Ahoy out there, readers! You may have seen the announcement in the latest edition of Against the Grain, but I’m no longer hot topic-ing to you from the swamps of Florida. I accepted a new position at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, so over the holiday break I loaded my cat in the car and drove 3,000 miles across the U.S. to my new home.
Things are…different here in the Pacific Northwest and at Reed. I see a lot more dogs, boots, sweaters, rain, and microbrews (we have to stay warm somehow) than ever before, and there aren’t creatures that will eat you in the local waterways. I still find myself looking for alligators when I walk around the beautiful Reed Canyon. Reed also has some of the most intellectually engaged and socially aware students I’ve ever met.
In moving from one small liberal arts college to another, I find that much is the same. I’m directing the Collection Services department, which consists of Acquisitions, Serials, E-Resources, and Cataloguing (the usual suspects). We purchase content to support the research and learning of our user body. We navigate collection management and budgeting in an increasingly electronic environment.
Here’s the big difference: I’m now in a leadership role. How the heck does one learn how to “do” leadership? I believe that there are “natural leaders”, but how do we corral that organic quality into effective practice?
In my career thus far, I’ve learned how to do things by observing others, asking questions, attending workshops and webinars and training courses, and through trial and error. Sometimes I messed something up in one of our systems and had to do a lot of work to fix it.
It seems like we could take a similar approach to “learning” leadership, but what happens if we mess something up? How do we fix leadership errors? Library school didn’t prepare us for this.
So, from the perspective of a concerned and fledgling library leader, here are my suggestions (so far):
- Identify other leaders you admire and ask to pick their brains. This doesn’t have to be someone in your library or organization. It could be a friend, your mother, or your scuba diving instructor. Ask them to mentor you.
- Take online courses through com (if you have access).
- If you have the support from your institution, apply for intensive leadership opportunities like the Leading Change Institute, Harvard’s Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians, or ALA’s Leadership Institute. Check for local opportunities offered through your institution.
- Check out ALA’s Ladders to Leadership—they seem to be aware of the lack of leadership training in libraries and they’re trying to address this.
- Join the Library Leadership & Management division of ALA.
- Read books on leadership (currently reading Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer)
What are your suggestions? How did you “learn” leadership? It’s great to be back!
Tom is originally from Brooklyn N.Y but has spent his entire professional career in South Carolina, most recently as Head of Reference Services at the College of Charleston. As part of the Against the Grain and Charleston Conference team, he serves as the associate editor of the print ATG as well as the co-editor of the webpage. Tom’s conference duties include coordinating the Penthouse Suite interviews as well as the conference poster sessions.
He received his MLS from the University of Buffalo, SUNY and a second master’s in public administration from the College of Charleston and the Univ. of South Carolina. His wife Carol and he live in downtown Charleston and she is an artist and a tour guide offering historic walking tours of the city.