Leadership and Vision for Library and Information Services

iStock_000043409198_F-300x203.jpgLeadership is required to steer a ship to its desired location. Whilst the pathway can vary and change, in the end, the destination remains constant. This destination, is the organisation’s vision. The pathway, is the organisational strategy and plan, which outlines the direction required to arrive at your organisation’s vision. Libraries, like every other organisation, need clarity of vision, a clear strategy and inspired leadership to achieve that vision. The vision is the end goal, a description of a desired outcome that inspires, energizes and helps you and other stakeholders create a mental picture of your target. An example is:

Lakehead University Library’s Vision: Fostering an environment of discovery and intellectual exchange that inspires lifelong learning and critical thinking.

Elements of their strategy to achieve their vision is:

  • Empowering students through information literacy, to think critically and become lifelong learners who are agents of change
  • Providing expertise that fosters discovery and collaborative learning
  • Ensuring timely and seamless access to the highest quality resources
  • Supporting and collaborating with faculty in teaching and research
  • Creating a dynamic environment that enriches the learning and research experience
  • Engaging in outreach within the university and to the community beyond.

Each of the above forms part of their organisational strategy. This is then used to create a plan, which ultimately, when delivered, will enable them to achieve their organisational strategy and goal or ultimate vision.

Every level and individual within the library is responsible for delivery of the library’s vision and strategy.  Firstly, it is crucial that it is clearly articulated, and importantly, communicated to all library stakeholders. If someone asked right now an employee, a volunteer, or an external stakeholder what the library’s vision is, would they know what it is?

Secondly, it is critical that each person within the library takes ownership of implementing the organisational plan and strategy, to achieve the library’s vision. It is important that each individual understands their role and how it relates to, and delivers on the organisational strategy and vision. It is all about individual alignment to the organisational strategy and vision. It is important to understand what behaviours, actions and values are expected, to enable the delivery of the library’s strategy and achievement of its vision.

Each person at every level within the organisation requires some kind of leadership skills to deliver this, however, they change depending on your role and level of responsibility within the library.

For example, a Head Librarian (or leader of the library) will require greater strategic focus, vision, delegation and leadership skills, and will need to ensure communication and alignment throughout the organisation of the organisation’s strategy and values. He/She will require connective leadership skills – the ability to connect the library with key internal and external stakeholders and customers, and will be responsible for representing and advocating the library in the sector. Decision making is focused on longer-term agendas, with a focus on building organisational capability, and leading and developing others within the organisation. It is crucial, that the Head Librarian or library leader, is a positive role model, demonstrating the values and behaviours expected within the organisation.

iStock_000034269714_Full-300x199.jpgLeadership within the middle of the organisation (such as at Library Technician level), is primarily responsible for delivering the organisational strategy. Thus, it is crucial that middle-level management is absolutely aware of, and aligned to, the organisational strategy and vision articulated by the Head of Library. Leadership at this level requires excellent communication skills, collaborative skills, operational leadership, delegation, and development of others. Initiative, and a willingness to embrace change, is crucial in delivering the ultimate positive outcomes, both for the organisation, and for your library patrons or customers.

At grass-roots level (or Future Leaders), it is critical that support is available to enable personal and career development. Future Leaders can be empowered by being given responsibility for various functions, where they are able to grow, develop and learn future leadership skills. At this level, it is important to note that Future Leaders will learn primarily from watching and mimicking (often unconsciously) middle and top-level leaders. Communication and collaboration is crucial for Future Leaders. A willingness to learn and demonstration of initiative are key leadership functions that are required at this level. Also, it is important that Future Leaders are aware of how their roles, their behaviour and their actions relate to, and deliver on the organisational strategy and vision.

If you work for a small library where you are basically fulfilling all functions, then you need to be aware of what hat you are wearing at what time, and ensure that there is time for each – higher order functions such as strategic focus and decision making, operational leadership, communication skills and mentorship of volunteers and lower order functions such as delivery of services, customer service, program management or others. Any library that doesn’t fulfill any of the above, will begin to suffer and lose momentum, lose relevance and energy in their community.

If you are running solo, then make sure you take time to chat to external people or stakeholders, and run things past them. It can be a lonely job! So take time out to discuss your plans and goals with others, and get some feedback or ideas.

In an article titled Leadership Qualities for Future Library Leaders, Carol A. Brey-Casiano outlines ten key leadership qualities for library leaders. We couldn’t agree more with them!

  1. Find a good mentor / BE a good mentor – support others around you, learn from them, give advice if necessary, and be there for them.
  2. Learn how to follow effectively first – to lead effectively, you need to follow effectively (we are all reporting and accountable to someone!)
  3. Be visionary – articulate a vision for your organisation, and then motivate others to share and achieve that vision!
  4. Be a good servant – as a leader, you can never say thank you enough, but even more important is the idea of serving the people you are leading, and serving the community you work for.
  5. Take risks – make bold decisions, based on solid information, that will transform the journey to your vision.
  6. Take care of yourself – Being a leader takes stamina. “If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time in leading yourself – your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct” – Dee Hock, founder and CEO Emeritus of Visa.
  7. Maintain a positive attitude – Especially during tough times, but at ALL times, people look to their leader for inspiration and guidance. A positive attitude is critical in delivering positive outcomes during tough times.
  8. Never turn down a leadership position… even if it means managing your kids’ soccer team! – You will always learn something new about leadership from leading in different environments. It might not sound exciting, but it is critical to developing leadership capability in various contexts.
  9. Learn how to motivate people effectively – Trust the people you are leading, and empower them to do their best. “The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already” – John Buchan.
  10. Keep your sense of humour! – The ability to laugh will reduce the stress in your life, make you more approachable, enable you to connect to those around you better, and will just make you feel better in life.

As Peter Drucker once said “Leadership is not magnetic personality, that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’, that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations”.

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