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Mission Bell Media publishes print and digital media for the library market with a focus on leadership. Publishing authoritative and empowering leadership content for libraries worldwide.

On Leadership

Leading Libraries: Founders' Library

Rolf Janke

Along with highlighting individual leaders, we are excited to announce the addition of featuring library teams here on the blog. Our inaugural team is from Founders’ Library at Northern Illinois University. We asked the same question to leaders from various vantage points within the library. I think you’ll find their varying perspectives interesting and enlightening. We give a big thanks to Patrick Dawson for introducing us to your amazing team. 

Library:  Founders’ Library

Location: Northern Illinois University

Leaders: Patrick Dawson, TJ Lusher and Roseanne Cordell

From your unique vantage point, what are the most important leadership and/or innovation characteristics needed in the library today?

Patrick Dawson, Dean, University Libraries

Education Week released its grade for education in the U.S. and individual grades for all 50 states.  The grade was C for school finance. This is significant as it reflects the real trend existing in education and the libraries that support education.  There is decreasing public support and even less forecast for the future.  Libraries are caught in this and are also currently facing a huge shift in how a library functions, including modes of delivery of information, funding challenges and changing expectations and needs of patrons.  The traditional library still exists, which is the repository of printed information, yet the library now is also a disseminator of digital information of various formats and an evolving workshop for how space is used.  Libraries are also critical players in and supporters of teaching and research.  In short, there are many issues and needs that demand addressing simultaneously in the 21st century library.

So, what characteristics are currently needed?  First data informed planning, evaluation and resource planning is a must.  This is not new to the business community, but is still somewhat new in the area of libraries.  To reach this, a few things are needed.  You need people you can trust and rely upon to move the mission and vision of the library forward, people who share the common mission and vision of the library and the institution. This may take time to build and develop.  You also need flexibility and adaptability. Don’t panic, but collect as much information and input from all as you are able to be able to make informed collaborative decisions. Do not be so wedded to a course of action that you are unable to develop an alternative course, which will reach the same end.  Strategically plan to align with your resources; set your priorities and budget for those priorities.

You also need to be an educator, to be able to educate your administration and stakeholders on what is going on in libraries, what is needed in libraries, how libraries are critical to the mission of the institution and what the return on investment in libraries is. Philanthropy is a focus that needs attention. Traditional funding sources for libraries are not going to produce new revenue, so alternative and innovative funding sources need to be cultivated and developed. The time is over when libraries were able to claim that they are in the common good, as fiscal stress has negated this argument. Libraries need to be bold and dynamic and advertise their necessity and value.

TJ Lusher, Associate Dean, Technology Initiatives and Support Services

A leader is an intangible mix of experience, skills, knowledge, and personality in a given situation. A leader in one setting, may be a follower in another. Leaders operate at a multitude of vision levels – organizational level, division level, department level, unit level and team level. Leaders are not necessarily the individuals with administrative, supervisory or team responsibilities.

To achieve the label of leader, you must be a visionary while remaining cognizant of the realities of your organization – head in the clouds, feet planted on the ground.  You need to be a translator of university and library administrative speak in a way that others around you understand how their efforts will help meet university and library strategic goals while benefitting them.  A leader will be a proponent of adaption, growth and the evolution of ideas, projects and services. As a leader, embrace opportunities to traverse the fuzz edge of the future.  Notice what is not being asked or talked about. Celebrate success but relish failure and the lessons learned. Either help hire or hire individuals who bring new perspectives, skills and knowledge and encourage these individuals to think about their next career move. Finally, do the unexpected -- rock the boat.

Rosanne Cordell, Associate Dean for Public Services, Northern Illinois University Libraries

A leader in an academic library today needs to be brave enough to evaluate the way we do things objectively and to lead frank conversations about where we need to go and how we are going to get there. Leading open discussions means leaving ego behind and looking at how even excellent libraries and librarians might be able to improve. We might occasionally feel nostalgic for "the good old days", but we need to be willing to plan for the future and leave behind the practices that don't fit our users and our resources anymore.

It also takes some faith in the ability of your faculty and staff to adapt for a library to abandon legacy practices and redesign spaces that were well used in the past. An unshakable belief in the enduring value of libraries and their centrality to the education process are necessary to see change as opportunity and not threat. Faith in the value of what we do is essential to face and work through the budgetary and political pressures libraries face today.

Thank you for your time and insight. We look forward to talking with more leaders in the library at ALA Midwinter (Booth #1829), come by and tell us what you think are the most important characteristics needed for the present and the future. 

Want more? Check out a round-up of all our leaders and innovators here.