It was a pleasure to recently chat with Jessica Moyer for On Leadership. When we first met Jessica back at ALA Annual 2014 we were struck by her passion for leadership, specifically for the newest generation of librarians. Here, Jessica shares the challenges new librarians face and also gives her take on the concept of "leading from the middle."
Name: Jessica Moyer (find her on Twitter at @jessicaemoyer)
Professional Title: Assistant Professor
Organization: School of Information Studies,
We know that you are passionate about the leadership challenges in the library – in your experience so far, what are the most important challenges faced?
The most important challenges newer librarians face is attempting to lead without being a leader and I think this is one of the biggest barriers that new professionals face when entering the field. This is something I’ve struggled with; I know it has been a challenge for my peers and my students as well. It takes a lot of continued effort and personal drive to become a part of the field when it has to be done outside the regular day job and with your own funds. As we all know, entry-level librarians aren’t the best paid positions, and trying to participate in the profession at the national level can require sacrifices that not all are able and willing to make.
I wrote my first book on evenings, weekends, and while working extra weekend supervision shifts. The money I earned with that job, plus the advance from ALA Editions, is what helped me fund my conference travel. If I hadn’t been able to travel to and participate in conferences early in my career I would never have met the many inspirational librarians and leaders that I now work with on my many projects.
Anyone who meets me quickly learns that I have no hesitations in recruiting anyone I know to contribute to my many projects. I like to think that I’ve contributed to the next generation of library leaders by having a new voice and taking risks on unknown librarians. Taking risks and asking new voices to be speakers, presenters and writers is another challenge to leadership. Next time you need to hire someone for a professional development workshop, or book a speaker for a conference program, I’d like everyone to consider trying a new voice, not just ones that are well known. It’s definitely a risk hiring the unknown, but I think it will pay for both libraries and leaders.
In your LIS classes - do you discuss the concept of leadership with the students? How difficult is it to approach this topic with students who probably never figured that leadership or management would be in the LIS vocabulary?
Oh yes, we absolutely talk about leadership in all of my classes. Whether it’s foundations of LIS, reference services and sources, or readers’ advisory, leadership comes up every semester. This isn’t too difficult a topic to broach with my students as many are enthusiastic and excited new professionals who want to be part of and contribute to the profession. From quite early on, they realize that leadership is part of being an active member of the profession. As we learn more about professional jobs and current library issues, it becomes clear that leadership is an important component of many types of jobs. I like talking about leadership because it’s one of the few topics that easily encompass all the careers that my students are considering, from systems librarians to archivists, school media specialists to information organizers.
We hear from many librarians that they have become experts in "leading from the middle." Can you comment on why this is so?
I covered this a bit in the first question, in talking about being a leader without holding a leadership position. “Leading from the middle” becomes a bigger issue for librarians working in management. It seems like no matter what the job is, it’s somewhere in the middle. Public library directors have to report to their local authorities or board of trustees, academic library directors report to the provost or chancellor, and even school media specialists find themselves in the middle between teachers, students, and the school administration. Libraries are embedded within their communities and almost never stand completely alone, thus we have responsibilities to those both above and below. Without learning how to lead from the middle, it’s hard to ever become a successful library leader.
If you could meet any leader past or present, who would it be? Why?
This is so hard! I teach history of LIS as part of my foundations classes and through that I’ve learned about so many amazing leaders in our field.
Historically, I’ve always been fascinated by Melville Dewey – he did so much in the founding of our profession. Despite getting a PhD in Education, he’s still the person I first think of when anyone starts talking about Dewey (educators, I later learned, are all talking about the unrelated John Dewey) but he also sounds like a rather difficult colleague. I’m sure we would have a great conversation, but I’m not sure I’d ever want to work with him.
When I was just starting out, I was a great admirer of Joyce Saricks and Catherine Ross for their work in readers’ advisory. Getting to meet them made me realize that librarianship is an accessible profession in which (almost) everyone nurtures and encourages new leaders. Joyce was kind enough to introduce me to her editor at ALA Editions, which led to my first book and really kicked off my career. The one person who was important in the readers’ advisory renaissance of the 80’s and 90’s, whom I’ve never met, is Betty Rosenberg, the creator and editor of Genreflecting (a reference sources for librarians working with readers). I’ve read and used the 4th, 5th, 6th, and now the 7th editions in my classes and research and I’d love to talk to her about how she got this amazing project off the ground.
Thank you, Jessica! Keep on leading the way.