It’s been three months since I started my new job as a chief librarian. The work environment is obviously very different from the government setting where I previously worked as the provincial librarian. But the vision for community-connected modern library service is the same – with the refreshing position of having more influence in one local setting!
People have been asking me how it’s going and I enthusiastically tell them about the supportive and bold-thinking library board, the strategic planning process that we are embarking on, and the 50th anniversary that is coming up.
But what inspires me every day are the people I work with and their enthusiasm for the work we do to support our community.
We recently surveyed the staff to seek their feedback on the previous strategic plan, thoughts on where our library should go next, and beliefs about the enduring roles of libraries.
I was inspired by the high level of engagement, the thoughtful and candid responses, the enthusiasm and cautions for future directions, and their enduring spirit and passion for the work of libraries.
The new global information economy has created complexity and a challenging situation of strong dynamics, increasing pressures and changing expectations. Libraries have never before witnessed conditions like this. We will need multiple and diverse perspectives to see and understand this complexity, this new environment in which we exist.
We will need to capture the full capacity of our staff to figure out the new road map for our library. Only collectively do we have the capacity – the intelligence, perspective, wisdom and information – to create new models. Old approaches, the old strategies that worked for their time, would now lead us down the wrong path, to a diminished version of what we were. We would fail to create what could be.
My sense is that most folks can see that. And while we all have different beliefs and emotions around the new approaches, ideas and innovations that will challenge our comfort zones and identity, we must not lose sight of our core library mission and principles.
The engagement of our staff shows how much they care about the work. I feel privileged to engage with such committed, intelligent staff and I deeply appreciate their thoughts, perspectives, passions and insights.
How can we not but succeed, given the passion, talents, contributions and commitment of our staff?! Margaret Wheatley, a visionary management consultant who studies organizational behaviour, says “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” The trick will be to leverage that power for transformative institutional change.
So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role of leadership.
Fundamentally, the library exists to support the aspirations and goals of its community. Our frontline staff are doing just that with every connection, every encounter, every conversation with the public. In turn, I see our role as leaders to support the aspirations and goals of the staff to enable them to be and do their best for the community.
Our job is to support that organizational capacity, to create the conditions that allow each and every staff person to bring all their best qualities and efforts to the work, to foster learning, innovation and adaptive change. I see leadership primarily as a support role, in the strategic sense: to create the organizational structures, framework and focus; foster conditions for initiative and create opportunity; and align the resources to support individuals and community.
I recently ran across an excellent article that captures my personal leadership aspirations, The Future of Leadership Development. It describes a networked view of leadership: “While leadership in organizations is positional, individual, top-down, and directive; leadership in networks is relational, collective, bottom-up, and emergent. We have an opportunity to apply network principles to our leadership efforts and tap into networks as powerful sources of innovation.”
Goodness knows we need the power of networks to create the new library!
For me, recognizing complexity, interdependencies and systems thinking is key to recreating our organizational structures and aligning our resources with strategic priorities. Thinking of each employee as a key part of that network is critical for me. Only by leaning on a network will we tap into the perspective, intelligence and care that each member of the staff brings – and discover our collective creativity and capacity.
I am grateful for and inspired by the generosity and patience of the people I work with – for their willingness to learn, share, innovate and embark on this journey together.
It’s three months in and already my heart belongs to this library.