Leadership Q+A

Library Lost & Found:Library Leaders Dropping Knowledge asked the candidates for ALA President a series of questions. My answers are below and also posted online. I welcome feedback and your perspectives! I ask for your vote.

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe
ALA President Candidate

Introductory Statement:

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to these questions and engage with Library Lost & Found (LL&F) readers. I particularly enjoy the Leader Interview series on the blog. Hearing other people’s stories and insights is a great way to reflection on one’s own story and purpose and find new ideas and inspirations.

I invite LL&F readers to visit my website (http://lisa4ala.org) for more information about my candidacy for ALA President. Please also be in touch via email (lisalibrarian@gmail.com), Facebook (http://facebook.com/lisa4ala/) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/lisa4alaprez or https://twitter.com/lisalibrarian). I hope to have your vote in the ALA President election!

  1. What does library leadership mean to you?

To me, library leadership means acting in service to individuals and society through one’s work in libraries or in other settings as guided by the values of librarianship. Though there are leadership positions – those with specific management and administrative responsibilities – in libraries, I believe leadership-in-action is not restricted to formal positions. Library leadership can be enacted by anyone who works proactively to influence how libraries develop in order to better meet the needs of their communities.

As such, my leadership approach is highly participatory and democratic. When I was head of the Undergraduate Library at the University of Illinois I worked with an external consultant on an organizational development initiative. The consultant asked who should be involved in the team and I immediately responded: “everyone who works here – all of the librarians and staff!” He was surprised that I would choose to have 30+ people on a team but I couldn’t imagine re-thinking the organization and how we did our work without everyone’s involvement. My belief is that we have too much important work to do in our libraries and professional organizations to leave anyone’s perspectives and talents behind!

  1. Who has inspired you as a library leader?

So many people have inspired me as a library leader that this post would be way too long if I named them all! So, let me choose one person to tell you about and what I learned from working with her.

Mary Ellen Davis is the Executive Director of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), which is a division of the American Library Association. I had the privilege of working with her when I was ACRL President in 2010-2011. It was a very busy year. There is a full annual report but let me highlight a few items that underscore just how busy it was:

In addition to working with me as ACRL President, and the ACRL Board of Directors as a group, Mary Ellen was also supervising a staff of approximately 40 FTE located in Chicago (at ALA headquarters) and in Middleton, Connecticut (where Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries is located). And of course, she is accountable to both the ALA Executive Director as well as 11,000+ ACRL members!

Why do I list all of this? Because I think it makes it clear why Mary Ellen is such an inspiration to me. Her workload is intense and she is accountable to many different stakeholders. As I worked with her I observed many characteristics that I have sought to emulate but let me reflect on just a few:

  • Coaching – Mary Ellen works to bring out the best in everyone. She has the ability to assess peoples’ strengths and support them as they develop in areas of weakness, all the while helping them feel an increasing sense of confidence. As my term as President progressed, I felt supported but also challenged and was a more effective leader for her investment in me. I’m also a better mentor and coach for others now because I learned from her approach.
  • Compassion – Mary Ellen’s attention to the individual person, not just the position that they have, is rooted in a deep-seated compassion and care for others. Her first response when someone is struggling is “how can I help”– not to take over but to be supportive. She brings a calm sense of purpose to these moments that I admire and I learned from her how to better discern what is needed in a moment of crisis.
  • Commitment – Mary Ellen is “all in” as the saying goes. She is committed to the association, its members, and her staff as well as librarianship and libraries more generally. I remember the first time I visited her office – there was a sign on the door: “to serve and delight members.” This clear and visible statement of purpose inspired me to challenge myself to have clarity of my own purpose and to make it know to others.

Let me add a personal note that Mary Ellen also brings a playfulness to her work that is absolutely delightful. Because of her, I’ve learned to bring fun into even the most serious work because it is not only more enjoyable but also more effective!

  1. Tell us about your career path. When did you decide to take on a leadership role?

My path into librarianship started in fall 1989 when I started college at the University of St. Thomas and took a library tour. The librarian mentioned that they were hiring work-study students. I applied on the spot – it seemed like a great job given my intention to go to law school! A year in, I had changed my career aspirations and prepared to head off to library school after graduation. I’m very grateful to Janice Kragness, then a reference librarian, who first suggested librarianship to me. I was an intern at the Minnesota Children’s Museum and the Minnesota State Department of Education as well. During library school, I worked in the Reference and Agriculture Libraries as well as the ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Beth Woodard was a wonderful mentor and helped me discover my specialty area within librarianship.

I started my first librarian position as Reference Librarian in 1995 at Parkland (Community) College and became the Library Instruction Coordinator at Illinois State University in 1998. I started at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2002, where I am now Professor and Coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction in the University Library and Affiliated Faculty in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. At Illinois, I have also served as Acting Head of the University High School Library, Head of the Undergraduate Library, Acting Coordinator for Staff Development and Training, and the Coordinator for Strategic Planning. I am also very engaged with students in the LIS program.

Going back to my definition of library leadership, I have tried to serve the needs of individuals and society throughout my career. While I was in library school, I learned about ALA and observed how effective it was to work across institutional boundaries and library types. I decided then that I wanted to contribute to that work.

My first appointment in ALA was on the ACRL Instruction Section Name Change Implementation Task Force (changing the name from Bibliographic Instruction Section) and also I served as an intern on the ACRL Instruction Section Membership Committee that year. I must have done okay since I was asked to step in as chair of the Membership Committee when there was an unexpected mid-year vacancy!

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to serve in a variety of leadership roles, and I always find it rewarding to serve the profession and to work collaboratively with colleagues. It is an honor to contribute to our community of practice.

  1. What specific skills would you recommend ALA members learn to enhance their leadership abilities?

The specific skills that I would recommend ALA members learn in order to enhance their leadership abilities are those related to appreciative inquiry. The appreciative inquiry approach to organizational change was originally articulated by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney and is based in a:

“search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves, in a central way, the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential.” (What is Appreciative Inquiry?)

I noticed that Jon Cawthorne, a library leader I admire, mentioned the book Appreciative Inquiry in his LF&F leader interview as well!

Starting from an appreciation of strengths and identifying what individuals and groups do well is a strong foundation for addressing challenging circumstances and overcoming barriers. By engaging a community in finding solutions together, we can build partnerships to address areas of weakness and, like individual strands braided into a rope, together we are stronger than we can be on our own.

  1. What change do you want to see in the library world?

In my candidate statement, An Ethos of Hospitality, I detail my priority for eliminating exclusion and achieving inclusion in our library work.

I am very proud of ALA and the work that we do together as colleagues. By joining together, we accomplish more than we can alone. We are a strong community of practice. But, we can be stronger. I believe that ALA must be a platform for participation and empowerment.

Many in ALA have worked to identify and eliminate practices of exclusion; however, an ethos of hospitality requires more. We must also create and support practices of inclusion. It is not enough to remove barriers; we must also build bridges. We must intentionally create space for diversity to strengthen ALA as an inclusive and collegial community of practice.

Here are four specific actions to expect from me as ALA President:

  1. I will charge my appointments committee to appoint at least one person who has not previously served on an ALA committee to each committee. I took this approach as ACRL President and welcomed many newer members of the profession into leadership positions and increased the diversity of committee membership.
  2. I commit to using ALA President funds to support promising examples of digital inclusion and to share those practices across the association.  ALA policy allows us to conduct our work virtually; however, we often still rely on in-person meetings. This exclude members who are unable to travel for financial, health, work, etc. reasons. We can do better.
  3. I will re-engage the vision for the ALA Allied Professional Association (ALA-APA). Library workers need a strong organization to advocate for wages, benefits, etc.
  4. I will lead ALA in systematically re-examining the viability of holding two conferences/year and the effect of doing so on member engagement and the ecosystem of division and state conferences.

As ALA President, I will be a passionate voice for libraries and library workers, for dismantling exclusion, and for pursuing an ethos of hospitality and inclusion.  I welcome the opportunity to lead ALA, our strong community of practice that can be made stronger. I invite all LL&F readers to join me in this work.

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