, T. Berry. Touchpoints Birth to Three: Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development  (mentioned in the context of managing emotions)

Conger, Jay. “The Necessary Art of Persuasion.” Harvard Business Review, May 1998. (Article preview is available, the rest of the article is behind the HBR paywall.)

Conner, Daryl. Managing at the Speed of Change: How Resilient Managers Succeed and Prosper Where Others Fail

De Rosa, Cathy, et al. From Awareness to Funding: A Study of Library Support in America. OCLC, 2008. (Web | PDF)

Drucker, Peter. “Managing Oneself.” Harvard Business Review, January 2005. (Article preview.)

Gabarro, John and Kotter, John. “Managing Your Boss.” Harvard Business Review, January 2005. (Article preview.)

Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Goleman, Daniel. “Leadership That Gets Results.” Harvard Business Review, March 2000. (Article preview.)

Gross, Valerie. Transforming Our Image, Building Our Brand: the Education Advantage

Hallowell, Edward. CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap: Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life and The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness: Five Steps to Help Kids Create and Sustain Lifelong Joy and Connect

Harwood, Richard. The Work of Hope: How Individuals & Organizations Can Authentically Do Good (free ebook from link)

Heath, Chip. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

Heifetz, Ronald et al. “Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis.” Harvard Business Review, July 2009. (Article preview.)

Hesselbein, Frances, et al. The Organization of the Future

Kegan, Robert. The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development (he has written other books as well, including Change Leadership: a Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools, but I think The Evolving Self was the one Maureen mentioned)

Kotter, John. “Accelerate!” Harvard Business Review, November 2012. (Article preview.)

Kretzmann, Jody and Rans, Susan. The Engaged Library: Chicago Stories of Community Building. Urban Libraries Council, December 2005. (PDF)

Lankes, R. David. Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today’s Complex World

MacKinnon, Rebecca. Consent of the Networked: the World-Wide Struggle for Internet Freedom

Margolis, Michael. Believe Me.

Maurer, Rick. Beyond the Wall of Resistance: Unconventional Strategies that Build Support for Change

Moore, Mary. The Successful Library Trustee Handbook. ALA, 2005.

Neiburger, Eli. Libraries Are Screwed. September 2010. (YouTube video, approx. 20 min. altogether, part 1 | part 2)

Nelson, Sandra. The New Planning For Results: a streamlined approachALA, 2001.

O’Toole, James, and Bennis, Warren. “A Culture of Candor.” Harvard Business Review, June 2009. (Article preview.)

Updated to add: Perlinska, Agnieska and Chapados, Chip. The Conversation: Simple Truths to Make Life Work

Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Scholtes, Peter. The Leader’s Handbook: Making Things Happen, Getting Things Done

Shewhart, Walter A. “Plan Do Check Act (PDCA).” (Wikipedia article)

Quinn, Robert. Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within

Underhill, Paco. Why We Buy: the Science of Shopping

Von Oech, Roger. A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative

New England Library Leadership Symposium (NELLS) 2013

I returned home from NELLS just a couple hours ago. We were all instructed to “take time for yourself” and stay away from our notes for a few days, so this will just be a brief post before I revisit all of the excellent materials from the past week.

MaureenOn Monday, 28 participants, six mentors, and two co-chairs from Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont met at Rolling Ridge in North Andover, MA to spend a week learning about leadership in libraries.

ALA President (2012-2013) Maureen Sullivan joined us for the week to teach the symposium, and we had visitors throughout the week as well, including former Director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, Rob Maier, New England Library Association (NELA) President Deborah Kelsey, Maine Library Association (MLA) President Nissa Flanagan, Connecticut Library Association (CLA) Past President Carl DeMillia, New Hampshire Library Association (NHLA) President Diane Lynch, and Vermont Library Association (VLA) President Amber Billey (via a Google Hangout).

Photos from the week – of the grounds, of our brainstorming and discussion session results, and our social activities – are available on Flickr.

It was an incredible experience, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn so much from Maureen, as well as the mentors and all of the other participants. More on NELLS to come soon.

Roundup: Reading and writing elsewhere

I haven’t posted here in a little while, but I have managed to write a few posts elsewhere. On the Robbins Library blog, I wrote about four WWII books that I’ve read recently: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (which I wrote about here previously), All the Light There Was by Nancy Kricorian (who is coming to the Robbins Library this fall!), and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, author of the fantastic Code Name Verity.

Over on my personal blog (mostly recipes and dog photos), I wrote about which thirteen (13) books I brought with me on a recent one (1) week vacation, and then which of those I actually read. Also, if you’re interested in seeing what The Casual Vacancy or Mockingjay look like in Icelandic, or what The Fault in Our Stars looks like in French, I took photos of those book covers in the Reykjavik City Library and a bookstore in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, respectively.

In other news, I found out I’ve been accepted to the New England Library Leadership Symposium (NELLS), along with my friend Anna, an awesome young adult librarian (read her blog! Unlike me, she actually sticks to a schedule). We’ll be there, along with 26 other participants, for a week later this summer, and I’m pretty excited to meet other librarians from around New England, exchange ideas, learn a lot…and maybe go canoeing.