Tuesday’s Improving Society Question

On the topic of leadership, Lankes suggests that librarians are obligated to accept larger administrative responsibilities because they will ultimately serve their mission and communities in a better way. However, this exposes two potential problems: capability and will. While most skills can be learned, some people are better suited to leadership roles, and there are also people who, skills notwithstanding, would be more self-motivated to lead. Is it the responsibility of librarians, who have no interest in taking on an administrative role (and thus, no will), and who are virtually devoid of experience in a leadership position, to accept it, based on their mission statement? Are librarians’ personal needs dispensable, and if so, will that negatively impact their assumption of administrative duties?

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  • Anonymous

    We have all the heard the saying that the person who doesn’t want to lead, is the best person for the job. I can see where this quote is coming from because the person who doesn’t want to lead, usually won’t be influenced by wealth an power, although we know how quickly that can change. However, I don’t think this statement is necessarily true. Some people aren’t always cut out to be leaders and many times they know this about themselves. There are some who have a hard time of motivating themselves, much less others. It is more important to have a good leader in place, than to have a reluctant one. This is not to say, that those (like me) who are introverts and have a hard time speaking in front of a group should not venture outside of their comfort zones. I think it is important to take on some leadership roles which will allow you to grow as a person. Usually you can tell if a leadership role is one you really wouldn’t be able to handle. So I would encourage librarians not to take on more than they can handle, but try to step out of their comfortable bubbles and try something new and maybe a little bit scary.

    • Anonymous

      I agree that librarians should not be inhibited by trepidation when stepping out of their comfort zone.  Librarians may already take on leadership and administrative roles in non-explicit ways. Individuals will often look to those above them as a reliable source of information. As this is already a responsibility of librarians they may naturally appear as an authority figure. This is something librarians should consider when facing managerial duties.  Also,  how do you feel about iSchools attempting to teach leadership skills? Is this really possible?

      • Anonymous

        I definitely agree with iSchools attempting to teach leadership skills. I think it’s really important, especially as most of our first jobs after school may not be in leadership positions, and the experience we could learn in school could definitely help for the future. I think it is possible, because unfortunately one of the aspects of working as a librarian (especially in a leadership position) is dealing with the business/financial aspect of a library, for want of a better term! I think iSchools should focus on this side of running a library as well.

    • Anonymous

      Do you think it’s possible for librarians to lead in pairs?  People tend to think of leadership as individualistic, but librarians might feel less reluctant to lead if they’re working alongside someone else.  This might not be possible for smaller libraries or organizations with less staff.  Would leading together be a good solution for reluctant leaders?

      • Erin Lee

        I am not sure that two people taking on leadership roles really works.  I have never experienced it but I imagine that two people of the same status may have difficulties in agreeing.  Perhaps if there were 2 library leaders in two branches, say, then they could work together to instigate change in their own institutions and so would be working together for their own library’s sake.  Or am I just being negative about people’s ability to work together in the same institution?  

      • Anonymous

        I don’t know if I necessarily agree with librarians leading in pairs. I think, when it comes down to things, it may be difficult when it comes to making actual decisions if you have more than one person responsible for the decisions. I think that when librarians wonder about whether they should step into a leadership position, they should think about what actually brought them to the field of librarianship in the first place. If librarians are really meant to make a difference, then what better way to do that than by stepping into a position where you can bring about the most change? You may have ideas that no one else has, and this could be the most effective way to get them across. Also, I think when most librarians are asked why they wanted to go into this field, they mention helping other people, or bringing about change, and often its management who can make the most effective decisions.

        • Matthew Gunby

          In his book, The Death of Common Sense, Philip Howard talks at length about how an unwillingness to accept responsibility has helped create entire mechanisms for mitigating blame, and these mechanisms, in turn, create an environment where nothing gets done.  The topic dealt with in this book is government, however, it does not seem to be too far removed from librarianship.  A library director often is overseen by a board who in turn must go before the city or town government to seek funding.  Often times these individuals are not even librarians, and yet they may have an even greater voice than the library director about the direction a library takes.  A very real concern is that if a library director or worse still a librarian under the library director goes against one’s superiors there are ramifications.  What is so difficult in this economic climate is allowing for constructive failure.  I think most of us have a vision for where we want libraries to be in ten years, but would we stake our livelihoods on a chance to move things in this direction?  Will you be rehired by another institution if you were fired for taking too many risks?  The ethics of leading in an unpopular direction may be clear, but the pragmatic view is much more ambiguous.  As far as the dual “consuls” go, if history is any guide, it often turned out that one seized power and the other stood in as a scapegoat, so make sure you get to pick first.

      • Anonymous

        Molly, I like it. After thinking a bit about your suggestion that librarians might lead in pairs, I think it’s not only possible, I think it’s what lots of people are already doing. Often, risk takers only feel comfortable stepping off that ledge, taking that leap of faith (sorry for the clichés) after they have had a conversation or two or 100 with a like-minded partner. A silent partner, usually. This partner could be a co-worker, a colleague at another institution, or even a sister or significant other. I think it’s important for all leaders—reluctant and confident—to seek out a community with other leaders and risk-takers for inspiration, reality checks, feedback, and encouragement.

  • bkeefe

    If librarians want to justify being hired instead of library technicians, then they must lead.  Even if not hired immediately into a position with management responsibilities, people taught to answer questions must not shy away from leadership roles.  People who do not see leadership as a professional responsibility of librarianship cannot truly be considered librarians.  In a profession that emphasizes curiosity and authority, I fail to see how a librarian could not be a leader.

    • Mikal S.

      I wouldn’t say that librarians are taught to answer questions; I would say they’re trained to effectively get at the heart of patrons’ problems and needs, which includes addressing their inquiries in a satisfying manner. While it is nice to answer questions, I think that’s missing the point because questions can’t always be answered in a straightforward, conclusive way. If people are considered leaders by virtue of answering questions as a part of their profession, that would include almost everyone working in most professions. Would you consider a McDonald’s employee a leader because they habitually answer customers’ questions like “May I have some ketchup?” I suspect not, and I’m not arguing whether a McDonald’s employee is a leader or not, but I am arguing that simply answering questions doesn’t define librarians.

      And, for the record, this isn’t meant to be antagonistic.