By Linda Miles
On June 9th, an informal discussion forum was convened on the topic “Talking the talk: Persuasive communication for productive initiative and leadership in academic libraries.” Fifteen ACRL/NY members met for discussion, networking, and refreshments.
Before the free-ranging discussion, each of four panelists spoke briefly about their research or experience on the topic. Robert Farrell, Associate Professor and Coordinator of Information Literacy and Assessment at Lehman College (CUNY), spoke about indirect strategies for affecting change without explicit agency, the sometime inopportunity for “truth telling” in the workplace—discussed as an inability to address problems directly, and the role that meditative practices might play in helping to manage emotional states.
Dr. Debbie Rabina of the Pratt Institute School of Information spoke about education for academic librarianship, and the inherent difficulty of teaching and measuring leadership within the context of a formalized graduate school program. Due to poor enrollment in leadership-focused courses, she cited the need to address and incorporate leadership topics across the curriculum. MLS courses tend to be skill-based, and “leadership” may be a topic that requires a more theoretical perspective.
Barbara Rockenbach, Interim Associate University Librarian for Collections and Services at Columbia University, discussed how job seekers can craft a discourse on leadership, even if they don’t have any demonstrated management experience, by becoming informed about institutional and library strategic plans as they relate to the specific academic framework. A strategic leadership quality for both on-the-job-librarians and job candidates is to consider what keeps administrators and library leaders awake at night, and contemplate ways to address and alleviate these issues.
Finally, Dr. Michael Stoller, Associate Dean for Collections & Research Services at New York University, discussed the distinction between management—about getting through the day/month/year at hand—and leadership. He talked about the vision and context conversations that should ideally resonate both up and down the power structures in libraries so that employees in all positions have a clear and evolving sense of the educational mission of the library and the institution. He also talked about the important role that administrators have in identifying leadership traits in job candidates and employees, and in cultivating new leaders.
In providing advice for job seekers, and those looking toward acquiring greater leadership skills and roles, the panelists collectively talked about the importance of finding the right fit for the library and the institution. Dr. Stoller mentioned that interviewee questions can be very telling, and he looks for candidates who express curiosity, engagement, passion, creativity, energy, and hunger. Barbara Rockenbach offered her idea of a great interviewee question for a potential boss, “How do you deal with bad news?” And Robert Farrell emphasized that librarians, and job candidates, should be able to “comprehend and exhibit a sense of purpose amidst the larger context of the institution, in order to advance the mission.”
Attendees and panelists both asked questions and offered advice to one another in a lively and informative dialogue on this unmistakably important and relevant topic, and ideas for related events were discussed. Stay tuned!
Linda Miles is Assistant Professor and Reference/Instruction Librarian in the Hostos Community College Library (CUNY). She is chair of the ACRL/NY New Librarians Discussion Group and convener of the METRO Bibliographic Instruction Special Interest Group. Linda holds a Master of Library Science degree from St. Johns University, and an MA and PhD in Theatre History/Criticism from the University of Texas at Austin. She recently authored a contribution to Career Transitions for Librarians: Proven Strategies for Moving to Another Type of Library (2016, Rowman & Littlefield).