Learning to Be Leaders

Picture someone you refer to as a “leader” and write down a few of the characteristics that define them as a leader. It can be a supervisor, a relative, or a professor. Now, look at yourself and see if you exemplify at least one of those characteristics. There is nothing wrong with not seeing any of those in yourself. As students, most of us are in a prime spot to test the waters of leadership without the potential for major ramifications.

In 2017, my supervisors asked if I was interested in applying for a local leadership program provided by the Chamber of Commerce. The program provides participants the opportunity to learn more about the community and increase leadership skills through participatory experiences. I wanted to decline, but my performance evaluation shortly before then included seeking opportunities for growth, specifically “leadership roles and speaking opportunities.” It seemed outside of my job duties and was definitely outside of my comfort zone, but the experience gave me information, such as creating innovation, leadership styles and tendencies, and conflict management, that I can refer to as I progress in library and school and in my professional life.

I also had the pleasure of taking Leadership for the Future of Libraries as an elective this past quarter. Harry Bruce, Professor and Dean Emeritus at the University of Washington’s iSchool, recorded presentations of library leaders from an earlier residential course so that online students could benefit from these phenomenal leaders. Rivkah Saas, Library Director of the Sacramento Public Library and alumna of the University of Washington iSchool, was my personal favorite due to her inclusion of the importance of decision making as a library leader. Choosing your electives in your respective library program is a tough decision. I should have taken my information technology core course, but I highly recommend taking advantage of a leadership course if one is offered by your program.

These two leadership learning options may not be feasible for everyone. Here are a few other ideas to grow your leadership skills:

-Become more involved in your school’s student organizations, even if it’s just attending an event. Leaders need strong networks of colleagues, and your classmates are an easy way to get that started. If the timing is right, you may be able to step into an officer position within these organizations.

-Find volunteering opportunities in your community. This can sometimes be difficult, as some opportunities may not be as fulfilling or engaging as you had hoped. Check out your state’s volunteerism organization, such as Serve Wyoming, to see what opportunities they have. Making the library into the community’s living room requires us to know what the community needs. For those already working in a library, the best way to understand what your community needs is to be an active participant.

Find a mentor in your preferred library field, or even one outside of the field. It may be your supervisor, someone you met at a conference, or someone you follow on social media. These mentors should inspire you with ideas and represent some of the leadership characteristics you jotted down earlier. There are also several mentorship programs embedded within ALA and its affiliate organizations.

-Finally, skim the Library Leadership and Management quarterly journal to stay up to date on current and emerging skills, especially if you’re in a management position. Students have plenty to read as it is, so the articles on emotional intelligence and mindfulness are patiently waiting at the top of my summer reading list.

It’s difficult to use many of the skills you gain when you’re not in an official leadership role but having them in your back pocket lets you step up when you’re needed. Refer back to your list of leadership characteristics as needed and aim to work on them in your personal and professional lives. These leadership characteristics will benefit us when we finally graduate from library school.


Photo by Natalie Pedigo on Unsplash

Conrrado is an online MLIS student at the University of Washington iSchool.

6 replies

  1. What a great first post Conrrado! You may be at the beginning of your MLIS journey, but you are DEFINITELY an effective leader! Glad you are on our team!

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  2. Conrrado, let me know when you have time to spare. There are several WYLD and WLA committees that could use your energy. Small time commitment, big opportunities to support libraries across the state.

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  3. Improving public speaking skills and finding opportunities to practice them, arguably the most daunting components of leadership training, pay the biggest dividends. As you point out, “Leaders need strong networks of colleagues…” and effective communication is the first link to those networks. Great post! Congrats on tackling the challenges of leadership!

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  4. What Jamie said. The same thing you said about becoming an officer in student organizations can easily happen if you’re serving on in-library or regional or state library committees — if you show up for meetings you’ll end up being an officer pretty quickly :). Committee service also helps you understand how state and local processes work. Even if you’re not a formal “leader” you can certainly exercise leadership in any committee position (“leading from behind” as they say in music ensembles). Good post!

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