A few weeks ago, I attended a day-long, local library conference, which was run entirely by library staff. In fact, the majority of the presenters were front line staff. The program sessions and poster topics were relevant to everyday branch experiences. Ensuing discussions were meaningful and applicable to our daily work. The day left me feeling invigorated. Later that evening, several of us took some time to catch up and to socialize. During the course of the conversation, we discussed our career aspirations and professional goals. In our group of seven, all except one commented that they had no interest in a managerial position. However, several acknowledged that they would like more opportunities to use and to develop leadership skills. Our conversation made me think about how leadership is perceived and applied within the context of our work.
Start with Yourself
Often, discussions on leadership focus on management and leading others; however, in order to be an effective leader, you must first be able to lead yourself. Ask yourself, “Do I hold myself accountable? Does my team trust me? Do my daily actions work for the benefit of my organization’s mission?” ALSC has defined Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Public Libraries, which may give you a basis for professional self-reflection and goal setting. As you strive to meet your personal goals and/or those set with your supervisor, department, or organization, you are also learning and strengthening your leadership skills. Your productivity and drive to produce quality work influences your success as well as that of your peers.
Here and Now
Whether or not you have a desire to move into a management role or to lead a team, leadership skills benefit all of us at every level. Self-leadership (the ability to lead yourself) can help to maintain and to (re)establish morale and meaning in your daily work. You may have been in the same role for many years, just taken on a new position, or fall somewhere in between the two. In any case, it can be useful to take some time to regularly (re)evaluate your work and to identify your strengths and areas for growth. Being open to and accepting of constructive feedback will also go a long way in building leadership competency. Additionally, the ability to recognize and willingness to address personal biases empowers us to use culturally responsive practices in our work and to be agents of change within any position. Some feasible, low-risk activities include: volunteering to lead a meeting or to shadow a coworker, learning a new skill or sharing a skill with your team, or even encouraging others to share their thoughts and ideas.
More than a Title
Taking on a leadership mindset does not always equate a change in role or job. Perhaps you are not able to move into a new position due to financial constraints, family obligations, or an inability to find new employment. Another often overlooked consideration is that you may, in fact, be satisfied with your current role. This does not preclude you from the conversation. Leading by example–through your work, your words, and your actions–can serve to reinvigorate the culture of your library and provide a renewed zest for your work. As we begin to recognize our capabilities and how to further develop our skills, we also grow in our ability to adjust to new or difficult things, which will serve us well in our work with the public.
ALSC Leadership Resources
If you want to further develop or to uncover latent leadership skills, then avail yourself of the wealth of information available to you through ALSC. The Managing Youth Services Committee recently presented a three-part webinar series on the topic of Leadership in Youth Services, with a focus on actionable steps for cultivating and putting these skills to use:
Membership gives you access to a rich archive of webinars on various topics relevant to Children’s Services at no cost. You can also volunteer to be a mentor or a mentee in the ALSC Mentoring Program, which is a year-long (free!) program open to individuals with an interest in library services to children. Mentees do not have to be a member of ALSC to participate.
Leadership is not defined by a job title. As I continue to reflect on the conference and post-conference conversation, I think of all of the talent and skill that I witnessed that day (and that was seated around that table). I hope that they recognize the importance of their contributions. They are indeed examples of capable leaders through their commitment to their work and dedication to their communities.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency: VII. Professionalism and Professional Development.
Amalia E. Butler, Senior Children’s Librarian, is writing this post on behalf of the Managing Youth Services Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @amaelibu.