This is the sixth post in the series Leading From The Stacks, an examination of leadership in the library industry. It was initiated by my course Leading From Any Position.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to be involved with the blog Hack Library School as a contributing writer. For my post this week, I thought I would combine efforts, sharing my post on leadership with readers of both blogs.
I love theory. The ideas that disciplines and professions are based
off of. The bedrock of our world views. The base of our ideologies.
of my favorite courses in library school were the foundation courses.
At the time they were frustrating, because I wanted to be working in a
library. But now that I am working in the field, I appreciate those
theory courses the most.
I find LIS theory to be a fascinating creature. We have our own theorists (like Ranganathan, Dervin and Kuhlthau)
but we are also a discipline of adoptive theory. Communication,
education, business and management, sociology, gender studies, even
engineering theories (HCI and UX principles are starting to take over the profession) are all relevant to LIS.
of the last required foundation classes I took was Management and
Leadership in the Library Industry. While most of the class discussions
were focused on Taylorism and Scientific Management versus more current
humanist approaches to management, our instructor provided a very
interesting recommended reading list. On it were authors whose books are
typically found on the shelves of business sections: Stephen R. Covey,
John P. Kotter, Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel H. Pink and Peter F. Drucker.
I’ll admit: at first I scoffed at these books. Having a background in
sociology, I want my theorist to be a bit grittier (and a bit more
European): Foucault, Durkheim, Marx, Marcuse and Weber. So I pretty much
stuck to the required reading and was none the wiser...
...until recently. I had a good friend (and non-librarian) recommend Good to Great
by Jim Collins. This was a title that was on that recommended reading
list, and one that I normally pass over. But the friend who recommended
it was not someone I would think of as reading it: she spent a number of
years selling fair-trade organic coffee, has spent a fair amount of
time traveling in Africa and Latin America (including Chiapas, land of
and only recently started working for a corporation (Whole Foods)
because of the horrible economy. Not exactly your rank-and-file
corporate worker. So I had to check this book out.
Much to my
surprise, I am really enjoying it, and finding much of Collins’ ideas
surrounding leadership 100% applicable to libraries.
The most relevant lesson taken away so far is what Collins calls "the window and the mirror" theory:
leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside
themselves when things go well....At the same time, they look in the
mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things
go poorly. The comparison leaders did just the opposite. They’d look out
the window for something or someone outside themselves to blame for
poor results, but would preen in front of the mirror and credit
themselves when things went well. (Collins, Good to Great, p. 35)"
uses steel producing companies to exemplify this idea. CEOs of mediocre
companies would look out the window and see internationally produced
cheap steel as the reason why their companies were not reaching their
potential. While the CEOs of top steel companies saw the internationally
produced cheap steel as an opportunity. The competing companies would
have to ship the steel to the US at exorbitant prices, giving the
American companies a distinct advantage. Likewise, these top companies
look at their own operations for ways to improve their business, rather
than blame outside factors for their failures.
I think the
window/mirror theory is an excellent mindset not just for individual
leaders, but for the library industry as a whole. We could look at
declining circulation counts or reference questions as a factor out of
our control that is pushing our services to the periphery. Or, we can
look at the changing information searching behaviors of our patrons as
an opportunity to offer innovative services and resources that exceeds
our users expectations.
For example: In 2009, Project Information Literacy released a progress report,
with findings that describes course readings, Google and instructors as
the first resources students turn to when researching topics for their
school work, and librarians as an overlooked resource. Looking for
external factors to blame for lack of library use, this study could be a
shining example. Instead, we should look at the fact that students are
rarely seeking out librarians as an opportunity to create new services
(such as embedded librarianship or collaborating with instructors and
faculty) to better assist students. And we should be looking at our
current services for potential areas of improvement.
It is widely
know that we live in a time of change. Libraries of all types are facing
major budget cuts, and we are fighting tooth and nail for what
resources we do receive. Rather than being Chicken Littles about it,
looking out the window to avoid falling pieces of the sky, we should be
looking at the changes we face as the new reality and continue to offer
excellent services and exceed our users expectations. Now is the time to
ensure our place as leaders in the fight for a citizenry who is not
just information literate, but information fluent.
I know that
this book has been out for over a decade, and some of the companies that
Collins have listed as "great" companies have been the most affected by
our current recession (such as the now defunct Circuit City), but Good to Great
is still an excellent read. It's worth checking out. But, as my hero
Levar Burton often said: "You don't have to take my word for it..."
You can read more of my writing over at Hack Library School by clicking here.